There’s something appealing about rocks and water but not all compositions are especially compelling. The rains brought plenty of water that’s still flowing down the creeks towards the ocean. Each scene has its charm but I passed by many possibilities. Essentially most were too busy. A cascade over this, a pool within that, but nothing tying it together.
This composition spoke to me. No not literally, that would be weird. This scene presented elements that were different and when combined presented something more compelling. The rocks in the foreground led to the small cascade. This cascade was different because it was at a diagonal which leads the viewer into to frame up and to the right to the center. The eye then travels left along the rocks in the middle of the frame or along the fallen tree branch covered in bright green moss. Either way works well for me because they lead to the upper horizontal cascade creating a loop. This photograph is available on my sales site. Please contact me for licensing information.
Other compositions were plentiful although not quite as compelling as the first. I’ll explore this one more later. There’s probably an element worth isolating with a telephoto here. This photograph is also on my sales site.
Coming or going?
Something I thought of was that most of my photographs of creeks involve water flowing towards my position. I purposely turned around and explored compositions involving the creek flowing away from me. This has a lot of elements that I like and one that I don’t. I like the way the composition is anchored by the rocks in the foreground. I like the relative bright vertical portion of the forest in the background surrounded by darker trees on either side. I don’t like the brighter flow of water at camera left. This is distracting, but it was worth exploring for future visits.
I used my Canon RP for this photograph. I bought this camera in December and it’s been a nice addition to my toolkit. The Viltrox lens adapter works well enough to use my EF mount lenses. The lack of internal image stabilization doesn’t bother me since it’s a feature I rarely use anyway. So far it’s a lot like a Canon 6d Mk II, just simplified a little. I absolutely love the articulating LCD and focus peaking features. It hasn’t replaced my Canon 5d Mk III, but it’s getting close. There are clearly times when this is the tool for the job. I used my favorite carbon fiber Manfrotto tripod which provided stability and shock absorption when in the flowing water. I didn’t mind the relative weight for this short hike. For something longer I’d bring my aluminum travel tripod.
In November 2019 I called up my buddy Kevin Foster. I said “Bring your ‘Best Hat’ and your ‘Favorite Hat.’ I know they’re different. I have ideas.” Kevin’s kind of a local legend as that dude who showed up when the community needed a hand and decided it was time to change things for the positive. Then he kept on going with it. Funny thing is that once the pandemic hit the Bay Area and Santa Cruz County one of his photographs started getting shared tens of thousands of times. “Viral” might not be the right word yet, but the image plus the text that Kevin added to the photograph conveyed a badly needed message.
“Sometimes you have to sit back… Watch, and Observe… People will show you who they are without you saying a word.”
Now funny thing for me is that’s probably the photograph I put the least effort into. I mean there’s almost no editing there. I like to fuss. I like to draw out what I see and spend some serious time with a photograph.
After we went through my ideas Kevin had a surprise. He spends a lot of time rescuing animals and developed a love for birds of prey. He brought this magnificent hawk inside and we ran with it.
As you can imagine some unexpected things happened. Actually when I read that I suppose you could say that we expected some unexpected things to happen… making this next moment expected. I think.
August, 2015. I was looking for subjects along West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz to photograph. There was no surf. Flat as a proverbial pancake. I setup to photograph a passing boat, carefully set my focus point and waited for just the right arrangement.
This isn’t that arrangement.
Moments later a man and a woman paddled out into the frame. They didn’t seem bothered that there was utterly no swell. Their eyes never left each other. Surfing clearly wasn’t as important as being together. I don’t think they noticed anything else in the world.
The scene changed quickly. The boat kept moving to the right and out of frame. The couple got closer together. The light continued to fade and I had to make a decision. Was I changing my focus away from the boat and to the couple? There just wasn’t time. I kept focus where it was knowing that the couple would be a little blurry. The resulting image still told such a compelling story that I kept it and worked on the photograph again nearly five years later. On close inspection I can see now that they’re even on the same board.
I found myself inspired in early February, 2020. As I was exiting my nearly predictable semi-annual dry period I was invited to participate in a portrait shoot in Illinois. I’ll write about that experience soon. Spoiler alert, it was worth the trip.
The dry spell was smashed to pieces and I was back on fire. Right about then we all started hearing about a mystery illness in China. I’ll bet you’ve heard about that. Shortly after getting home the world I knew went seriously sideways. I wrote about the beginnings of this around me in an earlier post.
Shelter In Place
Like a lot of folks I have a “day job” that, lo and behold, has almost nothing to do with my art degree. The good news is that I’m one of those weirdos who mixes left brain and right brain traits. After the “shelter in place” announcement from the state of California I started seriously wondering if my new found inspiration was in danger. No. No it wasn’t.
Opportunity from necessity
I took this as an opportunity and didn’t slow down. There was a wealth of subject matter under my nose, all I needed was the necessity to explore it. Walks around my rural neighborhood became scouting missions for tiny subjects. As a result I was actively seeking out mundane subjects to create interesting photographs. If anything my creativity accelerated.
Without my muse friends, my interest in off-camera flash became an opportunity for self portraits. I setup a backdrop and a strobe in my home office. Selfie Central was born.
A little knowledge, a speedlight, and a tiny diffuser became a strip light to create dramatic light for small subjects.
This also became an opportunity to encourage friends to create. I know they’re in the same situation, or in a lot of instances recently out of work, stuck and home, and dearly needing something constructive to do. I love to be helpful so I’m glad to support and mentor.
New ideas for my backlog
I also had new ideas for post processing previous work. I have volumes of images and a backlog of portrait projects. This was a golden opportunity to look for gems and reinterpret those with new ideas. This has had the bonus effect of reconnecting and growing friendships with my model friends.
Of course this was also an opportunity to follow up on a contact with the editors of Photofocus from weeks ago. Not only was I inspired to create images, I was inspired to write. I keep using the word “opportunity.” Yeah, things are weird, hard, scary, and for many deeply tragic. Opportunity is there, you have to want to see it.
Monday March 16, Santa Cruz, California. The morning after our governor, Gavin Newsom asked for bars to close, older residents to self quarantine. This wasn’t a directive, but it seems to have been a broad request to help slow down this highly contagious virus. I had a physical therapy appointment this morning and forgot to enable notifications on my phone. The therapist office had called me on my way there, saying that appointments are cancelled. I brought my camera with me just in case there was a story to tell somewhere. That story started right across the street.
Some things stopped
Some things need to go on
I genuinely believe this is an important time for story tellers everywhere. I headed downtown for just a little bit — with great care. I saw a mix of things and behaviors. It was a bit quieter than usual. There were fewer people out. Coffee shops were nearly empty. Places like Verve Coffee are usually hopping with activity. There were a few customers but not empty, and not full. People kept their distance. I met a nice man named Mike, a financial consultant visiting from San Jose to meet a client. That client has asked if they could postpone the meeting for an hour, so he was here for a cup. He was friendly and well dressed. We struck up a conversation easily. We tapped elbows and chuckled about it. I didn’t get his picture — I really should have. We exchanged contact information and I hope to hear from him again.
A little down Pacific Ave and O’Neill Surf Shop was closed. A sign in the door explained why. It’s a smart move, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the reality of it. An iconic surf shop. In Santa Cruz. Closed.
I walked further past Palomar and Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting Company. Both were open, and with some customers. I stepped out into the street with a wide angle lens. It’s not an empty street, but I’m accustomed to a little more activity. There were still folks making deliveries and some business as usual. Ish. I saw two men happy to see each other greeting with a big hug and handshake. This seemed like exactly the wrong move today.
Wandering around I always come across familiar characters. I think some recognize me too. We have a number of homeless on this street, although in much denser concentrations elsewhere in the county. I worry about these people today.
Some elements of life looked normal but with subtle dissonance. A family out with their baby stroller. A UPS truck out for deliveries. A couple of cars on the road. 114 parking spaces available. That’s most of them.
I had a photo assignment from my favorite Santa Cruz website/magazine in 2015. KUSP radio had new management and it seemed like everybody was doing a story about it. I think we all knew that the closure was coming any time.
Over the past few days a handful of images kept coming back to my mind. I revisited the photographs tonight and edited them again with a different look.
Probably my favorite photographs were with Lee by the stacks of vinyl records. He would poke through, finding his favorites. We’d pause and talk about one for a while.
Yeah, I know. Look, I was going to title it SEE Challenge Day 1 until I discovered that my friend Elizabeth Hahn beat me to it by 4 hours. That and it’s funny.
I’m lucky to have a friend who’s a wonderful photographer, mentor and inspirer of all things. Yes I just totally ripped off a line from Elizabeth’s blog on exactly the same topic. Lauri challenged us to shoot a roll of film daily for a while. I haven’t personally developed a roll of film since college and I’m pretty sure all the chemicals are in a box somewhere in my garage. But stick with me here; limit the photos taken as if each image was precious enough to burn a frame out of a small set of possible frames. So naturally I plunked a 128gb SD card in my Canon 7d Mk II. That part was more of a coincidence since it was the first SD card I grabbed before leaving today, but again it’s funny.
I thought about this idea: precious.
My typical day is pretty mundane. Up early. Stretch, yawn, scratch, shower, dress, coffee, scratch some more, cereal, shave, out the door. Drive from heavily forested area to tiny mountain back commuter road. Tiny road to major highway. Major highway to major freeway. Crawl through Silicon Valley traffic for the next hour. Arrive in parking garage, exit to building of concrete and steel (albeit a pretty one), work at my desk (yes I have a “day job” but I think you knew that) around stuff I’m not allowed to take pictures of. Repeat the process in reverse like squeezing toothpaste back into the tube.
So what was precious about any of this?
Today all of it was. Every last bit. I won’t bug you with details but over the past 6 weeks I’ve had two significant health things. One where I was’t sure if I was going to live to see the next morning. The other where I got to understand what a “10” is on the pain scale for a week straight. So simple things like driving my car. Getting gasoline. Watching an airplane land were pretty damn precious. Pardon my stroll into existentialism for a bit please.
We have a popcorn popper at work. One like you’d see at the movie theater. I was captivated by the texture, color, and the sense of fun. This was precious to me at the moment.
My commute home tonight brought me close to the airport. Was this moment precious to me? Yes. Do you remember a day when you looked up in the sky and there were absolutely no aircraft flying? I mean at all? I do. It was September 11, 2001. Not one airplane. I don’t take this for granted. Also think about the people on the plane. Somebody’s coming home. Somebody’s excited to see somebody else. Somebody’s terrified of the landing part. Precious to somebody else.
The rest of the virtual “roll” was mostly looking for a pleasing composition of the aircraft in motion. Another way of saying that is “crap” but tonight I’m OK with it.
If you’re familiar with Capitola Village then you’re aware of the colorful beach vacation rentals practically on the sand. I visited a few weeks ago hoping for a particular view that didn’t work out. I went looking for otherwise mundane subjects to explore. The doorways closest to the burm all had sand bags to keep out water from winter storms. People were looking at me like I was a little bananas taking pictures of doorways.
Woah that’s a lot of blue
As I refined the image, darkening this, brightening that, more blue tones showed in the sand bags. This isn’t a big surprise since they’re against this blue door. The light gray bags are reflecting the colors in the blue door. The blues in the image became more saturated as I darkened the texture of the bags. I liked it so I left it. It’s possible to “correct” the colors in the bags but why? This isn’t intended to be photojournalism. It’s intended to invite the viewer to explore and to invent a story around the scene.
Event photography is a challenge. You play the part of host, guest, on the fly portrait photographer, lighting technician, lens juggler, battery wrangler, and eternal camera strap adjuster. You’re also invisible as necessary and life of the party the rest of the time. This is, to use all of my extensive powers of the English language: hard.
Lighting is often a challenge. Sometimes it’s nearly impossible to focus on my subjects because it can be so very dark. On-camera flash is really the only way to go and there are so many lessons applied from previous events. Get that light up high. Bounce the flash off the ceiling when you can. Move the flash around when you can’t. Shoot RAW. Be pretty good with Adobe Lightroom. Ask people to move. Pose them around for something super fun. Take note of the folks who really, really don’t want their picture taken. Have a couple of good jokes ready to go. Know who the VIP’s are.
That doesn’t necessarily mean provide more photographs than required. To me that means anticipate. Research the venue, the type of the event, the details happening around that event.
Be prepared to narrow down the top 50 out of hundreds of photos. While you may think that supplying hundreds of photos speaks well of you (it kind of does) you may actually be creating more work for the person tasked with publishing the photos. Provide the service and break out those top 50 at delivery time.
For this event I checked out the venue. I learned that people were coming in costume. I also learned that a couple of classic cars would be out front with a red carpet. The combination of beautiful building, red carpet, costumes, and period cars told me that people were going to want their pictures taken with those cars.
this allows me to get in tight while still ready for a group shot
I learned some of the backstory about each of the cars to get people engaged (and to give a good reason why leaning against it might not be a great idea).
One was a Bentley that once belonged to Bob Hope
The other was a Lincoln from the early 1930s made in Pasadena, CA.
The owners of the cars were incredibly generous with their time, and just like most folks love to tell their story when asked. The amount of good will created here will blow your mind.
I brought one of my studio lights, a powerful external battery, a solid light stand, and radio triggers.
Bring business cards. People will ask. This is a perfect opportunity to network and gain new clients.
Before the event I rounded up some volunteers to help meter the light and look for good angles.
Roam! Make sure everybody knows why you’re there and that you’re having a good time too! Most importantly look for moments when people are engaging with each other. Tell the story.
No, really! Get out on the dance floor and dance! Be part of that party. Engage. Make people happy that you’re capturing the moment.
Yes, that’s a total contradiction to nearly everything I said earlier. There are moments when you need to not distract. A perfect example is when there is a performance. Turn off the flash. Spot meter on your subject. Crank up the ISO as needed and break out that telephoto.
Honest, people usually love it when you have an idea of how to make them look great. This is also a perfect moment to have a funny joke ready to get a reaction from your subjects. Have a couple of standard poses and draw out their personalities. This is a skill and in the end it’s probably why you were hired for the event. I’m mostly an extrovert but even I had to work to develop this skill. I’m sure this is far more difficult for an introvert but like any skill it can be learned.