San Francisco Recovery Theatre at the Cadillac Hotel

As you can tell, I really do enjoy photographing musicians.  Why?  I think because it's more challenging than photographing runners or models.  Maybe.  Regardless, I do enjoy taking photos of them.  I'm always out of my comfort zone when photographing musicians because of the high contrast lighting situation.

The San Francisco Recovery Theatre spent the lunch hour at the Cadillac Hotel recently to entertain the residents there with some lively music.  Some of the singers are recovering addicts, and they've channeled their former addiction towards the power of music, and powerful it is!

Mr. Geoffrey Grier heads up the SFRT and when he talks, it's like he's singing a tune.  

ISO 640   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/125 sec

SFRT's music style harkens back to days gone by, but it still gets into your bones and makes you want to put your hands together and tap your feet.  There were more singers than captured below.  I wasn't able to photograph all of them as I was on my lunch break and couldn't stay long.

ISO 800   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/60 sec

ISO 800   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.4   1/125 sec

ISO 800   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/125 sec

Have a look at the pianist's shoes!

ISO 800   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/125 sec

ISO 320   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/125 sec

ISO 500   90mm f/2 lens   f/2   1/125 sec

ISO 500   90mm f/2 lens   f/2   1/125 sec

This final photo is Mr. Ben Bacot.  He's got such a powerfully deep voice.  

ISO 800   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/250 sec

That's all for this week.  Next week I'll profile another musician, but in the meantime check out SFRT's website for another show near you.

1960s Boho Shoot - Three Girls and a Jeep

This wasn't the first time I'd photographed hippie girls in bohemian-style, though this shoot provided some really great learning opportunities.  It was part of a Meetup group and we gathered at the Sonoma Valley Airport, which has several vintage planes.  And one of the plane owners also happened to have a World War Two era jeep.  We had three models:  Galyna (left), Jennifer (center), and Katie (right).  The props provided were great, to include the ammo belt and chain gun!  Naturally they were non-working props!  I shot the below image without an ND filter.  Lighting was provided by someone using a reflector.

 ISO 200   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/6400

ISO 200   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/6400

The reflector actually showed up in Galyna's left sunglass lens, so I took it out using Photoshop.

A few lessons learned from taking this particular image.  Obviously, first it's good to make sure your lighting isn't showing up at all.  I also should have shot this at f/2 because Galyna isn't as in sharp focus as Jennifer, and Katie is definitely out of focus.  I've always wanted that out of focus background, but I forget sometimes that it would sometimes be at the expense of keeping everyone in focus.

I'll circle back to more pics from this day of shooting over the next few months.

Theme and Styling by Marebeth Gromer Photography

Lighting by Cedric Sims

Gear used:  Fuji X-T2, 56mm f/1.2 lens

Perrish Sings Sinatra

I suppose the subtitle for this blog posting should also be "Experimenting with Bounce Flash Photography" because I did it 100% of the time during this shoot.  I'd heard about the concept of bouncing the flash from a fellow photographer who directed me to some blog postings by pro photographer Neil van Niekirk.

It was a Sunday late afternoon, and I found myself at a wonderful little Italian restaurant called the Villa D'Este.  I'm rather familiar with it because I hired them to provide the meal that was served after my mother's memorial service last year.  The musician for that night's performance was a gentleman named Perrish, who sings in the style of the legendary Frank Sinatra.  I've heard Ol' Blue Eyes sing before and have to admit that Perrish sounds almost exactly like him.

What follows are a whole bunch of photos from the evening, also with my camera settings.  The restaurant's ceiling was a rust-color, so bouncing the light off that was difficult because even at full power from my Nissin i40, the bounced light really came back a dull red.  So I really had only the walls to bounce off of.

My i40 was mounted with something that pro photographer Neil van Niekirk calls a "black foamy thing".  Except my foam was wrapped all the way around the flash, like it was almost a snoot.  This allowed me to bounce the light spread from the bare flash somewhat contained.  The last thing I wanted were dinner guests getting flashed in the face.

First up is Perrish's sound board.  I bounced the light off the wall to my left.

ISO 800   16-55mm f/2.8 lens at 42.7mm   f/2.8   1/125 sec

Next are the table settings.  You'll notice that I used the 16-55mm f/2.8 lens in the beginning, but later on in the night I switched over to prime lenses.

ISO 800   16-55mm f/2.8 lens at 24.9mm   f/2.8   1/125 sec

ISO 800   16-55mm f/2.8 lens at 40.1mm   f/2.8   1/125 sec

Here you see the dining area of the restaurant itself.  I bounced the light off the wall about 25 feet to the right.  As you can see, it was a full house that night.  All tables were reserved.

ISO 800   16-55mm f/2.8 lens at 18.2mm   f/2.8   1/125 sec

And here's Perrish!  I bounced the light off the wall and a window behind me.  The distance from the wall to Perrish might have been 30 feet.  The flash was at full power and I'm surprised at how distinct his shadow is on the wall in the photo, but my guess is that the window acted like a mirror and didn't diffuse the light at all.  You can see that the shadows are all very distinct.

ISO 800   16-55mm f/2.8 lens at 55mm   f/2.8   1/125 sec

For the next shot, I bounced the light off the wall just to my left.  It was maybe ten feet from Perrish, so you can see the difference in the light's power from his hand to his face.

ISO 800   16-55mm f/2.8 lens at 25.7mm   f/2.8   1/125 sec

Here, I bounced the light from the wall to my upper right.  Full power on the flash because I was about 30 feet away.

ISO 800   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/125 sec

I love the tender moment in this next photo.  It's a shot of father and daughter dancing.  Yes, people got up to dance!  Again, the flash bounced off the wall to my upper right.

ISO 800   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/125 sec

This next shot, I was leaning against a wall and bounced the light right off the part of the wall next to my right shoulder.  I didn't think it would work, but it did!

ISO 800   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/125 sec

The final shot is my favorite.  It was actually taken of Perrish just a few moments before he started singing.  The light was bounced off the wall to my right.

ISO 800   90mm f/2 lens   f/2   1/125 sec

I learned a lot that night.  Bouncing the flash was something I'd always heard about, but never experimented with.  In the next few weeks, I'll be back there again to photograph a gentleman named Matt Helm, who'll be singing Dean Martin songs.

On the Run: Serenity

It's been about one year since my mom died of anaplastic thyroid cancer -- which is the deadliest and most aggressive of the thyroid cancers-- and so I've been doing a lot of reflecting, and also grieving.  I shot this photo a few months ago during a rainy run around Rice Lake in North Vancouver, British Columbia.  It wasn't that cold, and I wished there was snow on the ground, but I missed the snow by just a few days.  I've run this course many times before, so I basically knew where this bench was, though instead of sitting down and resting, I snapped a photo with my iPhone and moved on.


However, the photo in the phone didn't really match the sadness I was feeling that day.  The loss.  Hence, the black and white conversion below.


Running has always been the thing that has brought me a little peace.  I do photography because it shifts my focus away from myself and towards other people.  Blending the two brings me a little balance.

Have a look at the photo.  Imagine yourself having a seat there and just listening to the calm lake waters.

Shot on an iPhone SE with the Lightroom App.

Dirty Cello - Photos for Their New Album

I met Rebecca of Dirty Cello about a year ago when she and pianist Noel Benkman performed a free concert at the Cadillac Hotel in downtown San Francisco.  And having listened to Dirty Cello, their bluegrass is just amazing!

Rebecca contacted me recently and asked if I was available to take some photos for Dirty Cello's upcoming album, and how could I resist!  It's an honor to take pics of a band that has gone on tour to the UK.  And not only that, but to have my photos on the flyers that had been working their way around the British Isles!

It was a late afternoon when shot these photos, and Dirty Cello had just wrapped up a concert in Santa Rosa so all of the current band members were available.

We were shooting in the shade, so that meant that I needed some speed lights.  For this shoot, I used the Godox Flash System.  Over the past year, Godox has developed a flash system that will do high speed sync (HSS).  My gear list is at the end of this blog posting, but all of the shots below were done in full TTL mode, with about +1 to +2 increase in exposure.

I had two flashes set up.  The main flash primarily focused on Rebecca and was to my right on a light stand.  The second flash was to my left, being held by the girlfriend of one of the band members.

Also, because there wasn't much room, I used the Fuji XF 16mm f/1.4 prime lens.  I shot around f/4 though because I wanted to keep everyone in focus, especially Rebecca.

ISO 200   16mm f/1.4 lens   f/4   1/250sec

ISO 200   16mm f/1.4 lens   f/4   1/240sec

ISO 200   16mm f/1.4 lens   f/5.6   1/125sec

One of the neat things about working with Rebecca is that she changes her pose, even ever so slightly, once she knows I've taken a shot.  It's almost like working with a model whose gone to finishing school!

ISO 200   16mm f/1.4 lens   f/4   1/250sec

I have many favorites.  This next shot is my most memorable one for this shoot.  It doesn't exactly match what they were looking for because they needed head-room in the image for the band name and album title, but they love it as much as I do!

ISO 200   16mm f/1.4 lens   f/1.4   1/500sec

The above shot and the next two shots were done using the Godox HSS system, which I'll discuss more in a future blog posting.  But the shadows in the next two shots are awesome!

ISO 200   16mm f/1.4 lens   f/14   1/500sec

ISO 200   23mm f/1.4 lens   f/5.6   1/500sec

Check out Dirty Cello's website for details of their new album and also their upcoming concert dates!

Gear used:   Fuji X-T2, Fuji XF 16mm and 23mm lenses, Godox Xpro-F HSS trigger, Godox AD200 HSS flash, Godox TT685 TTL Flash

I'll have a separate blog in the future with comments on the Godox flash system.

Bethlehem AD - The Photo Story

I'd be remiss if I didn't showcase the below item.

I presented it to the Bethlehem AD coordinator and some of the crew members on the final day of taking down the set in late January 2018.  It was a bit of a surprise.  I had it printed up at ZNO.

The idea behind it came from a friend who was a combat photographer for the U.S. Navy and he was put through an intensive three month photography school.  Much of what I've practiced in terms of photo composition, I learned from him.

He told me that one of his assignments was to create a photo story, which consists of a key photo in the center and about eight supporting photos.  It flows from left to right and tells a story.  I chose the manger as my key photo, versus the one with the angels looking down from heaven (or the rooftop) because the manger is the centerpiece of the entire Bethlehem AD experience.

Hopefully, the image above speaks to you the story of that Christmas night over 2000 years ago.

Bethlehem AD - Angels We Have Heard On High

Probably the most popular part of Bethlehem AD is the stable and manger, and the angels above it.  And it's a magnificent sight to behold.  Fourteen angels dancing above and around the manger itself, with music the brings back memories of 2000 Decembers ago.  (If that sounds like a song by Joy Williams, it is.)

This first shot was actually taken from the roof across the street while I was with the rooftop angels.  This was opening night.  The color temperature is correct, as that was lighting scheme that night.  I normally shoot photos with the X-T2 using the Pro-Neg Standard film simulation, which mutes the colors.  But since colors are important for this event, I shot with the Standard film simulation for both the X-T1 and the X-T2.  The X-T1 had the 50-140mm f/2.8 lens mounted, while the X-T2, during performance nights, had the 16-55mm f/2.8 lens mounted.  Some of the shots below are intermixed with the full dress rehearsal as that was the night I could get up close to the angels and give each one their own personal close-up.

Fuji X-T1   ISO 800   50-140mm f/2.8 lens at 115mm   f/2.8   1/60 sec

This next shot is what the perspective of the angels is like looking at their counterparts across the street.  You can see that I'm really pushing the ISO this time around with the X-T2.

Fuji X-T2   ISO 1600   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/125 sec

Next are a few close-ups of the angels, all shot during the dress rehearsal night using prime lenses.  Again, you can see that I'm going a little crazy with the ISO, but the results are still pretty good!

Fuji X-T2   ISO 2000   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/125 sec

Fuji X-T2   ISO 2000   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/125 sec

Fuji X-T2   ISO 800   90mm f/2 lens   f/2   1/160 sec

Fuji X-T2   ISO 800   90mm f/2 lens   f/2   1/160 sec

Of course, more important than the angels is the manger itself, and the Holy Family seated there.  Each night, it's a real family and a real baby laying in the manger.  It's admirable that these volunteer families will stay there for over three and a half hours, playing their roles with dedication and diligence.

Fuji X-T1   ISO 800   50-140mm f/2.8 lens at 50mm   f/2.8   1/60 sec

This next shot was one of the few moments where I was able to get all of the angels in motion.  I had to shoot from the side because this was on closing night and there were huge crowds watching off to the left of the frame.

Fuji X-T2   ISO 800   16-55mm f/2.8 lens   f/2.8   1/50 sec

Of course, I have to end this blog posting with my key photo for the 2017 event.  This shot wasn't planned.  But when I was on the roof, I saw and had to go for it.  As you can see, I used the 56mm lens for this shot, which I think helped preserve the sharpness of the angels in the distance.

Fuji X-T2   ISO 800   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/125 sec

That may be it for Bethlehem AD 2017, but 2018 will be its 26th year!  May it continue on and on!

Bethlehem AD - Romans

Yes, Romans!  If there's one group that really catches the attention of the crowds visiting Bethlehem AD, it's definitely the Romans.  While the villagers are within the walls of Bethlehem AD, the Roman soldiers and dignitaries are everywhere.  You'll find them walking the line of people waiting to get in -- just as in the photo below -- or walking through the village.

Fuji X-T1   ISO 800   50-140mm f/2.8 lens at 140mm   f/2.8   1/60 sec

For the most part, the soldiers are always in motion, and thus hard to capture, except for moments like the next photo where they stopped and posed for the crowd.

Fuji X-T2   ISO 800 16-55mm f/2.8 lens at 28.3mm   f/2.8   1/60 sec

There's even a small Roman camp located within the walls of Bethlehem AD.

Fuji X-T2   ISO 800   16-55mm f/2.8 lens at 55mm   f/2.8   1/60sec

Along the line of the crowd, one of the more interesting things is how some of the actors interact with folks.  Below is an actor playing King Herod's valet.  He's asking the little boy if the little boy has any information about the one called "the King of the Jews".  In his left hand, he's got some pieces of silver.

Fuji X-T2   ISO 800   16-55mm f/2.8 lens at 17mm   f/2.8   1/50 sec

And the next shot are King Herod and his entourage.  Herod and his valet have to stay in character for the photos!

Fuji X-T2  ISO 800   16-55mm f/2.8 lens at 24.9mm   f/2.8   1/50 sec

Next is a neat shot I took of the Roman soldiers just before the gates of Bethlehem AD opened.  I used just the available light and really cranked up the ISO because I knew the flash wouldn't make things look too good.  I wanted to make the shot looked natural.  I also used the 16mm Fuji prime lens for the shot.

Fuji X-T2   ISO 2000   16mm f/1.4 lens   f/1.4   1/125 sec

The high ISO and the slightly higher shutter helped me freeze them in action, and most importantly, eliminate any camera-shake on my part.  They were standing as still as possible for the shot, but I needed that extra buffer just to make sure because it really was dark.

Fuji X-T2   ISO 800   16-55mm f/2.8 lens at 25.7mm   f/2.8   1/60 sec

Next week we'll take a look at the stable and the manger itself!

Michelle Lambert

Musicians and runners are some of my favorite subjects to photograph because of the sheer challenge of getting the right elements in focus.  Both are in motion, and usually the elements that you want to capture (facial expressions, instruments) are always moving.

Last Sunday was one of those days where I was at the Stonestown Farmer's Market and had heard singing and a violin playing.  And it was also one of those days where I had my X-T1 with me.

As I made my way to where the singing was coming from, I saw lots of folks sitting at tables, enjoying a bite to eat, while listening to musician, Michelle Lambert.

I had the the 50mm f/2 compact lens on the camera at the time.  Despite the focal length -- the 50mm on the X-T series mimics a 75mm lens on a full frame -- I like the compression and the depth of field at f/2.  My only concern was that it was a bright sunny day, but the aperture set at f/2 didn't exceed 1/3500 sec.  (NB: The X-T1's max mechanical shutter speed is 1/4000 sec.)

All of these shots were done one-handed as I was rushed for time and didn't think about putting my grocery bag down.  With the exception of the aperture, everything else was set to auto.  Camera settings provided below each photo.

ISO 200   50mm f/2 lens   f/2   1/2700 sec

I moved in a little closer to get a shot of Michelle with the violin.  Bringing her closer to the lens also made the depth of field more shallow, isolating just her face and the violin.  Her ring also popped out too, which I didn't think the X-T1 -- being only a 16MP camera -- would be able to capture as sharp.

ISO 200   50mm f/2 lens   f/2   1/2500 sec

For the final photo, I wanted to focus more on angles and balance.  I didn't tilt the camera, but waited until the violin was as lined up as close as possible with the lower right of the frame.  

I also went with the black and white conversion to shift more of the focus to Michelle so that our eyes are drawn only to her.  If you compare the above photo to the previous one, the background colors are a bit more distracting, especially the blue car and the red tail lights.

Have a look at Michelle's website for more info about her, video samples of her music, and booking!

Bethlehem AD - Animal Faces

One of the big draws at Bethlehem AD are the live animals.  They come from as nearby as Woodside, CA to as far away as the California central valley.  Most are very tame and docile.  I photographed only about half of them as there were so many!  Missed some of the rabbits and chickens and even a few of the donkeys and the horses, and didn't get very many good shots of the sheep because they were a bit skittish.

I shot all of the following pics with my Fuji X-T2 mounted with the 16-55mm f/2.8 lens, which is the equivalent of the 24-70mm lens on a full frame.


Sunrise at Bay Breeze

Yet another detour this week...

On Saturday I ran Brazen Racing's Bay Breeze Half Marathon at San Leandro Marina.  If you're running the half marathon, you basically start at San Leandro Marina and run along the Bay Trail until you reach the San Mateo Bridge, then turn around and head back.  I hadn't run the half marathon at this course in a while, so it was nice to be back at it.

I took the below shot with my iPhone SE using the Lightroom Mobile App.

What's amazing isn't just the shot itself, but also the automatic enhancements that you can do in the app.  I pushed one button and the software did an auto enhance.  It took up the shadows and vibrancy.  I added the temperature increase to duplicate what the morning sunrise looked like.  I couldn't believe it when I saw the intelligence auto enhance.  Somehow it knew how to enhance the shot in a pleasing way.  Of course, there's the lens flare again in the shot.  One of the hazards of using a smartphone.

Super Blue Blood Moon

This turned out to be a spur of the moment thing.  I heard about it the night before -- yeah, I don't watch the news that much these days -- and so the morning of the event, I grabbed my camera and the one lens that I figured would be best: the Fuji 90mm F/2.

I headed out to San Francisco City Hall.  Normally, I can see the full moon because it's this big massive thing in the sky, kinda like the Death Star.  But this time around, I couldn't see a thing in the sky.  At first anyway.  And then I saw it.  This dim image out there.  The way it looked, I thought the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were going to ride out of it!

I set up at Civic Center Plaza and decided to use City Hall as a frame.

ISO 800   90mm F/2 Lens   F/2.0   1/60sec

At first I thought that framing the moon with the flag pole might work, but the moon is still too small to see some of the details.  In retrospect, I should have used the 50-140mm f/2.8 Fuji lens because that has OIS and I could have used a much lower shutter speed -- maybe 1/30sec -- and perhaps a lower ISO.

Cropping the image a little closer does help.

ISO 800   90mm F/2 Lens   F/2.0   1/60sec

The picture doesn't really match when I saw on the way to Civic Center, probably because it was slightly higher in the sky when I saw it with my naked eye.  By the time I took this shot, it was maybe 20 minutes later and the moon was lower.  With the naked eye, it had more of a yellow-ish tint.

Still, it's one of those odd occurrences that one will have to wait another generation to experience, so I'm glad I captured it!

Morning Dew and a Lens Flare

A slight detour this week from blogging about Bethlehem AD as I'd like to talk about the following photo that I took with the Lightroom Mobile App.

Sometimes you don't have your DSLR/mirrorless camera with you, but you see something that -- if you don't jump on it now -- will be gone forever.  All I had on this cold morning in Mountain View was my iPhone SE.  And I didn't want to let this shot get away.

I didn't realize that there would be a red lens flare in shot, but it doesn't actually take away from the overall image.  In fact, because it's red, it adds to the sunrise image!  I did a few minor tweaks on the image after I'd taken it, like using the de-haze tool, increasing the shadows just a bit to bring out the dew drops, and then adjusting the temperature so that the image looked like the way my eyes saw it that morning.

And you know what?  I'm glad I snapped the shot when I did, because when I went back the following morning with my Fuji X-T2, the entire area was fogged over, bathing everything in a dull, boring gray...

Many a time I've seen a shot I've wanted to take, but didn't have my Fuji with me, and I didn't think it would look good if I captured it with my iPhone.  And many a time I've had regrets because the shot was only there for the briefest moment, kinda like some rainbows behave: here one moment gone the next...

If see a shot that you know, deep down, it’s the right one then take it.  That chance may never come again. 

Bethlehem AD - The Village

One of the first things you'll see upon entering the gates of Bethlehem AD isn't actually the village, but I wanted to showcase the village in this blog because it was actually one of the first set pieces that I was able to photograph during the dress rehearsal and then on opening night, just before the crowds were let in.  

During dress rehearsal night, I used primes, while on opening night I used the always reliable 16-55mm f/2.8 lens, which on a full frame camera has a field of view of 24-70mm.

In the following photo you can see the attention to detail that went into the market.  That's real fruit and real bread!  I think the bread may have come from Boudin.  On opening night it smelled so delicious!

ISO 800   35mm f/1.4 lens   f/.14   1/60sec

Next up is one of the townsfolk; she was actually practicing some traditional Jewish dances of the time.  I like the texture behind her.  But also had to make sure that I didn't get too close to the building facade back there because while the palms trees are real, the building facade is actually a painting!  At night though, with the lighting, it looks so realistic enough to touch.

ISO 800   35mm f/1.4 lens   f/.14   1/60sec

More dancers and more of the facade behind them.

ISO 1600   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/125sec

You'll notice in the above photo that my ISO was really high, plus the shutter speed, but that was the only way I could freeze these dancers in place.  I didn't use a flash for the above shot.  And also the higher ISO eliminated the need for a huge increase in exposure in Lightroom.  The Fuji X-T2 handles high ISO quite well!  Not sure I would ever take the ISO higher than 1600, but I'll have to do more experimentation.

The next shot actually found its way in a photo story that I'm constructing as a gift for Rise City Church; they put on Bethlehem AD every year.

ISO 1600   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/25sec

What the two townsfolk are looking at are actually the angels on the rooftop.  If you go back to last week's blog posting, you can see the image from the opposite side, from behind them looking up at the rooftop angels.

One of the many amazing things about the Bethlehem village set is that the following two men actually do metalwork and woodwork.  The metalworker will be hammering out small sheets of metal to form something each night while the woodworker will construct a small stool right before your eyes!

ISO 800   16-55mm f/2.8 lens at 20.6mm   f/2.8   1/30sec

ISO 800   16-55mm f/2.8 lens at 31.1mm   f/2.8   1/30sec

The next photo is my absolute favorite from the village.  It also has the most hits in the Flickr album I created of the event.  Kwame and Claudia are playing the roles of the innkeeper and the innkeeper's wife.  It was taken just before the opening night crowds were let in, and I wanted to get a few shots of them in character.  Although the funny thing was that, Kwame kept making Claudia laugh!

ISO 800   16-55mm f/2.8 lens at 55mm   f/2.8   1/30sec

Next week, hopefully, we'll take a look at some of the animals in Bethlehem AD.

Bethlehem AD 2017 - Rooftop Angels

One of the first sights you will see when standing in line to get into Bethlehem AD are the angels on the rooftop.  It's a great intro to what awaits inside!

Fuji X-T2   16-55mm f/2.8 lens at 51.6mm   f/2.8   1/80sec

The above photo is a scene that you'll see while waiting in line to get in.  In the dark, it's a magnificent sight, especially as the angels on the rooftop begin to move and the Archangel Gabriel appears at the side of the church to announce the birth of the Messiah.

From a photographer's perspective though, it's a very very difficult shot to capture.  Look at the right side of the photo and you see power lines covering the angels on that side.

And as you move towards the front of the line, which would be further to the right of the photo, the power lines become more prominent.

Fuji X-T1   ISO 800   50-140mm f/2.8 lens at 140mm   f/2.8   1/60sec

Although the glow from the lights masks the power lines, at least to the human eye.  The camera's eye though, combined with the sensor, picks up on things just like that of an animal, so the camera sees more of the above image than the one below, which is a view from within the town and how most people will see the angels.  

Fuji X-T2   ISO 1600   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/125sec

From having seen Bethlehem AD previous years, and also just from having experienced a little theater in high school and college, it's the folks in the background who don't really get their time in the spotlight, and yet also work just as hard as everyone else.  And I wanted to give them their own spotlight.  So what's a guy like me to do?

Join them on the roof, of course!

Fuji X-T2   ISO800   16-55mm f/2.8 lens at 55mm   f/2.8   1/60sec

I'm notorious for being a little haphazard when trying to get a shot and this was no exception.

Fuji X-T2   ISO 400   16-55mm f/2.8 lens at 20.6mm   f/2.8   1/60sec

I'll leave you with three of my favorite rooftop angel shots.  When I see these, I'm reminded of how dedicated these folks are, dancing on the rooftop at night, in the cold, and sometimes in the rain and wind.

Hopefully these shots captured the spirit of what they did that night.

Fuji X-T1   ISO 800   50-140mm f/2.8 lens at 140mm   f/2.8   1/60sec

Fuji X-T2   ISO 500   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/125sec

Fuji X-T2   ISO 800   16-55mm f/2.8 lens at 45.5mm   f/2.8   1/60sec

Bethlehem AD 2017 - Testing the Fuji X-T2's Dynamic Range

If you play around with your camera often, shooting in crazy conditions, you might be surprised what it's capable of.  I knew the Fuji X-T1 and X-T2 cameras had decent dynamic range, but didn't know how good until I started using them in really high contrast and dark shooting conditions.  What the X-T2 in particular is able to capture in its RAW file is just nuts!

Have a look at this original photo.

ISO 800   16-55mm f/2.8 lens at 55mm   f/2.8   1/30sec

Even at 1/30sec, the above shot is dark.  I also had to stabilize the camera by holding it steady on a railing to avoid any type of camera shake.  Once done, I just hoped that my guess was right that the photo would look decent once I played with it in Lightroom.

Here you can see the final product.

The image Exposure was increased by 3.7 and the Shadows by 67.

Isn't that amazing?  The level of detail and the colors?  The color of the costumes was pretty well preserved.

Let's take a look at one more.

ISO 800   16-55mm f/2.8 lens at 28.3mm   f/2.8   1/30sec

This was a completely handheld shot.  I had nothing to brace the camera against, so I held my arms as steady as possible and then held my breath and snapped the photo.

In Lightroom, the Exposure adjustment was +5 and the Vibrancy was -56.  That produced the following image.

The Vibrancy had to be taken down because the entire image was awash in an ugly orange hue, and taking it down produced a somewhat more natural look.  Completely removing the color and going either sepia or black & white ended up showing too much grain, which I couldn't get rid of by taking the Clarity down, so the above image was a good compromise.

Now I know why the X-T2's RAW file is 50MB.  Perhaps it's also uncompressed, but either way, there's a lot of data preserved in that RAW file.

Not bad for an itty bitty mirrorless camera, eh?

Bethlehem AD 2017

25 years of Bethlehem AD; isn't it amazing?  And just like that, its three performance nights have come and gone.  But the heart of what it is remains.

I'll leave you with my key image for the event.  It's the image that -- for me -- took some work to get right with all of my jockeying for position to get just the right framing.  Clicking on the image will take you to the Flickr album with my highlights of the event.

 ISO 800   56mm lens   f/1.2   1/125sec

ISO 800   56mm lens   f/1.2   1/125sec

I used my always reliable 56mm f/1.2 lens.  It's one of the best options for sharpness in low light.  I had to shift the perspective just a little bit because there's a spotlight directly in front of the angel on the right side of the frame.  But overall, I think it worked!  I wanted the perspective to be a heavenly one, that of the angels above rejoicing at the birth of the one the prophet Isaiah spoke of in Isaiah 9:6:

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.


I'll write more about this event next week, to include specific photos, camera settings, and the challenges and workarounds.  But for now, Merry Christmas!

Of Things to Come: Angels

Last year around this time, I found myself getting ready to take some photos of Bethlehem AD, mostly because I wanted to get some practice in and also because I wanted to capture the event and show family and friends.  As it turns out, the coordinator for Bethlehem AD liked my photos a lot and asked if I could volunteer my time as a photographer this year.  Of course, it will be in a challenging environment with areas of high contrast, a lot of shadows, and lack of sufficient lighting.  I never turn down a chance to practice, especially in an environment that will push the limits of my camera.

This past Saturday was set aside for set-building, rehearsals, and costume-fittings.  What I've included for this post are shots of the angels practicing in the worship hall at Rise City Church in Redwood City, which is the church that has been organizing Bethlehem AD for the past 19 years.

Enjoy the photos!  And check back on Christmas day for highlights of this year's Bethlehem AD!

ISO 800   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/80sec

ISO 800   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/60sec

ISO 800   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/80sec

On the Run: Lost Lagoon

I usually run around Stanley Park whenever I'm in the Vancouver area, but this time around it was rainy and wet and I was cold and so I took a detour through Stanley Park and somehow found myself on the other side of Lost Lagoon.  Normally, I'm on the south side, but this time around I ended up on the north side.  

Now, being as cold as it was, all I wanted to do was get back to the car and head for the nearest Starbuck's for a cup of warm java.  But as I was running, I saw the buildings in the distance, and then the trees came into view.

And what a perfect frame the trees made!

I took the above photo with the Lightroom Mobile App.  There was some minor tweaking of the shadows because I didn't want it to look ominous, and I took the vibrancy up just a little bit to bring out the colors of the trees in the distance.

Doesn't it look like Christmas?