Of Things to Come - More Dirty Cello!

It's always a pleasure to meet up with the band Dirty Cello, and that happened this past Friday.  I previously photographed them giving a free concert, and then had the honor of taking band photos for them at the end of spring, just prior to their UK tour.  Here's a little teaser of a free concert they gave, and despite the rainy weather outside, their music chased away the gray skies and had people clapping their hands and stomping their feet.

I also tested out a new lens, the Fuji XF 60mm 2.4.  More on that and on this photo shoot in the next few weeks!

The Silent Film Star

Here's another photo from the Old Hollywood Glamour set at the Blast From The Past Meetup I attended.  It was set up by Rudy D. Vila, who was also responsible for the set of the "Siren of the Silver Screen" blog entry from a few weeks ago.  Except...

Well, there's something different about this one.  Yes, it matches many of the photos I studied regarding silent film stars, but...

This was shot with all natural light!

ISO 200   56mm lens   f/1.2   1/80sec

At the time, someone else was using Rudy's remote triggers and so our model, Meg, was there by herself, waiting for a photographer to photograph her, hopefully with the lighting setup.  But I trust my Fuji camera, and so when I saw exactly how the natural light was falling across Meg and the rest of the set, I knew I had a decent shot.  So I went for it, trusting what the camera would be able to capture and what I might be able to do in post processing.

It turned out better than I expected!

The Vintage Travelers

Next up is a set called the Vintage Traveler, basically a 1940s theme.  The styling was once again the idea of Marebeth Gromer and the lighting design for this theme was set up by Dirk Dreyer of Dreyer Pictures.  I’d met Dirk about two years ago at my first Meetup group session, which was also organized by Marebeth.

Our models this time around were Sophia, who I’d worked with before, and Miguel. 

The lighting set up by Dirk was a little complicated, but it needed to be because not only did we have to photograph our models, but also the plane itself.  It was a three light setup and Dirk took the time to explain the purpose of each light.  First off though, here’s the final image:

ISO 200   23mm lens    f/9   1/250sec

Dirk recommended f/7-ish for the shot, but it seemed that my camera liked f/9. 

The first light was located directly to the left.  It’s primary purpose was to provide lighting for the entire scene.  The second light was directly to the right, and served as a fill light because both of our models needed to be completely lit without any shadows.  The final light was located directly to the right, but a little further back, and its sole purpose was to light up the plane itself.  This was the first time I’d ever used that type of lighting.  I really learned a lot from this one! 

Side note: the dress that Sophia is wearing was made by her grandmother circa 1946! 

Pinup Girls

There are times when we’re totally outside our comfort zone that we almost don’t know how to function.  This particular part of the Blast From The Past photo shoot was definitely mine.  I’d never even tried to photograph pinup models before.  I’d previously photographed a model at the beach in a bathing suit, but trying to do something in an indoor lighted set really stretched me a bit thin. 

In order to get that pinup 1950s feel, instructor Jim Feldman set up a yellow background which he then lit with a light in the upper right of the shot.  Now, perhaps it was my Fuji X-T2 set at the Pro-Neg Standard film simulation, but try as I might, I couldn’t get the yellow color of the background to appear properly, at least in the live view of my camera. 

That aside, here’s what the finished shot looked like after some manipulation in Lightroom. 

ISO 200   56mm lens   f/8   1/60sec

As you can see from my camera settings, I used the base ISO, shot with a smaller aperture and kept the shutter speed at 1/60 sec.  The results weren’t reallly what I expected, at least in camera.  In order to achieve that pinup look, I had to take the temperature up in Lightroom and that at least got it to the point that closely resembled the look I was looking for.  Increasing the temperature more would have resulted in unnaturally yellow skin tones for the models. 

Overall, I think it worked!  Jim really did a good job setting up the shot for us, and models automatically launched into their poses.  All I really had to do was shoot! 

A Siren of the Silver Screen

Over the next few weeks I'll be blogging about some photos I took at a workshop hosted by Marebeth Gromer, who manages a Meetup Group I'm a part of.  Most recently, Marebeth organized a one day "Blast from the Past" workshop at Sonoma Valley Airport, which had five themes.  Each theme had a set instructor who coached us on both indoor and outdoor light.  Outdoor lighting is something familiar to me, especially the natural light.  Indoor lighting is really alien to me, so I really wanted to learn how to do that.

First up is a photo from the Hollywood Glamour set and our instructor was Rudy D. Vila, and the model was Sarah.

ISO 200   56mm lens   f/5.6   1/250sec

Rudy had a three light setup.  The main light was high and off to the left.  There was another to the right with a snoot which would illuminate the backside of her head, and one final light again to the left, but further back to create a sort of backlight on the far side of her face.

The first thing I had to learn at this particular set was that I couldn't shoot wide open like I was normally used to.  Because of the way lights behave, the aperture size would determine the brightness of the scene.  So Rudy recommended f/5.6.   The X-T2's shutter sync speed is 1/250sec so I kept it right at that.  Base ISO for the X-T2 is 200.

Once Sarah was position the way I wanted her, I started shooting.  Of note in the above, I asked her to take her high heels off.  I learned from studying the work of Damien Lovegrove, that bare feet for women makes the overall image a bit softer.  And Sarah was happy to ditch the uncomfortable heels.

I also wanted to have her face totally lit up.  Initially her head was to the left and that kind of kept her face in darkness while lighting up her legs, but from what I remembered from looking at some old Hollywood photos, the face is completely lit up while leaving the rest of the body is diminished light.

Everything just came together for the above shot!

Of Fog and Angels

I took this shot yesterday on Angel Island while awaiting the ferry to take me back to the mainland.  A mysterious smoke or fog.  Not a fire, but something else.

Thankfully not a fire or something out of Stephen King's nightmares; it was the Blue Angels!  Here they are doing coordinated loops over the SF Bay.

I was taking REI's Oru Kayaking class on Angel Island and before our ferry arrived, the Blue Angels buzzed the island on their way to their airshow over San Francisco for Fleet Week.

The above image shows just how low they were and how the smoke trail could have possibly settled down onto the island.

Since I was taking a class and out on the water, I had to travel light, so all I had was my Fuji X-T2 and 35mm f/2 compact prime lens.  This thing is sharp!  Have a look at the regular image, and below it the cropped image.

Pretty sharp, eh?

All of the above images were shot at f/4.5 because I need to be able to capture the entire plane in focus.  I also widened my focus area so that as long as I aimed in the general direction of one of the planes, that plane would be in focus.

Here's one more image just for fun.

Perhaps Captain Jack Sparrow is on that boat?


I was going to use this space to write a blog about a musician, but some things just happen.  In this case, it was Gigi.  And I'm smitten.

Gigi appeared out of the blue as I had wrapped up a morning of shooting, and she just captured my heart.  If cancer hadn't taken my mom away recently, I'm sure mom would have been excited to hear the name, "Gigi".  My mom probably would have thought, "Wow, finally!  A nice young lady has taken my son's mind off of his running obsession, and martial art sword-slinging obsession, and photography obsession, and sci-fi/fantasy obsession. Don't let her get away! You need to start your own litter of puppies!"

Well, I am smitten; I must admit.  But mom would have been a wee bit disappointed.  Because while Gigi might like to run, I don't think she'd want to run very far.  And her petite stature would make it difficult for her to wield any of my martial arts swords.  I've a feeling Gigi would probably only increase my photography obsession.  And I really don't think Gigi has any concept of lightsabers and hobbits and TARDISs.

Meet Gigi!

ISO 200   56mm lens   f/1.2   1/950sec

Isn't she adorable?

I just happened to have my Fuji 56mm prime lens on my X-T2 when Gigi came through the door of Pilates ProWorks in Burlingame with her owner.  The 56mm is my favorite portrait lens because at wide open, the depth of field is amazing, and its sharpness -- and the sharpness in general of all Fuji glass -- is stunning.

She has the look of love, don't you think?

A Mermaid in Little Yosemite, with Honey Baby88

Model Honey Baby88 and I had talked earlier this year about doing a waterfall shoot with her mermaid outfit, but circumstances dictated that we really couldn't get together until summer.  While we were planning this shoot, we worked on trying to find a suitable waterfall that didn't involve a long hike.  After doing some research, we settled on a tiny waterfall in Little Yosemite, which is located in Sunol, CA.  It was about a 1.5 mile hike from where we parked to the actual shoot location.

One of the things I set out to do with this project was to shoot from the perspective of someone watching the mermaid.  So as much as possible, I shot from angles that an observer would take, and also made sure to have type of foreground interest, as if the observer were spying on the mermaid from above, or from behind a boulder or stone facade.

Thankfully the spots we wanted to shoot at had shading from the rocks, but the lighting conditions were very very challenging because as you can see from the first photo, the rocks are white, and this made the entire scene very very bright.  Thankfully, my X-T2 has a maximum mechanical shutter speed of 1/8000sec so I would have had no worries had we shot out in the open, although the first shot necessitated the need for a neutral density filter.  Read on to find out why.

ISO 250   56mm lens with ND8 B+W filter  f/1.2   1/60sec

One funny side note about the above photo is that it took Honey about 10 minutes to position herself on the rock because she had to climb over to it, and then balance herself in such a way that she didn't actually fall into the water!  Her mermaid costume was tight and restricted the movement of her legs above the knee.  She made it safely though!

You're probably wondering why the shutter speed is so low and why I used an ND8 filter.  I needed to get the shutter speed low enough that the water from the small waterfall looked milky and smooth.  A high shutter speed would have frozen the beads of water like the image below.

ISO 200  56mm lens   f/1.2   1/240sec

What I like most about the above shot is again, that sense of looking in on the mermaid while she's unaware.  Perhaps she's distracted by something else or just feels safe enough to let her guard down.

The next shot is my favorite, mostly because the black and white conversion brings out a lot of details in the image that might otherwise be lost in a splash of color.  Her fin and her mermaid body really stand out in this shot.

ISO 250   56mm lens   f/1.2   1/280sec

Of course, the final shot shows our mermaid taking full notice of who's watching her.  What happens next (to the watcher) is anyone's guess!

ISO 400   56mm lens   f/1.4   1/140sec

The above shot was actually the most difficult to achieve.  The water wasn't that deep, maybe about 1.5 feet at the most, so Honey not only had to get her eyes within an inch of the water's surface, but she also had to tilt her head up enough so that it looked like she was coming straight up out of the water.  It's not too noticeable, but the blue line just to the left of her head is actually her mermaid fin.

I used the 56mm f/1.2 prime lens exclusively for this shoot because it's just the perfect portrait lens.  Fuji glass is extremely sharp, though you can see that the shot with the ND8 filter isn't as sharp as it could be.  Not exactly sure why.  Perhaps the ND8 filter might need a thorough cleaning.

Gear used:  Fuji X-T2 with 56mm f/1.2 lens and B+W ND8 filter.

Dirty Cello - Bluegrass and Blues at Old Mill Park

If you've not heard of Dirty Cello, check out their website.  Their music is amazing!  I hadn't been exposed to much bluegrass music until I listened to some of their work.  They're a lot of fun!  And this past summer they wrapped up a summer tour of Europe!

I photographed cellist Rebecca Roudman when she performed a free concert with pianist Noel Benkman at the Cadillac Hotel in early 2017.  Classically trained, Rebecca started Dirty Cello to play the other side -- so to speak -- of the cello.  After talking for a bit, I asked if she wanted to do a trade shoot and she agreed.

Rebecca chose Old Mill Park in Mill Valley as our shoot location, and what a wonderful location it is!  I'm very familiar with the bridge at Old Mill Park because it's the turnaround point for the Double Dipsea, and I've run that insane race three times.  We met on Labor Day afternoon and the results were stunning!

Enjoy the photos!  As always, I've included the camera settings for reference.  I also had to use a speedlight for all of the below shots because it was a bright, sunny day with a lot of dark shadows.  I had the ISO set to auto for the entire shoot.

First up is Rebecca.  I chose to shoot at a slight upward angle as if she were on a stage and you're looking up at her.

ISO 200   23mm lens   f/1.4   1/25sec

The wood of the Old Mill Bridge is absolutely amazing.  It has great reflective properties, although it did also present a challenge because it was bouncing a slight yellow tint into the camera.

Next is Jason.

ISO 320   23mm lens   f/2.0   1/125sec

You can see by the shadows where the speedlight is located.  My shutter speed was a little too low here so as Jason moved his head, his face went slightly out of focus.

This next shot is one of two that Rebecca chose for the Dirty Cello website.

ISO 200   16mm lens   f/1.4   1/250sec

The speedlight was located in the upper right hand corner of the frame, being held by a young lady who happened to be walking through the park with her mom.  (An interesting side note is that her mom just happened to be a fan of Dirty Cello!)  I was balancing on one of the thick wooden beams, and because it was so close to where Rebecca was, I had to use my 16mm prime lens to get all of the band members and the bridge's structure in the shot.  I later converted the image to sepia because ... hey, it's bluegrass so it needs kinda that older country feel to it!

Next was a nice solo photo of Hannah and her mandolin.

ISO 200   56mm lens  f/1.2   1/250sec

I didn't notice it until I started taking her photo that the frame of her glasses also matched the color of her mandolin.  I used the 56mm prime lens for her shot because I needed the background greens to fade out a bit.

Next we have Colin, the bass player.

ISO 200   56mm lens   f/1.2   1/250sec

I stuck with the 56mm lens again for Colin so that I could get a little subject isolation and make sure he was separated from the bright background.  The speedlight also helped with the added contrast.

Next is the second photo Rebecca chose for the Dirty Cello website.

ISO 800   35mm lens   f/4.0   1/125sec

Again, the sepia conversion to give it that bluegrass feel.  I also shot at f/4 just to keep everyone and their instruments in focus.

Here's a bit of a light-hearted moment with the band.  Not sure who was telling a joke, either Jason or Colin.

ISO 800   35mm lens   f/2.8   1/125sec

After Colin and Hannah left, I took some additional shots of Rebecca and Jason.  Here's a sweet moment between husband and wife.

ISO 640   90mm lens   f/2.0   1/125sec

Since I was using the 90mm prime lens, I had to stand pretty far back in order to get this shot.  And since I wanted to shoot wide open at f/2, I had to line them up just right to get Rebecca, Jason, and their instruments in focus.  I took the temperature up just a wee bit in Lightroom in order to achieve that warm feeling.

This is the first time I've ever had the honor of photographing a band, and it was a fun experience!  Rebecca provided some lovely classical pieces for my website in trade for these photos, and I'm still trying to figure how to get them on the site so that they can play automatically, but below is one of the classical pieces she recorded.  Hit PLAY and have a listen!

Gear used:  Fuji X-T2, 90mm f/2 prime lense, 56mm f/1.2 prime lens, 35mm f/1.4 prime lens, 23mm f/1.4 prime lens, 16mm f/1.4 prime lens, Yongnuo flashes and remote triggers.

Pilates ProWorks Burlingame - A View from the Outside

When I found out that a fitness studio was looking for photos for trade, that piqued my interest.  As you can tell, 99% of what I've done has been for trade or volunteer work.  Still dripping wet from an REI Advanced Standup Paddle Board class, I visited Pilates ProWorks Burlingame and its owner, Annabelle Jones.  Annabelle wanted some shots of her establishment and I rarely turn down an opportunity to get in some practice with the camera.  After chatting about her fitness studio and her classes, I showed up the following day to take some photos.

Below is one of the first photos of the day.  

ISO 200   16mm lens   f/1.4   1/4700sec

How was this achieved?

Initially, I didn't think much of the lettering on the window, though I did take photos of it.  But then I saw one of the customers walk right through the letters's shadow and the idea hit me.

It was 9am and the sun was shining right through the front window, so I knew I didn't have much time before the sun rose higher, thus moving the shadows from mid-level to the floor.  I asked one of Annabelle's employees who was working at the front desk to "model" for me.  I placed her in the best spot so that I could get as much of the lettering on her back, while also making sure the letters were in focus.  I slapped on my 16mm prime lens, made sure the aperture was wide open and ... voila!

ISO and shutter speed were set to auto.  I needed f/1.4 in order to isolate just the letters on her back.

I did the black and white conversion because the lettering on the window were both blue and reddish-orange, and the latter was really bright and would have drawn attention away from my model and the letters projected on her back.

More photos from Pilates ProWorks Burlingame in the next few weeks!

Gear used:  Fuji X-T2 and 16mm f/1.4 prime lens.

The Snail

I'm still trying to figure this one out.  I almost stepped on this little creature, and would have walked away and not given it a second thought. But then, look what's in its mouth. 



I knew snails ate plants.  My poor mom had a little garden and the snails always chewed up some of her favorite plants.  But seeing this snail eat a piece of mulch or wood ... I just had to stop and take a picture with the Lightroom app on my iPhone.  

I had another blog entry in mind for this day, but what this snail was doing made me forget completely about that blog entry.  This sight was just so bizarre. 

As it turns out, snails not only have a mouth, but teeth as well!  Try thinking about that the next time you see one of them oozing towards you!

Captured Memories - Summer Breeze

Sometimes at a race, you'll get just one image that really strikes you to the core, but when I photographed Brazen Racing's Summer Breeze race, three such images popped out.

The first image was in the early morning, just before the start of the half marathon.  It was about 15 minutes before race start and the half marathoners were slowing working their way towards the starting corral.  Some were jittery, some were calm.  We all have our rituals -- myself included -- when it comes to races.  As I worked my way to the starting arch, I looked to the west, towards the bay, and noticed a lone runner sitting on a bench, contemplating.  I watched her for about a minute and noticed that she was still, lost in her own thoughts.  With the bay and the people in the background, it made such powerful image.  A moment of solitude before the madness of the race began.

ISO 400   50-140 lens @ 140mm   f/2.8   1/220sec

As is always the case, as the runners are lining up before the start of the pre-race briefing, I like to mingle amongst them and take their photos.  This was during the pre-race briefing for the 5K.  I came across these young ladies in their tutus.  But it was the comradrie of that single moment that struck me the most.

ISO 200   50-140mm lens @ 51.6mm   f/2.8   1/400sec

The most powerful image that day was this brotherly embrace.  Two brothers.  One running the 5K and the other dashing to give the older brother a hug as he crossed the finish line.  It was a touching moment.  A victorious moment for the older brother and a moment of pride for the younger one.  A moment of brotherhood captured in time.

ISO 200   50-140mm lens @140mm   f/2.8   1/600sec

Of Things to Come - Laura Benitez

There's something about country music that I never appreciated before until I listened to Laura Benitez at a solo concert.  The beauty of her voice and the emotion of the lyrics tugged at my heart strings the day that I shot this photo.

ISO 800   90mm lens   f/2.0   1/125sec

More pictures of Laura's concert in the next few weeks.

Captured Memories - Serenity Before the Race

Brazen Racing's Bad Bass Half Marathon is my anniversary race with the organization.  I will admit being a basket case a day or two before any half marathons because -- well, it's just me.  But upon arriving at Lake Chabot on that early Saturday morning, there was frost on the ground still at 6am -- frost in the summer!?! -- and hardly any people there, save for the Brazen Racing crew setting up.

As I walked toward the start / finish area with my camera, I was treated to an amazing sight.

ISO 200    16-55 lens @ 47mm   f/2.8   1/100sec

In the peace and serenity of the mist-covered lake, two fisherman stood patiently.  The image above was cropped quite a bit because my lens didn't have the reach, but the sensor of the Fuji X-T2 helped bring me in a little closer.

The above sight helped calm me down so that I could face the heat and the hills and the distance of the upcoming race.

Captured Memories - Solitude After The Race

A solitary runner sits on a rock.  Resting.  Contemplating.  The heat bears down on him.  He holds his finishers medal in his hands.  The agony of the race, was it worth it?

I shot the above image last year at Brazen Racing's Tarantula Run.  The previous year I had done the half marathon, and it was brutal!  The year this photo was taken, I did the 10k, which was hard enough in the heat.  Some time after I had crossed the finish line, and after I'd grabbed my camera to take some post-race shots, I saw this gentleman sitting on a rock.  I couldn't tell which distance he ran, but the look of exhaustion tells me it was the half marathon.  I snapped this shot as quickly as I could.  This image captures exactly what it was like to run such a long distance, climb up towards the sky, and have the sun beat down on you.

Though like most half marathoners, including myself, I'm sure this guy rested a bit, then went home and planned for his next race.

Joel Tepper Piano Concert at the Cadillac Hotel

It's summer at the Cadillac Hotel and concert season is in full swing.  Last month, pianist Joel Tepper dropped by to entertain the residents and passersby.

One of the inherent challenges of photographing pianists is that they're always in a fixed position, unless they're talking to the audience.  So it's always a challenge to photograph them in such a way that it looks interesting.

As always, I shot the entire concert with prime lenses, specifically the Fuji 23mm, 56mm, and 90mm lenses.

In an effort to counter motion-blur, my shutter speed was fixed at 1/125sec.  ISO was set to auto, but capped at 800.  And more often than not, I shot wide open.

Camera settings have been provided for reference.

ISO 200   23mm lens   f/1.4   1/125sec

Above is the Patricia Walkup piano, over 100 years old!

ISO 800   90mm lens   f/2   1/125sec

ISO 800   56mm lens   f/6.4   1/125sec

The above image is the only one where I shot at other than wide open.  I wanted not only the details of the pianist in focus, but also the sheet music.

ISO 800   90mm lens   f/2   1/125sec

ISO 800   90mm lens   f/2   1/125sec

ISO 800   23mm lens   f/1.4   1/125sec

As always, I like photographing from the back of the concert venue because the mailboxes provide such a nice leading line.

Stay tuned for more concert photos in the next few weeks!

Captured Memories - Stars & Stripes 5K 2017

There are shots that sometimes stand out.  You know the one.  It's that photo that, once you see it, brings back a flood of memories of an event.  This shot captured the entire day for me.  

I don't know the true story behind it, but looking at it, the story this photo tells me is that of a big sister finishing her 5K and her little sister rushing out from the crowd to run with her towards the finish line.

It's such a beautiful photo.  It speaks of family and sisterhood and the joy that permeated that 4th of July day.

Red, White, and Blue

It's a long holiday weekend for most of the United States.  I caught a fireworks display at the San Francisco Olympic Club a few days before 4th of July.  I tried to photograph this fireworks show last year, but the fog was so thick!  All anyone could see was the glow of the fireworks in the clouds.  This year though, the fog layer was a lot higher

I achieved the below shot using the Fuji X-T2 with 16mm f/1.4 lens set to f/11 and with manual focus.  I used a Fuji remote trigger and set the camera to bulb mode.  This shot was a 6 second exposure.

Early Happy 4th of July!!!!