I’ve gotten over my thing about missing the snow and am now thinking about getting back to the Texas coast. My 7-year old son brings it up constantly so we’re just going to have to set a date and do it. The shot above was taken on our last big trip which was during Sharkfest at Padre Island National Seashore. When we scheduled our trip we weren’t aware of Sharkfest and on arrival were very surprised by the crowds. This 63-mile stretch of beach has one way in and out (via land) as is mostly limited to 4×4 vehicles so it’s generally rather empty. Of course “crowded” is a relative thing and even with 10x the normal crowd there were still plenty of places along the seashore to fish and play in the water without crowding anyone out. Normally you can pick a place where you have at *least* 1/2 mile between you and your nearest neighbor. We had to settle for 1/8 – 1/4 mile this trip (once we made it 30 or 40 miles)…first-world problems. Unfortunately we saw no sharks being caught. On our “normal” trips we often see them and thought that with all these shark fishermen we’d see several. No luck.
For those of you not familiar with shark fishing in the surf, here’s the very rough description of how it works. Gear consists of short-ish, stiff rods with reels capable of holding hundreds of yards of approximately 100# test line. At the terminal end there are leader rigs made out of materials ranging from 400# test monofilament to stainless steel cable. Hanging from those are huge hooks (the size of your hand). For bait something like a big chunk (even half) of a jack crevalle is used. Once the rig is ready, the bait is generally paddled out with a kayak and placed beyond the third sand bar. Then you wait, and wait, and wait. When you get a decent sized shark on the line the fight often lasts well over an hour. It’s pretty amazing to watch. On a side note, it’s extremely interesting to witness the various vehicular rigs that people come up with for their shark fishing — giant platforms on top of trucks, etc. If I’d known how unsuccessful our fishing was going to be on this trip I might have just spent time photographing the shark rigs.
I processed the image to make it appear a bit like an old print from film. Kept the colors reasonably saturated (via the vibrance slider in Lightroom) and made the image warm like prints in the “old” days. In Lightroom I added grain to taste. I rarely use additional grain in images but really like it for this beach scene and if it weren’t for the vehicles it could pass for a pic from the ’70s. I wasn’t “into” photography in my film days so I can’t wax nostalgic about this film or that film or tell you that I mimicked a certain film. I bought whatever was cheap.
When we told my sister-in-law — twenty-two-ish years ago — that we were moving to Texas the first thing out of her mouth was, “Oh great, now your kids are going to have big heads!”. Turns out she was right as most of us pretty much love living in Texas. Truth be told, we would be happy living anywhere since life is more about the people around you than the place itself. In fact, not many years ago we passed on an opportunity to move the family to a place my wife had always dreamed of living. Her words: “This [Austin] is home now.” The pride of Texans is manifest in many ways. First, I’ve never been to a state where the state flag flies as much as it does here. People sport “Native Texan” tattoos and bumper stickers. Some transplants (not me) display bumper stickers which say “I wasn’t born in Texas but I got here as quick as I could”.
So, March 2nd was Texas Independence Day and I really didn’t plan on posting anything. However, in the wee hours of this morning — wide awake after a 2 am run to Walgreens for chicken pox relief potions for my son — I found some unprocessed pictures like the one above that I had taken on the way back to my truck after a recent photowalk on the University of Texas campus.
Some brief tidbits: Six national flags have flown over Texas (the origin of the “Six Flags” amusement park name). They were the Spanish, French, Mexican, Republic of Texas, Confederate, and now the US flag.
Texas is a huge state in land area — far larger than California which is the next largest in the lower 48. My big Texas head is not so large that I don’t get a good laugh at an Alaskan saying, “We were going to divide Alaska into two states but we didn’t want to make Texas the third largest”. That’s a pretty good put-down for too-proud Texans IMO
Texas also has very distinct geographical areas. When we lived in Illinois we constantly saw TV ads which used a slogan along the lines of “Texas — It’s like a whole other country.” Frankly, it’s true in many ways. We grew up equating Texas with tumbleweeds but I probably lived in Texas 15 years before I ever saw one. The regions range from plains in the north to hill country in the middle to plains and river valleys in the south. There are piney forests in the east to mountains in the west. The coastal plains with their fertile black soil are pretty much like the fields in Illinois.
I think we’ll stay a while.
Many of these pictures are reruns but I thought I’d post them in honor of Pearl Harbor Day. The aircraft carrier in the top image is the USS Lexington (CV-16) which was in service from 1943 through 1991 and now sits as a (very cool) museum in Corpus Christi, TX. This image is a 3-exposure HDR. I’m getting some odd pixelization on export from Lightroom which I can’t figure out but the point of posting this is not for the image’s sake itself anyway.
My grandfather joined the Navy during WWII (sometime after Pearl Harbor due to his age) and went through training to become a Navy pilot. I am very fortunate to have a 90-minute recording of him recounting his Navy experiences. My favorite quote: “I graduated from flight school on August 14th, 1945. The Japanese heard I was coming and surrendered the next day.” This is the most recent snapshot I have of him.
Hope you enjoy the rest of these photos from various air shows I’ve attended.
Last month some of my family attended the wedding of my niece Jessica in Seattle. We would love to take the whole family to events like that but it’s just not practical in our case. The weather was what one might expect in Seattle — highs around 50 and wet.
I was asked to do some photography during the times when the paid photographer wasn’t around — rehearsal, early wedding morning — and grab a few extra pics at the reception. I had just acquired a Canon 5D Mark ii the day before we traveled and I got to try out its capabilities over the weekend. It has amazing low-light performance and I took full advantage of that.
Here are some pics from the weekend (here’s a link to one I already posted of the rings resting in the flowers). Some are just OK from a technical standpoint but are personally meaningful or interesting to our family.
The shot below was meant to focus on the ring (and it does) but it isn’t the greatest shot. However, I still like the general feel of it — soft light, very shallow depth of field so I included it. It was taken in passing as I wasn’t focused on taking pictures at that point. I’d love to have that opportunity again though. I’d get the ring hand fully in the shot, shoot from slightly higher to entirely fill the background with Jessica’s to-do list on the poster board while keeping the nail polish bottle fully in the frame as in this shot.
Some pics from the rehearsal:
The wedding coordinator was concerned that the main photog wouldn’t arrive at the house early enough to get pictures of the miscellany like the rings, flower, shoes, etc. so she asked me to get some shots. Here are a few I came away with besides the ring shot:
Pre-wedding pictures in church:
After the ceremony the wedding coordinator again commandeered me for a photo assignment. The hired photog was covering the bride and groom’s trip through the receiving line from a vantage point near the church doors. I was asked to cover near the end of the line and I’m glad I did — look at how happy they are!
During the reception I didn’t capture all that many shots but here are a few. Light was challenging in the reception hall. Bouncing flash was not that great (note the black ceilings) and I didn’t have 3 remote flashes on stands like the hired photog did. I still like the shots even with some of the shadows. I take comfort in knowing that there wasn’t a whole lot to be done without setting up extra lighting myself. I just kept a diffuser on the flash and pointed the flash either up and slightly forward or up and slightly behind me. As the night was winding down, Jessica asked me to take a picture of her with the bridesmaids up near the dance floor. I like how the light ended up just fine with the exception of how everyone’s hair disappears into the background. I didn’t have a second light to overcome that. When we walked to the front and lined up everyone and their brother got cameras out and started firing. Getting all the girls to look at me rather than the other cameras was a bit like herding cats. None of the shots had everyone looking normal so I just picked the best of the bunch.
A candid of my beautiful wife. When she finds out her picture is here I’ll probably be in trouble. She never reads my posts so please — none of you go telling her. She never needs to know
The main photog had already left the reception when Jessica and Jonathan were making their exit so once again the coordinator asked me to take shots. I had the 50mm lens on and there was no time to fetch my 24-70 or really test out the flash to adjust compensation. I’d prefer a little different framing but I was zoomed out (with my feet) as far back as I could get and I wanted to catch some of the flag waving too. I got off 4 frames as they walked out and they capture the moment just fine. There was very heavy tungsten lighting in this little hallway. My flash was gel’ed with a 1/4 CTO and I could get away with cooling the color temperature more but I decided not to eliminate it completely. It’s a dilemma I often struggle with — Whether to keep some of that uncorrected color in certain shots. It can be a nice effect sometimes.
There’s nothing as all-American as baseball or so they say. Last night I had the opportunity to shoot at the Lake Travis High School baseball game with Pete Talke. I jumped on this because in a few weeks I’ll be filling in for him as the “official” photog for one game. One can always use a bit of practice for these things.
Photographing baseball looks easy until you try it. I learned several things based on my experimentation last night and from shooting a little bit at Austin Aztex soccer games. First, finding the “correct” exposure can be tricky. Most of the shots are high dynamic range situations — think blazing sunlight off bleached white pants contrasted with deep shadows on the backside of a red and black shirt. There is also the sun-lit scoreboard in the outfield contrasted with the early evening shadows which are beginning to cross the infield. Since bracketing exposures for action images wasn’t really an option, it came down to a judgment call – picking an exposure which balanced some blown-out highlights with getting enough detail. I found that I was generally able to get away with aperture priority mode and the camera did a decent job with the shutter speed (which was well within the range I wanted to keep it). Occasionally I used manual mode if the lighting was such that the camera couldn’t get it right.
Another tricky area is focusing. I found that pre-focusing in manual focus mode worked better for capturing the batter in the batter’s box. When using auto focus there were some shots which inadvertently focused on the opposite dugout. I also missed a very cool action sequence where a runner nearly got picked off at first when he took a generous lead. I was shooting from the first base side and captured a sequence where the runner was diving back to first as the first baseman attempted the tag — great shots with clouds of dust everywhere. However, my focus happened to latch onto the outfield fence in the background. Bummer. Next time I’ll pre-focus there as well.
I had a great time, especially since I wasn’t under pressure to produce and could just experiment. The shot above was taken during warm-ups. I liked the combination of action and the American flag in the background. Many frames were taken of this scene because I was attempting to all at once capture (1) the throwing motion, (2) the ball in the air, (3) the players not being in (very) awkward positions, (4) the flag blowing in the wind. Unfortunately I didn’t get exactly what I wanted in any frames (I wanted the player earlier in the throwing motion and the ball lower in the frame). The final choice of a frame was a compromise and the main factor was that the flag showed best in this one while the other elements were “OK”. I added more skew to the angle because I found it more interesting. I wanted to crop slightly differently but decided not to so I could retain the “345″ marker in the left side of the frame.
As for processing the image, I decided to experiment there as well. First, I flipped the flags to blow to the right rather than the left (artistic liberty right?). Then I added two textures (inspired by Pete’s images), masked in different contrast layers in areas of the frame, and did a little dodging and burning on the ball itself to get the look I wanted. Hope you like it too.
Texture info…arbitrarily picked the first two I saw which were at all interesting. These are used under creative commons from “pareeerica” on flickr.
Last Friday evening I joined Alex Suarez, Steve Wampler, and Sylvia Brogdon for an impromptu photo shoot outside the Palmer Events Center. They had just spent the day in the Flash Bus seminar put on by Joe McNally and David Hobby and wanted to practice what they’d learned to help cement it in their minds. I was not able to attend the Flash Bus event but I wanted to join in and learn what I could and get some practice myself. Our models were “Eight” and my daughter Evelyn. The location was the grounds of the Palmer Events Center in Austin, TX. It has many architectural features which lend themselves to unique portrait settings and there are different backgrounds to choose from on each side of the building.
As we got started, Steve talked about how David Hobby “lights in layers”. This is the process of building your setup one light at a time. Assuming a fixed shutter speed (at or below your max sync speed), start by picking the aperture which gives you the ambient light exposure you desire. The correct exposure is quite subjective of course — just find the one *you* want. You can darken the background somewhat or allow it to blow out. Next, add your main light and get it to the f-stop you want and in position. Finally, add fill as necessary and maybe even a rim light to light the hair or shoulders if you want.
We stuck with one or two lights and assisted each other by holding lights as we took turns shooting. I actually have as much fun helping with the shoot as I do taking the photographs and always enjoy the company too. We started out near the southwest corner of the building — very challenging due to the setting sun. The positive side of a situation like this is that it forces you think about solutions to the light problems, some of which equate to just going with it and trying to make interesting images with the light that is there, be it harsh or soft. The image at the top of the post was taken here with my daughter standing in the shadow of a large pillar. Shooting someone with very dark skin provides additional challenges as you need extra light to balance out the ambient and bring out the facial features. This extra light blows out light clothes (had that happen a lot) and sometimes other features like the pillar next to her. I shot in manual mode at 1/250s (max sync speed), did a few test shots without the strobe to pick my aperture (f/8) then began experimenting with light position and power. This shot had a strobe camera right, bare other than a 1/4 CTO gel, triggered with Elinchrom Skyports. I used my 70-200mm f/2.8 IS for all the portraits (love that lens for these situations).
We moved to the northwest corner of the build for a bit and I got the shot below. No strobe used in this portrait. Alex used a silver reflector to direct the sunlight to Evelyn’s face and I shot from down low to get a reasonable background. Aperture priority was used with an f-stop of f/4. The light was literally golden even off the silver reflector — made her skin look great.
Another mass migration of gear and bodies occurred as we relocated to the north side of the building. There was great shade and many choices for backgrounds including the Austin skyline. I shot this final portrait (below) at this location. I chose an aperture of f/9.5 and set up two lights. The main light was again a 1/4 CTO gel’ed bare strobe at camera right. The fill was a bare strobe (I didn’t have tape or velcro for another gel) placed on the ground in front of the camera. I placed the strobes on different Skyport channels and experimented with each separately to adjust them to taste. I had to lay out on the ground (see the pic by Alex Suarez at the bottom of the post) to get the composition I wanted (Evelyn + The Austonian + TX flag). I was somewhat limited due the angle required for my composition and the locations of some trees which blocked the flag if I moved out of this position. I would have liked the wind to blow the flag up a bit more but I took what I could get. Someday I’ll work on perfecting this shot. I would try two things for starters: (1) use a shoot-through umbrella with an assistant (no assistant was handy for this shot and it was too windy to set it up without an anchor) and (2) try a stronger CTO gel to warm up the subject to match the background better. I prefer the darker backgrounds but I think I’d experiment with backing off to f/8 or even f/7.1.
After shooting the skyline portrait, Sylvia and I were helping Steve shoot portraits of my daughter. In a moment of serendipity, Joe McNally and David Hobby walked out of the building. Our group bantered with them and Joe made a smiling comment on the order of “good luck with that portrait” as their group walked to a spot nearby. After a minute or so he and David Hobby just couldn’t stand watching us flounder so they came over, gave a few tips, and Joe McNally even held the strobe/umbrella for a couple of shots. That was cool. I think they took pity on us in the same way that we would a distressed animal — you just can’t stand watching it suffer
I had a lot of fun shooting with these folks and my daughter had a blast being the model (she’s asking to do it again). Hopefully soon…