Archive for May, 2009

Artomatic: Don’t do it like this

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

Artomatic 2009

Here is the timeline for my Artomatic wall, pictured above. Keep in mind the final day for installation was this past Tuesday, May 26.

  • Monday, May 18: ordered my prints from White House Custom Colour
  • Wednesday, May 20: received my prints from WHCC
  • Thursday, May 21: dropped off my prints to get framed at Apex Moulding
  • Friday, May 22: prints ready for pickup
  • Saturday, May 23: picked up my framed prints, then spent all weekend at Maryland Deathfest
  • Monday, May 25, 12pm-5pm: did a Gallery Manager shift
  • Monday, May 25, 6pm-9pm: painted my wall, hung my lights, arranged and hung my photos

Yes, that’s right… in the space of one week, I ordered my prints and had them framed. In the space of 3 hours, I went from a blank wood wall to the completed one you see above. I wasn’t going to bother painting – figured I needed a coat of primer plus two coats of paint, and there was no way I had time for that nonsense – but the guys doing the wall next to mine told me they’d only used one coat of paint, no primer. And theirs looked great. So I found some nice dark gray paint at Artomatic’s awesome communal paint stash, went home and got the same rollers, brush, blue tape and drop cloth that I used last year (plus the same lights, power strip, name plate, etc etc), and had at it. When it was barely dry, I went ahead and put up my lights and hung my photos.

It went quickly but I’d recommend procrastinating a little less than I did :) I’m lucky enough to have a ridiculously fast printer and framer – WHCC ships everything by 2-day mail, and Apex Moulding is just amazing with their turnaround, presumably because they’re a wholesale place with a different business model from your average frame shop.

Artomatic opens this Friday, and it’s going to be a good one this year. I can’t vouch for the quality of any of the art, of course, but it’s a great space and there are some very interesting things in the works. My wall is on the ninth floor on the east side of the building. I’ll miss the opening weekend, sadly, but I hope to spend a decent amount of time in the building until the show is over. (Free wireless internet!)

Workin’ at Maryland Deathfest this weekend

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

I shot 30+ bands and 4 to 5 thousand photos this weekend at Maryland Deathfest. Photos being processed slowly, I have to finish up the wedding photos from a couple weeks ago as well. I’ll post good ones here sporadically, but above is me (in the red shirt) at work in the pit with the vocalist from The Red Chord (black shirt facing the camera). Thanks to Aaron from Return to the Pit for taking and posting this and a gazillion other images in a split second. (Dude wrote a program to automatically process all his images, so unlike me, he posted all his photos the same day he took them. Meanwhile, I’m processing all my RAW files by hand. Hmm.)

There were tons of photogs at the fest, mostly from webzines and fan sites. They cut off press credentials over a month out, so I guess they were granting passes to most of those who asked until they hit their limit. Photogs got both pit and stage access on both festival stages (indoor and outdoor), which was sweet. We were limited to two songs for Bolt Thrower because of excessive amounts of bodies flying, but otherwise, no restrictions. It was a fucking blast and an incredibly well-run festival. More to come.

In the meantime, I posted my first of several posts about MDF at Black Plastic Bag.

VA States photos are up!

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

VA States 2009 12

Last year at VA States, I took some 3,000 photos and shared about 800 of them. This year, I took about 4,000 and am sharing about 1,200 of them. That’s a lot of Ultimate photos. They’re all here on my Zenfolio site. Zenfolio allows me to sell prints online (through Mpix – I don’t have to do any printing or shipping myself) as well as digital downloads. I’m very happy with it, will write more in the future.

I’ll also comment a bit more about my experience shooting this tournament, but I think I’ll do that sometime when it’s not 1am and I still have some work to do. For now, enjoy the photos.

On selling crap

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

VA States 13

It’s probably not very professional to call out crap photography, but, well, I’m not quite a professional :)

This past weekend I was the photog for the Virginia high school state Ultimate championships. (I did this last year too, which is where the above photo comes from. More on this year coming later.) Because of the funky structure of the Ultimate Players Association high school division, this tournament took place a week after the High School Easterns tournament, which is sort of the big championship tournament for all the high schools in the eastern part of the country (there is no true national championship tournament). I saw a link posted to photos from Easterns and, out of curiosity, checked it out. The UPA has a stable of ridiculously talented freelance photographers (for example) that they contract with for their big tournaments, so the photos are usually worth looking at.

But man, I don’t know if the UPA sanctioned the folks who put up these photos or not, but they are terrible. There was absolutely no effort put into post-processing – no cropping, no contrast adjustments, and some photos were not even rotated to the proper orientation. Even worse, the photos for the most part suck in the first place. There look to be at least two photographers at work here, one of whom is much worse than the other, appearing to use a camera stuck at narrow apertures with from-here-to-infinity depth of field that completely fails to isolate any subject.

Seriously, who is going to buy a 4×6 print of this garbage? I can’t even tell what the subject is supposed to be. And the price? It’s a steal: $12 for two 4×6 prints. Are you kidding me? Those are some of the highest prices I’ve ever seen for something like this, and for this kind of quality it’s a freakin’ joke.

I get that there are economics at work here. Post-processing photos, even just cropping and curves adjustments, is time-consuming, and time is money (or so I’ve heard somewhere before). And putting up as many photos as possible with only minimal standards of quality sometimes makes business sense, since you never know what picture of themselves someone will end up liking (and purchasing). Still, I can’t help but think that shoveling this kind of crap at high schoolers, parents and coaches hoping for some level of professional quality is a real shame. This is a high-level UPA event, after all. In some of the photos you can see the photographers’ booth setup, which looks really nice (it’s in perfect focus because, you know, no subject isolation blah blah blah). Too bad the photos themselves don’t look nice at all.

A personal cliche

Friday, May 15th, 2009

I just noticed that I do this shot a lot:

Kylesa 10

Cloud Cult 10

Boris 7

(Kylesa, Cloud Cult and Boris, if you’re curious.)

The “Last 15 Minutes” Rule

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

Mastodon 20

I shot Mastodon, Kylesa and Intronaut at the 9:30 Club earlier this week. I love the latter two bands and I, uh, used to love Mastodon (until they went all Dream Theater). It was a great show to shoot. I and the other photogs there were able to shoot for the whole set – from the pit or anywhere else in the club – for the opening bands, which was great. Kind of unnecessary for Intronaut because they just stand there, but Kylesa were energetic and fun and I was really happy to stay in the pit for their whole show. For Mastodon, we got… the last 15 minutes. Very weird. We were told to come to the pit at 10:45, for the last few songs of the set (there was no encore).

I think this is kind of a great idea in general. For most bands, during a good performance the last few songs are going to be much more energetic than the first three, with more potential for onstage antics, crowd interaction and other general zaniness. Unfortunately there wasn’t much in the way of zaniness at this show, but there was Brent Hinds lifting his guitar to the sky and saluting the audience at the end of the show (above), which was not a shot I would have gotten during the first three songs. Cool.

Here’s the full photoset.

One big day under my belt

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009


This past weekend I did my first wedding. I now have 1,200 photos to process after making initial cuts (redundant images, missed focus, missed exposure, pointless compositions, unattractive expressions, eyes closed, etc). I’d say overall it was quite the success. The wedding itself went very well aside from a 5-minute downpour that soaked the wedding party and a few guests… and the photographer. I got a few shots I am very proud of, lots of shots that are fine, and learned a hell of a lot in the process. The formals were challenging, especially since most of the group shots were done outside in full sun (ouch). There are a few shots that I missed, mostly during the ceremony because it was the shortest ceremony ever, but for the most part I checked off everything on my mental shot list and I think the newlyweds will be happy with the results.

I’ll post much more after I’m able to put up more photos, but naturally I want the bride & groom (currently on their honeymoon) to be the first to see the majority of them. For now, I’ll talk about the very basics: my gear strategy. This is what I brought along:

  • Nikon D700 + MB-D10
  • Nikon D300 + MB-D10
  • Tokina 12-24/4
  • Nikon 17-55/2.8
  • Nikon 80-200/2.8
  • Nikon 50/1.8
  • 1 SB-800 flash
  • 2 SB-600 flashes
  • Nikon SC-29 off-camera TTL flash cord
  • 36 gigs of CF cards (SanDisk Extreme III and IV)
  • Lastolite 48″ 1-stop Tri-grip diffuser
  • 3 light stands and umbrella swivels
  • Justin clamp (never used)
  • 2 shoot-thru umbrellas
  • Tripod (never used)
  • Small step-stool (borrowed from the bride)
  • Crumpler 6 Million Dollar Home shoulder bag
  • Impact Light Kit 3 bag

For the “getting ready” shots, I used my D300 and 12-24/4 alongside my D700 and 50/1.8, with occasional use of my 80-200/2.8. I wish I had an 11-16/2.8 or faster ultrawide lens for the D300, but the 12-24 did well even though I had to bump up the ISO on the D300 a little higher than I would have liked. For the formals, I used the D300 and 17-55/2.8 almost exclusively. The ceremony and cocktail hour had me using that combo alongside the D700 and 80-200/2.8. For the reception, I used the D300 and 17-55 or the D700 and 12-24 (yes, they play nice together, much better than the 17-55 on full frame) along with an SB-800 flash on a remote cable. The reception took place in an extremely dim ballroom, which posed a bunch of challenges because I still don’t quite know what the SB-800 is going to do in TTL mode. That said, I came away with 300+ very usable, fun shots, so it worked out in the end.

Just Married

I shot everything in RAW, used a custom white balance wherever possible, and generally tended to D2XMODE1 picture control except for the reception shots. I was in aperture priority mode 90% of the time and full manual mode the rest of the time. I was shooting for about 11 hours, from a little after 1pm all the way until midnight. The result was that I filled up all but one 4-gig card out of the 36 gigs worth of CF cards that I’d brought (holy crap).

My girlfriend acted as an assistant for part of the day, helping me schlep all that gear from place to place (the hotel where the wedding was held was huge, so lots of schlepping), holding the Tri-grip, pointing out flaws in various poses, and generally being a super helpful rock star. Should I ever shoot a wedding by myself, I’m going to have to cut down on the amount of gear I bring, because there was a bit too much to lug around.

Big thanks to the couple, who liked my work enough to take a chance on a rookie wedding photographer, were incredibly laid-back and easy to work with, and had a great wedding at a beautiful location.

Avant Fairfax and five-digit ISOs

Monday, May 11th, 2009

Anduin 1

A few Saturdays ago there was a great avant-garde music festival, Avant Fairfax, held in Fairfax City’s Old Town Hall building. This is no concert hall, of course, so lighting was minimal; a couple acts used two lighting trees that helped enormously, but most played in relative darkness – just the house lights dimmed to almost nothing. I had brought my D300 with 17-55/2.8 and my D700 with 50/1.8 and 24/2.0. Because of the low lighting, the majority of my shots were with the D700 at ISO 3200 and 6400. The above shot is at ISO 6400, f/1.8, 1/25 sec shutter.

Stag Hare 2

The above shot was even more extreme: ISO HI 1.0 (12,800 equivalent), f/1.8, 1/10 sec shutter. It was basically almost pitch dark except for that blue LED. I am absolutely amazed that I got anything at all, much less this, which is hardly printable at a large size but is quite usable on the web. Yup, this D700 thing is a pretty nice machine.

Full photoset here.