Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Flaming Portraits & Tight Environments


This Fall I shot two environmental portraits that presented photographic challenges to solve, which is the fun part of creating custom imagery for my clients.  The first challenge was shooting a cover image in a narrow office hallway, and the second, squeezing a fire hot photo from a tiny commercial kitchen. Both were assigned by Group Art Director Sean Barrow at Rep. magazine, which covers the financial advisory industry.

Available light scouting shot of cramped hallway where I will create a magazine cover photo ... yikes!

Sucking in my stomach to make room, I proceeded as follows:
  • 60" umbrella with shoot through  front diffuser for beautiful wrap around light.
  •   Dynalite Pencil Light on floor stand was black foil wrapped to allow about 180 degree fill onto back wall, with full Color Temperature Orange gel.
  • Upper left Dynalite head with 20 degree honey comb grid for hair and shoulder rim light.
  • Clipped on yellow flash head cover keeps having eyes poked out.

Marshall Leeds of Summit Advisers, Boca Raton.  85mm fF1.8 Nikkor, Nikon D610.

David Ortiz of Financial Chef in Coral Gables.  28mm F 1.8 Nikkor, Nikon D610.

Former chef David Ortiz remodeled a Coral Gables restaurant so the financial adviser can cook for and get acquainted with new clients right in his office suite. Art Director Barrow suggested "something with flames" for a photo, and I would have more than a hallway to work with this time.

Narrow and cluttered commercial kitchen greeted me in the offices of  Financial Chef

 Moving some of the clutter out of view, I squeezed these steps into kitchen:
  • Set Nikon D610 to tungsten color balance to give wall some blue color
  • Lit background with precisely aimed Dynalite Pencil Light by propping leg on spare speed ring
  • Goboed that light from my subject.
  • Placed small 24 inch umbrella to light subject and open area under hood, gelled double CTO
  • "Dragged" shutter 1/4 second to expose for flames

Small umbrella double gelled color temperature orange to add warmth to subject on top of the tungsten color temp on camera.

Editor's choice for full page with section head and copy.  Nikkor F 4 16 - 35 mm.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Quick & Practical Lighting With Household Lamps

In movie making a practical light is a light source that shows in the frame and appears to be illuminating the scene, but usually isn't. The table lamp or candle may be too dim to reach the entire scene and fill light is carefully added that is "motivated" by the practicals. A talented Director of Photography will carefully craft the mood of the scene by blending all the light sources.

Or you could be like me and hurriedly throw together whatever lamps you find in your living room and garage and pray you can pull something off. In September I was asked to create still photographs for the opening sequence of The Mens Room, a low budget short thriller involving a taxidermist, a secret man cave and a bloody knife.

A couple's changing relationship was to be depicted over three Christmases, from happy newlyweds to eventual cold indifference, all to set up the thrills to come. No, I won't tell you what happens.

Our Miami Shores living room received an early Christmas make over thanks to the talents of Art Director Anais Sancetta and vision of Director Eve Ganzel. With about an hour before the actors arrived - Claudia Buckley playing Evelyn and Misha Kulberg as Bill - I marshaled a bunch of household lamps, window light and strings of Christmas lights to create a warm and cozy scene.

Here are the steps I took:

Practicals are the light coming through curtains and Ikea lamp that back lights stuffed ducks and carpet, with Christmas strings on. Curtains burned out, room too dark, contrasty and cold. I love the stuffed squirrel at lower left has own accent light, the taxidermist's gift to husband. How romantic.

 A big box store fluorescent work light is gaffered into the fireplace ... who knows what the color temperature is. Yes we should of lit the candles. Hey, it's a low budget film.

 A tall halogen floor lamp placed on piano bench provides overall fill off the ceiling, while music lamp and Ikea lamp rim the sofa.

OK I cheated here, I pulled out my Dyna-Lite strobe head with honeycomb grid, but just used the modeling lamp to spot light the mountain goat above the fireplace. 

A halogen desk lamp indirectly opens up the bottom right floor by the Christmas tree.

And finally, a small LED dialed to tungsten color balance opens up the actors just a touch. Yes, I too see the black power cord snaking into the upper right fireplace.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Suwanee Starry Night: Four Photo Techniques

Stars march across moonless sky as lightening bugs paint green highlights last April. Image assembled utilizing the Star Trail Stacking method. View larger version.

While processing master files for submission to my stock agencies this week, I had fun creating variations of a favorite starry night photograph from my camping and kayaking trip to Suwanee River State Park in North Florida. I wrote about the April trip earlier. Which version do you like best?

Star Trail Stacking

In this basic night sky technique you take a number of still photographs where the stars are rendered as distinct points, and one by one in Photo Shop stack them one upon the other, the result being star trails as the earth turned during each time exposure. It's really not that complicated, as if I can do this, so can you! 

Process you time exposures to taste, convert to Tiff or Jpeg and place in a folder. This won't work with RAW images, BTW.

First download this cool and free action from Chris Schur and put on your desktop. Load it into your version of Photo Shop by clicking on the Actions Pallet upper right fly out menu > Load Actions. Then in Photo Shop on Tool Pallet set Background Color to Black. Create a blank all black image  File > New > set to exact size of your star photos > Background > Background Color.

With the all black file open,  File > Automate > Batch and choose your folder  > Play > the Star Trails action, and let it run.

The action places each photo on a layer, sets Blending Mode to Lighten, flattens, and repeats. Lighten allows just the brightest pixels to show through the stack.  

When I stacked five hours of star points the sky was just to bright, so many stars had trailed by over time. I experimented with less time, and the result above is from about 50 images taken over about a half hour.

From starry night sky to completely fogged in, 20 second time lapse movie created from 621 time exposures made over nearly six hours. iPhone & iPad version.

Time Lapse Movie

Among the many techniques available, the simplest is using Apple Quick Time Pro, about $30. File > Open Image Sequence > choose folder > sit back and let it run. There are options for choosing frame rate, codex and the like.

I use Premier Pro as I find it very simple also. Project Panel > Import or Double Click on grey > choose image folder > select the first photo > check Image Sequence box > OK. Premier very quickly brings in all the photos as an Image Sequence, which you simply place on your time line to be edited like any other video. 

BTW, photos in folder must be named sequentially for this to work. Somewhere I had managed to throw out one or more of my 621 stills, and the Image Sequence import would hang up. My eyes went buggy searching for the missing file, so finally in Light Room I made a Collection of the 621 images, and in that collection I renamed them 0001 to 0621 in the Library module. After Save Metadata to the exported folder, it worked!

I layered eight photographs on top of each other, painting away all but the lightening bug streaks on the top seven, revealing the distinct star points from one 30 second time exposure and all the bug fly bys over six hours. 

Photo Shop Layers

This is basic Photo Shop compositing technique, which I rarely use for journalistic ethics reasons, so readers may know a simpler way to do this. 

In Light Room's Library module, I chose the eight photos that had green streaks from lightening bugs flying during the 30 second time exposures, processed and placed them in a folder. I manually stacked them one on top of the other as separate layers, then turned visibility off for all but the bottom two layers. I clicked on the Layer Mask icon for layer two, choose Black as a foreground color, then a brush, and painted everything on the top layer away except the green streaks. Now I had the first photo's stars, trees and green, plus just the green of the second layer. After painting in the green for all layers, I flattened the stack and was done. 

During 30 second time exposure I painted my head lamp around fog shrouded forest.

Light Painting With Flash Light

The last technique was to fiddle around at 330 AM once the fog rolled in and obscured the sky, I simply took my head lamp and painted cross light onto the trees and moss while the shutter was open.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Travel Photo Tips: Moments Between The Notes

Kung Fu performers from world famous Songshan Shaolin Temple in Henan Province face off in decisive moment.

Yesterday I was complimented by a caller that the photographs on my web site were “so nice and ... so clear.” For a moment I wondered if praising my ability to get things in focus was really a compliment, as I had been at this game for a few decades, but then I remembered that often people find it difficult to articulate exactly why a photo works for them. “So clear” usually means “I get it!”.

Very orderly and quiet lunch room for young Kung Fu students at Wuseng Tuan Training Center, Shaolin Temple, Henan. Between the notes sips and sticks important.

For me the technical craft of focus, f-stops, composition, color and light intuitively blend into the moment when I trip the shutter and capture a unique story. The viewer doesn’t need to recognize my hidden steps to understand the photograph.

Vendor offers just spun cotton candy for waiting night time visitors in Pingyao, Shanxi.
In photographing people one of my favorite hidden steps is timing,  just the right moment so we, the viewers, connect human being to human being. The peak action of Kung Fu performers facing off, fists out and eye to eye is the interesting icing on the photo cake. We really feel the drama playing out on a far off Chinese mountain.

Frying rope bread called Mahua at shop spilling onto sidewalk, Pingyao, Shanxi. 

But sometimes the decisive moment is more subtle and more difficult to capture because I have to watch between the moments for just the right tilt of the chop stick or turn of the body.  I liken it to editing a good interview where the reflective pause is as important as the words on either side. The small moments between the major notes can tip the viewer over into “I get it!” and make the photograph “so clear”.

Quiet moment captures shoe repairman and customer sharing shady sidewalk with 
bicycle shop, Pingyao, Shanxi.
A year ago this month (first five blog posts here) I was traveling in China with friends where we were invited to exhibit at a municipal cultural center and we attended an international photography festival, with extensive travel in between. Yes China is exotic, the people fascinating and the politics meaningful. But by golly this trip was the toughest photographically of all my trips there. The weather was hot, the skies were pollution brown and we practically never had delicious light. And now I know why some regions we visited are not in the guide books ... nobody in their right mind should go there. But we had a great time meeting Chinese from all walks of life and made photos in spite of the challenges. 

Next week:  Travel Photo Tips: People Don’t Bite (Usually).

Tourists pause on Jinshanling section of the Great Wall, Beijing. Composition and light set stage for freezing people in moment.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Explaining "Flipping The Classroom On Its Head"

Principal Doug Romanik was very excited about his school’s new educational philosophy and how they were “flipping the classroom on its head” at his 300 student Catholic high school in Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood. The teachers were not lecturing any more, the students were empowered to learn on their own, iPads were every where, he told me on the phone. 

Multimedia story explaining the One To One Learning Program was delivered in June 2014. Email,  iPhone & iPad link.

Beginning with the Fall 2013 term Archbishop Curley Notre Dame Prep had become the first, and only, school in the United States to fully implement this new program. Teachers and students were adapting pretty well, but all the changes were causing some confusion amongst the parents, school supporters and incoming students.

He wanted me to come in to discuss how a web site video could explain ACND’s pioneering program. Of course I would!

 Math teacher James Harnage gives one on one time to Jennifer Lamy.

Fonton Relational Education was created in 1957 by two Spanish psychologists and had been incubated at several schools in Colombia. (Great video by IBM here.) FRE had helped adapt and implement their framework and software platforms at ACND, so I began my research on their site. I quickly bogged down trying to understand sentences such as
Fontan Relational Education is a pedagogical model that customizes learning paths for different learners at an individual unique learning rhythm based on each students’ abilities and interests.
Not having a PhD in educational theory, I was as confused as the parents, and quickly realized that my challenge was to transform the complex and abstract into a concise and emotional multimedia story about the One To One Learning Program. 

 Junior Jennifer Lamy combines pencil, paper and iPad on calculus homework.

My challenge was threefold:
  1. With interviews allow students in their own words describe their apprehension and eventual mastering of the changes. After conversations with ACND staff I drew up questions designed to elicit answers to hit target points, and to discover emotional surprises the kids might share.  
  2. With still photographs, and sit down interview video filmed by colleague Pascal Depuhl, I would put a human face on the program, show new classroom layouts and technology in use.
  3.  I would convert what I call all the Blah Blah Blah by writing a concise description of the One To One Learning Program to scroll at the end of the video. I realized there was no way the kids could hit all these points without sounding scripted. 

One To One Learning Program multimedia currently featured on ACND home page.

The non-visual aspects of One To One are explained by video end scroll:
At Archbishop Curley-Notre Dame High School, the One To One Learning Program is flipping the classroom on its head as teachers no longer lecture and students are responsible for mastering class material through guided independent study.
Teachers become coaches, first by laying out academic goals, then helping each student write their own Individual Learning Plan to achieve those goals, and  finally guiding the plan’s implementation throughout the term.
Working hand in hand with the school, students take control of their own learning while gaining time management skills, strong study habits and confidence.

Rather than sitting back during lectures, students discover the information on their own, and have instant one-on-one time with their teacher. As they move from teacher dependent to student autonomous, teachers are freed to tap into student’s individual learning styles, and students are encouraged to incorporate areas of personal interest.

During regularly scheduled classes students complete most of their homework, study in groups, and give presentations.  Grades are still earned, essays written and tests taken as students prepare for college.

Each student is issued an Apple iPad for 24/7 access to electronic books internet resources, and access to Qino, cloud storage for their learning plan and grades. The portal Showbie allows paperless submission of documents and homework.

Currently the ACND home page posts the version with end scroll, and is in standard definition. Version at top has no scroll and is in high definition.

Do you now understand what is meant my "flipping the classroom on its head"? Let me know if we were successful in explaining the One To One Learning Program in a concise and emotional manner ... there is room below for your comments.

Thank you Doug Romanik, ANCD Public Relations Specialist Lisa Morales, Pre Calculus teacher James Harnage, AP English teacher Beth Love, Daniel Briz, and Jennifer Lamy.

 Production photographs by Pascal Depuhl.

Technical Notes:

Pascal Depuhl lit and shot the video interviews, a 70 - 200 and Canon 5D Mark II for camera 1, and Nikon D610 and 85mm for camera 2 and on a slider for video portraits. I recorded the interviews with both Tram 50 lavs and a boomed Sennheiser MKH8050 hyper cardioid, the latter I much preferred due to it’s fuller sound, and used that track only. Wild sound was recorded with concealed TR50s tucked between Jennifer and Daniel shirt buttons, with Sennheiser G3 wireless packs. Stills were shot on Nikon 610 full frame cameras, with 16 - 35 f4, 28 mm f1.8 and 85 mm f1.8 primes. Sound was synced with Plural Eyes 3.0, video edited in Premier Pro CS 6 and sound sweetened with Audition, all on a Mac, of course.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Sounds Overheard: Saskatoon Saskatchewan

Just a couple of weeks after winter's ice melted on Dore Lake North of Saskatoon, summer's sun warms the waters off Eagle Island. All photos shot with Canon S100 point 'n shoot.

Field-recorded sounds of song birds, yakking raven, buzzing fly, water birds and far off loons are captured on this 1:15 recording. iPhone and iPad version. 

All the Canadians I met earlier this month were awfully nice and friendly, and I know they often vacation down here in Florida when the winters get to be 40 degrees below up north of the border. But do they chuckle at the sound of our Florida names, Miami, Okeechobee, Apalachicola or Boca Raton?  Translated to “Rat’s Mouth”, that last one even makes me smile.

While fishing a couple of weeks ago at Dore Lake, located north of Saskatoon ... giggle ... I just loved the sound of Saskatoon, and spoken with the province Saskatchewan, I enjoyed the geographical mouth full every time I said them out loud. 

For years my brother in law Jo had been telling me about his annual fishing trip, a group of 18 mostly men from the Colorado Springs area that have been making the 1250 mile trek for 29 years. Jo finally talked me into joining them this year, even though I hadn’t been fishing since I was a Boy Scout in Idaho. I flew to Colorado, and at 4 AM the next day we loaded up his Toyota Tundra CrewMax and headed out for Canada.

I guess I never really looked at a map before we left. We drove north through Colorado, across eastern Wyoming, to spend the night in Miles City, Montana. I had forgotten how wide and open the western United States is, mile upon mile of rolling grasslands, oil wells and on occasional town. As it was late Spring, everything was a pretty green. The next day we drove and drove, over Lewis and Clark’s Missouri River, crossing into  Saskatchewan where the border was a thin wire fence marching across wheat fields. In Saskatoon ... giggle ... we spent night two. Not there yet, as we couldn’t check into camp until Noon. So on day three, after a leisurely breakfast, we entered the boreal forest. Boreal forest? Are we in the neighborhood of the Arctic Circle? Are we there yet? Startling a bear rooting for tender greens, we finally reached the dead end of a 65 mile dirt road and emerged at Dore Lake Lodge.

I suddenly realized that this trip was the equivalent of asking some of my buddies to go fishing, we just need to drive from Miami to New York city over three days!

I soon found out why this crazy group of fishing buddies drive this far. The fishing was terrific! Within minutes of casting onto the lake I was reeling in Northern Pike as long as my arm. Throw ‘em back, I was told, that’s to small. Sure enough, bigger fish were out there, including some delicious walleye. Even though I didn’t win the $80 pot for the largest fish of the week, I caught fish every time, trolling the deeper holes or casting into the weeds, rain or shine. One of our group brought in, and then released, a 31 pound pike. Lots of 8 to 12 pound walleye. As we could only keep six fish each for the week, other than the ones we ate, it was catch and release all day long.

Jo was chief cook and his cabin was the mess hall where we gathered every evening for liquid refreshment and tall stories of monster fish which got away. Some of the crew were younger than me, including two teens, a very competitive brother and sister and their taxidermist dad. But most of the fishing buddies were long retired, a former Catholic priest, an ophthalmologist, weather scientist, accountant, long distance truck driver, a jet fighter pilot. A fun group with lots of stories. Did I mention the lying about big fish?

As I was the new guy, I steered away from the potential controversy of politics or religion, yet on the last night mentioned to a dinner companion my lifelong membership in one of the two major political parties. The genial white haired gentleman, who had spent hours in my boat teaching me the finer points of fishing, growled “If we had known that sooner, we would of cut you up for bait!”

Between spirited fish strikes, beaver and bald eagle sightings, I shot a few photos and recorded a little sound and soaked in Dore Lake’s wide open skies. Will I go back fishing next year? Definitely, but I just might fly to Saskatoon ... giggle ... and skip most of the drive.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

History Detectives: Students' Civil Rights Legacy

I believe few Americans still hold out hope that we are living in a post racial society, now that we are well into the second term of President Barack Obama and we are finding our civic discourse just as fractured and angry as ever. For a while after we as a nation elected our first African American president in 2008, I read in magazine essays and overhead in coffee shops that "maybe race doesn't matter anymore?" 

Hopefully this 5 minute multimedia story about high school students discovering how the civil rights era of the 1960s shaped their lives is just as insightful as when completed in 2011. Please read my original blog post .

In spite of opinion polls indicating most people (mostly whites?) see no racism in their lives, I feel race still matters in almost everything we as a nation and as individuals do every day. There are under currents that race matters popping up all the time. Some could observe:

- The President is being disrespected by his political opponents because of his race. 

- A billionaire basket ball team owner is a total monster because of his comments on race.

- Miami-Dade police shoot and kill in the streets an inordinate number of young black men.

-  OJ is still suspected/ still guilty/ still acquitted because of his race.

These thoughts were going through my mind this week as I was re-editing my History Detectives multimedia piece I was commissioned to create three years ago. Archbishop Curley Notre Dame Prep in Miami's Little Haiti neighborhood asked me to explain the importance of their being the first high school in the then segregated state of Florida to integrate 50 years before.

Taylor Altidor,  then a 16-year-old Junior, told me "...we just couldn't believe that Florida used to be racially segregated, that blacks and whites didn't eat in the same restaurants...". I followed her advanced placement history class as they researched segregation and interviewed students from the early 1960s and prepared for a Black History assembly. Former students and now adults well into their 60s, Paul Wyche told me he was called the N-word at a high school basket ball game, and Constance Moor Thornton recalled "colored" water fountains.

The researching students understood such overt racism that thrived in the Jim Crow era was thankfully no longer and was not part of their teen lives. But was racism completely gone? The student detectives questioned, discussed and completed class projects that brought the topic into the open.

Addressing the assembled student body in a clear and optimistic voice, one civil rights era student said "We come from different circumstances, but color doesn't matter, it is what is in your heart." 

I hope so, and I hope some day we will be living in a truly post racial society.

Technical Notes:

This month I was in the process of updating my Miami multimedia photography portfolio and had begun transferring the original History Detectives from a Flash based player made in Sound Slides to a more universally accepted and iOS friendly H 265 video format, when ACND called looking a new high resolution file. Good timing.

I reprocessed all 123 original still photographs in the newest Adobe Light Room 5, squeezing additional color quality and dynamic range from the newest RAW processor. I always export as Tiffs with medium sharpening, believing compressed Jpegs, and over sharpening, could potentially cause video jitter. I cropped the original 4:3 aspect ratio to the video standard 16:9. This cut a little close to some image content, as I was not thinking 16:9 originally and had composed my images differently.

I added the stills to a Adobe Premier Pro CS6 timeline, imported my original sound track made with Apple Logic, and switched in a couple of new images but pretty much left the timing alone. I no longer liked the Ken Burns movement on some photos in the original, and removed it. I added a new title and credit page with a typewriter effect in Adobe After Effects CS6 ... a lot easier than this amateur video editor thought. On your P Pro time line >  right click the title > open as a After Effects composition > in AE Effects & Presets search "typewriter" > drop that puppy onto the composition and bingo, you have the type type type effect all done for you.

I digress. And I used the American Typewriter font in PP to make new lower thirds. I couldn't figure out how to animate them too, so decided would be less busy without. I exported through Adobe Media Encoder with the Vimeo 720 p presets, and uploaded to Vimeo. Easy peasy.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Talking Picture Postcard - Suwannee River

Green lightening bug last week streaks across still frame from moonless sky time lapse, Nikon D 610, Nikkor 16 - 35 mm at widest end, 30 seconds at f 4.0, ASA 3200, no noise reduction.

It's 3:30 AM as I crawl out of my tent pitched along the Suwannee River at the Florida state park of the same name, and I'm groggily peering up through the trees searching for the bright stars that dotted the sky when I had entered my sleeping bag five hours earlier. But I don't see a thing in the dark.  Double checking that my glasses are on my face, I switch on my head lamp only to see hazy water droplets suspended in foggy air.

View 1:29 video on you iPhone or iPad.

As I stumble down the trail toward my camera I worry if my time lapse was completely obscured by the cold morning fog creeping amid the slash pine and live oaks. I soon hear the camera still clicking and am reassured by the green glowing lamp as images are written to the memory card.

With two 30-second time exposures taken every minute for the past five hours,  I held the review button down to quickly spin the individual still photographs across the screen, magically moving the stars along their orbits in the heavens. Wow, condensing hours into a few seconds, that's cool!

I turned the camera and head lamp off to toss my head way back and look up. I knew there was six feet of dangling Spanish Moss above me as I could feel it tickle my nose. But I couldn't see the moss, nor the trees nor beyond. I could only feel the wet fog on my face, and hear a thousand thousand croaking frogs way off along the flooded banks of the Suwannee . Wow, being out doors in the middle of the night is really cool too!

My plan was to kayak and explore the historic river and had driven the 435 miles from Miami due North to within a half hour of the Georgia state line and the Okefenokee Swamp, from which the Suwannee originates. Only problem was I didn't call ahead, I guess the dry season in South Florida is not necessarily the dry season up here. An unseasonably rainy winter had forced the river up to 15 feet above flood stage, to dangerous to paddle. 

No problem, though, I found lots of scenic country to photograph, natural sounds to record and the nearby Santa Fe river fed by springs, one of my best paddles ever. A great trip with enough to fill an entire post card, a Talking Picture Postcard for sure.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Talking Picture Postcard - Florida Keys Slow Time

On a moonless night last January, coconut palms are silhouetted against star filled sky at Bahia Honda State Park in the Florida Keys. With Nikon D610 30 seconds f 2.8 at ASA 1600. A series of similar time exposures at near by Sand Spur Beach were assembled into a time lapse making up the second half of the Talking Picture Postcard below.

The Florida Keys are a pretty magical place to visit, and I often become confused with the changing pace of time I experience on the island chain. Rushing down the highway from Miami my body struggles to slow down and relax. Gotta answer emails, gotta get to where I'm going. But by the time I make it below Marathon, about Mile Marker 40 or so, I'm looking off at the blue Atlantic from up high on the Seven Mile Bridge, the sun is shimmering off the wave tops, and I see a lone sail boat miles off at the edge of the Gulf Stream. 

Real time video captures a slow moving sailboat for 19 seconds, and then an hour long time lapse reveals stars rotating above the ocean at Bahia Honda State Park in this 36 second Talking Picture Postcard. Field-recorded natural sound captured nearby. iPhone & iPad link or if your receiving this by email.

That boat is barely moving, it's is so sloooooow, just a tiny triangle of sail on the horizon. Time seems to stand still. The Keys' magic dust is sprinkling down on me now, transforming my fast time to Keys time, slow time, time to take in all the sun and water and stars up in the pitch black sky. In a blink I find myself on the beach, long after sunset, hours from the moon rise, I'm soaking in all those pin pricks of light  I forgot even existed.

Time to write home about this time warp I'm experiencing, but not the fast way by posting to social media. I'll take the old fashioned way, I'll write on the back of a postcard a couple of lines, stick a stamp on it, scribble an address, and mail another Talking Picture Postcard.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Talking Picture Postcard - Everglades Web

Sunday while loading up my kayak and paddle, I threw in my new Nikon D610 DSLR camera and small audio recorder, along with a sandwich and one bottle of beer. I had no set plans other than spending a day in Everglades National Park about an hour south of Miami. I could paddle inland through tunnels covered with mangroves, or across open Florida Bay skipping from island to island.

If while out in nature I heard a cool sound, I could record it. If I saw great light, I could shoot a picture. Or if something intriguing moved, I could capture video. What ever happened would be just fine with me.

 This 30 second Talking Picture Postcard was shot Sunday, with sound captured nearby. Listen first for a red-winged blackbird, and then a red- shouldered hawk. Direct link for iOS devices.

Right after entering the park at sunrise, I noticed  the subtle movement of dew covered spider webs blowing in the breeze on a vast saw grass prairie. I was just beginning to become familiar with the video controls of my camera, and other than shooting video of my cat Shadow, who at age 14 and weighting 19 pounds does not move much, the webs were my first "action" subjects.

After a long paddle, the sandwich, beer and a nap, the setting sun was back lighting gently flowing Spanish moss hanging from live oak trees. Seeing this "action" as a bookend to the morning's spider webs, I realized I could edit a short video from the day.

It's been three years since I contributed to my occasional Talking Picture Postcard series on this blog, so Everglades Web is a revival of sorts. Back in 2010 I described my interest in postcards:
I’m trying to think of each [ short video ] as a couple of lines on the back of a picture postcard, like those I’ve discovered while rummaging through dusty boxes in antique stores over the years.
After gleaning what I can from the photos, I turn the cards over to read the hand written lines, often family news, weather reports and plans about the future. I wonder how the parties to the correspondence lived their lives and what happened to them. Those few lines can be the best part, ease dropping on people who’ve long since passed away.
 Sorry I won't mail this postcard to you, you're have to read it here, as I'm saving the .49 cent stamp.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Chinese Family, Friends & Selfies

As the end of the year catches up with me, I thought I'd wrap up with some miscellaneous candid street photographs from this Fall's trip to China. This selection captures a handful of the 1.3 billion Chinese ... urban, middle class citizens enjoying their children, parents, grand children, best buddies and close friends.

Mother and teen daughter walk arm in arm down busy Lianyungang shopping street in
Jiansu Province.

Son play attacks his father lakeside at the Emperor 's Palace Theme Park in Kaifeng, Henan Province.

 Baby and his grand mother discover high flying balloons at a city park in Kaifeng, Henan Province.

 Best buddies walk to lunch after morning of Kung Fu drills at the Weseng Tuan Training Center in Henan Province.

 A selfie records friends attending an evening outdoor music performance in Denfeng City, Henan Province.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Sounds Overheard: Smog, Muzak & Crickets

The 13 story tall Iron Pagoda of the Buddhist Youguo Temple dating from 1049 pierces the smoggy sky last September in Keifeng, Henan Province, China. 

Ambient sounds recorded in Iron Pagoda Park range from tranquil to chaotic: 0:00 gabbing tourists, 0:14 background music on loud speakers, 0:31 parakeets for sale,  0:46 children's train ride, 1:23 cooing while feeding pigeons, 1:40 grand children & grannies, 1:48 crickets compete with music in quiet corner. Direct link for iPhones & iPads or if receiving post via email.

One of the surprises of traveling off the beaten tourist track in China is finding authentic photographs and sounds in not so glamorous places, so as dawn broke over Keifeng in China’s Henan Province, I was excited to get going.

This being my eighth trip to China, I knew from experience that Sunday morning last September that I could stumble onto interesting people doing interesting things in colorful ways.

Once in Yunnan I left a history museum tour and discovered a bride and groom in full wedding regalia strolling through the park. A random turn off the highway led to Buddhist monks in Qinghai inviting me into their yak hair tent to listen to eight-foot-long horns. In Inner Mongolia I sipped warm horse milk inside a yurt and met Westernized tweens texting in bunny slippers. All these chance encounters made terrific memories.

Early morning exercises follow well worn track around trees in park surrounding the Iron Pagoda in Kaifeng, city of five million on the banks of the Yellow River.

This morning as the sun rose it feebly punched through the thick gray smog. Buildings across a four lane street were obscured, and it was hot and humid too. Ugh, I thought as I optimistically entered the park surrounding a temple. There had to be a picture here in spite of the horrible light. There had to be sounds of everyday life here somewhere.

Yes and yes, within minutes I found both,  photographs and ambient sounds depicting off the beaten path China. Maybe not as colorful or glamorous as my other Chinese experiences, but authentic enough for another terrific memory.

During my assignments and travels I've been recording the sounds I overhear, and many don't have supporting photographs or stories. This occasional series will be my excuse to share my audio orphans, these Sounds Overheard.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Portraits From Nothing, Sometimes Easy, Often Hard

When one of my magazine clients assigns me to create an environmental portrait, the first few minutes on location are the most nerve wracking for me. I’m thinking, I have to make somebody look great in this location.

I see blank walls, florescent lights and another drab conference room. I worry about how to set up my lights and compose my portrait in order to make something out of this nothing.

Geeze Louise, what am I going to do?

When I arrived to photograph Miami, FL, financial planner Linda Lubitz Boone for Sean Barrow at Rep. magazine, I began with the location below.

After working down my check list: 1) set medium softbox at left, and placed strip box at right for rim and hair light. 2) Color temperature on camera set to tungsten 3200 K, making window light blue. 3) Slow shutter speed exposed for outdoor light. 4) Gelled left strobe full color temperature orange,  and rim light full CTO + 1/2 CTO more.

In these moments I try to tell myself that pain and angst are part of the creative process, and I must work through this challenge by methodically coming up with a photographic solution. As I work through my mental check list, I travel from panic to confident :

- What’s the story I’m telling with this portrait? Is my subject powerful, so I want to shoot upward? Are they sympathetic, and I want soft lighting and a warm color palette?
- How can I use the environment to help the story? Do I want to show the developer looking over a grand city, or Is it a personality profile where location is not important?
- Will my art director run a large photograph so I can shoot wider, and do I need to shoot tight also for secondary use or table of contents? Horizontal, vertical, room for cover lines and copy?

- Will this space allow me to place my lights where I need to?
- How can I make limited lighting gear work here?
- And I check off the details: How long may I keep my subject in front of the camera? How long may I use this location? Will my cables and stands be in the way? May I turn the overhead lights off? Will my extension cords reach? When do the lawn sprinklers come on? Will the strobes mess with the fire alarms? Does my executive wear glasses? Does he have hair or is he bald?

Scouting locations at Florida Gulf Coast University in Ft. Myers, FL, I just had to photograph Rebekah Wells in the dramatic light streaming in the library windows, a rare gift. Shot for Bob Fernandez at the ABA Journal for a story on "revenge porn". A very interesting read, as is Ms. Wells' site Women Against Revenge Porn. 

Very simple lighting: 1) medium soft box on right is main light, no gells 2) strip light on left gelled full CTO 3) small beat up umbrella at lower right provides fill at 2 - 3 stops under, no gells 3) regular daylight shutter speed to expose for sky and clouds.

As the pieces come together and I fire off a few test frames to check on the back of my camera, my photograph begins to materialize from my imagination. By now I know that when my subject walks on set my environmental portrait will be a success.

Very important tip, nobody want’s to hear their dentist say “oops!”, so while your creative mind is panicking and stumbling, keep it inside and don’t let ‘em see you sweat.

I must admit, every once in a while I walk into a location and immediately see a terrific solution. Wonderful sunlight and shadows cascading through magnificent windows, or a grand interior with soaring architectural details. Or maybe just a prop will make my day, a model airplane or basketball, whoopee!

I accept these occasional gifts with grace and enjoy not having to torture myself on the way to making one more photographic portrait out of nothing.