Thursday, July 31, 2008

I love natural light

It just seems like there's never enough of it to do what we really want. I can certainly see why portrait photographers who use natural light want a "north window studio". This is essentially what I have in my living room, except the backyard is enclosed by trees and there's a huge awning extending 15 feet out, which combine to make my "studio" darker than the inside of a cow. The light is gorgeous, there's just hardly any of it there.

I'm now able to shoot in conditions that I wouldn't have even tried before...this definitely bears further practice! Next week is going to be interesting.
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Murphy's law, subsection 342

Good old Mr. Murphy, inventor of the law stating "Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong" apparently had a background in photography. One of the deeply buried corrolaries to the law stated that four days after you buy something new, you will find an equal or better item for sale on Craigslist at a price you cannot refuse.

What am I talking about?

A D3, another 24-70, another 85/1.4, and accessories.

For about the price of a new D3.

So now the bag is a bit too full, one of each lens has to go, and I get to spend the next week in New York deciding whether I'm going to keep the D3 or the D700. When I get back, one of the cameras will be on it's way to a new owner.

I just have to decide which one. I swear, I didn't mean for this to happen, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity. Either way, it's going to be a sweet kit.

I have an interesting event coming up this weekend, a shoot for a historical/political group that does re-enactments of famous speeches, rallies, etc. It's a combination political rally and public, collaborative theater. The group is called the Port Huron Project , check them out, and if you're in Oakland this Saturday, come on down and watch the show!

I'll try to get some pictures up from the event Saturday night, as I'm flying out to New York to go camping for a week on Sunday morning. Enjoy!
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Monday, July 28, 2008


Kids at the beach. How much more fun does it get than that?

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Saturday, July 26, 2008

It's here...

Thanks to Nikon, Ritz Camera, FedEx, and a gentle squeeze of the bank account, my new D700 showed up today. This is the full-frame camera that I (along with so many others) have been waiting for Nikon to build, and they've done a great job. Quick first impressions, and a few more pictures, after the jump.

Found this sitting on the front porch when I got home today:

Brought it in, out of the box, and there's the big 700 I've been waiting for:

First off, the camera feels great in hand, very solid and comfortable. It exudes quality, and just begs to be used. The screen on the back is incredible, at 3.0" and more than twice the resolution of my D200, it's beautiful.

First lens to go on was the 24-70, which is now able to be the wide angle it was designed as. 24mm on the full frame is wider than 18mm on dx, so I get to shoot a little closer than before, which is gonna be nice. Yes, my kitchen's a mess, but here's the view at 24mm:

The high ISO abilities of this camera are every bit as incredible as I've heard. Take a look at this photo, shot under the one 100w bulb in my kitchen at ISO 25,600. Click through for full-size if you have a big screen and/or a minute for it to load.

I'm going to stop drooling over it now, and go take some pictures...

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Monday, July 21, 2008

A clearer view...


WARNING: Gear lust ahead!

I've got my budget all laid out for everything I'm going to be picking up over the next week or so to fill in a fully capable pro kit, and one lens seems to have jumped the gun and come onboard before everything was, shall we say, approved.

The Nikon 24-70 f/2.8 is, according to everything I've read, absolutely superlative in terms of it's image quality, even wide open, and it provides an excellent range on a full-frame body. It's supposed to be as sharp as the 28-70, but wider, and as good wide open as the 17-55, which is a DX (crop format) lens. Right now it's on the D200, where I'm finding that 24mm is not wide enough for my taste on DX, but it's going to settle right in on the D700 when it arrives in a few weeks.

The rest of my list is roughly as follows:

D700. Already discussed. The body that so many of us have been waiting for.

Sigma 150mm f/2.8 macro. This will be my long portrait/short telephoto lens, and I expect it to reside more on the D200, which will be staying in my kit for some time still. This provides me with a bit more reach than I've had previously (150mm vs 135) and gets me to a nice f/2.8 for a very reasonable $550 or so.

Nikon 85mm f/1.4 I try and try to convince myself to get the 1.8 instead. But I've used both, and the 1.4 is simply magic.

Another SB-800 and Pocket Wizard. One light simply isn't going to do everything I need.

Beyond that, I have enough budgeted for either a 14-24 (a beautiful lens, but I'm torn trying to make a business case for it) or a set of a couple of AB lights and associated modifiers (probably more practical) I'm leaning heavily towards the lights, as I think 24mm on FX will be wide enough for me for a while. I've rarely shot wider than 27mm equivalent, so I'm ok with 24. Hopefully.

Also, a couple of lightstands, an umbrella or two, a roll of seamless, some business cards and a sign for the back window of the van. I'm sending some design work to a little company called FatTofu ( who will be doing my logo and stuff. As you can tell by the graphic above, I am not a designer!

Anyway, thanks to all for the support as always. More to come soon. And I promise to keep the gear posts to a minimum. This stuff is tools, and right now I'm investing in the future of my business. Hopefully I'm not putting the cart too far ahead of the horse.

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Friday, July 18, 2008

iMac, therefore iAm

Just another step in my continual pursuit of the most forced relevance ever in a blog post title...

After three painful weeks of getting my internet fix via only my cell phone's little 2" screen, I was finally able to pick up my new iMac this afternoon. This will be primarily the business computer, but the family is going to get in some time on the new box here or there, I'm sure. It's a 24" model, and frankly every time I look at the screen I just about get lost in how huge, bright, and clear it is. I've got MS Office all set up, and a copy of QuickBooks Pro to help keep track of business over the next year or so. The wireless connection to the internet, printer, and other computer are working after some tweaking and a ping from Comcast's techs.

I try not to make this too much of a gear lust blog, but sometimes I can't help myself. I've waited too long for this one. The last computer was Dell's bottom of the line econobox six years ago, and it has more than done it's time. It was getting to the point where the monitor was so far gone I couldn't judge image quality hardly at all, and the 30gb (!) C: drive has been stuffed within an inch of it's life for around 18 months now. I've got over 500 gigs worth of external drives just kind of orbiting around the old box, waiting for it to die.

Next project: porting my two Lightroom catalogs over to the new machine, coming up with a logical storage solution, and figuring out how the old box fits into the plan and the network. It's probably going to end up as a dedicated machine to run the slide scanner, working through many, many thousands of my grandpa's old Kodachromes dating all the way back to the early sixties.

We'll be finishing up the details of the business launch budget soon, and there will be a few more nice bits of gear wandering into my camera bag soon. Give it a couple of days, and I'll have some more detail (and pictures) for you. In the meantime, I've got a job to bid for some corporate portraits, so I'm off to dig up John Harrington's "Best Business Practices for Photographers" and remind myself what professional photography is worth in dollars and cents.

And I'll post some pictures too. Gotta have those!

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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Why I love a cheap lens...

Okay, I admit to some pixel peeping now and then. I get asked sometimes what lens I shoot with, and the surprising answer is that one of my favorites is the 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 AFS DX. It's cheap, it's plastic, it was the second string kit lens two years ago, it's slow variable aperture, yadda yadda yadda.

It's damn sharp, it's a great range, and it does almost everything for me. I've used it everywhere, I flung it from a ceiling fan (long story) and it just lets me make images.

The eye above belongs to my son, it's an unsharpened 100% crop of a portrait I shot in the living room an hour ago. Lighting was a small softbox overhead with an SB-800 in it, f/14 at ISO 100. Take this picture, drop it in Photoshop, and put a touch of sharpening on it. See what you think. Not bad for a $250 lump of 7.5x super-zoom consumer plastic.

Somehow I think that this lens will still have a place in my bag once the 2.8's and such move in in a few weeks here. According to Lightroom, over 60,000 images with it in the last 18 months.

Thanks Nikon for a great little piece of glass.
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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Another wedding in the bag

Had the opportunity to shoot another wedding yesterday, as second shooter this time, assisting Michael Loeb of Loeb Photography. Michael's been shooting weddings since the beginning of time, (or at least since medium format film was the format of choice) and working for him was a real treat.

One of the things I noticed the most was how much effort went into directing the various parties of the wedding for many of the group shots and posed portraits. He did a great job keeping everybody nearby, and cycling through the groups while getting all the setups he had on his list. Much more organized than I was at my last event. Years of experience showing through.

I got there early, and was able to get shots of the bride and bridesmaids getting ready, and some detail shots I missed last time as well (bride's shoes, flowers, table settings, etc) The group was a lot of fun, relaxed, easy to work with, and happy to have us around.

The ceremony was beautiful, outside at a little gazebo, and our persistent wildfires have left a high layer of smoke over the area, which turns into a gorgeous warm diffuse light at about 6pm. Made shooting outside a pleasure, no harsh shadows or squinty eyes anywhere. Set up one flash on a stand at the back of the audience, opposite the sun for a bit of pop, and that was all we needed.

Overall, I had a great time. I think I might get to like this wedding thing....
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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The lights come up...

Some early business is starting to trickle in, I've made a few sales to the parents from the dance school, and there's a possibility of some further business from them as well. The head of the school saw the gallery and is isntereted in having me do the school's photography next season. I'm going to be in touch with her soon, and I'm planning to be contacting many of the local childrens' sports leauges regarding photos.

I had kind of made the assumption that these positions would be filled, but my experience with the dance academy is teaching me otherwise....

Right now I'm looking at youth sports & activities, family pictures/portraits, weddings, and I'd like to find an inroad to some commercial and architectural photography as well.

That's not too much to shoot for, is it? :-)
Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T
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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

My shopping list has just changed a bit...

Anybody who follows Nikon gear rumors and releases already knows the camera above, but for anybody who has been under a rock the last several weeks, Nikon has announced the D700, a new camera combining the full-frame sensor of the D3 with the smaller, lighter form of the D300. DP Review has a hands-on preview here, and all the major camera sites have copies of Nikon's release. This is the camera I (and many others) have been waiting for, and they're supposed to be available by late July. I'll be placing my order in a few weeks.

But wait! I thought you had no job! Why are you looking at new cameras? How is this possible?

Read on...

Over the course of several weeks of separation from the corporate, clock-punching, every day the same job I've held for the last six years, I've had time to do some serious thinking and planning. I've realized several things, and probably the most pertinent is that I do not want to work for anybody else.

I asked my wife a few days ago if she felt I was good with commitment. I asked her what my success rate is when I'm fully on board with something, really jumping in with both feet.

She says 100%

I've known this for years, but now my hand has been forced, and I choose the path less trodden. It's not the easy road, but it's been my passion, my dream, and now I have the chance to make the decision.

I'm not going back to work.

Cycle 61 Photography is going full-time, right now. I'm cashing in some resources that I've saved up over the last few years, and making this thing real. The resources exist, and will be liquid in a few weeks, to fill in the gaps in a functional professional set of gear, to finish my licensing, to put together some advertising, and to support us while the ball really gets rolling with the business.

I have a tentative agreement with a dance school to shoot their events, a wedding in August, one in October, and a few others in the early stages. Certainly not a full-time schedule as yet, but it's a start.

I have a job interview tomorrow morning for yet another maintenance technician job at a pharmaceutical company. I'm still going to go, but it's probably going to be my last. I've officially been hired as President, CEO, and head photographer here at Cycle 61.

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