Posted on September 22, 2014
It’s a Saturday morning. My assignment – The Finish Line. Pose groups (or individuals) as they complete the course and capture 2-4 images of every single person. There are something like 11,000 people here. The first wave goes out at 740am. I’ve been awake since 4am. Where is the finish line? Backlit by the sun for half the day. I’m shooting a wide angle lens which makes it even more of a nightmare. There’s no correcting these in post-production. Get the exposure right, find a decent angle while also eliminating lens flare, and shoot low to make everyone look impressive! The sound system is 100 ft away and I’m quickly losing my voice. Oh, you’d like to do a jumping photo? 3-2-1-Jump. I’m not sure I’m allowed to share any of these, but here are a few highlights from the event.
Posted on June 26, 2014
This past weekend I had the opportunity to shoot the Color Run on the campus of the South Portland Community College with Flo-Foto as a hired hand. Admittedly, I was a little out of my element – I don’t usually shoot thousands of moving subjects, I don’t generally shoot JPG or leave my photos unedited, and I was concerned about the safety of my camera and lens with the massive clouds of color, especially after reading this article from LensRentals. Armed with duct tape, saran wrap, and a very cheap UV filter I left Bangor at 530 AM to make the two hour drive south. Getting to campus was easy, but once there I was stuck in the pre-race traffic that wound up backed up all the way to the draw bridge. After parking in the field, I had to ask three different people to get proper directions to the kaleidoscopes at the finish line and there I picked up my assignment. I was stationed at purple with the Purple People Eaters on Madison St about a quarter mile from the finish line at Bug Light Park. The sun was to my left hidden behind the trees and put the majority of the station in the shade with bright sunlight behind. Luckily, the wind was blowing across the street instead of towards me. I dialed in my exposure using anyone that walked by as a subject, then picked a few good vantage points that worked with my 80-200mm lens. I realized of course that racers may have to dodge me at certain times, but that was probably to be expected. I opted not to use the saran wrap and duct taped my camera inside a rain sleeve. If it’s waterproof, it should also be dust proof, right? With that I just waited until the chaos began.
Once the mob of racers started funneling through I got into a rhythm – focus on bib number, shoot, repeat. During breaks in the runners I’d change position. A few times during the day the dust cloud became so thick that I lost the ability to see let alone focus. Although my primary goal was to capture every runner, as they came through in massive groups it became more and more difficult to isolate anyone. There were a few people that felt the need to stand in front of me to get their own photos, and from time to time the Purple People Eaters would wind up blocking a shot, but in the end, my arms hurt from holding my beast of a lens to my eye for two hours. There was a coating of dust on the filter and in my mouth, I was purple from head to toe, and enjoyed every minute of it. Below are a few of my favorites along with a shot of my protected camera and a post-race selfie!
Posted on May 16, 2014
Over Easter weekend, I had a session with Peggy & Nellie, two labradoodles that had just gotten their haircuts (aka some surprise grooming). Before arriving, I had to ask how large a labradoodle was because for some reason their name makes me think of a small dog, however they are actually quite large and weigh in around 100 lbs each. As the plan was to shoot indoors, I was concerned about which lens to use and how much lighting I would need to provide. Turns out that I stuck with the trusty nifty fifty. Our goal wound up being to get headshots of each of the girls and then a single shot of the two of them together. Neither Peggy or Nellie felt much like sitting still, treats made them drool, and getting them together took some work. The photos below are some of my favorites from the day!
Posted on April 16, 2014
This idea started with Groupon. We needed a vacation. A week on the beach at an all-inclusive resort sounded great, but where would we go? Costa Rica? Dominican Republic? Puerto Rico? Based on the dates we wanted to travel, Costa Rica was out as it was going to be dry and brown instead of its picturesque green. Dominican Republic had some sketchy reviews. Mama Juana anyone? Jamaica was looking nice though. Stable weather, warm temperatures, nice beaches. We settled on the Jewel Dunn’s River Resort just outside of Ocho Rios. A flight out of Boston took us to Miami, and from there we dropped into Montego Bay, Jamaica. A bus ride across the north coast brought us to the resort. Although the first full day was marred by some missing luggage, that was the fault of the airline. We checked one bag. How exactly did they lose it?
In my desire to document my travels and hopefully walk away with some decent images, I brought three lenses and two batteries along with a bunch of memory cards. Yet again I was without a tripod, but one of these days I may finally look into a small travel version. This trip is probably the first real use my wide angle Sigma has gotten. Also in the bag was the nifty fifty and the 18-200 travel lens. At times I couldn’t decide which lens to use, so on different days I walked around the same places with different lenses. The above shot is actually two photos stitched together to get the wider point of view and then cropped to the square that I liked.
Of course, there was plenty to see as well as plenty to do. Starting with the resort, the rooms were upscale, the beach was clean, and the grounds were well kept. On the east end of the beach, sea kayaks and boats lined up for our use. Palm trees, peacocks, statues, sparkling and/or colored swimming pools, lit up trees, stray cats, and spiders were a few of the available subjects. We did watch a stray cat use the beach as a litter box one night, but then we also witnessed the grounds crew raking the sand. While sitting on the beach or near the pool, I spent a lot of time staring up at palm trees and as a result wound up trying to capture something interesting based on that premise. One of my favorites is the black and white tree further down this post.
After walking around the resort at night, I realized the potential for night shots and subsequently spent a few more nights wandering around with a camera in hand and finding creative ways to make sure the camera didn’t move during the long exposures. The neighboring resort, the Riu, was hard to miss from the end of the boardwalk and luckily I could use a railing as a camera support. It was on this same walk that I captured the blue swimming pool. The submerged lights would shift color every few seconds, so depending on when you saw the pool, it could either be yellow, blue, green or red. Grace was hanging out in a hammock during my walk and security had stopped to make sure that she was alright. When I got back it looked more like something was wrong! Why was security there?
After a few days of being on the resort and getting the feeling that we weren’t seeing the real Jamaica, we opted to take a walk. From our balcony we could see much of the village and daily smoke from burning. The driveway from the main road into the resort was longer than we realized and lined with some interesting flora. The tree image above is from this walk. By the time we reached the gate, we were sweating from the humidity and heat. The security guard took down our room number for security purposes (like us not returning!) and told us we could go wherever we wanted. Immediately outside the resort, we saw the difference. Things were a lot more rough and poverty was the rule. There were a lot of goats, an absence of glass in the windows, and we watched someone ride a horse to the store. In some ways I didn’t feel safe carrying my camera around, and everyone wanted the money that us Americans likely had. Somewhat ironically, an older man helped us cross the street and we walked further up into the village. A group of barefoot kids befriended us and gave us a quick tour in hopes of getting tips.
One morning we decided to get up early and walk back down to the boardwalk in an attempt to catch a foreign sunrise. The security guard from the night before bid us good morning. He had been up all night. We were able to watch the sun rise up over the hills behind Ocho Rios and cast its light over the bay. The few clouds in the sky gave the moment some drama, and the two images below are from this morning. I wanted something in the foreground against the sky and the light fixture seemed to fit. With a flash I could have maybe used a person. It wasn’t until we turned to leave that I noticed the flag poles against the bright orb and the orange light it was splashing across the tables and boardwalk.
Later in the week, we woke up early for an excursion to go horseback riding. Now, we didn’t exactly wake up early to get there, but we needed time to eat. There were six restaurants at the resort, although only two of them were available for breakfast. My favorite was the Coral Café for its buffet with numerous local flavors such as ackee and saltfish. In the village, the children actually showed us an ackee tree. After breakfast, we loaded into a van and drove into Mammee Bay before entering into an historic area and winding slowly uphill. At the top, we met our guides and our horses (my horse was named Atlas) and proceeded to ride back down the hill. The hillside was a mix of grass and spiderwebs that were slowly engulfing the ruins of a British settlement. Due in part to knowing that I would be riding the horse in the ocean, I opted not to bring my camera. I could have spent hours in those ruins. As we rode closer to the beach, we passed evidence of ancient Spanish settlements and a tree with fruit like gourds that was used to make musical instruments. Once in the water, the horses made a mess. Apparently they like to relieve themselves in water and the term seabiscuit now makes perfect sense.
It was the next morning that we ventured into Ocho Rios for some shopping. The bus was full of us tourists and the first stop was the “Reggae Walmart” as the sign said, although it was a local craft market akin to a flea market. Every shop owner wanted you to view their items and many of them were selling the same things. I was more interested in taking a few photos of the colorful scene than I was buying anything, however I did get offered some “blueberry.” When I asked what blueberry was, the man motioned for me to come to his shop. Once inside he pulled out a bag of weed and I could only laugh. On the way out of the market, I captured the colorful hillside and shacks seen below. It took extensive RAW processing to return the scene to how it looked in memory.
The other shopping area that we went to was a more traditional mall, the Taj Mahal shopping area. We (Grace) haggled for better prices on coffee and hot sauces. I’m not much of a haggler. The Taj Mahal photo below is from when I was waiting for the bus. I wanted to capture its symmetry against the blue sky and I’m still not sure if I needed a different angle.
After shopping, we rode up the hill into Coyaba Gardens, a collection of beautiful botanical gardens and waterfalls. Now that I see their image gallery, I’m finding it kind of funny to compare photos. At the base of the hill, the bus stopped for the tour guide to show us the Bob Marley tree, or the dreadlock tree. I didn’t realize that we were allowed to get off the bus for a second or two. I grabbed the camera and snapped a few frames, eventually winding up with the one you see below. Someone there with their first SLR camera asked me how much my lens cost and I rattled off the price without mentioning that it wasn’t a top quality lens.
Our tour of the gardens was rather rushed and I hung back taking photos of whatever I could. I probably could have spent the entire day beneath the canopy. At one point, the tour guide plucked a massive spider off of its web and let it crawl around on his face before putting it back in his hand to show everyone. A few of the women were screaming and ran away in fear. He placed the arachnid back on the web and walked on as if nothing even happened.
At the end of the tour, while people perused the giftshop, I walked back into the gardens for a few more shots and the two below are a result of that. The lush tropical flora, waterfalls, and blue sky were easy to photograph and difficult to capture. Both of my final images are similar to images in their photo gallery. I think it’s my second image that really captured the depth and texture of the scene while the first one is more of an artsy take on the subject.
After our hurried trip through the gardens, we moved on to Dunn’s River Falls, a 600-foot cascade that was apparently in the movie Dr. No. Within the falls are a number of paths that have been cleaned to enable people to climb them. Of course, I didn’t bring my main camera here either, opting to bring a waterproof point and shoot. I could have spent another day just shooting here as well. Wearing only shoes and a swimsuit, we ventured to the base of the falls on the beach where the river emptied into the Caribbean Ocean and with everyone in the group holding hands, we began our ascent. Men were warned to tighten their drawstrings and women were told to make sure they didn’t lose their tops. Nothing about the climb was difficult although at one point I looked up at the trees above us and counted seventeen massive spiders without even moving. The guides pointed out a natural slide and those who wanted to were able to slide down the rock in the rush of water and splash into a pool below. The current pushed us so that our heads were pushed under while our feet were pushed upwards, essentially rolling us upside down under water before righting us.
Overall, our experiences with horseback riding, the gardens, and the falls were excellent and the only real detractor was the pressure we felt from the numerous shop keepers and salespeople. In leaving the falls, we had to run a gauntlet of shops. We started through as a group and one by one the shop owners plucked us off. One woman just decided to run through and not stop for anything.
On our last full night in Jamaica, we had dinner reservations for the Jade Samurai, a teppanyaki style restaurant with limited seating. They had four rooms that each sat nine people. We wound up sharing a room with a family from various parts of Canada. They were a few minutes late due to a hockey game and were celebrating the last night of their family reunion. Conversation was enjoyable, there was no shortage of free alcohol, and the night soon carried over into the tree bar. For most of the night we had no idea what time it was and we left just before the bar closed. For reference, that was 2 AM. Somewhere in that evening, I drank three shots of tequila, a couple of beers, a few mixed drinks, and a glass of wine or two. I was definitely not sober, but I had the sense to have my camera on me. I remember staring at the liquor bottles around the lit up tree bar and knew I needed to shoot it. I used a stack of napkins as a lens stabilizer so that I could use a low ISO and captured the bottles above. Stumbling around the bar later, I also cranked the ISO much higher to shoot handheld and captured a view of that magical bar as seen below. It may be one of my most memorable images simply for the story behind it. The next day was rough and by evening we were ready to depart. A 3 AM van ride brought us to the airport and from there we bid goodbye to Jamaica.
Posted on April 16, 2014
As I shoot more interiors, I keep looking for ways to balance the interior and exterior lighting. More often than not, the brightness outside is many times greater than the lighting of any room and either results in blown out windows or very dark looking rooms. Advanced planning is usually required to address the differences with artificial lighting like flashes or neutral density window covers, but what about the situations involving either a single flash unit or no flash at all? In an effort to refine my HDR processing to appear as natural as possible (when that’s the look I’m going for) I decided to shoot a few bracketed interiors and discover for myself how natural real estate photos can look when created using a style that is typically known for being anything but.
This room had a single overhead light, green walls and a dark carpet with daylight coming in through the window. A 5-shot bracket tamed the light and I processed it through HDR Expose after merging the exposures through Photomatix Pro. I find HDR Expose to be best for natural looks despite Photomatix having a new Natural process in the Fusion function.
All of the lights in the kitchen couldn’t match the brightness outdoors and when shooting wide angles, it becomes tricky to place a flash that would appear like normal lighting. To make matters worse, there were two color temperatures – the blue of daylight and the red of the overhead lighting. I had to process the image twice with different white balances and merge the different areas back into a single image before proceeding. Again, I created the HDR through Photomatix Pro and tone mapped it through HDR Expose.
Although this is the featured image above, I included it here again so that it could be seen larger. This was a 7-shot bracket of a hotel room in Jamaica. Being able to see anything out the window was important, as was making the room appear bright. Brighter rooms are more appealing in general.
I wanted to show the view through the door and the light outside was overpowering. Without the use of HDR I wouldn’t have captured any detail or color in the doorway or tile floor. The trick was avoiding the normal halos and color shifts associated with the HDR look.
In the case of a cramped bathroom, it can be difficult enough at times to avoid being seen in the mirror. There may not be a place to tuck a flash, the walls may be colored and rule out bouncing light anywhere, and it is still the photographers job to present the room as appealing. While happy with the image, a 7-shot bracket, I think the crooked mirror creates something of a funhouse effect. The lines in the room are straight but something seems off. This also speaks to properly preparing a room to be photographed. Soap, toothbrushes, and various tubes of goo shouldn’t ever be seen.
A simple kitchen windowsill. Although this isn’t HDR in the common sense of the term because I didn’t shoot brackets, I could argue that it is of a higher dynamic range. By opening up the shadows and pulling back the blown hightlights in Adobe Lightroom, I took a natural light image and expanded its range.