Archive for January, 2009

Wedding Photography: So Many Photoshop Hacks

Monday, January 26th, 2009

.:.

So I’m shooting a wedding in May, and as part of my educational process have been browsing through the portfolios of countless wedding photographers, from the very best (and most insanely expensive) to the more, er, down to earth. It occurs to me that in the field of wedding photography there’s a proliferation of a certain kind of hack: the photog who has a copy of Photoshop, wants to follow the trend of soft-focus, “flattering” or “romantic” post-processing, but doesn’t really have the chops to do it. I can’t even describe the number of otherwise perfectly fine wedding photos I’ve seen ruined with cheesily overdone tilt-shift effects or heavy-handed retouching that makes people look like plastic dolls. I don’t mind the idea of soft or selective focus, or retouching, or whatnot, in general, but man, if it’s not done right, it looks awful.

I started playing around with some wedding actions in Photoshop and I do sort of like the effect sometimes. But I’m very aware of the fact that this is not my style and I need to be really careful about overdoing it. My general rule of thumb regarding pretty much any Photoshop effect: if I think I might need to tone it down, I need to tone it down.

My year in concert photography

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

Day 290: Kamelot 09

I took a lot of photos of concerts in 2008. Many of those concerts I wrote about here, and I’ve already posted most of my best shots here, so in this entry I’ll just post a few that I like that for one reason or another haven’t made it to the blog yet. A more comprehensive collection of my favorites from 2008 can be found in this Flickr set.

First, the band I shot most in 2008, Canada’s Unexpect (3 different shows, all at Jaxx). This was also the first time I brought my camera to a concert in 2008 and only the second time I’d shot a show since, oh, 2000 or so. So I was really, quite literally, starting from scratch when it came to concert photography. Definitely didn’t quite figure out what I was doing until a few months in – still working with a slow lens, slow shutter speeds, matrix metering, and aperture priority here, but I managed to get a couple decent shots, like this one:

Unexpect live at Jaxx #69

After the jump, much, much more, including photos and a full list of bands and venues I shot in 2008.

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Something happened in DC yesterday

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

Inaugural Parade 11

I hear it was historically significant.

In all seriousness, I was stoked to get tickets to the inaugural parade, courtesy of a friend whose organization wanted photos of their float. Unfortunately, the real fun seemed to be at the swearing-in ceremonies – at least where we were, towards the end of the parade route, there was tons of space that never filled up. Security was not letting non-ticketholders in at all despite the fact that there were these wide-open expanses of sidewalk just waiting for spectators to fill them up. Very strange.

The parade was delayed nearly two hours, so after waiting in the cold for seven hours (we had no idea what to expect and so showed up very early even though we had tickets), we still had seen nothing but various formations of troops, and the president and vice president. We had a dinner to go to at 7pm and had to leave, so I got zero photos of floats or any of the thousands of folks in the parade. Sucks for them – the parade route bascially emptied out completely after Obama passed by.

So anyway, the crowd was only about 2-3 people deep where I was, when Obama and his wife got out of their heavily armed and armored limo just inside our field of view. They walked past us and around the corner, and I got the above shot. Shortly after, Joe and Jill Biden came ambling down the street as well, and for some reason the Vice President decided he liked me:

Inaugural Parade 15

The Obama shot is way better technically, but the Biden photo is obviously a more unique shot. Was it worth seven hours in 20 degree weather? I’d say so – just being there was pretty cool. I’d much rather have been at the swearing-in amongst crowded masses of people, to share in the feeling and to get lots of fun people photos, but I’m not complaining. Also, we had zero problems getting to and from the entry point – when we got to our checkpoint at 14th and F at 11am after a smooth ride on the 42 bus, there was no line, and when we left, we walked a short distance and picked up an S2 bus that was similarly unimpeded in its progress through the city. Guess all the crowds were concentrated closer to the Mall.

Thanks Saerom for the tickets!

Inaugural Parade 03

A few more shots here at Flickr.

Great way to kick off the year

Friday, January 16th, 2009

Metallica 04

Thanks to my musical taste, which tends to be dominated by weird and obscure stuff, I spent last year mostly shooting concerts in clubs with a capacity of 600 or less. Occasionally I got up to the 1,000+ range (9:30 Club, Ram’s Head). This year, my first show was at a venue with a capacity nearly 10 times as big as the next biggest venue I’ve ever shot (DAR) – the Verizon Center, which seats up to 20,000 in some configurations.

As you can see in the above shot, Metallica managed to sell the place out from the floor all the way up to the rafters. Unfortunately, at the Verizon Center, unless you have a ticket as well as a photo pass, you can’t stick around for the whole set. This show sold out long ago and I wouldn’t have shelled out the cash anyway at the prices they were going for, so I had the best seats in the house for three songs and then I had to leave. Bummer, I would have loved to have seen them do “Master of Puppets” and some of the other classics they did (at least according to the setlist one of the security guards showed me).

Metallica 08

The band were a total blast to photograph. The stage setup was in-the-round, so the whole arena was filled with fans. There were eight or so mics set up at regular intervals on the stage, and James Hetfield made the rounds, bouncing between mics regularly. I got a good workout running around the stage to keep up. The first song was tough, as there was no light whatsoever except for a white spot on Hetfield whenever he was singing. When he wasn’t singing – no lights. Just lasers. Green lasers shooting out from the coffins suspended above the floor, bounced off of mirrors placed at strategic points on the stage. Awesome stuff, but it’s a real shame there was no light on the band members, because it meant I got zero shots of the band and the lasers, just one or the other but not both.

Anyway, the real fun was bassist Rob Trujillo, who was quite a showboater. He mugged for me at one point and I actually heard another photographer next to me (maybe it was Kyle Gustafson) giggle in sheer delight as Trujillo bent down low and got right up in our faces, resulting in the following sequence for me. These two shots are almost full-frame crops at 17mm.

Metallica 13

Metallica 15

Seemed like the first three songs went for 20 minutes, and at these big shows with awesome lighting I tend to shoot constantly. I filled up two 4-gig cards for Metallica, using the relatively lengthy time in the pit to experiment with some angles and ideas I wouldn’t have tried otherwise. Most of them didn’t really work, but that’s the nature of it. It was nice to be able to slap on the 80-200 to get some shots of Lars Ulrich without feeling like I was wasting time that I could be using to get more awesome stuff with the 17-55, which other than a couple minutes stayed on my camera throughout.

Metallica 21

As we were being escorted out of the pit after our three songs were up, I grabbed a few frames of folks in the crowd going crazy. The general admission floor area wasn’t as packed as I’d expected – I guess the Verizon Center is pretty careful about not letting it get too crazy – but the fans up front against the barricade were, predictably, hella enthusiastic and therefore natural photo subjects. :)

Crowd 3

There were probably about a dozen photographers there and I’m looking forward to seeing their work – getting good shots here was like shooting fish in a barrel. With hand grenades. (Here are a few other galleries already up.) Seriously, charismatic subjects combined with great light for the last two songs (I was at ISO 800, f/2.8, shutter speeds between 1/250 and 1/640 most of the time) and a massive playground of a pit to run around in finding different angles? Doesn’t get much better than that. The only thing that was missing was pyro, which I suppose Metallica might not use these days since Hetfield’s 1991 incident.

Full photoset here, including some pretty decent shots I got of the two openers, The Sword and Machine Head.

Long time coming: A few favorites from Beijing

Thursday, January 15th, 2009

Day 227: Forbidden City 12

This will be a mostly “no words” post. I’m going to do a few “favorites of 2008” type posts over the next few days, and I figured I’d start with my trip to the Beijing Olympics, since I never got around to actually blogging about it. Here’s the full set of my photos from that trip, but a select few of my favorites here:

Forbidden City 3

Day 228: Tiantan Park 7

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DCist Exposed 2009

Wednesday, January 14th, 2009

Mount Pleasant Fire #19

DCist Exposed is an annual event (in its third year now) curated by the popular local blog, in which they choose 40-some photos from local photogs to showcase at an area gallery. Two years ago, I got a photo of the Kennedy Center (not on Flickr yet, I’ll have to upload it sometime) into DCist’s first Exposed event – the first time I’d shown any photography in any context. Last year I submitted three pretty off-the-wall shots which, in retrospect, weren’t my strongest work, and didn’t get anything in. This year, I got the above photo in. I submitted that one as well as this and this.

More on this later but I’m honored and think I will probably try to sell the photo at a slightly higher price than is usual for this event, donating all the proceeds to benefit the victims of the fire.

Photo-a-day: a self-indulgent recap + 2008 year in review

Monday, January 12th, 2009

Day 366: Happy New Year!

The above was taken right at midnight on New Year’s Eve and is my last photo in the Project 366 that had me taking a photo every single day of 2008. Done at last!

By one measure, I failed miserably at this project. By my count I missed at least 8 days (including a 9-day span in December where I missed 5 days), and that doesn’t include the fact that I kind of bent the rules to my advantage sometimes – in some cases using photos taken after midnight to count for the previous day, in other cases using them to count for the next day. I did not miss a single day in any way, shape or form until early August, but after that I completely fell off the tracks. More than just missing days, I also just lost inspiration, and the majority of my shots from September and later were totally rote “I’m taking a photo for the sake of taking a photo” shots taken at the end of the day. At that point I had completely stopped enjoying the project and probably should have quit altogether, but I was too stubborn for that.

By a totally different, and arguably more important, measure, the project was a resounding success. I originally embarked on it because my D70 had been collecting dust in my closet. I would take it out for parties, Ultimate tournaments and backpacking trips, but otherwise never touched it. This seemed like a giant waste since I’ve always loved taking photos (especially since getting my first SLR from my brother in 2000), so I was looking for some way to motivate myself to just get out and take more pictures. On that count, I succeeded way more than I could have possibly imagined. I took over 400 photos in the first week of 2008. I took 10,000 photos in the first three months (compared to 16,000 in the three and a half years preceding). And it only went up from there. I got my D300 in April and have put the shutter through some 40,000 actuations already.

A second goal was to actually improve my photography, and while this is subjective to a certain extent, I at least think that I’ve succeeded. I look at my photos from 2007 and before and cringe, which is a good sign. I am much more confident with a camera in my hands now that I’ll be able to get interesting photos of whatever it is I’m looking at. On a technical level, I’m also much more comfortable with the basics of exposure – I knew them intellectually before, but now I know them instinctively (shooting in manual and adjusting on the fly at concerts has helped immeasurably in this respect). I also am way more comfortable using flash than I’ve ever been, both on- and off-camera, though I still have plenty to learn here. Compositionally, it’s harder to pinpoint clear improvement, but I think I have a better eye than I did a year ago, and am just generally more perceptive.

Day 16: Unexpect live at Jaxx #27

Finally, and this was totally unexpected, I transformed myself into an event photographer. I discovered a real joy for concert photography, and am in the process of expanding this passion to other sorts of events – for instance, I’m scheduled to do my first wedding this May. I developed a pretty efficient workflow for processing massive numbers of images from concerts, sports events, newsworthy happenings and so on. I started building a brand for myself, with the website and blog, watermark, business cards, and so on, which has helped get me some gigs I definitely didn’t foresee at the beginning of the year. The upshot is that while a year ago I was contemplating sneaking my camera into a tiny club to shoot an obscure rock band (above, my Day 16 shot), this year, exactly 365 days after I took the photo above, my first concert shoot will be Metallica at the Verizon Center, a 20,000-seat arena.

An odd consequence of this development has meant that my more free-form “artistic” photography took a bit of a dive in the latter part of the year, when I was focusing most of my energy on live music photography. I got some great shots in the first few months of the year that I wouldn’t mind hanging in an art gallery (and I did, kind of, if you’d consider Artomatic that kind of thing), but in the latter part of the year most of my stuff was more documentary-style. I was doing much less of the “carry the camera everywhere and take pictures of any random thing that strikes my fancy” thing, and I’d actually like to get back to that a bit. I definitely did that during my trip to Beijing and it netted me some shots I really love, like my Day 234 photo:

Day 234: What time is it?

Ironically, it was that trip to China, where I got tons of keepers, that hurt my photo-a-day the most. I had several thousand images to process after that trip, and while going through them I had absolutely no energy left over to take creative photos every day. (The jet lag certainly didn’t help.) I fell into a bit of a creative funk at that point and never fully recovered, choosing instead of focus my creativity in concert and other specific event shoots. It was at this juncture, too, that I started missing days here and there.

So starting in September I was kind of feeling like the project was drudgery, and I was taking crap photos just for the sake of taking photos. Not really the point of the project. Nevertheless, I’m glad I stuck it out, I’ve learned a ton, and I’ve rediscovered a passion for photography that certainly isn’t going anywhere. I just have to figure out how I want to channel it. I’m not doing a new 365 project in 2009 for obvious reasons, but I’m certainly going to figure out some goals for myself with regards to photography, and I think it’s going to be a fun year.

I’m upgrading my computer

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

Day 148: Photo editing hell

Warning: excessive geek-talk follows.

Ever since I started using Nikon Capture NX to process the 12+ megabyte RAW files from my D300, I’ve known that my camera equipment has outpaced my computer equipment. (Odd, since I have been a computer nerd since long before I became a photo nerd.) High ISO noise reduction in particular slowed my system to a crawl, making post-processing concert photos a much longer process than necessary. I’ve been wanting to upgrade my old version of Photoshop (7) as well, but have been afraid that my computer wouldn’t run anything newer than CS2 very well.

I’m using a machine I built myself five and a half years ago, so it’s definitely due for an upgrade. The big photography-related question was: what monitor to get? Currently I use a Dell Ultrasharp 2005FPW, which is a 20″ widescreen LCD based on a high-quality S-IPS panel, and an old 15″ LCD that’s beginning to show signs of conking. I wanted like to get a new monitor to replace the 15-incher and still have a dual-monitor setup, and a bigger one with HDCP support would be great since my DVD drive replacement is a Blu-Ray compatible drive.

I tend to do lots of photo processing, lots of using Internet/e-mail/office apps, some movie watching, and a tiny bit of gaming, all of which require slightly different strengths in an LCD screen. Photo processing is the most demanding from a color reproduction standpoint, and S-IPS panels are the way to go for that. Trouble is, S-IPS panels are freakin’ expensive (we’re talking $1000+ for a good 24″ S-IPS panel). All the cheapest monitors are TN panels, which are 3-4 times cheaper than the S-IPS ones, and are great for gaming since they tend to have fast response rates, but poor at color reproduction and horrible in terms of viewing angles.

Realistically I had to settle for a PVA panel like that in the Dell Ultrasharp 2408WFP or 2707WFP, which are newer and larger versions of my current monitor, and which are available at quite reasonable prices refurbished. After some back and forth I have decided to go with the 2707. I’m pretty psyched about it; 27″ is a lot of screen real estate for all those Photoshop toolbars and the like. I’ll get the monitor, as well as the rest of my upgrade parts, later this week. Woo!

Check out this Anandtech thread for tons of info on selecting LCD monitors – very helpful indeed.

One concern: I am upgrading to Windows Vista 64-bit, and I was a bit worried that the color calibration software that came with my Spyder2 device isn’t Vista 64 compatible. Luckily, I Googled and found this. Nice.

After the jump, the full details on what I’m upgrading from and to.

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So I hear it’s 2009

Monday, January 5th, 2009

Day 363: Clingmans Dome Road

Which means no more photo of the day for me. I was getting a little tired of it anyway.

Once I process and post my last bunch of photos from 2008, I’ll be doing a few posts here: a wrap-up of my photo-a-day project, a report from a quick backpacking trip I took to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in NC (preview above), a review of the Blurb photo-book products, and maybe some other stuff like a super-self-indulgent “favorite shots of the year” thing. So stay tuned. And happy 2009!