Captured Memories - Hold My Hand, Dad, and Lead Me

It's Father's Day -- yes, this blog posting is a day early -- and I wanted to share this particular shot which I took during a race three months ago.  It was taken a few moments after the runners took off on their 5K out and back in Pacifica in March 2018.  I have no idea who this father and son are, but the image says so much about fathers and their children.

While I can't speak from personal experience since I'm not a dad, I do know that fathers are the ones who serve as the authoritative anchor for their children.  It's a tough job, especially when some fathers are under-appreciated.  To all the fathers out there, we see you and we thank you for being that anchor in our lives, for showing us what justice and mercy are.  And thank you most of all for leading us, for holding out your hand to us and moving us forward, wherever the road may go.

Undone in Sorrow at the Cadillac Hotel

We're back at the Cadillac Hotel, this time with a very special performance!  For as long as I've been taking photos there, Max Lopez has always been the sound-man, but it wasn't until recently that I found out that he was also part of a bluegrass band known as Undone In Sorrow.  They're a fairly new band, consisting of Max (vocals, guitar, mandolin), Katelyn Kimmons (vocals, banjo), and Susan Sullivan (fiddle, guitar).

Let's take a look at some opening shots.

ISO 200   90mm f/2 lens   f/2   1/125sec

It's bluegrass so we have to use sepia, right?

ISO 200   90mm f/2 lens   f/2   1/125sec

I used the 90mm prime lens for the above shots as I didn't want to get too close because they were warming up.

Now we switch to a little black and white for the band members themselves.  First is Katelyn.  She does most of the vocals for the group.

ISO 320   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/60sec

Next is Susan.  When she plays that fiddle, it comes alive!

ISO 320   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/60sec

And here's Max Lopez.  As I mentioned before, I would always see Max at the soundboard, making sure everything sounded just right, but it wasn't until about a month before this performance when I saw the flyer that I realized that Max was himself a musician!

ISO 200   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/60sec

And now, here are a few artistic shots.

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

I normally don't tilt the camera, but decided to experiment it more, based on a recommendation from a fellow photographer.  I can see the benefits to doing so because it changes the perspective while also framing things better -- if you're too close -- and also balances out the lines.

For this next photo, I lined things up and realized that Susan's bow looks like it is splitting the frame in half, which provided a neat balance to the photo.

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

My only regret was that I didn't get as many photos of Max.  There was a column in the way -- you can see it in the next shot -- so it was hard to get a good angle of him head on.  But the ones I did get, I still made sure to frame and balance the image.

ISO 200   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.6   1/125sec

And finally, here's the entire band together.

ISO 200   23mm f/1.4 lens   f/2.5   1/125sec

Keep an eye and an ear out for the name "Undone In Sorrow".  They're an amazing group and the emotion of their music filled up the lobby of the Cadillac Hotel that day, and people left the lobby enlivened and enriched.

1960s Boho Girls - Jennifer

We're back to the Boho theme again this week, this time with a focus on Jennifer.  Jennifer has done some modeling and also acting work in the corporate realm.  This is the first time I've worked with her and it was easy to draw certain looks from her.

The below shot was inspired a musician photo I saw by Samantha 'Annette' Schannon several years ago. It's a neat pose.

 ISO 200   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/6000sec

ISO 200   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/6000sec

The next shot was in front of an old World War Two jeep.  Jennifer just happened to pick up the shovel, and I thought, "Why not tilt the camera?"  I hadn't done that to any effect in a while so I gave it a go.  The result was great!
 

 ISO 200   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/8000sec

ISO 200   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/8000sec

The above photo, you can see that the shutter speed is really high.  The X-T2's max mechanical shutter speed is 1/8000 sec.  If I've had a neutral density filter, I would have used it, but I didn't.  Then again, I prefer sharpness over all and the ND filter would have taken away from that.

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

Boho and Sunflowers Part Two - Isabel

I was going through some old photos and came across a set from my first ever photo shoot with models.  I'd only had my Fuji X-T1 for about five months and was just getting to know the camera.

Let's go back to 2015...  Based on the recommendation from two fellow photographers, I joined a Meetup group run by Marebeth Gromer, who's based east of Sacramento.  She decided to hold a photo shoot in the sunflower fields of Dixon, California.  I arrived to the location in the early evening and it was 97 degrees out there!

One of our models that day was Isabel.  And as you can see from the photos below, she did a great job out there in that heat!

(I don't have the camera settings from back then because I was just figuring out how to work with RAW files and at the time was using Aperture to edit photos.  I know I saved the high quality JPEGs, but have never been able to find the RAW files...)

I wasn't aware of it at the time, but this first photo may have been a subconscious attempt to work with leading lines.

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I had this idea for the above photo to try to tell a story of some type, with Isabel as a free spirit, wondering where the road would take her.

For the next shot I learned a lot about lighting with a reflector.  I'd brought my lightstand and softbox and my only flash at the time, the Yongnuo 560 III, but I'd never thought about the benefits of a reflector.

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Us photographers took turns holding the reflector for each other as we shot.  And it wasn't until I actually saw the effect on Isabel's face that I realized the benefits of using a reflector!

(I actually now have two reflectors, but I have a small one that works well and can fit nicely in my camera bag.  There are definitely benefits to using one for portraiture in the place of a flash!)

But ... even though I'm singing the praises of reflectors, the next two shots were actually done without a reflector or a speedlight. 

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Isabel had stepped a few feet back into the sunflowers and was thus in the shade, so the above photo was shot completely in natural light.  I think at this point I had already watched a few of Damien Lovegrove's videos on lighting and so natural light was something I was already comfortable with.

The below shot is my absolute favorite because it -- unintentionally again -- used leading lines and natural light.  Isabel had been working with another photographer at the time and they were trying to figure out what type of pose would be appropriate and I suggested a yoga pose.

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I was surprised that the Aperture app was able to lift the shadows as well as it did.  I wonder now what would have happened had I used Lightroom to manipulate the files.

That's it for this week.  It was fun reminiscing!

(BTW, if you're looking for Part One, I just realized that was published way back in March 2017... I do jump around, don't I?)

Grant Levin Trio at the Cadillac Hotel

We’re back to the Cadillac Hotel again, this time with the Grant Levin Trio!   

As always, I like to set up the piece with the tools of the trade... 

ISO 500   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/125sec

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

And here’s Grant Levin himself!  I wasn't sure who he was at first because when I looked at his website, prior to the concert date, he had longer hair and a much thicker beard.

ISO 500   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/160sec

The above shot was actually taken as Grant was warming up before the concert.  I always like to do shots like the above while the musicians are warming up because it helps me get the lighting and color temperature right.  The lighting configuration at the Cadillac Hotel tends to shift around each time based on how many musicians and singers are performing, so it's always good to do several tests because some of your performers could end up in areas of too much light or too many shadows.

ISO 800   90mm f/2 lens   f/2   1/160sec

As you can see as well, I'm once again shooting at a fixed shutter speed of higher than 1/125th sec in order to freeze motion and prevent camera shake.  Those shutter speeds seem to work the best for me, regardless of which prime lens I use.  And then in post-processing, I'll adjust the exposure so that all photos will match.  If you compare the above two photos -- it's very subtle -- you can actually see the light fall-off / differential between the 56mm and the 90mm, thus necessitating the need for a little exposure compensation during post-processing.

(Side note:  I am so tempted right now to get the Fuji X-H1 because of its IBIS capabilities, but we'll see if the budget and common sense will overrule the G.A.S. (aka Gear Acquisition Syndrome))

Next,  we have the drummer whose name I actually didn't get.  I was amazed at how quickly he set up his drum set and started playing.  Thankfully he had a nice, even pool of light around him so that my X-T2 didn't have to hunt too hard for focus

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

A view from the top!  I've found that whenever I try to get a shot from up above, the colors don't always turn out the way I want.  Hence, the need for the black and white conversion.  

ISO 800   23mm f/1.4 lens   f/1.8   1/125sec

Next we have the third member of the group for the day: Effervescence.  He rolled in a little late, but immediately lit up the room with his voice.

ISO 200   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/125sec

Here's the final shot I took before having to leave.  There was definitely some foot-tapping going on!

ISO 500   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/125sec

All three of these performers -- I've been told -- live within or near the Tenderloin neighborhood.  And while the Tenderloin has a bad reputation, there's also a lot of good going on there, from rescue missions to soup kitchens to men like these who can sing and play.  And I may have failed to mention it in the past, but all of these performers donate their time; they do it for free.

That's it for now from the Cadillac Hotel, but in the coming weeks we'll have a few more blog postings on the unique musical styles that are heard there!  In fact, in a few weeks, it'll be bluegrass music from the band "Undone in Sorrow".

A Young Soldier Off to War

So this photo is actually not related to any of the Meetup groups I've attended.  But it actually is a photo that I took.  Here we have a solder during the Second World War, shipping off to the battlefield.  You can see the San Francisco skyline in the background.

I never did get this gentleman's name, but he's an actual U.S. military member.  And he's wearing the old uniform because he's also one of the many volunteers at Angel Island who help recreate what it was like on the island during the World War Two.  I asked him if I could take his picture and he agreed.  It happens often as he's a recreation actor anyway.  And I aged the photo just slightly in Lightroom.

Fuji X-T2   ISO 200   35mm f/2 lens   f/4.5   1/3200sec

I never did get your name, sir, but thank you for your service to our country and also for helping preserve the history of Angel Island for many of us who visit.

Matt Helm Sings Dean Martin

It's back to the Villa D'Este Restaurant in San Francisco for more music!

This time we have a gentleman who goes by the name Matt Helm.  Matt is a Dean Martin impersonator, and he's very good.  I arrived early and ran into Matt already in costume, but he was no longer Matt Helm; he'd already taken on the persona of Dean Martin.  I have to admit that he was quite convincing!

I used bounce flash again, with the Nissan i40 flash mounted on the Fuji X-T2.  This time around, my homemade snoot was a much longer piece of foam, giving me a bit more control with the direction of the light.  The longer the foam, the less bleed of light to the sides.

This time around, too, instead of using primes, I stuck with the Fuji 16-55mm f/2.8 lens.  It's the equivalent field of view of a 24-70mm lens on a full frame camera.  I decided to stick with the zoom lens because I was also taking shots of people at each table, and that meant I need something that I could frame and shoot with quickly.

The first shot is, of course, of the tools of the trade.  Here we have a simple sound mixer and a laptop ready to play the music.

ISO 800   16-55mm f/2.8 lens at 38.8mm   f/2.8   1/60sec

I saw the next shot and had to go for it because I knew I only had seconds to get it.  Had I been using a prime lens - and at this distance it would have been the 56mm - I probably would have lost the shot.  Neat too that you can see a couple dancing on the left side of the frame.

ISO 800   16-55mm f/2.8 lens at 34.2mm   f/2.8   1/60sec

And here's Matt, as Mr. Dean Martin himself.  Complete with cigarette.  It was a prop cigarette, but Matt was so convincing that you thought it was real.

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

For this next photo, I decided to try an older style of color scheme, which was simple enough using Lightroom.  I was trying to match some of the photos of old.  I think in the future, I'd need to take down the exposure and the shadows as it doesn't really match the look of other yesteryear photos I've seen.

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

Here you can see people in the audience as they're getting ready to dine on some of the fine cuisine offered at the Villa D'Este.  In order to make it look like it was complementing the window light, I bounced the flash off the wall to my right.

ISO 800   16-55mm f/2.8 lens at 17.6mm   f/2.8   1/60sec

You can also see that the ceiling of the dining area is rust-colored, so I had no choice but to bounce my flash off the walls, otherwise everyone would be bathed in a reddish-brown hue.  That effect is more apparent at night.

I call this my "hero" shot.  Matt's face tells it all.  He's focused, in tune, and projecting all that is Dean Martin towards the audience.

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

Another favorite shot.  Matt had just ended one song and was reaching for his martini glass, but the folks just kept on dancing.  You can tell from the direction of the light that I bounced it off the wall to my right.  One thing I learned from watching the videos of Damien Lovegrove is that it's best to shoot into the unlit side of the face, so I did my best to do that this night, making a conscious decision to bounce that light as best I could to illuminate the far side of the face.

ISO 800   16-55mm f/2.8 lens at 17mm   f/2.8   1/60sec

If you'd like to hire Matt for a gig as Dean Martin, check out his website.  It'll be an experience you won't forget!

Vintage Travelers - Santi and Adam

I wanted to use this blog entry to continue showcasing some of the other Boho photos, but I ran across this lovely set of photos from the Vintage Traveler theme that we had during the same Meetup event.

Below we have Santi and Adam modeling in 1940s costumes.  The scene's lighting was by Dirk Dreyer of Dreyer Pictures and the styling and theme by our Meetup coordinator, Marebeth Gromer.  Though for the first shot, it was all natural light.  And the light was pretty harsh!  You can clearly see that from the shutter speed of my camera.  The X-T2's max mechanical shutter speed is 1/8000sec.  The tarmac at the airport provided some bounce lighting and filled in some of the shadows.  The look between Adam and Santi is perfect, with his indifference and her apparent rejecting of him.

ISO 200   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/8000sec

And, of course, in this next photo, they appear to have made up.

The below photo didn't have some artificial lighting even though it was shot in an aircraft hanger.  Again, it's natural light.  Dirk had set up lights for a group of previous models, but for this shot, the lighting was off.  As always, per Damien Lovegrove, whose lighting techniques I've been inspired by ever since I got my first camera, always shoot into the dark side of the face, which I did here.  You can see the contrasting shadows on Santi's face provide a nice counterpoint to the even lighting on Adam.  Will she?  Won't she?

ISO 200   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/2000sec

Gear used for the above two photos:  Fuji X-T2 with 56mm f/1.2 lens

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!

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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.

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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.

IMG_0098.JPG

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.

Enjoy!

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!