Busy Bumblebees

I've always wondered how a bug like a bumblebee, with a huge body and small wings, can actually fly.  I'm still having trouble wrapping my head around it, but it certainly does fly!  Perhaps the bigger question might actually be why I was getting so close to the bees in the first place!

All of the below shots were captured with the Fuji XF 90mm f/2 lens.  It is awfully slow to focus, but it's a prime lens, and thus made for portraiture, not fast-moving objects.  Even with the X-T2 set for high power, it wasn't focusing that fast.  Supposedly, the X-T2's latest firmware increased the camera's autofocus phase detection just like the X-H1, so I'll eventually have to go back and experiment.

ISO 200   90mm f/2 lens   f/2   1/550sec

As you can see from the above and below photos, these little critters really move fast!  I was surprised that even at 1/550sec, it still wasn't enough to actually freeze their wings in place.

ISO 200   90mm f/2 lens   f/2   1/550sec

What's interesting about the above two shots and the next two shots are the pollen sacs (are those what they're called?) on the bumblebees.  They must secrete something to get the pollen to stick together like that.

ISO 200   90mm f/2 lens   f/2   1/1700sec

Here we have a cropped version of the above so you can get a closer look.

ISO 200   90mm f/2 lens   f/2   1/1700sec

I'm not sure exactly where the focus point was for the above photo.  I've been trying to find it, but I think it might actually a quarter of an inch in front of the bumblebee itself.  The autofocus point was basically where the bee was a half second earlier.  Yeah, they really move fast!

Have a look at the next photo.  Even at 1/1700sec shutter speed, I still can't freeze the wings in place!

ISO 200   90mm f/2 lens   f/2   1/1700sec

The next few shots focus on a single bumblebee, and it was a big one.  I was a bit worried about getting close to it because something that big probably had an even bigger stinger!

ISO 200   90mm f/2 lens   f/2   1/2400sec

Even with the 90mm lens, which has the same field of view as a 135mm lens on a full frame, I got pretty close to this big bee.  The image is not cropped or zoomed in.  Same with the next one.

ISO 200   90mm f/2 lens   f/2   1/1250sec

However, this next image is a cropped version of the above.  The 90mm lens was really sharp this time!

ISO 200   90mm f/2 lens   f/2   1/1250sec

It's kinda neat that in the above photo, the bumblebee almost has a face!

This next and final set is just absolutely beautiful!  There's just a ton that so right about it, from the nice circular bokeh -- if you like that stuff -- and also the sharpness of the image.

ISO 200   90mm f/2 lens   f/2   1/1400sec

How sharp?  Here's the cropped version.

ISO 200   90mm f/2 lens   f/2   1/1400sec

The image is so sharp that you can see the strands of spider silk on the leaves and stem of the plant.

I had originally set out to capture bees with the Fuji XF 60mm f/2.4 macro lens, and I'll showcase some test shots from that soon, but the 90mm lens worked well.  It's a bit hit or miss with the autofocus, but some great shots really came out of it!

Regal Gray Ladies

Is this a portal looking back in time?

ISO 200   16-55mm f/2.8 lens at 55mm   f/4  1/3800sec

I had the opportunity not too long ago to photograph the San Francisco Maritime Museum's Beer Fest.  I'll have a separate blog posting in a few weeks highlighting that actual event, but for this blog posting, I wanted to talk about the two ships below.

ISO 200   16-55mm f/2.8 lens at 55mm   f/4  1/3200sec

When I thought about how best to capture the ships in one shot, it made sense to have the smaller ship in front with the much larger ship in the distance.  Perspective-wise you can definitely tell which one is the larger ship.

Both ships served during World War Two and now call San Francisco's Pier 45 their home.  The Jeremiah O'Brien is the most famous of the two.

Here's a shot across the stern of the Pampanito, looking towards Alcatraz Island.

ISO 200   16-55mm f/2.8 lens at 36.5mm   f/4   1/1800sec

And here we have the Jeremiah O'Brien herself.

ISO 200   16-55mm f/2.8 lens at 55mm   f/2.8  1/4400sec

For these photos, I used the "aged photo" preset in Lightroom as it seemed appropriate for the subjects.  I wanted to create a feeling of truly looking at an old photograph from the World War Two era.

I highly recommend visiting these majestic ships and taking a tour if you can schedule it.  Such objects of history are worth appreciating in person.

Coelho & Ridnell at the Cadillac Hotel

Chico Coelho and Dave Ridnell... When they showed up to the Cadillac Hotel, along with Brian Byrnes, jazz and bosa nova music filled the air and whatever clouds may have been hanging over the rest of the Tenderloin on that day, at least in this hotel, it was all sunshine.

You know I like to start with a key photo, and in this case, here's a good intro.

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

The guitar belongs to Dave Ridnell, and you can see him in the below photo.  I just happened to be up on the second floor of the lobby and got this wonderful angle of him.  It gives just a hint of what he's doing.  Of course, if you just saw only this photo, you'd think he was on his own.

ISO 800   90mm f/2 lens   f/2.0   1/125sec

Ah, but now we see the rest of the band.  Chico and Dave on guitar, and Brian either on the harmonica or doing vocals.

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

And here's Dave Ridnell with a nice, reflective look.

ISO 800   90mm f/2 lens   f/2.0   1/125sec

I chose the black and white conversion for pretty much all of their shots (definitely all displayed here) because it seemed that my X-T2 was misbehaving as far as color temperature.  I couldn't figure out what was causing it.  It only happened that day and it hasn't happened again.  But somehow it was as if the temperature was too warm, turning skin tones into an odd orange tint.  It was the one and only time I've ever experienced it at the Cadillac Hotel.

Next we have the trio.  This is the only good photo I got of Chico.  When he sings, he really gets into it and moves, so for this shot I had the shutter speed high enough to freeze him in motion.

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

Next up is Brian.  At this point he was doing the vocals and I like this moment because, just like Dave and Chico, Brian was in the moment.

ISO 800   90mm f/2 lens   f/2.0   1/125sec

Here's the final shot of the trio.  You can see that they filled up the lobby with a lot of folks.

ISO 640   90mm f/2 lens   f/2.0   1/125sec

I wasn't able to stay long while photographing the band, but got some great shots.

Coelho and Ridnell, as of this writing, have released a new album and are currently in Brazil for a few weeks playing a bunch of gigs.  Check out their website to see where they're playing next!

An Unexpected Visitor

How often do you get this lucky?

ISO 200   50-140mm f/2.8 lens at 140mm   f/2.8   1/680sec

I don't remember what I was doing at the time, but I just happened to look out the back window of my apartment and outside was this massive bird, a Great Blue Heron.  It just stood there, looking at something.  I'm not sure what it was looking at.  It could have been a gopher, but if there was one, I didn't see it.

I quickly grabbed my X-T2 and mounted the XF 50-140mm f/2.8 lens, which has the equivalent field of view of a 70-200mm on a full frame camera.

The bird stood still for me for several minutes while I snapped its photo.  Have a look at the detail of the above image, now cropped.

ISO 200   50-140mm f/2.8 lens at 140mm   f/2.8   1/680sec

Amazing detail, eh?  I'm continually impressed by the sharpness of the Fuji glass.  The beauty of the heron’s feathers — especially the lines — are amazing!

Here's one more, just before my friend took off into the sky...

ISO 200   50-140mm f/2.8 lens at 140mm   f/2.8   1/1250sec

I'm not sure if this is a fighting stance or what...  But the heron wasn't looking directly at anyone in particular that I could tell.  There was no one directly in front of it, but something got it to ruffle its feathers!

Hopefully this heron will come back once in a while for more shots!

Black & White vs Color -- One Morning at Pilates ProWorks Burlingame

It was almost a year ago that I responded to a Craig's List posting for a photographer looking to do work at a fitness studio for trade.  I figured I'd volunteer and get in some practice.  I didn't realize that it would be so much fun and challenging at the same time!  I've been back several times since then and each time there's always something new that I need to find a solution for!

Here are two shots from the most recent shoot.  I went straight for the black & white conversion from a strictly artistic standpoint, primarily because the black & white photo produced a more dramatic look.  I'll provide the color photo first and the black & white image second.

ISO 800   16-55mm f/2.8 lens at 55mm   f/2.8   1/250sec   1/1 flash power, dual flashes bounced off ceiling

The first image probably works better for flyers and advertising, but I think the second one works better from a journalistic standpoint.  The lines become more apparent, especially with the angle of the arms of the lady in the foreground vs the lady just in front of her.  The angle of the arms stand out more.  Sometimes colors can actually be distracting, especially the pink and the red.

This next photo is actually my favorite of the day.  I think it works as either color or black & white, but again, the black & white one tells more of a story.

ISO 1600   16-55mm f/2.8 lens at 55mm   f/2.8   1/850sec

What kind of story does the above photo tell?  I think it says grace and strength.  Again, at least to me, the color photo has, well, distracting colors.  The black & white photo draws my eyes directly to the subject and her form as she sits on the pilates reformer machine.  I like the way also that her fingers are extended, as some people do just before getting a firm grip o something; it just adds to the feel of the image.

Both images were converted to black & white using the green filter in Lightroom. 

I'm ever thankful to Annabelle, who's the owner of the Pilates ProWorks Burlingame franchise, for letting me get in much needed practice with my cameras.  My first shoot at her business was a rejuvenation of sorts for me as it was the first client shoot I did after my mom died.  You have to get back on your feet somehow, and this was a great way for me.

If you want to be a better photographer, you have to keep taking pictures.  It doesn't matter who or what, just make sure to take the photo and try to tell a story.  Each click of the shutter is another lesson learned.

Gear used:  Fuji X-H1 (yes, I upgraded), Fuji XF 16-55mm f/2.8 lens, Yongnuo 560 flashes and trigger (yes, in the first shot the light was bounced off the ceiling!)

Rock, Country, Soul Express

We're back once again at the Villa D'Este Restaurant for another concert, this time by Rob, who goes by the handle "Rock, Country, Soul Express", aka RCS.

I experimented with a little more bounce flash photography this time around, and then also mixed in my ever reliable 16-55mm f/2.8 lens, as well as the 56mm f/1.2 and 90mm f/2 lenses.  One of the interesting things about photographing Rob is that he does definitely take on the persona of an old time country and soul singer, so he gets a lot of emotion in his face.  He doesn't move around a lot, unlike some of the other musicians who’ve performed there because the emotion that everyone experiences.

This first shot is a little out of focus.  It was shot while Rob was warming up a bit.  I did bounce the flash off the wall to the left, and the light was also supplemented by the natural light streaming in from outside.  

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

I photographed Rob just as he started moving, hence the slight blur.  I could have cranked up the shutter speed at the time, but this was one of those moments where I had to think fast and just take the shot.

The next two shots are a lot sharper because I took the shutter speed up just slightly.

The first shot, I once again bounced the light off the wall to the left.  I was pleasantly surprised at how soft the light came out because, from past experiences, I was worried that the windows might reflect the light back in a much harsher tone.  I especially like the shadows that subtly show up on Rob's face.  It gives his face definition.

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

This next shot was done with the 90mm.  I was really close to Rob at the time.  As Rob was getting into his song, I wanted to get a closeup of his face to show some of the emotion.  Some may think it's taboo to have the top of someone's head fall out of frame, but in this case, it's the emotion I wanted to capture, so getting close and tight was what I was aiming for.

ISO 800   90mm f/2 lens   f/2.0   1/80sec

And that's a wrap for the first half of the year concerts at the Villa D'Este.  There will be more performances in the next few months with even more great musicians and singers lined up!

Rob actually did do a duet with a lady named Barbara, but since she'll be singing solo at the Villa D'Este in the future, I'll devote an entire blog posting to her when the time comes.

Captured Memories - Stars & Stripes 5K

The "Captured Memories" blog postings usually just focus on a single photo, but this time around I couldn't help myself.  Just like last year on July 4th, I volunteered as a photographer at Brazen Racing's Stars & Stripes 5K race in downtown Concord, CA.  It's a wonderful location for race.  American flags flying everywhere!  I had run the Armed Forces Half Marathon there at the end of May and the whole community seemed to be out there to cheer us on!

This first shot was taken early in the morning with the 16-55mm f/2.8 lens mounted on my Fuji X-T1 while the race was being set up.  I wanted to try to get the officer while in motion so that I could capture an image of the flag unfurled.  I got pretty close to doing so.

ISO 400   16-55mm f/2.8 lens at 38.8mm   f/2.8   1/80sec

ISO 400   16-55mm f/2.8 lens at 38.8mm   f/2.8   1/80sec

The next shot is the kid's run.  It's an approximately 100 yard dash that goes around the perimeter of Todos Santos Plaza.  I shot it with the 50-140mm f/2.8 lens mounted on my second Fuji X-T1.

ISO 200   50-140mm f/2.8 lens at 124.3mm   f/2.8   1/220sec

ISO 200   50-140mm f/2.8 lens at 124.3mm   f/2.8   1/220sec

It's not just the bigger kids though who get to run the race, but the little ones as well.  I'm touched by the moms and dads carrying or walking with their babies, especially when the little ones start grinning from ear to ear.

ISO 200   50-140mm f/2.8 lens at 54.1mm   f/2.8   1/250sec

ISO 200   50-140mm f/2.8 lens at 54.1mm   f/2.8   1/250sec

After the kids race, the 5K race started.

The next three shots each spoke something interesting to me that can each be encapsulated in a few simple words.

This one says FRIENDSHIP.

ISO 200   50-140mm f/2.8 lens at 54.1mm   f/2.8   1/350sec

ISO 200   50-140mm f/2.8 lens at 54.1mm   f/2.8   1/350sec


ISO 200   50-140mm f/2.8 lens at 115mm   f/2.8   1/450sec

ISO 200   50-140mm f/2.8 lens at 115mm   f/2.8   1/450sec


ISO 200   50-140mm f/2.8 lens at 140mm   f/2.8   1/480sec

ISO 200   50-140mm f/2.8 lens at 140mm   f/2.8   1/480sec

This next shot was totally unexpected.  I had been taking photos of the runners as they were lining up at the post-race refreshment table and saw this lady chatting with various folks in the crowd.  At first I thought she was a nurse, but she was with Body Love Cafe, who were providing free sports massages after the race.

I'm not sure what her name was, but we locked eyes and then I brought my camera up and she posed.  As soon as I took the shot, I knew that I had a nice, impromptu, portrait on my hands.  It was taken with the Fuji X-T1 and 16-55mm F/2.8 lens wide open.  The lighting is all natural with no flash, and it just has a simple elegance about it.

ISO 200   16-55mm f/2.8 lens at 36.5mm   f/2.8   1/180sec

ISO 200   16-55mm f/2.8 lens at 36.5mm   f/2.8   1/180sec

And that's a wrap for Stars & Stripes 5K 2018!

You're probably wondering why I used the X-T1s for this event and not a combination of the X-T1/T2.  I decided a few months ago that for sporting events like races, I'd stick mostly with the X-T1.  The color rendition is amazing, and even though it's "only" a 16MP sensor, it captures images very well.  For sports, having something tack sharp is necessary if you're taking photos for publication.  But for a race like this, not so much because it's a community event, and most folks will download the photos and post them on social media vs printing them up.  And as you can see from this blog posting, the photos turned out appropriate for the medium that they're being used in!

Captured Memories - The High Five Before the Race

Just like the after-Father's Day blog post, this image was also taken at a small community 5K race that I photographed in March 2018.  If I could pick one image that represented the 5K race, this has to be it.

The photo is just a tad out of focus because the two ladies were in motion and also because my X-T2 cued in on their hands.  The depth of field was really shallow because I shot wide open at f/2.8.  But the sharpness, in this case doesn't matter, so much as the warm enthusiasm being exchanged between these two ladies, fellow runners. 

The above photo spoke to me because just before this race started, two runners were encouraging each other.  There was no talk about one besting the other on the course.  It was just pure, enthusiastic, honest encouragement.

A lot of folks think that racing is about getting out in front and crossing the finish line first, but it's not.  Having run one ultra marathon -- and as of this writing -- three marathons, and countless half marathons and shorter distances, it's not about finishing first.  It's just about finishing.  Yeah, there's a time limit, but every finisher is a winner.

1960s Boho Girls - Galyna

It's very rare that you get to test the limits of your camera's mechanical shutter speed, but when you do, the end results can be pretty neat!

Earlier, I blogged about a boho shoot with Jennifer Franco.  On that same day, I also had the pleasure of working with  pro model Galyna Yershoshenko.  Galyna has done catwalks back east, so this was a real treat!

It was a really bright day outside.  And as you can see from the shutter speeds listed below, it was a real struggle to shoot wide open while also not having the image so overexposed that it was unworkable in Lightroom.  And I didn't want to use an ND filter because that would have reduced the quality of the image.  Thankfully, even at 1/8000 sec, the images were not so overexposed that they weren't unworkable in Lightroom!  Whew!

Our theme for below was designed by Marebeth Gromer and the lighting design, which mostly consisted of a reflector, was designed by Cedric Sims.

This first shot with the chain gun shows just how harsh the lighting conditions were.  The reflector was  being used as a fill off to the right side.

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

I’m not big into bokeh, but I did want the background to go completely blurry, but to also preserve the colors as much as possible, and you can see the blue sky and green trees in the background.  Having that high mechanical shutter speed really helped.

With this second shot, the colors really popped out again!

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

Of note is that this was one of those rare instances where I had to use Photoshop.  The reflector was showing up in the left lens of Galyna’s sunglasses, so I had to cover that up with the "content aware" fill tool.  But overall, the colors in the shot really popped out, thanks again to the high mechanical shutter of the X-T2.

(I’ve never actually played with the electronic shutter of the X-T2 as I’ve read that it’s not as ideal as the mechanical shutter. I suppose I’ll have to experiment with it eventually.)

The next shot is rather interesting.

ISO 200   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/3800sec

Granted, I wanted to get a good shot here of Galyna, but cheated my angle a bit off to the side for obvious reasons.  This is probably my favorite shot of the entire set, because of her pose and overall composition.  She's personifies the carefree nature of that time, but there's also a bit of defiance in her face and pose.

This next shot is basically unedited, so you can actually see where the reflector is.  If there was one thing I would have changed in this shot, it would have just been the composition.  I would have backed up a little more or quickly swapped prime lenses so that I could have captured her entire body.

ISO 200   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/5800sec

This next shot is my second favorite, mostly because of the composition and her pose.

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

This one was also hard to get and it was sort of rushed because I was at one of the other themed sets at the time, waiting my turn to shoot with the model.  Since there were two photographers ahead of me, I decided to rush over to get this one.  You can see that the lighting is extremely harsh.  Dark shadows and high contrast.  I had to take down the highlights just to make it look closer to what my naked eyes saw.  I’m wondering, looking at this shot, which shutter speed would have helped.  I’m guessing somewhere around 1/10000th sec as it was really really bright.

This final shot was taken during a break and costume change.  This was just an improvised shot -- no light modifiers or reflectors at all -- and Galyna had just finished checking her phone and decided to pop into character so us photographers could get the shot.

ISO 200   56mm f/1.2 lens   f/1.2   1/2500sec

I toyed with converting the above photo to black and white, but then realized that the background colors weren't too distracting.  Our eyes are drawn directly to Galyna, and her surroundings are sufficiently blurred out enough that our eyes cue in on her since she's completely in focus.

And that's a wrap for this portion of the boho-themed shoot!

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.


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.


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. 


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.


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!

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.