I was reminded today about some of those special moments one has travelling.  I think a lot of us travel to experience the world, to try a new food, to see a new place, to witness an exotic way of life firsthand.  Much of travelling, on its surface, seems to me to be the broadening of horizons on a few important, but limited levels.  That is, we go so far out of our way for the sights, sounds, and tastes of a new place, but sometimes completely miss what makes travelling truly wonderful: the people we meet.

Let me be clear: I am certainly not well travelled, even among my close friends.  I have been many places in the US, true, but few beyond our borders, whereas I have friends under 25 who have already spent years of their lives abroad.  I don't necessarily regret this, but I think it is important to note that many of my excursions are local (if numerous), and so one might say that I don't have the same experience travelling that others do.  That being said, I would characterize much of my travels as focusing around what I will call "areas of interest."  I think we all do this at some point or another.  Travelling becomes about the visceral, and is almost its primary goal.  That's why I wake up at 4 am to take photos – I want to see the beauty of ths sunrise.  That's why I hike until my legs want to give out, schlepping 30 lbs of camera gear up to the top of some peak, so I can see the vista and subsequently record it for posterity (I suppose).  Hell, that's why I do pretty much anything related to travel.  There is always some goal, some thing, at the end of the road which drives me to go somewhere.  Whether it's a mountain peak or a museum, a restaraunt or a waterpark, it doesn't matter.  It appears that it's all about the end result.

I must say, though, tonight I've come to realize that this end result is not what makes a trip really special.  Sure, I won't forget watching the sun rise from the headland on Rialto, or the cloudbreak I had right as Haley and I got to the top of Maple Pass. Nor will I forget the sun rise over Mormon Row, or the moon rise over Mount Moran almost 3 years ago.  But really, if you asked me what was the defining moment of my Teton trip, it wouldn't be the phenomenal sights, it would be the two guys I waterskiied with at 6 am on Jackson Lake, and ate elk with on into the late night.  If you asked me what the most important part of coming through Hell's Canyon a few summers past, it wouldn't be sitting under the night sky watching the Milky Way rise into view, it would be the muzzle-loader-toting mama who fed us frozen pizza and regailed us with hunting stories.  Similarly, if you ask me what really stood out about this trip to Portland, it wouldn't be watching the moon rise over Cannon Beach, it would be two people I met over wine while relaxing in the hotel lounge.

We met Caron and Ross over a dog.  Specifically, their wonderful chocolate schnauzer whose temperment made Larry King seem like a punk rocker.  All of us, loving animals as we do, immediately begin trading stories and pictures and laughs about our pets, pulling out iphones and cameras and the like to prove the various claims of cuteness we were making.  Most people would stop there, shake hands, and politely turn the conversation inwards, back to our respective cliques, but not this time.  Caron was incredibly warm, and interesting, and genuinely interested in what we had to say and in who we were, as people.  She asked questions to every one of us, questions which weren't ones like "what's your name" or "what do you do," but real, important questions; questions which made you feel part of the conversation and engaged you to talk more and more.  We found out that she was an educator, and that she had two kids, 20 and 23, both of whom were engineers.  We found out that her husband (who, at that time, was absent) was an artist, specializing in oil landscapes.  We found out that she lived in Vancouver with her husband, but grew up in Saskatchewan, and lived (at one point) 250 miles south of the Arctic Circle.  

Soon, her husband sat down, and I could just tell that they were made for each other.  They were so obviously in love, it was just wonderful to see.  Of course, once I found out Ross was an artist, I was keenly interested in his work and what drove him.  He was gracious, and just as endearing as his wife, and a pleasure to talk to.  Eventually we learned that Ross was a career firefighter, but had been interested in drawing since he was in 6th grade.  We learned, too, that he had started painting "only 20 years ago" (as if that is insignificant), and that he and his wife were on their way down to San Francisco to show some of his work off at a gallery there.  When he and Caron discovered we were genuinely interested in his art, he went up to his room and got us some simply gorgeous 5×4 cards with some of his work.  When he didn't have enough for all of us, he went to his car and got more.  A true class act.

Needless to say, the conversation took its twists and turns, covering everything from photography to 4chan, black/white hat to politics, you name it.  Before we knew it, I was down 3 glasses of wine, and we had been talking for an hour and a half. Eventually we all went our separate ways, but not before, I think, creating a lasting impression on each other.

So I come back to it.  This idea that we are so enamored with the places and things and sights and sounds and tastes and smells of new places that we stop caring to meet new people.  Hell, maybe we even avoid meeting new people because we don't want it to impede our travels.  I know I've done that before.  I'm sure you've cut a conversation short for similar reasons.  It's kind of built into our collective psyche these days, to be so cold to one another, with everything available so fast, and our itineraries and travel guides and 9-8 work cycles and hectic hoo-ha, we forget to say hello to our fellow fleshbag walking down the same street we do day in and day out.  So, make the effort.  Say hello.  Throw away your vacation schedule.  Get drunk with a stranger.

And make sure you take pictures of it all.

Karen and Ross

PS – Check out some of Ross' work at http://www.rosspenhall.com/.  Simply phenomenal.



by ajamess on 14.Nov.10

in Photos,Travel

The four of us are in Portland now, after a rainy day of driving through Tillamook and Western Oregon.  I awoke first to overcast skies at an ambitious time of 630, then gave up the ghost upon looking out the window at flat light on Cannon Beach.  The extra 2 hours of sleep didn't prevent me from sleeping much of the car ride there, but damn, did it feel good.  

Breakfast was steak and eggs at Pig'n Pancake, and was a wonderful chance to talk with my Mom about some of the stupid things her and I have done in our lives (getting bowled over by waves on Rialto, and being human lightning rods among them).  As we left, it started to rain, and we made our way up and out of Cannon Beach, ending up eventually in Tillamook, where we had the chance to visit "cheese hq," and eat some damn fine strawberry ice cream.  Haley was giddy, being in such close proximity to two of her favorite things: cows and cheese.

A few hours later, and we were snaking our way though Portland traffic to arrive at the wonderful Hotel Monaco smack in the center of Portland.  Less than 30 minutes after we arrived, we were treated to (apparently) the daily happy hour, in which it seemed the whole milieu of Portland was represented in a single room.  In fact, it was just a bunch of tourists and their dogs, but cool, nonetheless.  I had a delicious cosmopolitan, a drink I did not know I enjoyed.  Dinner was a wonderful steak (man, I'm really into cow these last two days) at the Red Star tavern, and our evening diversions included a much-awaited trip to Powell's Books, quickly becoming one of my favorite book stores anywhere, although Dawn Treader is right up there.  After stocking up on sci-fi and another Ansel book, we made our way back to our rooms, where I am now at once chatting with my friend Michael about video games in modern culture while pecking away at this post.  Of course, said post would not be complete without some pictures, so you can find a few below.

As an aside – getting focus right with the 35 wide open can be challenging, and AF doesn't seem to cut it in low light.  Need to work on my technique!  Also, for the chunk of the car ride for which I was awake, I was kept enthralled by an excellent paper on dynamic range, image noise, and the engineering behind digital imaging chips.


A Nice Place to Read

Dwarfed by Knowledge.


Turn Right







Live long and prosper, friends.


I spent most of today on the road.  Okay, not most, but enough to make my ass sore.  Fortunately, good company relieves sore posteriers.  We started off at around 11 after many attempts to wake me and a short diversion to our favorite breakfast nook in Issaquah.  After carbo loading and asking why I had to eat that last blintz, we were on the road towards somewhere along the Oregon coast.  Truth is, we didn't know where, but that's part of the fun, right?  We spent around 4 hours on the road, stopping once or twice for lookouts / bathroom breaks, and ended up (partly on my behest) at Cannon Beach.  We arrived around 3, and the girls were kind enough to let me meander down the beach with my photo gear for a couple hours while they got the hotel and (apparently) dinner arrangements squared away.  I got some reasonable shots, although the main drag of Cannon beach is lacking in much beyond a couple stacks and some neat beach houses.  No matter, the sky was wonderful, and the moon was rising, so I made due.  As the sun was setting, I got a call informing me of impending dinner plans at a local spot called the "Wayfarer" (cool name).  Apparently they had good seafood.  Well, it wasn't really good…it was FUCKING ASTOUNDING.  Ugh, I can feel the butter coursing through my veins yet.  I polished off a 14 oz steak + crab + some chocolate desert thing that I really didn't need.  Oh, and I learned what a Tiger Woods is (hint, also good).

Coming down from my sugar high, I meandered back to the room and started dumping photos on my laptop.  Some bittersweetness therein, unfortunately.  The good, I suppose, is that _wow_ the 1ds mark ii files are detailed.  Throughout the ISO range simply better than my 7D.  Stretching colors / exposure nets much cleaner files, high ISO perf is astoundingly good, low ISOs simply blow the 7D away.  I really thought I would be getting a camera that performed as good to worse than my 7D, with the benefit of being full frame.  No, it's fast becoming my landscape machine.  16-35 + mkii and 70-200 + 7d is a great(!) combo to walk around with.  I couldn't really be happier.  The bad is…well, not that bad…but HOLY CRAP is the mkii's sensor dirty.  Oh man, I've never seen it this bad.  There are probably 40 or so noticable dust spots at f/16 @ 16mm…making post a fun process, to say the least.  Worse stil is I left my cleaning gear at home, AND I don't have sensor swabs for an FF cam.  In the end, it's not really a big deal, but I'm going to have some fun posting files from this trip…

Well, all that said, I'm heading to bed – going to try and wake up before the sun tomorrow.  Before I go, here are some photos.

Best wishes and happy trails to you.






Moonrise over Cannon Beach

Waves and Stacks


Haley and I



Haley Watching a Movie


At 9 tomorrow, I'll be on my way down through the Columbia river gorge and on through to Portland with my Mom, Haley, and Jacque.  We haven't planned much outside of a night or two in the city and some excursions about the coast, so it'll be nice to relax and play things by ear.  Hopefully we get to some of the beaches / falls, so I can try out some UWA shots with the newfound glory of the 16-35 on a full frame body.  If not, I'll be bringing my tripod with me and hopefully catching some night shots of the city.  Oh, and Powell's Books.  And Voodoo Doughnut.  And maybe that bamboo bike company Andy and Matt found.

Anyway, here are some shots from tonight.  I've got to get packing.

Chip at his Computer





by ajamess on 10.Nov.10

in Photo Gear,Photos

So, I just received the 35/1.4  in the mail this evening.  Oh my…how delicious it is.  Such a nice focal length on full frame, and can blow out the background like no-one's business.  I've only taken a few cat shots and the like so far, but I have a good feeling about this lens.  I must say, the kit is getting solid…although I am missing a macro lens and long tele…but those will come with time.  The nice thing about the 35/1.4 is it actually enables me to take shots that would not be possible _at all_ with the lenses I already have.  So, as much as I sound like a gear whore right now, I'm pretty happy about my purchase.  Here are a couple shots I got off before the sun set.




Honestly, the reason I bought this lens now rather than waiting until spring / summer when shooting will ramp up is that buying now means I get to geek out with it over the holidays with my family.  Super excited for that alone. 

Best of everything to you.


You know, I had an interesting experience tonight.  It has to do with some shots I've taken on the coast over the last 2-3 months.  Specifically, an outing I had with Haley in October over-nighting on Rialto and Shi-Shi and some photos I was reviewing from that trip.  Before I get into that, though, let me give you a sense of my last outing.  Last time I was out that direction, I was treated with some of the most glorious light both days I was there, especially in the morning, which is the best time to get detail on the stacks and surrounding scenery.  On Rialto in particular, I shot from 430 am until 10 am and was getting shot after shot that I knew was "pretty good" and a few that I knew I would remember for a long time.  It was really a great feeling.

Fast forward a month or so to when Haley and I were waking up on Riato once more, this time with flat light and not a whole lot going on in general.  I took several hundred shots that morning, but didn't really have any that spoke to me right away.  I had an inkling I had something, somewhere, within the shots I took, but nothing was really jumping out as it had the month earlier.  "No matter," I thought, "I still had an awesome time," even if I wasn't as immediately satisfied as I had been previously.

Unfortunately, the feeling nagged on me even as I got home and reviewed the shots on my computer.  It was either:

  • Flat lighting
  • Too much dynamic range causing lack of detail
  • Lack of "punch" straight out of the camera

…that made me feel bad about my performance as a photographer that weekend, and really turned me off to editing the photos in earnest.  I uploaded a few shots over the next few days after I had returned, but nothing really jumped out at me, and eventually the entire trip went down to the bottom of my stack as I started to take photos that I was immediately interested in sharing with the world.

Now, we come to tonight.  Tonight, as I said earlier, I had an interesting experience.  That experience was paging through the Rialto photos again, after having divorced myself from that feeling of failure.  It was kind of like looking at someone else's work…and suddenly I felt a bit better about them.  Yeah, there were a good number of crappy ones.  Yeah, the light had been pretty flat.  But there were some that stood out, even lacking contrast and clarity.  A few minutes of PP and wow…I had some stuff I was really proud of.  Stuff that I would have never thought was there.  Stuff that I would hang on my wall, even.  It was really quite astonishing.  I have never really had this experience of "rediscovering" my own photography.  It may sound silly, but it was kind of a mini-revelation, and really made me feel good about that long past trip.  Here's the shot that fostered this realization:


Canon EOS 30D 70.0-200.0 mm 70.0 mm 1/250 sec f/5.6 ISO 100
It's there when you don't look for it.

I guess if there is some nugget of truth in this rambling, it's the title: don't get discouraged.  You may feel bad about your performance doing something, whether it's photography, music, sculpture, whatever.  You may think you suck, and want to go off and divorce yourself from that bad experience, never to look to it again.  Well, don't.  Your eye / ear / chisel is a good one, and you should give yourself the benefit of the doubt.  If you find yourself stuck like I was, put it aside and come back a month later; chances are you'll see it with new eyes and will blow yourself away.

Trust yourself, and happy shooting.


So, I took the plunge.  2 days ago, a used 1Ds Mark II arrived on my doorstep in pristine condition, marking my transition to what seems to be a popular thing in photography these days: full frame sensors.  Of course, I could talk of pixel pitch and SNR and the other purported advantages that come with a sensor the size of a piece of 35mm film (anyone else think that is becoming increasingly arbitrary?), but I figured I'd try to give a sense of how full frame compares to crop from the more visceral level.

Human-Camera Interface

I've been shooting crop SLR bodies since August 2006, according to the earliest photo in my Lightroom catalog.  Before that, I played around with various Pentax M42 gear my Dad owned.  One thing I never really appreciated was how damn nice the viewfinders on those Pentax bodies were.  Bright, large, well matted for easy manual focusing…all things that made the act of shooting extremely pleasurable.  Once I got my 30D, though, I kind of lost sight of what it was like to look through the Pentaxes and got used to the cramped and rather dim view afforded by the smaller pentaprism.  A couple years later, I picked up my Mamiya 645 and was simply blown away by the viewfinder…if you've never looked through one, go check out your local camera store and ask to see their medium format film bodies.  It's like sex in a light-proof box.  Of course, then I realized how dismal my 30D really was, not that it bothered me that much.  Now, just a year ago I picked up my 7D, which is really a phenomenal camera ergonomically, and was extremely happy with the wonderfully bright and informative viewfinder it offered.  I didn't really think it could get any better…until I picked up the 1Ds.

It's so BIG!  (That's what she said).  It's actually less magnification than my 7D, but wow, the fact that it's almost half again as large is a real treat.  I really underestimated how big of a deal a nice viewfinder image is to general photographic pleasure.  It's one of those things that you can't really quantify too well in a spec sheet, it's very experiential.  All that said, I wouldn't say it's as nice as a true MF film body, but it's damn close.

Lenses Tell the Truth

I generally shoot landscapes.  As such, lately I've been walking around with my 16-35 more often than any other lens I own, simply because it's the widest I have had for a while.  I did have a Sigma 10-20 for a long time and adored the perspective it provided, but was annoyed by the lack of edge to edge sharpness.  Having gotten rid of the Sigma, I was running about lacking a true UWA for a long time.  I started missing it quite often when I would be in a location that, for one reason or another, didn't lend itself to stitching with a longer focal length, or when running about in the city where the buildings all but tower over you.

The minute I got the FF cam, I threw the 16-35 on it to see what it was like.  Wow.  It's wide.  Really wide.  Probably too wide for a lot of stuff, but it will be a total boon for beach shots.  The 24-70?  Actually usably wide at 24!  70-200?  Eh, not very long any more, but hey, that's what the 7D is for :).  All in all, very happy, and expect now that the 24-70 will spend a lot of time on the FF cam.

Same Perspective Bokeh Advantage

One of the first things I noticed when taking images around the house with an FF camera is the fact that for a given perspective, the camera had oodles more of that creamy subject isolating bokeh for a given aperture.  I always knew this to be the case, but seeing it first hand is a wonderful thing.  One of the annoyances I had with my current lens kit was that I lacked a way of isolating subjects while keeping a generally wide field of view.  Now it seems that even 24mm affords some great opportunities at even modest apertures.

Now, you may ask why FF offers this type of advantage.  We all know Adams and Weston had to stop down to crazy small apertures to get enough DOF for their work, but why?  Well, let's examine the variables: aperture, subject to background distance, focal length, and film diagonal.  For a given focal length, aperture, and subject to background distance, we can expect background blur to be the same no matter the sensor size.  That is to say, if I put a 100mm lens on my 7D and a 100mm lens on my 1Ds Mk II, use f/2.8 on both, and stand the same distance from my subject, I will see exactly the same background blur from both cameras.  The only difference between the two pictures will be the perspective offered by each.  This is because the image circle projected by a lens of a given focal length is always the same size.  In this way, on the FF camera, you will be afforded a wider FOV than on the crop camera, and thus, will be able to blur the background more if you "foot zoomed" such that the perspectives of the two photos were equal.  In this crude illustration, you can see that for a given image circle (ie, lens), a full frame sensor nets a wider field of view with the same background blur:

Sensor Crop Comparison

I'll post some examples of what this looks like in real life shortly.  Until then, enjoy the cat and happy shooting!


Haley and I spent this Saturday in Northern Washington picking apples.  It's becoming somewhat of a tradition (as much as you can call it for a couple who's lived here for a bit over a year now) for us to go up to Jones Creek farm and peruse the literally thousands of apple trees found there for that perfectly crisp, sweet, and slightly tart specimen.

After we had finished picking apples, I noticed the moon rising over the hills surrounding us.  I walked a quarter mile or so to a spot unobscured by the large hedgerows that separated individual's farmland from one another.  Once I arrived, I started shooting like mad, knowing the moon would quickly move out of position. 

I knew that I wanted the compressed perspective offered by a long lens, so I chose to take several dozen shots and stitch them later in post, rather than just using a wider angle lens.  This made the apparent size of the moon much larger while also creating the illusion that the foreground was much closer in relation to the hills than it actually was.  Of course, stitching something like this is a pain in the butt, so I ended up recreating large swaths of sky by hand in post, due to the impossibilities of getting control points on featureless blue sky.

The original pano was 108 shots @ 190mm, but I cropped a large portion out of the center for compositional reasons.  If I had gone with the whole thing, the final file size would be around a gigapixel, making it my largest yet :).  As it stands, this version is 420 megapixels.

Moonrise in Sedro-Woolley


So, I've written 3 posts over the last 3 weeks, but scrapped them because I haven't been able to put in the time to make them as good as I think they should be.  I think it has something to do with the 12 hour work days…hopefully that will peter out at some point because I'm missing the tail end of summer!  I was able to get out to the coast over labor day weekend to do some backpacking, which was simply awesome.  Unfortunately, now I have 1400 pictures to edit and very little time to do it in.  Some day!

Either way, here are some shots from assorted locales around the PacNW, I hope you enjoy them!  Hoping to get some quality blog time in once work gets less crazy.

Happy fun times and keep shooting!

Maple Pass Summit

My largest pano to date – 83 18MP shots for 0.92 gigapixels.  Pictured is the summit of Maple Pass Loop.


Rainy Lake and Northern Cascades


Clearing Storm, Wide

One thing about the mountains is that the weather changes.  Fast.


Mist and Waterfall


Rialto at Night



Sunrise over the trees

Canon EOS 7D EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM ISO 100
Sunrise over the treesMap
The sun doesn't really hit the stacks until around 730, and doesn't get above the trees until about 9.  This is the result.


Ugh, work has been slamming me for the past couple weeks.  Several 12 hour days later, and I'm not feeling the burn to go home and sit in front of a computer for another 4 hours editing pictures.  This, of course, sucks, because I have some decent ones from my trip to the Northern Cascades last weekend.  But alas, this will be a short post as I have to call in at 7 am tomorrow.

Been loving taking my camera to work the last few days, if only to spend 5 minutes shooting when the golden light hits Microsoft's campus at around 7:30 pm.  Of course, today, when I don't bring the damn thing, there is some of the most astounding cloud breaks I've seen in several months, culminating in me literally dropping my jaw as I was turning on Sahalee Way earlier this evening.  There was so much texture in the clouds that they almost appeared 3D layering against one another, sort of like a compressed mountain range lit by the golden setting sun.  This cloud range was surrounded by black storm clouds that at once enhanced the illusion and added some spectacular contrast to the whole scene.  It was one of those "cloudscapes" that needs no foreground to make it an excellent photo.  I was immediately reminded of some watercolors my friend Ario had done which I've always enjoyed:


I did take one photo today, using my phone, in a parking lot, in an uninspired manner, but it was a photo nonetheless.  It's about 0.1% what I saw 30 minutes later on my drive home, but better than the flat blue sky that has been around for the last week or so.

After work

Typically awesome Seattle skies.

I'm really interested in waking up around 4am this weekend and driving somewhere to go shoot, but I know when that time comes I'll be much more inclined to catch up on sleep than drive an hour or two to watch the sun rise.  Maybe I can compromise and go for a sunset somewhere…

So much to do, so little time.


How many of you carry a camera with you everywhere you go?  Not just a cellphone, but your DSLR, or really anything that allows you to express yourself within the fullest means of your capabilities.  I used to do this.  I had my DSLR with me _everywhere_.  It helped that I had convenient storage, but really, not much would have stopped me from lugging even my old 30D with the "xbawkz is hueg" 24-70 attached to it.  Recently, however, this behavior has changed.  For a long time after moving to Seattle, I was not carrying my camera with me on a daily basis; I was not looking for photographs in the world around me; I was not engaging as I once had.  I've thought about this pretty hard recently, and have come to the conclusion that it was not any sort of waning interest in photography that caused me to stop living and breathing the hobby, but rather the fact that I had moved away from the best shooting buddies that I will ever have.

Matt on the number 43-#11

Canon EOS 30D
Matt on the #43Map
An example of the shit we'd pull in crowded places.  Yes, that is off camera flash…

First, a story.  I started attending the University of Michigan after I graduated high school in May 2004.  Around this time, I also started to get into photography pretty heavily, having just shot my cousin's wedding with some of my Dad's old Pentax gear (that's another blog post).  For those of you who have had the good fortune to visit Ann Arbor, you'll know that it's a damn fun town to hang around in, and holds endless photographic opportunities.  As you can imagine, the timing was divine: I was learning f/stops and shutter speeds while being surrounded by lots of inspiring things to point the camera at. 

Lurie Reflection #2.

Canon EOS 30D
Lurie BuildingMap
Taken walking back from class one day.

Fast forward about 2 years to the beginning of my 5th semester at Michigan.  At that time, I had decided that I wanted to major in comp sci, and was getting absolutely slammed by the computation theory and hardcore programming classes that were the "weeders" of the engineering department.  Truth be told, I was enjoying myself, but had made the mistake this particular semester of scheduling 19 credit hours (including a 5 cr Mandarin course).  My advisor was beating me over the head for the decision, and I knew I had to cut back for my own sanity.  I ended up dropping 4 credits and had some free time on my hands, so, with 15 credit hours, I decided it was a good time to check out getting a job.  I started searching and found an interesting posting working for the engineering school's HPC group.  I decided to go interview, and ended up getting a part-time that involved monkeying around on a *nix console all day, something which I enjoy thoroughly.  I remember being really happy that I got the job, because Matt, Andy, and Brock are certified Unix bad asses, and certainly intimidating for a nooblet like me.

Shower curtain

Canon EOS 30D
Something I noticed while brushing my teeth.

Being that I brought my camera with me everywhere, I invariably showed up with it at work.  Of course, a DSLR is an instant conversation piece with any set of self-respecting nerds, and these three were no exception.  None of them were into photography at this point; I think Matt may have had some experience in days past, but I don't think any of them counted it as a hobby.  We were having a pretty standard conversation about the capabilities of my particular camera, how fast it could shoot, what kind of lenses there were, etc, when Andy asked a question about action photography.  I think he said something to the effect of "I hate how long it takes to focus using my P&S; I always miss the moment."  This was the point where I began to grin, because we all know that if there is one thing a DSLR can do that a P&S can't, it's action photography.  I asked Brock, who was standing nearby, to throw his glove up in the air, and proceeded to machine gun it on its way down to the floor.  I turned to Andy and showed him a few photos of the glove in flight, and one in particular where it appeared to "float" upright on the ground, and he IMMEDIATELY said he was going to get a DSLR.  You see, his wife was having a baby later that year, and this apparently convinced him of the capabilities a DSLR would provide him as his child was growing up.  Sure enough, Andy picked up a Rebel XTi around christmas time, and Matt followed suit with a Nikon D40 shortly thereafter.  I assert that that single moment sealed the deal for both Matt and Andy to get heavily involved in photography.

The Moment

Canon EOS 30D EF50mm f/1.8 50 mm 1/320 f/1.8 ISO 1600
The MomentMap
I wonder if Brock still has these gloves…

As time went on, the entire CAC staff was talking about photography several times a day (sometimes at the expense of doing work!).  Matt, Andy, and I would travel with our cameras everywhere, and would shoot photos constantly.  Of course, this was all much to the chagrin of Brock, who ended up being our model countless times (he was a really good sport).  We all looked up to Chris Peplin (another CAC student employee), who was always taking better photos than us, but was totally humble about it, and eventually, even had a sort of community develop around commenting on Flickr and supporting one another as we took what were probably objectively pretty mediocre photographs.  When time permitted, we'd go out shooting on weekends, and indeed, those were some of the most memorable times of the 5 years I spent in Ann Arbor.  Really, if it wasn't for these guys in my life as I was learning what it meant to be a photographer, I don't know if I'd still be into it today.

A2 Cycling Classic (#77 of 115)

Canon EOS 30D
The First Annual Priority Health Ann Arbor Cycling Classic.

So what does this all mean?  What is it about other people that spurs us to action in anything we do?  Why can just chatting with someone face-to-face for 5 minutes a day about something you love keep the fire going?  Honestly, I don't know.  Sure, there's always a feedback loop when you get involved in any sort of community – you contribute, you get feedback, you want more feedback, you contribute more – but this was different.  This was something personal, and probably wouldn't have developed if Matt, Andy, Brock, and Chris weren't all great people anyway.  The fact is that once I moved 2,000 miles away, despite being in an absolutely amazing setting for the type of photography I enjoy, the fire started dying.  I didn't have other people around to nerd it up with, to carry 3,000 dollars worth of camera gear with to lunch "because we might miss a shot," to hold my flash as I tried (poorly) to become the next strobist.  It was now up to me to keep the creative juices flowing, and to keep carrying the camera with me wherever I go.  It's a hard transition, and I think I'm still making it, but I have the feeling that I'm not alone in having this experience.  I've been helped immensely by the Microsoft Photography alias and some of the *ahem* fucking phenomenal photography its members put out, and by a very supportive girlfriend.  But…

I'm still looking that the people who will fill the void left behind once I moved away from Michigan.

Keep on shooting.


If you came here for the photos, never fear, you can find some after the break, or:

Now for some thoughts on my experience.

First let me say that I'm not a wedding photographer.  Phew!  Ok, got that off my chest, so now you can take what is about to follow with a salt mine.

Recently my good friends Benn and Mindy Wolfe were married under beautiful blue skies in my fair hometown of Kalamazoo (there's a gal there, etc).  My completely accurate opinion was that it was about 200 degrees in the sun, but Unitarian ceremonies are short (and awesome), and everyone was given little fans.  Honestly, I just can't handle heat well, you could not have asked for a better day for a wedding…unless you are taking the pictures…


Black tuxes and white dresses in direct sunlight sure are hell for a photographer's sanity.  I mean, the only thing that could be worse is if the groom was dressed in a black hole, and the bride in tin foil.  If only Mr. Burns' were around with his sun blocking machine.  With my exposition out of the way, I shall now attempt to give you a reason for reading this post: things I learned photographing this most excellent of occasions.

Thing 1: Always take a gray card…and USE IT.

See, I told you I wasn't a wedding photographer.  Anybody worth their salt does this.  I am not worth my salt, and I paid for it with several extra hours in post.  Honestly, two things were going through my head:

  • Hey, when I'm outside, there can only be one color balance to worry about, right?!  AWB it is!

NOPE.  I mean, it's not like I don't understand there are different color temperatures for shade, sunlight, etc., I just didn't appreciate how much more time ignoring this fact adds to the whole process.

  • I'm inside now, tungsten all the way!

This was probably an accurate assessment of the situation.  Most of the lighting was of the Christmas tree variety, with some splashes of DJ disco-ball here and there.  Here's the issue.  Problem one: not all "tungsten" (e.g. "it looks orange to me!") is the same, and even if you think it is, you're wrong.  Problem two: If you shoot with gelled flashes (as I was), you'd better be damn sure your flash temp matches the shooting environment.  So, indeed, spending 5 measly minutes with a gray card is well worth the effort, as the pain incurred as you are posting is monumental.

Thing 2: Sleep with your camera.

Or get to know it well, if you catch my drift.  Too many times was I in ISO 200 instead of 100, or AI Servo vs. One Shot, or had the wrong AF mode activated for the situation.  I'll be honest, I'm pretty fast with my camera, but no where near as fast as I should be in situations like these.  I really need to work on being able to switch AF modes quickly, for one (I always tend to hit the FEL button on my 7D when attempting to change AF modes).  Secondly, I need to do a mind check on camera settings every once and a while.  Did it just turn sunny?  Bump the ISO down.  Did I just run outside?  Change white balance.  Are there thousands of UFOs descending on my location firing death beams?  AI Servo and 8 frames, baby!

Thing 3: Remember your DoF.

Missed.  Focus.  Sucks.  Period.  Imagine this situation: here I am zooming along at fit to screen resolution in Lightroom doing my initial culling pass on the wedding shots.  BAM!  I see a GREAT expression captured.  I go *glee*! and pop open the 100% preview.  My elated face turns into a sad face, which turns into this…

What I look like when I miss focus.

Don't pretend like you haven't done it, too!

The point is, if you are at all unsure of your capability to focus within 6cm of the mark at 20 feet (yes, that is the level of precision we are talking about), then take that pretty bokeh hit and at least get passable shots.  I missed many a shot as a result of wanting the best bokeh possible.  One sharp and slightly less bokeh-y picture of the moment the bride and groom kiss is inifintely better than 100 with great bokeh that are out of focus.  If I did it again, I would run around at 2.5 or 2.8 on my 100mm f/2.  Probably wouldn't notice much difference in background blur, and my keeper rate would have gone up by 30%. 

Again, it's all a balance.  I'm sure someone more skilled than I could pull off a higher keeper rate with a wide open lens, just make sure you are making the correct choice for your application.  Oh, and don't blame your out of focus shots on your camera; they are not a panacea for bad technique.

Thing 4: If you KNOW the shot sucks, then don't take it.

This is perhaps the hardest lesson to internalize.  A lot of people won't agree with me on this one, I think, since bits are free.  However, one thing I have learned not only from shooting this wedding, but also from landscape photography, is that there are infinite terrible photographs waiting to be taken, and a very few excellent ones.  I think I have taken maybe 2 excellent photographs in my lifetime as a photographer.  The fact is, that just because you can point a camera at it, doesn't mean the shutter needs to be pressed.  Being selective in camera will save you tons of time in post, and will generally make you feel better about yourself (at least that is my experience).  Let me walk you through an example of a really bad photo:

An example of a photo with no subject

Okay, ignoring the fact that it's about 2/3rd's a stop over exposed, here are all the things I can find wrong with this image:

  1. Most egregious: what is this photo about?  You can't even tell it was taken at a wedding (excepting the bridesmaid in the corner).
  2. Composition, where have you gone!  Yes, taken at body height, pretty much ignoring any sort of rules about not cutting people in half (sorry, cute bridesmaid!)
  3. Boooorrring.  Nothing says this photo was taken by anyone a monkey with a camera who was trained to aim at things facing random directions.
  4. Unbalanced (see #2).

So the important question then becomes, what would I change?  Zoom with your feet.  Get in close and get rid of extraneous noise.  Pick a subject and make the photo about it.  Find something interesting that is going on and capture it.  Go get down on the ground and aim up at the woman shaking hands in the right of the frame.  Ask the bridesmaid to pose with her bouquet.  Capture a random smile.  Pretty much any of these things would make this photo better.  Fortunately for me, all this is learning that is applicable to any photo I take, I just have to remember to apply it actively as part of the shooting process.

Thing 5: Be Brave.

I saved the best for last.

If you asked me "Adam, if you could improve one aspect of your photography, what would it be?",  I would tell you without hesitation: bravery.  I have missed countless opportunities for excellent photographs because I did not have the cajones to walk up and take the shot.  If I could steal a motto: "take pictures, ask questions later."  The very reason I got any passable portraits at Benn's wedding is because I got in close, watched my subject, and took the shot when the time was right.  Your 400mm + D3 is no match for someone who spends 15 minutes with the subject and captures their soul on film.  No, I am not a ghost buster, it was just poetic.

Thanks for listening to me think out loud, once again.  Happy shooting everyone.  Some of my favorites after the break.


Benn & Mindy's Wedding (#51 of 269)

Canon EOS 7D EF100mm f/2 USM 100 mm 1/320 f/2.0 ISO 100
Never has "smile for me!" worked so well.


Benn & Mindy's Wedding (#27 of 269)



Benn & Mindy's Wedding (#36 of 269)



Benn & Mindy's Wedding (#66 of 269)

Canon EOS 7D EF100mm f/2 USM 100 mm 1/1600 f/2.0 ISO 100
Groomsman and close friend.  Also extremely photogenic.  Also really good at StarCraft.


Benn & Mindy's Wedding (#82 of 269)



Benn & Mindy's Wedding (#115 of 269)



Benn & Mindy's Wedding (#125 of 269)

Canon EOS 7D EF100mm f/2 USM 100 mm 1/4000 f/2.5 ISO 100
Eyes MeetMap
Bride and groom together at last.


Benn & Mindy's Wedding (#131 of 269)

Canon EOS 7D EF100mm f/2 USM 100 mm 1/1000 f/2.5 ISO 100
Pouring of the sandMap
Did I mention this ceremony was awesome?



Benn & Mindy's Wedding (#145 of 269)

Canon EOS 7D EF100mm f/2 USM 100 mm 1/8000 f/2.2 ISO 200
(Almost) the kissMap
If you want to see the real thing, check the flickr stream.  I like this one best, though :).


Benn & Mindy's Wedding (#179 of 269)

Canon EOS 7D EF100mm f/2 USM 100 mm 1/800 f/2.0 ISO 100
Full of life.  He speaks fluent Chinese in is a general bad ass.


Benn & Mindy's Wedding (#213 of 269)

Canon EOS 7D EF100mm f/2 USM 100 mm 1/125 f/2.0 ISO 3200
First DanceMap
Christmas lights = awesome bokeh.



Benn & Mindy's Wedding (#245 of 269)

Canon EOS 7D EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM 23 mm 1/30 f/2.8 ISO 3200
General DrunkennessMap
Left to right: Dan, Mallory, Brad.  All rock, as you can see.


Benn & Mindy's Wedding (#256 of 269)

Canon EOS 7D EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM 16 mm 1/80 f/2.8 ISO 3200
Mallory, Luke, Melissa, Ryan, Dan, Mandy, Jackson.


Benn & Mindy's Wedding (#263 of 269)

Canon EOS 7D EF100mm f/2 USM 100 mm 1/125 f/2.0 ISO 3200
Mallory and Brad, being sexy, as usual.



Benn & Mindy's Wedding (#264 of 269)

Canon EOS 7D EF100mm f/2 USM 100 mm 1/250 f/2.0 ISO 3200
Jackson and MandyMap
I get to shoot their wedding, too!  So excited!


Benn & Mindy's Wedding (#265 of 269)

Canon EOS 7D EF100mm f/2 USM 100 mm 1/60 f/2.0 ISO 3200
Ryan and MelissaMap
Their wedding is coming up, too…*grin*


Benn & Mindy's Wedding (#267 of 269)


Benn & Mindy's Wedding (#268 of 269)



Benn & Mindy's Wedding (#269 of 269)