Steve Wylie Photography: Blog https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog en-us (C) Steve Wylie Photography swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) Thu, 28 Sep 2017 02:19:00 GMT Thu, 28 Sep 2017 02:19:00 GMT https://stevewyliephotography.com/img/s/v-5/u141651050-o687112783-50.jpg Steve Wylie Photography: Blog https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog 120 120 Solving Problems by Not Creating Them https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2017/9/solving-problems-by-not-creating-them _W6A5777_W6A5777 Location photography is often a process of solving problems, mostly those dealing with light.  Whether it's harsh sunlight outdoors, or providing interesting light indoors, the problem solving process is amped up significantly when you're dealing with a group.  In this case, it's the 2017-18 Actors' Repertory class at San Juan Hills High School.  One of the most fun things I get to do each year is to photograph this group, and the class photos are framed and hang on the wall in the school's Black Box Theater.  Working with Cambria Beilstein, the performing arts department chair and director of the theater program, we try to create a different look for the group by changing up the location.

Up to now, Ms. Beilstein and I have come up with a concept, and I have determined how to light the group and the environment in which the photo is made.  For the past three years, we decided to work in the school's theater; first placing the class in the audience and shooting from the stage, then putting the next year's class in the wings and lighting the fly ropes behind them, and last year placing them downstage facing upstage and augmenting the auditorium with speed lights (inspired by a similar shot by Joe McNally).

This year, we decided to photograph the class in the school's Black Box Theater.  We also decided to ask one of the school's students, Olivia Price, a lighting designer I really like, to provide a lighting design for the group.  Olivia and I discussed her approach, and I decided on how to supplement her design if needed with speed lights.

Problem one:  my impression of Olivia's design was not Olivia's.  I expected her lighting approach would be to wash (or spot) the back wall with colored lights. I would then supplement her lights with rims and frontal light if necessary.  Or at least that was MY thought.  When I showed up, though, it was apparent that Olivia's design was to light the group with ceiling mounted lights that were gelled, and not washing down on the background.  Frontal light could be provided by a fresnel light aimed toward the group.  

I should have stopped right there.  Instead, I deployed my speed lights, two blue-gelled speed lights placed as rim lights on either side, and two gridded speed lights placed frontally to light the group.  After spending way too much time dialing in exposures and placement for these four lights, here was the result:

_W6A5777_W6A5777 Yuck...  The light is flat, and all of the color provided by either Olivia's theater lights or my own gelled rim lights is gone.  Moreover, the curtains behind the group reveal shadows created by my little speed lights.  In short, this pretty much sucks. The details: ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/125 second.  Slight variations in power settings or aperture made little difference in the degree of suckage.

Solution: kill the speed lights, and take a closer look at what Olivia had given me.  Maybe add a little frontal light by the fresnel.  But only as much as needed to provide illumination to the actors, without overpowering Olivia's top lighting.  Jack up the ISO, and reduce the shutter speed to taste (as this is now no longer a flash-lit photograph, but an ambient-lit one), and here's the result:

_W6A5789_W6A5789 Much better.  The lighting is theatrical, as it should be.  There are three different zones of light, each augmented with different gels, blue in the center, a sort of mauve on either side.  The exposure is ISO 3200, f/5.6 at 1/10 second.  Straight out of the camera.

After a few frames like this one, I decided to move up to the control booth, about twelve feet up above the floor, shoot down on the group, and take advantage of the industrial, organic look of the black box theater floor.  The settings: ISO 3200, f/6.3, 1/15 second.  Here's the result:

_W6A5791_W6A5791 I like both of these frames.  Both of these frames are straight from the camera, with no additional edits.  The final result will be displayed on the theater wall with the others.  

Two lessons are evident from today's shoot.  First, take advantage of what the ambient (in this case, the designer's approach) gives you.  In the theater world, it's probably better than anything you can come up with on your own.  Second, when confronted with untenable circumstances (in this case of the photographer's own making), diagnose the problem(s), and work systematically to resolve them, usually one light at a time.  Today, had I paid more attention to the first lesson, the second wouldn't have been necessary.

Still, it's always a great day when I get to work with this creative bunch.

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swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) portraits theater https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2017/9/solving-problems-by-not-creating-them Thu, 28 Sep 2017 02:18:56 GMT
Altruppersdorf https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2017/7/altruppersdorf _XPR2286_XPR2286 I can't believe it's been seven months since my last blog post; time flies when you're busy, I guess.  But this one's kind of special for me and the folks in the picture above.

Back in 2015, the Santa Margarita Catholic High School choir toured Ireland, including a stop in the little village of Timahoe, the ancestral home of SMCHS's principal, Ray Dunne, whose family emigrated to the US during the famine of the 1840's.  Mr. Dunne accompanied the choir on that tour, and the visit was magical.  It was the first time any touring choir had performed in Timahoe, and the locals turned out in force to welcome us.  It was the kind of day that everyone would remember for years to come.  We even got Mr. Dunne to dance a jig (not a stretch for him).

So, fast forward to today, as the 2017 edition of the SMCHS choir toured Austria, with performances where you'd expect them to be held: the beautiful cities of Salzburg and Vienna, with some "Sound of Music" venues along the way. A boat ride on the Chiemsee on our first day there. The salt mines of Hallstatt, and the church in Mondsee.   But nobody knew what to expect from Altruppersdorf.

Director Francisco Calvo wanted to have another Timahoe experience during this Austria tour as well.  It just so happened that Ortwin Eckert, one of the staff of our international tour operator Tumlare, connected with this little village of 300 near the Czech border, about an hour from Vienna, and the deal was done.  But unlike Timahoe, where there was an obvious connection to our school, Altruppersdorf was another matter.  All we knew was that we would spend the day in this village, play some football (soccer) with the locals (and get our clocks cleaned in the process), and have a concert in the village church.  And, as it turned out, it would be pretty toasty that day as well.

But we had no idea of the warmth and generosity of the folks of Altruppersdorf, or the day they had planned for us.  This day was pure joy from the moment we stepped off the buses.  Just like in Timahoe, the people of Altruppersdorf had never hosted a tour like this (or any tour for that matter).  Altruppersdorf is a small farming community, similar to many others in this beautiful but "off-the-beaten-path" area of Lower Austria. They grow wheat, barley, rye, and grapes.  Several families have their own small wine cellars, schnapps, too.  Their community is spotless, modern but not overly so.  They gather in associations, perhaps foremost among which is the volunteer Feuerwehr (fire department).  So they organized, and planned, and resourced, and delivered a day that we will never forget.  It was a day they won't soon forget either, as the visit succeeded beyond anyone's expectations.

Right off the bus, everyone boarded wagons pulled by tractors.  We had a tractor parade through downtown Altruppersdorf, and up into the countryside, passing fields of freshly harvested wheat, vineyards, and endless fields of blooming sunflowers. 

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The large group photo above was made during our tractor parade.  One of the main organizers of the day was Gerhard, in lederhosen and the typical Austrian straw hat, who flopped down in front of the group.  He was an instant favorite of all of us.

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Working our way down the hill back toward town, we stopped at a forested grotto, with a natural spring and a small shrine.  There were benches set up on the adjacent slope, making a wonderful little amphitheater.  It was a perfect place to contemplate our faith, and an impromptu sing.

_XPR2337_XPR2337 The folks were just as interested in us as we were interested in them.

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A short walk away, we found ourselves in Gerhard's personal wine cellar, where those of us of age tasted some fine local vintages.  Upstairs from the cellar, some directional but diffused light was something a photographer couldn't pass up.

_XPR2353_XPR2353 Back in town, we were treated to a wonderful lunch of roasted chicken, potatoes, salads, and dessert, all prepared by the folks in Altruppersdorf.  The choir members suited up for a game, in uniforms provided by the community, and (as anticipated) we got our clocks cleaned.

_XPR2462_XPR2462 _XPR2468_XPR2468 _XPR2540_XPR2540 _XPR2686_XPR2686 _XPR2687_XPR2687 _XPR2698_XPR2698 And it was indeed hot.  Fortunately, the fire brigade was on hand.  First, they did a hose deployment drill just prior to the start of the game.

_XPR2446_XPR2446 _XPR2450_XPR2450 _XPR2454_XPR2454 And at halftime, they mercifully sprayed the players with wonderful showers.

_XPR2555_XPR2555 _XPR2563_XPR2563 _XPR2571_XPR2571 _XPR2573_XPR2573 _XPR2579_XPR2579 While the players took a break at halftime, several of us went to an adjacent building for a tour of Anton Schreiber's private museum, filled with immaculately restored tractors, farm equipment, and some very sweet classic Mercedes sedans.

_XPR2582_XPR2582 _XPR2583_XPR2583 _XPR2584_XPR2584 _XPR2585_XPR2585 _XPR2586_XPR2586 _XPR2587_XPR2587 After the game, which ended in a generous "tie", it was time to clean up and get ready for the concert in the parish church.  As expected, the entire town showed up, and the performance was energetic and enthusiastically received.  

_XPR2727_XPR2727 _XPR2783_XPR2783 _XPR2807_XPR2807 _XPR2908_XPR2908 _XPR2998_XPR2998 _XPR3015_XPR3015 After the concert, we had dinner together in the local historic school, capped off by an amazing Lower Austrian sunset.

_XPR3039_XPR3039 It was a long, but immensely enjoyable day.  The entire SMCHS contingent agreed that it was the best day of the tour.  The next morning we packed our bags and moved on to Vienna for the final performances in St. Stephen's Cathedral and, on our last night, the Minoritenkirche.

The final day in Vienna featured, among other things, a drenching rainstorm...

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...followed by a clearing sky, in time for rehearsal prior to the concert.  Little did we know that our friends from Altruppersdorf made the hour-long trek to Vienna to surprise us with a visit on our last night. That's everybody's favorite dog Frieda on the lower right.

_XPR3334_XPR3334 _XPR3339_XPR3339 _XPR3421_XPR3421 _DSF1525_DSF1525 _DSF1990_DSF1990 At the end of an emotional concert, we took one last group photo, including the choir's new "mascot" Frieda, and the traditional end-of-tour photo of recently graduated seniors, and we were off to dinner with our friends from Altruppersdorf.  Don Baker generously picked up the tab for the entire Altruppersdorf contingent.

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This was truly an experience none of us will ever forget.  Singing in historic and majestic cathedrals, touring culturally important cities, and tasting authentic regional cuisines are the main features of choir tours.  But the real payoff comes with genuine connection with the local communities, whose language, customs, and traditions may be very different from ours, but whose hopes and dreams are very much the same as ours.  We had a great time with our friends from Altruppersdorf; hopefully we can reciprocate if they come to visit us here in the US.

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swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) concert tours travel https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2017/7/altruppersdorf Fri, 21 Jul 2017 07:16:26 GMT
Actors' Repertory https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2016/11/actors-repertory _09A6432_09A6432 One of the most fun and rewarding things I get to do each year is to work with the most advanced theatre class at San Juan Hills High School, under the direction of Cambria Beilstein.  The Actors' Repertory group is an amazing group of young men and women, dedicated to their craft, and challenged by Ms. Beilstein to stretch and grow as actors.  I began to work with Ms. B three years ago, and one of the things I suggested to her at that time was to create a class photo.  The first photo was a simple group shot in the audience of the school's theatre, photographed from the stage.  That experience led us to create a series of annual class photos, each one a different concept.  Last year, we posed the group in the wings of the theatre, similarly to the above shot, with the line set lit by ambient work lights as a backdrop.  

As we contemplated the idea for this year's class photo, I happened upon a photo made by one of my photography inspirations, Joe McNally, earlier this year. It was a project designed to showcase the experience of a young professional dancer as she began her career in New York.  The particular photograph that spoke to me, in the context of our own project, showed the dancer on stage in profile in a Bob Fosse-inspired pose, with one foot resting on a chair, a fedora perched on her head.  If you know anything about Fosse, you can envision the pose.  The camera position is upstage, pointed to the audience.  Joe has placed seven speed lights in the audience, with some gelled blue, creating the idea of stage lighting, but using only small flashes.  The dancer is lit with two speed lights placed off-stage, giving her rim lighting only.  

I saw this photo and immediately saw the potential to replicate the approach, but with the Actors' Repertory class, a group of 21.  Obviously, two speed lights placed off-stage would not work to light this group, but my previous year's strategy would certainly work.  That strategy included just one overhead Elinchrom ELB 400 mounted in a large Rotalux strip box, with two reflective panels on the floor to provide bounce fill.  My only concern was that this relatively large light source, covering a group this large, might wash out the reflections from the audience-based speed lights.  A conversation with Joe's assistant Michael Cali confirmed that it would "probably" work.  So two weeks prior to the shoot, I set it up, without the group, and verified that it would, in fact, work as conceived.  When we ultimately assembled the group, it turned out that only five of the seven speed lights would be visible from the camera position; the other two are behind the group, providing rim lighting.  Altogether, the shot required about two hours to complete, from building the seven speed light assemblies (light stands, speed lights fitted with Rogue Flash Grids, fired with Pocket Wizard radios), and the Elinchrom gear, followed by organizing the group.  When the group was assembled, we needed to tweak the placement of the speed lights to ensure that they would be seen, given the structure of the group as posed.

I'm really happy with the result.  The final deliverable is a poster layout featuring this photo, with some text below.  To accommodate the text in the format we've chosen, I cropped off the upper section of the photo you see above, which is the empty balcony.  The photo you see above is straight from the camera.

 

The group photo was made on Friday of a very busy week of shooting at San Juan Hills.  On Wednesday, I finally was able to do a project I've long wanted to do, to create a series of full-body portraits of these actors on a muslin backdrop, augmented with some furniture pieces or not, as the actors desired.  This project was inspired by an annual series of actors' portraits by David Cooper, with whom I've had three opportunities to photograph dancers in his Vancouver studio.  David has photographed actors at the annual Shaw Festival in Ontario, Canada, since 1980.  Because the Shaw Festival presents several different productions, these photos are not specifically character-based.  Instead, the actors are dressed however they wish, portrayed however they wish, but definitely showing the actor's personality and character.  They are printed large and placed in the lobby of the venues, and used in the programs.  For my photos, I used a simple muslin backdrop and lit the actors with two ELB 400's, one fitted with a 53" Rotalux Octa as a key light; the other fitted with a 41" Varistor diffused umbrella as a fill.  We had four different furniture pieces on set to choose from if desired (they really liked the overstuffed chair), and let the kids do pretty much what they wanted.  I frankly didn't care what concept they wanted to bring, as long as THEY cared. I'm presenting these photos to them in both color and black and white versions.  The black and white conversions were made with Nik Silver Efex Pro.  Presented below are some samples.    Charlie LindbergCharlie Lindberg Charlie Lindberg_bwCharlie Lindberg_bw Eva StantonEva Stanton Eva Stanton_bwEva Stanton_bw Noah SalviatiNoah Salviati Noah Salviati_bwNoah Salviati_bw Sophia ChaconSophia Chacon Sophia Chacon_bwSophia Chacon_bw Preston WheelerPreston Wheeler Preston Wheeler_bwPreston Wheeler_bw

Mariana BarreraMariana Barrera Mariana Barrera_bwMariana Barrera_bw Kat SingerKat Singer Kat Singer_bwKat Singer_bw

I'm really pleased with the results from last week.  It was a hard week of photography, most of which consists (in the words of Helmut Newton) of moving furniture.  In addition to these photos of the Actors' Rep class, I also made several headshots on a completely separate set, with a different lighting grid.  A hard week, but a very rewarding one.

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swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2016/11/actors-repertory Fri, 25 Nov 2016 06:59:47 GMT
Slack-Jawed https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2016/10/slack-jawed Since my first exposure in 1975 to John McPhee, the greatest non-fiction writer alive (in my humble opinion), I've had a fascination with geology. Starting with his influential Basin and Range in 1981, and through many of his travels with geologists, I have come to a better understanding of how our planet has come to be what it is, through the eyes of the geologists who explore it, and a writer who can translate the science with literary mastery.  I love to travel, and started out as a landscape photographer (of little skill), combining my enjoyment of the open road and photography.  I put away my cameras in favor of the joys and responsibilities of family life, and then ultimately became primarily a people shooter, but my interest in the physical landscape has never waned.  I have a natural curiosity during my infrequent travels, always asking myself how did that mountain/river/roadcut, etc. come to be where it is?  There's a geologic question around every bend of the road, and every turn of the head.

So although I don't get out and about as much as I might like, I have been to many places of majesty and wonder in the American West.  Zion Canyon, Yosemite, Arches, Canyonlands, and many others.  In each of these places, there's a story, and a sense of place. I could easily wrap my head around that story while taking in the views.  But until just a couple of weeks ago, there was only one place that left me utterly slack-jawed, my first view into the Grand Canyon about thirty years ago.  After a nine-hour drive from home to the park, I pulled into the first viewpoint from the entrance to the park, Mather Point, as I recall.  I got out of my car and sat on the low wall at the rim of the canyon.  Forty-five minutes later, i was still sitting there, staring into that massive abyss, in utter amazement at what time, uplift, wind, and water had created.  I've been back to the Grand Canyon since, including a weekend hike to the bottom, with a stay at Phantom Ranch.  With each visit, knowledge is expanded, but the wonder never ceases.

So on a recent flight to Vancouver, I was fortunate to have an unobstructed view of Mount St. Helens, the most active volcano in the US, which blew its face off on May 18, 1980.  That view led me to read the best account of the event and its aftermath, Steve Olson's Eruption: The Untold Story of Mount St. Helens.  It's a fascinating book, chronicling the history of the timber industry and its decline in the Pacific Northwest, the railroads that had such a large influence on settlement and extraction in the PNW, the geology of Mount St. Helens, the story of nearby residents, loggers, visitors, victims and survivors of the eruption, and the battle to establish the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument in 1982.  I highly recommend this book, which instilled in me a strong desire to visit this place, which I did over a brief three day period last month.

Cut to the chase; my first, and nearly every view of this incredible place left me, for only the second time my life, utterly slack-jawed.  Words and pictures simply cannot encompass the scope and impact of this eruption.

_DSF8783_DSF8783 Here's the story in brief.  In the spring of 1980, a swarm of earthquakes under Mount St. Helens convinced everyone that the mountain was awakening.  Geologists' warnings were noted, but industry and local interests (as well as the few who lived near the mountain, most noted among whom was the irascible Harry Truman, owner of a lodge on the shore of nearby Spirit Lake) battled authorities over the limited access granted to those who wanted, or needed, to be near the mountain.  Volcanologists set up equipment and sites to study and monitor volcanic activity.  The closest on that fateful day was David A. Johnston, who manned a viewpoint called the Coldwater II Observation Site, about five miles from the peak, near the viewpoint of the photo above. This site was in a clearing accessed via a logging road, enabling Johnston to view the volcano over the tops of the old growth forest that surrounded him and led up the slopes of the mountain. 

On the morning of May 18, a shallow 5.1 earthquake struck the north side of Mount St. Helens, triggering the largest landslide every recorded.  The entire north face of the mountain slid away.  Immediately upon the release of that overburden, the magma welling up inside Mount St. Helens, reached groundwater, which flashed to steam. The superheated gases emanating from the magma chamber blew out the remaining face and about 1300 feet of the peak of the mountain.  These superheated gases traveled at speeds estimated at 300 mph, traveling up to seventeen miles away, devastating everything in a 230 square mile radius.

The affected area has been described in three zones: in the closest 7.5 miles from the eruption, everything was completely obliterated, including David Johnston, whose last recorded words were, "Vancouver, Vancouver, this is it." Within a couple of seconds Johnston and everything around him were no more.  From this radius, out to approximately 15.5 miles from the crater, is the "Blowdown Zone" within which nearly every tree from the old growth forest was literally blown down.  This blast carried the rocks and trees in several directions, including northeastward toward Spirit Lake.   It pushed the downed trees toward and into Spirit Lake, splashing the lake up the far side of the eastern hill about 850 feet upslope, filling the lake with mud and downed trees, elevating the surface of the lake by 200 feet.  Obviously, Harry Truman and anyone else on Spirit Lake perished immediately.

Immediately following the blast itself, a huge pyroclastic flow erupted from the crater.  Unlike the shield volcanos of Hawaii, where magma flows in rivers from the crater, Mount St. Helens and others in the Cascades are stratovolcanoes, subject to catastrophic blowouts and expulsion of massive amounts of debris, primarily ash and pulverized rock.  Ash cools to pumice, which when mixed with water or other plastic material, flows like mud.  The pyroclastic flow from Mount St. Helens traveled in three directions, southeast, northeast, and northwest, down the Toutle River, seventy five miles to the Columbia River.  

Beyond the "Blowdown Zone" is the "Scorch Zone", extending up to three additional miles or so, depending on terrain.  In this zone, trees were literally killed by hot gases, but not enough to knock them all down.  They stand there today, white, naked trunks, gradually being succeeded by new growth.

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I flew up to Portland on a Thursday morning, rented a car, and checked into a hotel in Battle Ground, Washington (site of an encounter, not quite a battle, between soldiers from Fort Vancouver on the Columbia River and local Native Americans).  I decided to travel up the east side of the volcano, the only side from which you can see Spirit Lake.  It's a long, but beautiful drive through old growth forests, some clearcut areas, roads closed during the winter, and not a few Trump-Pence campaign signs.  Sadly, on this day, the area was under cloud cover, and much of the mountain was obscured.  After a couple of hours, I entered the Scorch Zone. It was amazing to see the impacts of the blast, nearly eighteen miles from the crater itself.

Driving down the road a bit, I came upon the Miners' Car, about nine miles from the mountain.  This car belonged to a family of miners who perished in their nearby cabin, which was incinerated by the blast.  Their car was blown an estimated 60 feet into the air, coming to rest here.  The car is now about two feet high, from wheels to top.

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Approaching the end of state route 99, you finally get a glimpse of Spirit Lake.  My previous expectation of Spirit Lake was that it would be a small lake, but it's not.  There is no single point accessible in the protected National Volcanic Monument where you can see the entire lake.  What you can see, however, are the millions of trees still floating in the lake, moving from place to place with the wind.

_DSF8701-Pano_DSF8701-Pano _DSF8715_DSF8715 Looking around, you can see the areas directly hit with the exploding gases, surrounded by areas that were better sheltered either by terrain, direction, or snow cover on that day.  

_DSF8729_DSF8729 _DSF8726_DSF8726 _DSF8731_DSF8731 _DSF8737_DSF8737 The next day, I went back to the Monument from the west side, where the route to Spirit Lake had been replaced with a new, often four-lane highway following the course of the North Fork of the Toutle River.  This is the main entrance to the area, with a few visitors centers and vistas of the mountain from farther away.  I was one of the earliest visitors to the area that day, ending my drive at the Johnston Ridge Observatory, five miles from the volcano, with a view directly into the north face and the crater.  Although there are hiking trails that lead around the perimeter of the blast zone, and though experienced hikers can actually climb to the crater's edge, the entire Monument is basically off limits to human activity, as the site is now a massive laboratory of the study of recovery, a story all its own.

From Johnston Ridge, Mount St. Helens is backlit for most of the day, as the sun is in the southern sky directly in front of you.  Also, atmospheric haze interferes with contrast, making most views a bit milky.  My photos required a lot of added contrast and "dehazing" in Lightroom to bring out the details.  Here's my best view into the crater itself, as the sun got high enough to fill the crater with light.  You can see steam venting from behind the growing lava dome in the interior of the crater.  That's melt water seeping down from snow into the hot rocks above the magma chamber, venting off as steam.  This is a very tight crop from my Fuji X-Pro 2, fitted with a 55-140mm (205mm equivalent) lens.  To get this view, uncropped, with a full-frame chip would require about 500mm.

_DSF8740_DSF8740 Here's a good view of the Pumice Plain below the crater.  Two things of note here.  First, the "hills" toward the lower left are hummocks, entire masses of slope that were transported intact down the mountain during the eruption.  Many of these are 500-650 feet high.  Second, the gorges created by the headwaters of the Toutle River emanating from the mountain have cut through the pumice and other avalanche debris that is, at this point, about 300 feet thick.  The gorges themselves are approximately 200 feet deep, to give you a sense of scale.  Everything in this view, prior to the eruption, was covered with old growth forest.

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The Johnston Ridge visitors center offers a wealth of information on the events of that day.  There is a theater in the building that shows two videos, one covering the eruption and it's impacts, the other focusing on the amazing recovery of flora and fauna in the area.  You enter the theater, sit in comfortable seats, and see a red theatrical curtain with a retractable screen in front of you.  When each video ends, the screen is raised, followed by the theatrical curtain, revealing this incredible view of the mountain.

_DSF8766_DSF8766 These two folks and I were the first visitors to Johnston Ridge that day.

Coming back down the highway, I took the opportunity to stop and look carefully at the areas owned by Weyerhaeuser that were planted in the years immediately following the eruption.  These replanted areas were owned by Weyerhaeuser prior to the eruption, and negotiated out of the protected area when the Monument was established.  Some of these trees are now approximately thirty years old, and they're quite large.  But you can see the difference between the natural look of an old growth forest and the consistency of a planted slope.  Not a value judgement on my part, but an obvious difference.  

_DSF8801_DSF8801 _DSF8804_DSF8804 _DSF8806_DSF8806 _DSF8808_DSF8808 Looking down the Toutle River toward the west, you can see the extent of the flood.  It's like this all the way.  

_DSF8815_DSF8815 The power of this place is almost mystical.  It's difficult to wrap you head around the extent of the eruption's impact on the land and the people of the area. On that fateful day, 57 people lost their lives, and 113 were rescued in the following days.  Two hundred homes were destroyed, as were eight bridges and the entire road to Spirit Lake.  An estimated 1,500 elk, 5,000 deer, hundreds of bears, and countless smaller animals, birds, and fish were killed.  The temperature of Spirit Lake rose to 100 degrees; nothing survived.  

Yet the area is recovering, far ahead of what many expected, thirty-six years later.  Somehow, fish have been reintroduced into Spirit Lake and clarity and chemistry have returned to normal.  The Pumice Plain is covered with new vegetation.  Animals, beginning with the pocket gopher and birds, began to repopulate soon after the eruption.  Mount St. Helens is now a laboratory for the study of renewal.

Mount St. Helens has erupted several times since, and will erupt again.  Who knows when, or how extensively?  I can say this with certainty; I want to go back.

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swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) Travel https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2016/10/slack-jawed Wed, 12 Oct 2016 22:16:15 GMT
Nick and Meredith: Or, Why I'm Not a Wedding Photographer https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2016/9/nick-and-meredith-or-why-im-not-a-wedding-photographer _09A8182_09A8182

First things first:  I'm pretty much a generalist photographer, with an emphasis on performing arts.  Dance, theater, jazz, choral, you name it.  Along with that comes portraiture.  I also shoot occasional sports, and when I'm lucky, landscape and travel.  But there are two things I absolutely do not do: video and weddings.  Both scare me to death.  Why video?  I have no idea what to do with it.  It's more hassle than it's worth, at least to me.  And weddings?  The pressure. For everything else I do, there's the ever-present possibility of a missed shot, but another opportunity to get a better one.  Or a do-over. Every sports shooter misses a shot for whatever reason, but there's another one right around the corner (unless it's the game winning play, then it's "oh, shit...")  But with weddings, there's no do-over, just the gnawing cranial pressure to Not Screw This Up.  Several years ago, I did one wedding as a favor to a good friend; the photos turned out fine, better than the marriage did.  But that's another story.

While covering a 20th year class reunion for the inaugural class of Santa Margarita Catholic High School, one of the members of the staff asked me if I'd be willing to photograph her son as he proposed marriage to his intended bride.  It would be surreptitious, unknown to her until the deed was done.  I said I'd do it, as long as we could carefully plan it, so I could get the shots the couple needed, in decent light and camera position, with nobody intruding into the field of view.  Okay, she said, and we made a plan.  It would be me, alone; no assistant, no lighting gear, no reflector, one camera, one lens.  I saw myself as a gumshoe private eye in one of those '50s detective movies.

A couple of days before the event was to go down, I met Nick at the Montage Resort in Laguna Beach, to scout out possible locations, considering sun angle, time of day, avoidance of intruders into the scene, and importantly, the beautiful backdrop of the Laguna coastline and the Pacific Ocean.  We found The Spot.  The day before the event, I went back again, to carefully consider the sun angle at the scheduled time of day.  At that time, at that specific location, I concluded that I'd get a lovely loop light on the bride's face as she looked lovingly into the eyes of her man when he dropped to his knees to propose.  Slam dunk.  Aperture priority, no exposure compensation, no nothin'.  A chimp could make that picture, as long as he was looking at the couple and could find the shutter.  We'd do the picture at 10:30 in the morning (hazy sun at that time of day), and Nick and Meredith would go up to the fine dining restaurant of the Montage for lunch.  He booked a table with a wonderful view, and told the staff that it was his and Meredith's engagement, and hoped for the best time ever.

Comes now the day of the blessed event.  At 10:00 I crest the hill down to the Montage, only to see a wall of dense fog.  No resort, no Laguna Beach coastline, no Pacific Ocean.  No nothin'.  No reschedule either.  Nick has planned this special day with his bride down to a T.  It was going to be a great day, no matter what.  Okay, as I say, in for a penny, in for a pound.

I go to our intended spot to make sure nobody else decides to camp out there for the morning.  Not much chance of that, given the total lack of view, but that's why I'm there, so I spend my time testing exposures on passers-by, making sure that I can get good exposure on the bride's face, even if the foggy-bright sky would pretty much blow out.  Above all, I say to myself, DON'T SCREW THIS UP!  I stay with Aperture Priority, and ride the exposure compensation up or down depending on what the cloudy bright sky is doing at any moment, to give Meredith enough light in the face.

But the couple is late.  At 10:45, fifteen minutes after our scheduled time to do the deed, they arrive at the Montage.  Nick and I are frantically texting each other about whether to do it RIGHT NOW, or wait until after lunch.  As they walk from the valet toward the restaurant, Nick decides to do it after lunch, but the staff at the restaurant needs to know that the Special Event hasn't happened yet. They can't blow the secret!  So I hot-foot it to the nearest house phone, to let the receptionist know NOT TO BLOW IT!  

Back to holding my spot while Nick and Meredith have a wonderful lunch.  About half-way through, though, I realize that I haven't fed the parking meter enough to account for the extra time this is taking.  Some friendly lifeguards let me know that the chances of getting a parking ticket from the City of Laguna Beach is somewhere around 100%.  Oh well, again, in for a penny, in for about seventy-five bucks.  I can't leave my post, as the couple could be there ANY MINUTE.

Finally, I see them approaching from the hotel.  I move from THE SPOT to a location I've already determined I'd shoot from, even though the fog is still with us. I'm stealthy as hell, looking out of the corner of my eye as they come to the location.  Nick is talking to Meredith, and he then drops to his knee.  I bring the camera up, and shoot like a man posessed.

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At this point, I steal a look at my camera's LCD, and realize that the exposures are good, and I've caught THE MOMENT, several, in fact.  Meredith processes what has just happened, and she reaches for Nick.  Again, I bring the camera up and fire away.

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At this moment, I later find out, I've been made, by Meredith.  She says to Nick, "There's a man in the bushes over there.  Is he with us, or is he a creep?"  Fortunately, Nick assures her that the creep in the bushes is, in fact, legit.  Meredith smiles, and our eyes meet for the first time.

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But there are a couple more frames to get before I leave my post.  Nick knows that Meredith has made him the happiest guy alive.

_09A8094_09A8094 _09A8095_09A8095 You can see what might have been in the background.  It's there, but it's totally superfluous.

We had planned all along to get some additional shots after THE SHOT, so we spent a few more minutes around the exterior of the Montage.

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Before we left, as I was sure my car was about to get towed, I suggested one last location, in the lobby of the resort.  It's a beautiful hotel, and the lobby looks like a well-appointed lodge from the Craftsman era.  We chose the fireplace as a good setting.

_09A8177_09A8177 We then decided on a few final shots on a patio just outside, overlooking the property and the ocean (out there somewhere).  That view was not going to happen, but shooting the other way, with the couple on a sofa facing the ocean was a good alternative.

_09A8179_09A8179 _09A8185_09A8185 _09A8187_09A8187 Just out of frame, to my right, was a lady sitting alone at a table, working on her laptop.  She began chatting up the couple, wanting to know way more details of their lives than she had any right to, but she was rather amusing.  I kept shooting and caught what might be the best shots of the day, at least after THE MOMENT.

_09A8189_09A8189 _09A8192_09A8192 At that point, it was time for me to go, and probably bail out my car.  A couple of final shots of Meredith calling her family and friends on the east coast to let them know of her engagement, and we parted.

_09A8198_09A8198 _09A8200_09A8200 I went back to my car, expecting the worst, and found to my amazement that I had dodged the bullet, and not received a ticket.  I knew I had some great photos, and my stress level was replaced with a feeling of joy at having the opportunity to photograph two people deeply in love, two really nice people I wish I could remain friends with (they live in New York).  When i got home, I looked at Facebook, and found that Nick had posted an iPhone pic that I had taken so he could get the news out on social media.  It was a great photo, especially since I am in no way comfortable with phone pics, and his post had received almost 700 likes by the time I got home.

My fear of weddings has not diminished one bit.  But on this particular day, my fear was overcome by careful planning and familiarity with my equipment, enabling me to concentrate on my clients and their special day.  It was, altogether, one of the best days of photography ever.

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swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) Events Portraits https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2016/9/nick-and-meredith-or-why-im-not-a-wedding-photographer Thu, 22 Sep 2016 00:26:59 GMT
Shooting from the Cheap Seats https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2016/8/shooting-from-the-cheap-seats Wow, it's been almost a year since my last blog post.  Chalk that up to being way too busy with things that are rewarding on many levels, but maybe not exactly portfolio-quality work.  

Last week, I had the privilege of photographing the LA-based CONTRA-TIEMPO dance company in rehearsal with their latest work entitled "SHE WHO: Frida, Mami & Me", inspired by the life and work of Mexican artist Frida Cahlo and Nigerian deity Mami Wata, to be performed at the Ford Theatre in the Hollywood hills.  These dancers, led by their creative and artistic director Ana Maria Alvarez, are extremely talented, and they're great people to work with as well.  My assignment was to shoot their rehearsal, as they would be the first performance, ahead of the Brooklyn-based company, Urban Bush Women.  UBW would perform their work "Walking with 'Trane", featuring the music of the legendary John Coltrane.  As the LA County Arts Commission, which operates the Ford Theatres, has a contracted photographer to shoot their productions, my role would be limited to shooting CONTRA-TIEMPO for their own publicity purposes, as well as for LA Arts.  

Though I grew up and lived most of my life within about ten miles from the Ford Theatre, I hadn't been there in many, many years; so many that I barely remembered the place.  It's that small venue tucked away in a hollow on the east side of the 101 Freeway, on the other side of the Hollywood Bowl.  But it's a beautiful, 1200 seat amphitheater that is currently undergoing extensive renovation and improvement.  The performance area is a multi-level stage, with decorative hardscape and plants, behind which are the steep cliffs of the Hollywood Hills.  The audience experience is currently being improved by the addition of a large sound wall behind the seats, as the Ford performances are often overshadowed by the audience response at the nearby Hollywood Bowl.  Last night's dance performance was continually "augmented" by applause from the audience of Boy George and Culture Club.  I didn't know that Boy George was still a thing.  

Because I wasn't going to shoot the actual performance, I decided to bring my little Fuji X100S, which hasn't gotten much love these days after I purchased my XPro2, and used it extensively in Italy this past spring.  But since "non-professional" photos are allowed (no flash) at the Ford, I thought I'd bring the X100S and see what might be possible.

The first thing you notice when you arrive at the Ford is the sheer verticality of the place. It's a steep hike from the small parking lot to the entrance, and from there up to the doors.  From the rear of the audience, here's your view back to the park-like area you just came through.

_DSF4183_DSF4183 Once inside, because we were so early, I had an opportunity to reconnect with the CONTRA-TIEMPO dancers as they warmed up.

_DSF4184_DSF4184 As the sun dropped behind the Hollywood Hills to the west, we began to see how the natural environment and the design of the stage area would combine to become a great performance space.

 

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_DSF4204_DSF4204 It was difficult at first to watch a dance performance without shooting it.  I saw the contracted photographer at work, sometimes wondering whether she was getting anything at all under the subdued lighting at play during parts of the performance.  But as the stage darkened, both CONTRA-TIEMPO and UBW employed projected images on the back area of the stage, meaning the hardscape, landscape, and natural cliffs.  It was an amazing use of this space.  I figured I'd try the X100S and see what its fixed 23mm lens would give me from Row M, probably 100 feet from the stage.  No zoom, no ability to move from my seat, expose for the highlights and hope for the best.  

What turned out to be the optimal exposure for this distance and view?  Amazingly, I was at 2500 ISO, f/2.0 and 1/60 or 1/125 second.  That's way, way too slow to stop the motion of dancers.  Way too slow, that is, unless they occupy such a tiny portion of the frame.  Under those conditions, a dancer's movement that would translate to noticeable subject motion in a "normal" frame barely registers from such a distance.  The biggest problem I encountered was the camera's difficulty in achieving quick focus from so far away, with the subjects so small in the frame.  Nevertheless, I was surprised at what I was able to capture.  Post processing consisted of nothing more than "auto" straightening of vertical and horizontal edges in Lightroom, plus a bit of clarity, vibrance, and in some cases, shadow boost.

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_DSF4208_DSF4208 The first half of the Urban Bush Women's performance featured recorded music of John Coltrane.  Following intermission, Grammy award winning pianist George Caldwell manned a grand piano on the riser to the left and began to play arrangements of Coltrane's "A Love Supreme".  Here's Caldwell, alone, at 23mm from the cheap seats:

_DSF4215_DSF4215 A silly photo, yes.  But there's actual detail in this shot, if you zoom in all the way to the max.  So the show went on:

_DSF4227_DSF4227 _DSF4226_DSF4226 _DSF4231_DSF4231 _DSF4235_DSF4235 All in all, this was a great night of dance, and a surprisingly decent collection of photos to remember it by.  I'll never prefer the X100S as a dance camera, but I continue to be impressed by the image quality of this little gem, and the fact that it can go anywhere so easily.  

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swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2016/8/shooting-from-the-cheap-seats Sun, 28 Aug 2016 23:23:54 GMT
Back to Miramar https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2015/10/back-to-miramar  

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Back in 2011, I posted some cool images of Navy F/A-18s generating vapor cones during the annual air show at MCAS Miramar.  Those photo were made with my Canon 5D Mark III and a 70-200mm lens.  This was the longest lens I own, and even at that length, there was quite a bit of post-processing needed to clean up these photos and render them faithfully to what I saw that day.

After the fiasco of budgetary "sequestration" that sidelined the Blue Angels from air show appearances for a year, I was happy to go back to Miramar this weekend to take in the show.  And having added my Fuji system to my photographic inventory, I decided to bring the X-T1 and a couple of lenses, and focus on a different aspect of the show.  As I've said before, the X system isn't the best for action, so that wouldn't be my goal.  However, after completing the task I gave myself, I did turn the X-T1 and the oft-neglected 18-135WR lens on the Blue Angels to see if I could get anything worth keeping.  I was pleasantly surprised that I could, in fact, maintain focus on fast moving jets, once focus was acquired (that's the tough part).  But none of those images could compare with the flight photos from 2011, for reasons not due to shortcomings of the Fuji gear, but rather due to atmospheric and weather conditions this weekend. Nevertheless, there are a few worth sharing, at the end of this post.

Instead, I would concentrate on photos of the static displays and the aviators who own, fly, or maintain them.  As such, it would be an exercise in environmental portraiture.  Now, to do this job "right", the strategy should be to carefully assess the scene, manage it within reason, pose the subjects carefully, and light them if necessary.  But in the context of an air show, with environmental conditions less than optimal (e.g. harsh sun) and lots of crowd that can't be managed, and no lighting gear, you do the best you can, utilizing as much knowledge and skill as you have to get images that are worth sharing.

First up, the cockpit of a B-52, made with the Fuji XF 10-24mm lens at 10mm, through the very small open window. Because I was just one guy in a line of maybe one hundred people climbing up a staircase to look through this window, the challenge here was to estimate the proper exposure (in manual mode) for the interior of the aircraft, without being influenced by the nuclear sunlight outside.  My total "time on target" was probably 10 seconds.  Get in, get out.  Score. 

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VMFA-121 is the first squadron in the Marines to fly the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter.  Here's Captain J.P. Stuart on the flight line with the F-35B.

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To get this shot, all l had to do was ask Capt. Stuart to move a few feet closer to the nose of the jet, and turn his gaze to give me the loop lighting on his face that I wanted.  Of course, I couldn't have the foil sun shields removed from inside the cockpit, nor the three spies trespassing behind the jet. Same 10-24mm lens.

 

This is an old, Vietnam-era Huey helicopter, used primarily for search and rescue missions.  Still armed with machine guns and rocket pods, there were little kids all over the thing.  I asked this crewman to stand precisely where I wanted him, and waited for a four year-old to finish firing the machine gun.  Immediately after this snap, he was back blasting away.

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Another helicopter on display is the CH-53E Super Stallion, the largest and heaviest helicopter in the US military. It can carry up to 16 tons and can retrieve downed aircraft, including another CH-53.  For this shot, I simply asked the crew member to don his helmet.  He asked, "Can I put on my vest, too?"  Sure.

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Cal Fire, the state's wildland fire management agency, utilizes a wide variety of aircraft in its fire suppression mission, including this Grumman S-2T, originally tasked as a carrier-based anti-submarine warfare platform.  Today, it monitors fire activity and drops retardant.

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The F/A 18 Super Hornet:

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The C-17 Globemaster III is simply huge.  It can transport two M1A1 Abrams tanks inside its massive hold, though for weight reasons, it typically will carry only one.  The cargo bay was filled with visitors, and Sgt. Trowbridge was there to manage the crowd and answer questions.  My only question to him was to see if he could move about one foot to his left, enabling the light to fully illuminate his face.  Three elements make this photograph for me: the filtered light on Sgt. Trowbridge, the girl looking at him on the right, and the illuminated back wall of the C-17, courtesy of a door to the left, a window on the right, and an escape hatch on the roof of the plane.

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When I first saw this biplane, I had to stop and look at it twice.  It's the largest biplane ever produced.  Moreover, it was first built in 1946, after the Second World War at the beginning of the jet age, and it was built in Russia.  It's the Antonov AN-2, and it's still in use in some third world countries today.   DSCF8798DSCF8798

 

The TBM-3E Avenger was a carrier-based torpedo bomber extensively used in the Pacific theater during World War II. It was the heaviest carrier-capable plane of its time, carrying one huge torpedo under its belly in addition to two machine guns and a crew of three. The Avenger was credited with the sinking of the Japanese super battleships Musashi and Yamato.

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This is the AirGyro Cavalon, a European gyroplane.  It's a two-seater (with luxurious leather seats), claims to be able to fly long distances through weather you'd never want to fly it in, and able to land on a dime.  You can have one for 86,000 euro.

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Here are three members of the eight-man Swiss Breitling L-39 Jet Demonstration Team, walking quickly across the tarmac.  This is a total grab shot, as they were practically running at the time.  I raised my camera and snapped off a couple of frames before they began mugging for me.

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Though my goal was to capture some decent environmental portraits of these aviators, and without much expectation of impactful flight photos, I was fairly impressed with some of my Blue Angels photos.  Here are four that I thought worked well.

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swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) Events Portraits https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2015/10/back-to-miramar Sat, 03 Oct 2015 22:46:27 GMT
Craziness at the Rancho Mission Viejo Rodeo https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2015/8/craziness-at-the-rancho-mission-viejo-rodeo DSCF5863DSCF5863

Karen and I decided to go down to what some folks think is San Juan Capistrano, but really isn't, to the Blenheim Equestrian Center, to take in the annual Rancho Mission Viejo Rodeo.  The event is hosted by the Rancho Mission Viejo Company, under the stewardship of the Moiso family, who are wonderful members of the South Orange County community, and developers of the massive Rancho Mission Viejo planned community that begins just across the street from the Equestrian Center.  

But the development is a totally different story from the Rodeo.  The rodeo is staged by Cotton Rosser and the Flying U Rodeo Company.  As he says in his message to the attendees in the program, "I love people, I love horses, I love rodeo, I love showmanship and I love my country!"  And he certainly does.  So it's a perfect match for South Orange County.

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My original intent was to cover the whole day, focusing on the people.  I knew there would be real cowboys and cowgirls, plus an assortment of families, vendors, musicians, and best of all, Orange County poseurs - folks who wouldn't know one end of a horse from another, but could rock a hat, $500 boots, shades, and a logo tee.  They were all over the place.  But that was the problem. My thought going in was to shoot the event street-style.  But it quickly got way too crowded to do that stuff. Plus, nearly everybody was two-fisting beers, and I didn't want to invade anyone's space, especially under those circumstances, if you get my drift.

That plan went out the window as soon as we took our seats in the grandstand, about six or so rows up.  I hoped to grab a seat that would enable me to move down to the front of the grandstand easily and get some action shots.  I had shot the rodeo several years ago, going to the event alone, and working my way around the arena where I could to get decent angles without a press pass.  I shot that rodeo with my trusty Canon gear, and got some good takeaways.  But because of my now-aborted plan to shoot the event as an exercise in street photography, I had my Fuji gear, and a perch not close enough to get in tight. And I didn't want to stand in front of others in their seats and block their views.  So I'd have to settle for obstructed views and mostly fairly aggressive crops after the fact.  Thankfully, my Fuji X-T1, not known as an "action" camera, performed remarkably well.

The rodeo started with what you might expect, an exhibition of trick riding by four really talented ladies, who stood upright on the saddle and did other tricks you may have seen before, like this:

DSCF5683DSCF5683 But I was totally unprepared for this action, a girl who upended herself and dragged her hair through the dirt, her face inches above the ground.  I have no idea what prompted her to think of this cowgirl version of the Zamboni.  Fortunately, she did it successfully, and emerged with nothing but dirty hair.

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When I looked at this in-camera, I thought maybe I could get some decent action shots with the X-T1.  And I did.  I began doing single frame captures.  I still believe that the Fuji has a delay that makes action shots something of a crapshoot.  But when the action is non-stop, it's a pretty safe bet that you're going to get something good.  For the saddle bronc event, I wanted to capture the horses at their peak of extension, tails, chaps and legs flying, and cowboys hanging on for dear life.

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For the roping and steer-wrestling events, I wanted to capture the teamwork between the riders and their horses.

DSCF5755DSCF5755 DSCF5804DSCF5804 DSCF5825DSCF5825 I especially like the horse slamming on the rear brakes.  Sometimes the steer got the best of the cowboy.

DSCF5754DSCF5754 DSCF5765DSCF5765 These were all single frame captures.  But when it comes to bull riding, the action is so quick and so violent, there's no shame in shooting a burst.  Most rides (launches?) are over before the Fuji's buffer fills up, so you can capture the whole thing.  And for me, while watching the action live, or on video after the ride, is thrilling, I think the frozen moment of a still photograph captures the danger and excitement better than any other way of seeing.  You see the cowboy in a precarious position, some with helmets and some without; you see the bull snot flying; you see the cowboys on the fence and the rodeo clowns doing their thing to protect the rider.  To me, these are compelling images, even if they're not made from inside the arena with a 400mm bazooka at f/2.8.

DSCF5919DSCF5919 DSCF5920DSCF5920 DSCF6080DSCF6080 DSCF6082DSCF6082 DSCF6146DSCF6146 DSCF6151DSCF6151 DSCF6180DSCF6180 DSCF6183DSCF6183 DSCF6210DSCF6210 DSCF6246DSCF6246 DSCF6248DSCF6248 It was a fun day, followed by dinner at Lucy's El Patio cafe, down in Capo Beach, a hole in the wall Mexican joint that has been there since the 1930's.  A perfect ending to a fun and rewarding day.

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swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) Events Sports https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2015/8/craziness-at-the-rancho-mission-viejo-rodeo Sun, 23 Aug 2015 18:20:33 GMT
The Jet Set Quintet in Long Beach https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2015/8/the-jet-set-quintet-in-long-beach DSCF5075DSCF5075

Last week I took the opportunity to drive (very, very slowly in rush hour traffic) up to Long Beach to see the Jet Set Quintet, aka the Tony Guerrero Quintet when they perform music from, or inspired by, the swingin' jazz sounds of the fifties and sixties.  They performed on the Veranda of the Long Beach Aquarium after closing hour as a part of the weekly series of concerts produced by Owen Kirschner.  I always like to see the Jet Set Quintet for a variety of reasons.  First, I'm a big fan of band leader Tony Guerrero, who's a smart, creative, and thoughtful guy with a load of talent on trumpet and flugelhorn.  Second, I'm a big fan of the music they play as the Jet Set Quintet, ranging from straight ahead jazz, to calypso, to show tunes and TV themes from that era. As a band, they're very tight.  And last, but certainly not least, they are a fun bunch of guys, with a great stage presence and relationship among each other and the audience.  As laconic as Tony Guerrero is, drummer Matt Johnson is equally expressive, which always guarantees a target-rich environment for music portraits.

I brought the Fuji X-T1 with three lenses to the show, the 10-24, 16-55, and 50-140, and used them all.  Not having been to the Veranda before, I wasn't sure what to expect in terms of orientation to the sun at that time of day, 7:00 to 9:30-ish.  As it turned out, the audience faced pretty much due east, with the sun setting behind the Aquarium, placing the band in 100% shade, and the Shoreline Village background in nuclear sun.  There was about a six stop difference between subject and background to start, making available light photography an exercise in what to get and what to give up on.  Also, the first row of seating was about three feet from the band, making it difficult to change positions without being a distraction to the audience.  I never want to be a distraction to others who have paid good money to see a concert, especially in an intimate setting like this.  So I took up a position in the front row, right, and stayed put, letting my lenses change my point of view. Another creative choice I made was to capture these images using the Classic Chrome film simulation that is available on the X-T1.

One casualty of this choice was Robert Kyle on sax and flute.  From my vantage point, Robert was pretty much pegged to a spot in front of a speaker, with a wall behind that to camera left.  That wall had an exit sign and some other kind of fixture that I didn't want to include in my shots, so the 50-140, racked all the way out, was the best I could do.

DSCF5078DSCF5078 It's a proper exposure, but that's about all I can say about it.  Definitely doesn't do him justice.

Not so with drummer Matt Johnson.  He takes turn on the mic with Tony, and is a very cool guy.  Also super expressive.  Whenever I had a clear shot in this tight stage area, I lasered in on Matt.  I was looking for expressions like this, and was not disappointed:

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Tony Guerrero is pretty rock solid when he's playing, and there's not much difference between one look and the next.  However, at this particular moment, the setting sun was bouncing off the glass wall of the Hyatt Hotel in the distant background, and I leaned this way and that to catch the reflection just wrapping around his coat, to provide a little extra something to the photo:

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As I said above, the dynamic range from shadow to highlight here is so vast that you can't even see the hotel back there.  It's totally blown out.  

Joining the group for the first time was bassist Dave Enos.  He was directly in front of me, but unfortunately so was a music stand, so I never had an unobstructed view.  But never mind, as Dave often crouched tight up against the neck of the bass, whether to play the high notes, or to read music, I'm not sure.  But he was fun to shoot.  

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Dave Siebels manned the Hammond B3.  I'm a sucker for the B3; I just love the tones it makes and the music it's often performed with.  The spinning Leslie speaker provides this great tremolo that I really love.  But getting an evocative photo of a keyboard player when you don't have unimpeded access all around is difficult, so here's the best shot I have of Dave, hitting and maintaining a high note as the Leslie wails:

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As the night fell, I decided to switch to black and white, not because the Fuji can't handle color on stage - it does so quite well, but I didn't care for the choice of red light - but because I thought the mood of the music would lend itself to black and white.  So these images are straight from the black and white-with yellow filter setting on the X-T1.

DSCF5293DSCF5293 As I said above, Tony Guerrero's expression while playing doesn't really change much, but Matt Johnson's does, so while I'm focusing the camera on Tony, my eye is glued to Matt, and this is exactly what I was looking for.

Likewise, this shot of Dave Enos and Matt is a blend of focusing on Dave while choosing the point of capture based on Matt.

DSCF5303DSCF5303 Finally, a wide shot showing the entire quintet; once again, my moment of capture should by now be obvious.

DSCF5311DSCF5311 This was a very enjoyable evening of great music and some fairly successful photography.  I'm so glad I'm using the Fuji X system for gigs like this.

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swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) Musicians https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2015/8/the-jet-set-quintet-in-long-beach Mon, 03 Aug 2015 01:39:46 GMT
The 2015 KSBR Birthday Bash - Some Thoughts on Choices and Technique https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2015/7/the-2015-ksbr-birthday-bash---some-thoughts-on-technique DSCF9190DSCF9190

It's been about two months since my last blog post, two months of crazy shooting, travel, and massive editing of images made during this time.  So I want to catch up a bit, starting with my favorite photographic and music event of every year, the annual KSBR Birthday Bash, held on Memorial Day weekend in Mission Viejo.  I'm fortunate to have excellent access to the artists as they perform and backstage, so it's a target-rich environment.  

It's also a physically demanding day, juggling equipment and angling for position in ways to avoid blocking the views of audience members who pay serious dollars to support KSBR and see these amazing artists up close.  In recent years, I've come away with excellent images with my Canon gear, but also with significant back and knee pain from photographic gymnastics during the day's and evening's performances.  So as part of my ongoing migration from a heavy DSLR kit with monopod to a less-hefty mirrorless kit, I shot this year's Bash with my Fuji X-T1 and three lenses, one on the camera, two in small belt pouches, and no monopod.  My lenses of choice were the Fuji 18-135 variable aperture lens for daytime shots, the 10-24 f/4.0 for wide and evening shots, and the 50-140 f/2.8 for evening closeup work.

The 18-135 on a APS-C chip is a 24-203mm equivalent on a full-frame camera, giving me excellent range from wide to tele.  The aperture varies with focal length, which is usually a deal-breaker for performance work, but under daylight conditions, shooting wide open isn't necessary, so this is a versatile, do-anything lens that frees me from changing lenses except when ultra-wide perspective is called for.  Image quality is fine.  Here are Chuck Loeb, Tom Dante, Vincent Ingala, Jay Gore, and Brian Bromberg during an early part of the afternoon's concert.  Easy, done deal.

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Done deal, but nothing really special either.  I wanted this shot, because it's the first time I've seen the legendary and incredibly talented Chuck Loeb live, even though the musicians here are supporting the featured artist for this number, Keiko Matsui, off-camera to the left, behind a TV camera blocking my view from this angle.    So it's not really the kind of image that I specifically look for.  Increasingly, I try to capture what might be termed as the musicians' personal moments, not necessarily those moments that are meant for the audience.  For example, one of my favorite shots from a previous Bash was of pianist Freddie Ravel, who punctuated the final note of a rocking song with a jump at the keyboard, both feet off the ground, one hand on the keys and the other in a fist held high.  A great shot, but also very predictable.  I just knew it was going to happen, and I caught it.  This is the kind of concert photography that most shooters (and magazines) want to get.  Another kind of music shot that most people get and love are of the musicians looking at them.  Usually posed in a quick grab shot, these images are found all over the place; they bore me.  They are "forensic" shots; they prove that the photographer was there at that place at that time, and not much else.

So what kind of images speak to me?

For some reason, I like photographs of musicians looking off camera, and away from the audience as well.  They are truly private moments, some contemplative, sometimes even bored, but almost always interesting to me.  I always ask myself, what's going through their minds at this particular moment?

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Similarly, I like tight images of performers alone with their instruments.  I have quite a few of these, one of my favorites from this year's Bash is Tony Guerrero, at the beginning of his performance of Prince's "Purple Rain".  This number is just building at this moment, and Tony is solely focused on his trumpet.

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There are word-class musicians around him, and thousands of people in front of him, but Tony is alone with his trumpet.

At the other end of the spectrum are photos of the musicians totally engaged with each other, and not with the audience.  The format of the Birthday Bash lends itself to these photos easily, as the hallmark of the gig is that headline and session musicians are thrown together to support one another with little or no time to rehearse together.  So there are always moments of searching, discovery, and serendipity as artists lead, follow, and blend together to create live music.  To me, the best set of the day was the aforementioned "Purple Rain", led by Tony Guerrero, and featuring a solo by sax virtuoso Michael Lington, and  an epic guitar battle and duet by Adam Hawley and Jay Gore.  These guys were totally into it with each other, and it showed.  This was a true "holy shit" moment.

DSCF9157DSCF9157 DSCF9159DSCF9159 DSCF9188DSCF9188 DSCF9199DSCF9199 The final note, with everyone looking at drummer Tom Dante for that last crashing beat.  There's true commitment and joy in this shot. They just killed it.   Jay Gore's grin, Peggy Duquesnel's smile at the keyboard, Michael Lington's intensity.  The performance has been perfect and that last note has to be perfect.  And the ever-laconic Tony Guerrero is actually animated.

You can also find these moments when two performers are intently watching and listening to each other.  Here's Michael Lington totally focused on Greg Vail.  The pre-eminent photographer of our times, Jay Maisel, tells us that impactful photos are comprised of light, gesture, and color.  Here, the gesture is Michael Lington's eyes.  They are the first and last thing you see in this image.

DSCF9263DSCF9263 Another opportunity I look for is instrumental technique.  This is hard to capture with most instruments, particularly wind instruments, and photos of keyboard artists usually show the artist but the keyboard itself is blocked.  But with stringed instruments, you can see the artist's technique.  And when the artist is bassist Brian Bromberg, the opportunities are boundless:

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A quick digression… One of the big surprises of this year's Birthday Bash, at least for me as a photographer, was how well the Fuji X-T1 handled the worst kind of mixed light there is.  For about 30 minutes in the late afternoon, as the sun comes close to the horizon and the stage lights are just beginning to take effect (and they are damned LED's to boot), shooting into the westerly direction produces a miasma of crappy tones.  In the past, with my Canon gear, my only recourse was to render photos made under these conditions as black and white.  However, the Fuji handled this vile soup quite well, as these straight-from-the-camera shots of Grace Kelly and Terry Wolman show:

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Back to technique and my choices for moments I like to capture…  As the ubiquity of phone cameras has grown, I find myself drawn to images of people taking photos with their phones.  I absolutely hate selfies, but for some reason, I love taking photos of people taking selfies.  They are genuine moments with people engaged with each other.  And sometimes they take place under the strangest circumstances, such as artists using their phone cams during a performance (not between numbers, but during a song!).  Here's Eric Darius using his phone cam during Brian Bromberg's epic bass solo:

DSCF9290DSCF9290 Tony Guerrero, trumpet in one hand and phone in the other, recording the artists and the audience during the big finale:

DSCF9435DSCF9435 And my favorite image of the Bash, Tony and Dean Grech:

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I have no idea what Tony's phone cam photo looks like, but to me, this image is priceless.  It speaks to the joy and friendship among the musicians, KSBR staff, and audience that makes the KSBR Birthday Bash the special day that it always is.  I'm blessed to have this opportunity each year.

 

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swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) Events KSBR Musicians https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2015/7/the-2015-ksbr-birthday-bash---some-thoughts-on-technique Tue, 07 Jul 2015 18:45:09 GMT
A Window of Opportunity in Vancouver https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2015/5/a-window-of-opportunity-in-vancouver Springtime is the busiest time of year for me, photographically speaking, what with dance recitals and the attendant portraiture, graduations, and other end-of-school-year events.  So it was a rare thing to have five days of "free" time, having completed all previous commitments.  And with five days of free time comes the intense desire to get outta town.  Travelocity presented Vancouver as a relatively inexpensive option, given the last-minute nature of this booking, so I jumped at it.  I'm no stranger to Vancouver, having twice traveled up there to shoot ballet and contemporary dancers with Canada's best dance shooter David Cooper, plus a couple of other visits for work-related or other purposes.  With only one full day of shooting, and a forecast of one day of good weather, I was off.

On arrival, I checked into my hotel, then took off to Granville Island, a half-hour walk over False Creek.  It's a touristy place, but a nice way to spend a couple of hours, especially with the threat of rain.  I spent some time listening to Jim Meyer, who plays a twelve-string Chapman Stick, an electronic instrument that looks like a wide-neck guitar without a body.  I've never seen a street performer who was camera shy, but Jim was, so I got only a couple of snaps with his permission.  The most interesting aspect was his gloved hands, playing in the cool afternoon.  A duo-toned black and white rendering revealed the textures best.

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On the way back over the Granville Bridge, as the light was falling, I took a look back to the east, and saw Mount Baker, bathed in light, looming in the distance in the State of Washington.  I had never seen Mt. Baker from Vancouver, and it transfixed me.  I stood on that bridge, stopping everyone who came by, pointing out this marvelous scene.  For the locals, this was apparently no big deal.  So I snapped away, changing my exposures to try to capture the full tonal range and color temperature of this scene.  But the dynamic range between the darkness of the fore-and-middle ground and the mountaintop 70 miles away pretty much kicked my butt, and without a tripod, a high dynamic range approach wasn't really feasible.  Instead, I got this.

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As David Hobby says, when you're working in the blue hour, you might as well take your photograph in that direction.  This wasn't specifically during the "blue hour", as the sky reveals.  But the foreground and middle ground were decidedly blue in hue, the sun having already receded below the horizon. Here, I took it further toward the blue, which had the added benefit of taking some of the high-elevation late afternoon yellow out of the snow-clad mountain. 

The next morning dawned dark and dreary, which lasted til the noon hour.  I was frustrated that my day was going to wind up gloomy and wet, but I went out for a walk, without cameras, and found myself watching the grand announcement of the members of the Canadian women's World Cup soccer team, the finals of which will be played in Canada.  It was a big deal, and the locals were stoked, and getting soaked.  I trudged back, hoping for clearing skies.

So I packed up my gear, which, by the way consisted of my Fuji X100S, my XT1, and two lenses, the 18-135WR and 10-24 f/4, my travel kit I intend to use in Europe while photographing subjects other than performers.  This would be a test of the utility of this minimal kit.  I boarded a local bus to the end of Davie Street, and ended up in glorious sunlight on the outskirts of Stanley Park.  Hallelujah!  I decided to walk the entire Seawall, a nine kilometer hike, and capture the various directions of this loop, along with the changing light that the afternoon and evening would present.

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One of my goals in this exercise was to ensure that there were people in my photos.  Too often, travel photos are sterile, devoid of the people who actually live there.  Ask yourself, how many times have you wanted to take a photograph of a place and waited until the people left the scene?  After all, they're nobody you know.  But they provide a sense of scale and a reason to be there.  So the trick is to find the right moment to make the photo.  Are the people engaged with each other or focused on their destination?  Is their stride attractive?  It's very easy to include awkward moments in shots like this, so shooting a small burst can really help get you a nice composition and have the people look good, too.  Put the people in a nodal point and they become an important element of the photo.  Though I did not direct anyone, there is nothing random about the placement of elements of this photo.  Instead, I placed myself where the elements would come together.  All I did was wait for the right moment.

The Seawall trail around Stanley Park is an almost 360-degree loop. Beginning at around 2:00 p.m., I was ensured of getting a variety of light conditions and compositional elements.  Here are a few of my favorites, with some additional commentary.

I knew that Lions Gate Bridge connecting Vancouver to points north would provide a dramatic element from a variety of locations.  It soars over the entrance to English Bay due to the high promontory of Stanley Park as well as the need to provide clearance to ships. Putting people in the frame also adds to the sense of scale.

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I waited under the bridge in hopes of capturing one of the many seaplanes that come in and out of Coal Harbor nearby.  My choice of lens, in this case 10 mm, enabled me to intentionally distort the geometry of the bridge and bring in some trees.  It also renders the passing seaplane overhead very, very small in the frame.  Although the plane occupies maybe .5% of the image, my eye immediately goes to it.  A great photo?  Probably not.  But I like it nonetheless.

DSCF6670DSCF6670 Stark geometry and bold colors are accentuated in directional, mid-afternoon daylight, as these examples show.

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One of the strangest sights on this walk is a small statue erected about ten yards off-shore entitled "Girl in a Wetsuit".  It was meant to commemorate scuba diving, which was big back in the day in Vancouver (for whatever reason), but for me, it's just a humorous perch for seagulls, and the resting place for a girl who can't do anything about it:

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Just around the bend, the sweeping vista of the Vancouver skyline comes into view, and your choice of lens determines what elements you want to emphasize, whether it's the skyscrapers of downtown, or the bright orange cranes of the harbor, with Mt. Baker looming in the distance.

DSCF6796DSCF6796 DSCF6782DSCF6782 Panning to the west at this time of day reveals the beginning of the "golden hour" as the light gets warmer and subjects are more directionally-lit.

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I stopped for dinner right after this, knowing that I'd finish right about the time when the "golden hour" transitions to the "blue hour", that time of day David Hobby calls "mix light".  It's perhaps the best, most dramatic time of day for scenic photography.  In Vancouver, it's a target-rich environment, a time when the light enhances all of the elements of a good photograph, making great photographs out of what might otherwise be snapshots.

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DSCF6907DSCF6907 And finally, blue hour.  By now, most people have packed it in.  Too bad, because this can result in some of the most dramatic shots of the day.  I didn't have an opportunity to get to a vantage point to capture the entire Vancouver skyline at this time of day, but these scenes can be just as impactful.

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At this point, I did pack it in, and walked the rest of the way to my hotel.  Altogether, I walked about 17 miles that day around Vancouver, and had a very rewarding time.

A couple of final notes.  If you're a person who enjoys traveling with your camera, you owe it to yourself to check out David Hobby's fantastic series "The Traveling Photographer" on Lynda.com.  He offers invaluable tips on when and where to shoot, how to look for and make the most out of your many opportunities.  While the series is focused on specific cities around the world, the principles and lessons are applicable anywhere.

Lastly, some commentary on the equipment I used in Vancouver. Although I brought my Fuji X100S, all of these images were made with the XT1, and most were made with the 18-135WR lens.  All of these are almost straight-from-the-camera jpgs, with minimal tweaks in Lightroom - mostly straightening and cropping.  With a few months of experience with the Fuji system, I'm becoming increasingly fond of the rendition the Fuji's give me.  They handle available light extremely well, no matter what the available light is; outdoor conditions, indoor conditions, stage light, you name it.  I tried various white balance settings during this afternoon walk, including auto, daylight, and cloudy.  In most cases, auto worked just fine, if not best.  Other than the black and white/duo-tone conversion of the street musician, the only photo I adjusted color temperature in post was the photo of False Creek and Mt. Baker at the top, moving it more to the blue to neutralize the late afternoon yellow snow on Mt. Baker (nobody likes yellow snow, right?)  

The only frustrating limitation of the Fuji XT1 is the apparent shutter lag, or perhaps it's the link between the electronic view finder and the shutter.  Though it almost always nails focus, sometimes that shutter lag results in missed opportunities.  It's common understanding that the Fuji system isn't for sports shooters who need the absolute critical, split-second timing to capture the peak action.  It also isn't for dance shooters like me, who need the same split-second timing.  But I've come to the conclusion that just about any subject that requires that split-second timing will not be shot with the Fuji system.  Getting the timing down for capturing a specific point in a pedestrian's stride was an exercise in predicting the shutter lag.  I'm shooting a runway fashion show this weekend; the Canon gear will be coming out for that for the same reason.

Nevertheless, I invested in the Fuji system to minimize the size and weight of my gear for traveling and other assignments where the Fuji system excels.  I do not regret that decision at all.  I'm eagerly looking forward to documenting a choir performance tour in Ireland in a few weeks.  I know that this kit, augmented with the 40-150 f/2.8 and 35 f/1.4 lenses, will give me great results, and my back and shoulders will enjoy the trip as much as my eyes and ears will.

 

 

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swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2015/5/a-window-of-opportunity-in-vancouver Sat, 02 May 2015 18:41:21 GMT
The Fuji XT-1 at Calico https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2015/1/the-fuji-xt-1-at-calico DSCF2336DSCF2336

Karen and I took a break from our typical weekend routine and hit the road to the Calico Ghost Town just east of Barstow.  The town had a brief run during the silver boom of the 1880s and 90s, lasting twelve years before it went bust.  Walter Knott bought the town back in the 1950s, and restored many of the old relics, turning it into a sort of low rent Knott's Berry Farm.  Today, the County of San Bernardino operates it as a county park, and they do a pretty good job of maintaining it and offering attractions for visitors from all over.  (Today, there were three buses of South Korean tourists.  How did I know they were from South Korea?  One of them came up to Karen and me and said, "Pleased to meet you.  I am from South Korea!  You are very handsome!")

Anyway, one of the main reasons I wanted to return to this place (hadn't been there since I was a kid) was the incredible geology of the place.  You can see some of the possibilities as you drive out Interstate 15 on your way to Las Vegas.  Exit Ghost Town Rd. and look left up into the hills, and you'll see a melange of different rock formations and colors.  This was probably the sight that enticed the prospectors back in the 19th century.  Today, a better enticement is the fried pickles at Peggy Sue's 1950's Diner, also at the Ghost Town Rd. exit….

But I digress, again.  The formation you see above is located adjacent to the lower parking lot, unused unless Calico is hosting a special event.  I suspect many visitors don't even see it, or if they do, they fail to notice just how amazing this geology is.   I'm certainly no trained geologist, but it's pretty clear what's going on here.  These are layers upon layers of various types of rock, both igneous and sedimentary, folded by incredible tectonic forces.  There are cross-bedded planes, folds in excess of 270 degrees (look to the right of the trailer), and unconformities (areas where the deposits have eroded to nothing, leaving gaps in the geologic record) all over the place.  I don't know what the time scale of this scene is, but I've rarely seen anything as dramatic as this in one concise location.

Back to the visit…One of the main things I wanted to do today was to put my new Fuji XT-1 to the test in a different environment.  I've shot this amazing camera in low-light performance settings, and have been very impressed with the results.  I'll be taking it (and the X100S) to Ireland this summer with the Santa Margarita Catholic High School choir, and will be using it for performances with fast glass, but also general travel purposes, primarily with the very flexible 18-135mm weather-resistant lens.  That gives me about 24-200mm of coverage in one small package, something I'd need two lenses to cover with my Canon 5D3.

During the hour or so we were there, both Karen and I got some nice snaps around town.  It's a tourist place, and while the photos are "fine", they're not something I want to present in detail here.  But there is one portrait I made that I do want to comment on, this gunfighter I captured while he was waiting to be killed for the umpteenth time today.

I like just about everything about this portrait.  First, he's sitting under an overhang, with no direct sunlight.  Ergo, the light is soft yet directional.  There are distinct highlight and shadow sides, but the shadow rotation is gentle, even if his visage isn't.  Though the composition is tight, there are leading lines all over.  The highlighted brim of his hat and the slope of his shoulders all lead the eye to his face, which is the brightest element of the frame.  Though his eyes are in rather deep shadow, there is still meaningful expression on his face, even a Peter Hurley "squinch".  You can't direct this stuff in a quick portrait (I spent maybe 20 seconds with this guy).

When I brought this image into Lightroom, It was okay enough.  I liked the composition a lot (it's what you see here, plus a little door frame to the right, which I cropped out), but he was in shade, so the color tended toward the blue side, and the potential for enhanced characterization wasn't realized straight out of the camera.  Fortunately, these Fuji files are so incredibly malleable and they take loads of adjustments without breaking down.  Here, I have warmed up the image considerably, reduced the highlights significantly and then jacked the clarity and contrast quite a bit.  I've lowered the vibrance and saturation.  There's no noise in this image, no chromatic aberration or halos, and no sharpening has been applied.

The final image is a strong one, one of my favorite portraits that I've made in quite a while.  I'm really looking forward to taking this kit to Ireland later this year.

 

 

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swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) Portraits Travel https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2015/1/the-fuji-xt-1-at-calico Sun, 01 Feb 2015 07:00:04 GMT
The 2014 UNIQLO Wheelchair Doubles Masters https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2014/11/the-2014-uniqlo-wheelchair-doubles-masters It's been three months since my last blog post, a time of shooting high school football, some performances, and some commissioned work.  With the month of November, things are heating back up, starting with the second major, international wheelchair tennis tournament in the City of Mission Viejo.  I was lucky enough to be the official photographer for the ITF/NEC Wheelchair Masters tournaments (both singles and doubles) last year, which was an incredible learning experience for me, not so much from a photographic perspective, but rather as a real eye-opener into the world of these incredible athletes.  I was really blessed with the reception my work received last year, and I eagerly accepted the assignment again this year to shoot the UNIQLO Wheelchair Doubles Masters (the singles tourney having previously been committed to another venue).

I'm going to post a continuing report on my experience this year, hopefully keeping up on a daily basis, despite the rigors of all-day shooting and same-day delivery of images to the multiple stakeholders involved in a major tennis tournament.  I'm going to post some representative images, including those I particularly like, as well as those which exemplify themes, perspectives, challenges and opportunities presented during each day's work.

 

Day 1: Monday, November 3.  Exhibition at the Beverly Center, Beverly Hills.

This year's major sponsor is the Japanese clothing retailer UNIQLO, which positions itself in the H&M market segment.  UNIQLO recently opened a new store in the Beverly Center, an enclosed mall in Beverly Hills.  UNIQLO sponsors Shingo Kunieda, a champion player on the wheelchair tennis circuit, and UNIQLO wanted to showcase the sport and Kunieda by creating a small tennis court in the main open space of the mall where Shingo and fellow competitor Michael Jeremiasz of France could have a friendly exhibition.  So, on Monday, the ever-resourceful Mission Viejo staff and UNIQLO PR folks created a small-scale court and the two players went at it.  Since the court was only about 20x40 feet, and surrounded by shoppers and diners, the players hit a soft, spongy ball, and couldn't go all-out as they would on a regulation court.  But it was fun for them and the spectators.

Photographically, it was a mixed bag.  Tight quarters, low available light, and co-existence with video crews made it a challenging assignment.  But everyone played well together and we got some decent images for the City of Mission Viejo, UNIQLO, the Beverly Center, and the players.  I say "we", because I enlisted the help of my wife Karen to get some shots with my Fuji X100S while I worked the Canon gear, bouncing speed lights around in an effort to keep the light out of the players' eyes and out of the video guys' shots.  We shot from down low and up high, on a floor above the court, where there was an opening.  Turns out, Karen got maybe the best shot of the day from up there.

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One of the insurmountable challenges presented by this vantage point was the inability to square up the horizontal and vertical lines.  The tile grid and the rectilinear aspects of the UNIQLO logo and court begged for symmetry, but the perspective available from that position prevented us from achieving it.  Photoshop does a good job of bringing horizontal and vertical lines into position, but when you introduce human beings into the math, strange things happen.  But you do the best you can, and keep the players looking natural, perspective control be damned.

Here are a couple of representative shots from the friendly competition.  The shots from the floor level were lit with one speed light bounced off the partial ceiling covering half of the court.  The difference in light levels between the two halves of the court was about two full stops.  In addition, the sunlight gracefully flowing from the skylights high above needed some fill to prevent "raccoon eyes".  The fill from the speed light bounced around the ceiling and off the floor to open up those shadows.  A tricky bit of photon ping pong that fortunately worked.  The shots from the opening above were all illuminated with sun from above.  It helped when the players looked up.

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Since it was a media opportunity, I also wanted to get some "behind-the-scenes" shots, showing the crews at work with the players, both on the court and upstairs at the UNIQLO store.

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This shot was a bit more difficult than you might imagine.  The interior of the UNIQLO store was lit with sorta-kinda tungsten-esque light, leaving a moderately yellow cast, while the store opening, where this shot was staged, was bathed in diffused skylight. So there was really no way to balance out the different color temperatures with a gelled speed light.  So you choose the battle you can win; in this case, by letting the store light go where it will, and focus your strategy on rendering the people accurately.

I wanted to end up with a singular image of Kunieda with an element of the UNIQLO brand.  Fortunately, at the very end of the short interview with him, he gave us this.  It's all ambient light from the diffused skylight above the store.

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On Tuesday evening, the "draw party" is held, during which a nice dinner is served and the players learn the order of the matches, which begin on Wednesday morning.

Day 7+8, Monday, November 17.

Well, the plan for a daily update to this blog post quickly went into the toilet.  Shoulda known that with nightly delivery of images for the City of Mission Viejo, the ITF, and sponsors, my days ended around 2:00 a.m. or later each night.  Then, after the close of this wonderful event, I transitioned back to my other assignments.  So here we are, eight days after the close of the tournament, with all responsibilities completed.  How to describe the tournament, from a photographer's perspective, in a different way than last year's post?

Last year, I had certain goals in mind for my coverage, including showing action, showcasing sponsors, showing emotion, getting the jubilation of victory, etc.  Fortunately, I was able to accomplish all of these goals.  The first goal I set out for myself this year centered on one specific athlete, Great Britain's Jordanne Whiley, current doubles champion with her partner Yui Kamiji of Japan.  Why Jordanne?  I recently saw a video telling Jordanne's story, beginning with her brittle bone condition, which has resulted in 26 breaks of her legs and eight surgeries to install rods, pins, and other hardware.  Yet she's as strong as they come.  I wanted to show that strength and perseverance.  My first impression was to try to spend a few minutes with Jordanne, away from the competition, under favorable lighting conditions, and make a portrait showing her drive and intensity via a portrait of her face.  But I didn't want to take her away from her main goal, to win the tournament, and I didn't want to try to force an expression that wasn't real. 

Fortunately, during one of her early matches, I watched her serve routine and saw that at one specific point of her serve all of the traits that I had hoped to create in a set piece.  A little post-processing to focus the viewer's eye and I had it.  I was gratified to hear from Jordanne that in her opinion it was the best tennis photo ever made of her.

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Covering a multi-day tennis tournament naturally involves getting a lot of captures.  After all, you can't wait for the photo to reveal itself; you have to anticipate it and get it as it happens.  So that means thousands of photos a day.  But when you think about it, there are not all that many distinctly different moves a tennis player makes.  There's the forehand, the backhand, the overhead volley, the reach, the serve, the "ball in your face or at your feet" reaction, the charge to the net, the passing shot, and maybe a few more.  So what changes?  Sometimes, not much other than the backdrop or the wardrobe, as seen below.

First up, Germany's Sabine Ellerbrock, who, by the way, was near death's door just three weeks before the tournament.  She's a fierce competitor who has a somewhat more contemplative perspective these days on the curative powers of athletic competition.

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Here's the Netherlands' Marjolein Buis, who with her partner Michaela Spaanstra, lost in an epic semi-final match to Louise Hunt and Katharina Kruger.  These are not consecutive frames, or even the same play.  Maybe I should have kept only one...

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South Africa's Evans Maripa was paired with Japan's Shingo Kunieda.  It is Evans' first year on the tour, and though the pair didn't fare well, Evans showed his talent and competitive drive.  Only his shirt changed.

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One of the more fascinating photographic experiences is capturing the occasional spill.  As I've said before, these athletes are fearless, and head-first crashes into the fence while chasing a ball are fairly common.  They can be frightening to watch, but fortunately, most of the players recover quickly and get right back to the match.  But they do provide some interesting photographs.

Here's Stephen Welch, from Ft. Worth, Texas, who plays in a chair without a small rear wheel that prevents backward spills just like this one.

_09A3628_09A3628 Great Britain's David Phillipson goes into the fence, fortunately stopping just before crashing into a pile of wheelchairs and equipment.  The girls on the left see the carnage about to happen.  Predictably, there's one young lady who can't get her face out of her smartphone.

_09A1730_09A1730 Sometimes the most drastic-looking crashes are the least impactful, at least on the outside.  Here's Belgium's Joaquim Gerard after hitting the fence hard and spilling. 

_09A4544_09A4544 At other times, a spill does result in injury.  Argentina's Gustavo Fernandez hit the fence and got his hand stuck, ripping a nasty cut.

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At the end of the day, at least for me, the most interesting photographs are those that portray the intensity, the competitive spirit, the stories, and the joy of competing among these athletes.  Their expressions tell their stories, so I look for them and am drawn most intently on those that are unique to each individual.

France's Nico Peifer, whose seemingly effortless motion masks a fierce competitive spirit, sometimes revealed only in his gaze.

_09A6441_09A6441 France's Michael Jeremiasz, one of the more colorful, as well as talented, pros on the tour.

_09A6995_09A6995 Great Britain's Andy Lapthorne, who exhibits the full range of emotions and intensity on the court.

_09A7327_09A7327 David Buck, who looks like he's about to munch into the ball.

_09A3393_09A3393 Reigning quad doubles champion Nick Taylor, usually an implacable force on the court, really getting into this forehand volley.

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Germany's Katharina Kruger.  Katharina is a joy to be around, and a joy to photograph.  The main reason? You know how faces usually look when the  person squints in the sun, or during intense activity?  The face usually pinches up.  But Katharina's face goes into this great smile.  You have to try hard to take a bad picture of Katharina Kruger.

_09A4294_09A4294 And then there's Stephen Welch.  You can't plan for this stuff; you just have to be ready for it.

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Joaquim Gerard, after winning a crucial point.

_09A6495_09A6495 And finally, David Phillipson, reaching vainly for a lob over his head.

_09A4869_09A4869 My heartfelt thanks go to Steve Bell, Jason Harnett, and Brian Gruner, who along with a large contingent of City staff, many of whom volunteered their time, put on a fantastic tournament.  I sincerely hope the tour comes back to Mission Viejo next year.

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swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2014/11/the-2014-uniqlo-wheelchair-doubles-masters Tue, 04 Nov 2014 22:21:26 GMT
The Post I Meant to Write https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2014/8/the-post-i-meant-to-write _DSF3102_DSF3102 As I sat down to write a blog post on our weekend getaway to Cambria on the Central Coast, I had in mind a short piece on traveling light, with just the Fuji X100S.  This, after lugging around 25 pounds of essential (I think…) gear from London to Paris to Rome with a wonderful choir last month. But the Cambria weekend blog post kinda got hijacked by the story of the severe water crisis in this idyllic community and what the they are (or aren't) doing about it.  See below for that screed.  So this piece is the one I had in mind, minus the water rant.

One of the few things I regretted about the Europe choir tour was the lack of time to really focus on travel photography.  Touring with 260 people ties you to an unrelenting schedule, and that's not conducive to photography.  But a leisurely weekend, combing the beach, gave me an opportunity to try some things I hadn't really had time to do with this amazing little camera.  So Karen and I strolled Moonstone Beach on a late Saturday afternoon, and on Sunday, while she slept, I got up early and tried some different things again.  Here are a few takeaways.

_DSF3079_DSF3079 This little thing was a total mystery to me.  I first saw one, then another, and another, dried up on the beach.  In a dried condition, they looked like clear, twisted up plastic drink lids.  But fresh out of the ocean, they revealed deep, iridescent blue hues and textures.  I learned that they are a very small species of jellyfish, with the blue underside and the clear "fin" which protrudes above the water and acts like a sail.  This specimen is about three inches in diameter.  The photo attests to the incredible detail and macro capability of the X100S.  The shot was made from about six inches away, and is pretty much straight out of the camera.

_DSF3080_DSF3080 One of the things that really impresses me about these Fuji files is their ability to handle significant amounts of clarity and contrast without breaking down.  I rarely make any adjustments to saturation, and when I do, it's always a reduction.  This might be my first photo with saturation added, to bring out and intensify the various colors of these tiny beach stones.  And you can pixel-peep all you want and you won't find artifacts, chromatic aberration, or fringing of any kind.

Likewise with this "still life" of more or less fresh kelp.

_DSF3090_DSF3090 Adding clarity, contrast and saturation really brings out the colors of these marine plants, and makes them look like they were just deposited onto the beach.

So if it works in these close-up shots, how about a landscape (or seascape)?

_DSF3205_DSF3205 What initially attracted me in this scene was the intense color of the green moss on the rocks in the center of the frame.  Unable to get down onto the rocks, and limited by the 23mm fixed focal length lens on the X100S, I hoped that the naturally intense green would be enough of a point of interest to "anchor" this scene.  But adding a lot of clarity and contrast, plus a bit of saturation in the blue-gray water helped to make this a more colorful palette than I originally saw.

After our beach stroll, we decided to drive up the coast a few short miles to take a look at the elephant seals that inhabit a stretch of beach just north of San Simeon.  Again, the 23mm fixed lens on the APS-C X100S would not be my first choice in photographing these ungainly but fascinating animals.  I'd rather have a tight portrait of the males jousting for supremacy.  At the very least, 200 mm on a full frame body would be required for such a shot. Maybe even 400 mm from the public viewing area.  But the X100S still held its own, even with the significantly too-wide perspective.  Without an anti-alias filter on the X100S, you can crop in as tight as you can, and still get incredible detail.  This shot is about 15% of the original file.

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Sunday morning was a bit foggy and overcast.  I thought a black and white treatment might be good for the subdued light.  So I switched to the X100S's black and white film mode, rather than convert a color image in post.

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As much as I'd love to have a Fuji XT1 and an array of dedicated lenses, the budget doesn't have room for that just now.  So I'm going to continue to explore with this great little camera.  I continue to be impressed with it.

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swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) Fuji Travel X100S https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2014/8/the-post-i-meant-to-write Tue, 05 Aug 2014 06:33:34 GMT
Runnin' on Empty https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2014/8/runnin-on-empty _DSF3210_DSF3210 Karen and I decided to make a quick getaway up to the bucolic and beautiful Central Coast community of Cambria for the weekend.  We were lucky enough to get a nice room in a small inn right on Moonstone Beach.  We drove up on Saturday and did the usual routine for us: first stop - tri-tip lunch at the Main St. Grill, formerly owned by the great Central Coast chef Ian McPhee, who has since consolidated his holdings down in Templeton, and has sold the Grill to a new owner, who has enlarged the place significantly.  Fortunately, growing the business hasn't reduced the quality of the food, perhaps only the quaintness of the place.

But what immediately struck me, and set the tone for the entire weekend, was the prominently displayed sign on the restroom doors, which advised customers that due to the severe water shortage in Cambria, some restaurants are prohibited from opening their restrooms to customers.  Instead, customers are directed to use "Honey Huts" (yes, that's a brand name) outside.  "Honey Huts", as in porta-potties.  No flushing needed.

Well, okay.  Everyone knows that we're in a severe drought here in California and throughout the West.  Down here in Orange County, cities are discussing ways to incentivize conservation, ranging from patrols looking for over-irrigation on lawns, to actual fines for using too much water.  Predictably, the pinheads on the editorial board of our local libertarian rag, the Register, say that if water management were left to the private sector in an unfettered free market, profit incentives and pricing would take care of the matter.  Which, on its face, is ridiculous.  Economic theory doesn't create rain.  Which is ultimately the fact and the problem.  (Pardon me for a quick rant…. The Register is the poster child for the adage, "If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail."  But enough of that.)

_DSF3218_DSF3218 So back to Cambria.  After visiting a Honey Hut, we wandered the town, looking at all the neatlittleshops, and speaking with the friendly shopkeepers.  I asked several of them, just how bad is the water shortage here in Cambria?  The answer: our water source is groundwater wells, and the best estimates are that we expect to run dry in November.  

Holy crap!  November, as in 90 days away.  "Run dry", as in no water.  Not something that's fixable "when we get around to it."  So what is the community doing about it?

The answer, severe restrictions (e.g. no watering landscaping with potable water, no pools, no water at campgrounds, etc.) while debating growth vs. no growth.  The no-growthers believe that conservation alone, strict growth limits, and restrictions on the tourist economy (e.g. restaurants, lodging, etc.) will enable the community to survive the drought.  Which is also ridiculous.  Conservation and restrictions on human activity (whether growth-inducing or mere human survival) also do not create rain.  Some fear that expansion of the water supply will induce growth, and thereby reduce property values.  Of course, a million-dollar home without a source of water is, well…not exactly prime real estate.

Both of these seemingly polar opposite philosophies share one thing in common.  They're economic models based on supply and demand.   But when the supply side of the equation is absent, all you have is unmet demand.  And when the issue is water, that's a life and death deal.  (Unless, apparently, you're Lady Gaga and can cajole the powers that be to fill the pool at Hearst Castle just up the coast with 345,000 gallons for a music video.)  But at the end of the day, you can't really play poker with Mother Nature; she never folds.

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So now you have the local electeds, the Board of Directors of the Cambria Community Services District, trying to implement a small desalination plant on a brackish water stream just up the coast in San Simeon.  This, by itself, is not a long-term solution, but it's not a small matter either, especially in these parts. It's a $15 million project, subject to the jurisdiction of the usual lineup of regulatory agencies, including the Regional Water Quality Control Board and the fiendish Coastal Commission, which never met a project it didn't either hate or use as leverage to achieve something else unrelated to the matter at hand.  So the chances of getting the plant built in 90 days are slim and none. Trust me, I've been there.

And you have the no-growthers using the predictable tactics to thwart the desalination project: claims of back room deals by the CCSD, and a lack of "transparency" in its deliberations.  "Transparency" is the buzzword of the decade, as if the press' and public's ability to see all and know all in real time will somehow generate agreement on pressing problems among people who can't even agree on the time of day, whether in Cambria or anywhere else in our great land.  But again, I digress.  Meanwhile, time marches on, and each day the community draws closer to November than they were the day before, which means no water.  

Well, not completely.  There is one additional alternative: trucking in potable water every day for this community of 6,000 and its tourists, upon whom the community depends for its economic survival.  At dinner on Saturday night, the restaurant we visited offered beautiful vistas of the Pacific, but alas, no water; instead, they sold bottled water at their cost, which was the best they could do.  Sad.

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swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) Rants Travel https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2014/8/runnin-on-empty Tue, 05 Aug 2014 05:19:59 GMT
Traveling Light, Working Heavy https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2014/7/traveling-light-working-heavy My last blog post came at the beginning of the most hectic month of photography I've yet experienced.  Two nights of Pops Concerts, a quick editorial/architectural shoot, two dance studio shoots on four weekends, followed by five days of intensive rehearsal and performance shoots, altogether around 9,000 images to sort through, rate and save the best, fulfill print orders, etc., etc., etc.  The day after the final dance performance shoot, I left for ten days in Europe to accompany an incredible choir from the Bay Area on a performance tour in London, Paris, a chateau in the French countryside, Rome, and the Vatican.  I returned from Europe with just under 3,000 additional images.  (I also returned with $15,000 in fraudulent charges against my business account that hit while I was gone, but that's another story altogether.)

I've now culled my 3,000 Europe photos down to a more manageable 500 to share with the participants.  For most professional photographers that's an absurd number.  Professional travel photographers, or portrait photographers, or landscape photographers will all tell you that if you post more than a dozen or so photos to your portfolio, you're wasting your time, talent, and marketability.  But when you're an event shooter, or trying to capture meaningful images of a tour with over 200 participants, a dozen photos just don't cut it.  Welcome to my world.

Am I complaining? About the sheer volume of photos from this amazing tour?  Absolutely not.  About the equipment needed to adequately document it?  Well… yes.  It's often said that nobody travels to Europe, or any other destination, and wishes they packed more stuff.  Traveling daily means carrying luggage and photo gear in and out of hotels, around town, onto and off trains and buses.  Traveling light is a real plus.  And don't get me started on the increasingly restrictive airline policies governing carry-ons.  

So I travel with only those pieces of gear that I know I will use.  For now, here's the packing list: one Canon 5D MarkIII with the "trinity" of fast glass - 16-35mm, 24-70mm, and 70-200mm, all capable of f/2.8 across the range, plus one Fuji X100S, one speed light with sync cord, batteries, chargers, and memory cards.  I recently purchased a small MeFoto travel tripod, which I really don't need (as a tripod), but it handily converts to a monopod which also fits nicely in the ThinkTank Airport Airstream below (minus the monopod, not shown):

Airstream selectionAirstream selection

The Airport Airstream is a roller, which is a godsend, as it tips the scale at 25 pounds, loaded as shown.  It fits easily in all airline overhead compartments (and you stroll quickly and confidently past the gate attendants because it's likely to be overweight).  It's great for rolling through airports, along well-paved streets, church floors, and other smooth surfaces.  On cobblestones, gravel, dirt, grass, or other uneven surfaces, not so much.  On one particular event, following a performance at the beautiful Chateau Vaux Le Vicomte in Maincy, France, I had to hand carry this beast around from location to location, as there were no smooth surfaces on the entire grounds, except inside the chateau itself.  Ditto in crowded venues such as Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, where I rolled over way too many toes dragging this equipment around.  The Airstream is not a backpack, so lugging 25 pounds by one hand is no walk in the park (even when it is a walk in the park).

For daily review and editing I bring my 13" MacBook Air, 500GB external drive for backups, a small Wacom tablet (an absolute must for any meaningful editing), and associated power cords, extension cords, international plug adapters, card readers, etc, etc.  All of these fit nicely into a ThinkTank 15" Artificial Intelligence laptop bag.  This 15" bag is made to fit a 15" laptop, but the dedicated and well-padded laptop compartment also accommodates the smaller 13" MacBook Air and the Wacom tablet.  I also carry my iPad mini and Bose noise-cancelling earbuds in it, for in-flight entertainment.

So in the cabin, the Airport Airstream is my carry-on, and the laptop bag is my "personal item".  The laptop stays in the hotel room, locked in my suitcase, which is typically locked to an immovable object.

On sightseeing or travel-only days, the Canon gear stays in the Airstream, and all of my "travel" photos are made with the Fuji X100S.  I lose absolutely no image quality with this camera in comparison to the 5D MarkIII.  The one downside is that it's a fixed focal length camera, so the only zoom capability is my feet.  But it's a joy to use, and absolutely never a problem to access it.  It's either around my neck when I'm using it alone, or in a small belt pouch when I'm carrying the Canon gear in the Airstream.  

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Which brings me to the main point: there's a significant migration going on in the professional (and advanced prosumer) ranks toward mirrorless cameras like the Fuji lineup.  Fuji is a current leader in this market, but Sony, Olympus and Pentax are also strong in the marketplace.  In fact, at the temple of high volume photography sales, B&H Photo in New York, there are 320 DSLR's offered, and 263 mirrorless models.  Although Nikon is in this marketplace, Nikon DSLR sales are lagging, and Nikon is frantically looking for additional options to boost sales.  

Why is this?  There are two main reasons.  First, the advancement of mirrorless technology is incredibly rapid, with new models coming out seemingly every month.  Image quality for most photographers and most purposes is practically indistinguishable from that which can be obtained from prosumer and advanced DSLRs, particularly those with crop sensors. (Landscape photographers will vehemently argue this point, and for that specialty, they're probably right.)

But the main advantage is size and weight.  For example, if I were to replace my Canon gear with the same focal length range in Fuji gear, I would buy a Fuji XT1, along with a 10-24, and the eagerly awaited 18-135 zoom lens, and be done with it.  That would cut my size and weight budget by 80%.  80%!  I would kill for that, especially after nearly stroking out at the chateau.  No more rolling luggage, no risk of hernia, and no more monopod; just a small shoulder bag that weighs maybe five pounds.

So why the heck not?  Why do I not have this rig right now??  If it's good enough for David Hobby, Zack Arias, Bill Fortney and a host of photographers infinitely more talented than me, what's holding me back?

In short, I need the reach and the speed of the Canon glass, which no mirrorless system currently offers.  As a performing arts photographer, I live in low light.  I rarely have the luxury of shooting below 1600 ISO, and often need to get upwards of 6400 ISO.  Even at these elevated ranges, I still need fast glass (e.g. f/2.8) to get exposures as fast as 1/125, which is the minimum needed to freeze singing faces, or 1/320 for dancers in motion.  Mirrorless systems like the Fuji can give me that.  But in a performance venue other than a rock concert or jazz festival, I cannot approach the stage; I need to stand off and use a 200mm lens to get the faces I need.  And that's the killer right there.

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So there are four elements that combine to give me the shots I need: high ISO, fast lenses, telephoto reach, and reasonably fast shutter speeds.  With my Canon gear, I have all four.  With the current state of mirrorless systems, I can pick any two, sometimes three.  But I can't get all four.  So guys like me crave a fast  telephoto lens in a mirrorless form factor.  But will it ever be available?  It may be that the physics of lens design make it impossible to fit all of the optics required to achieve a fast telephoto in a form factor that fits with the mirrorless aesthetic; I don't know.  

I do know that I love my Canon gear.  I'll probably never replace it for most of the performing arts assignments I have.  But for performance photography that involves travel, I'm hoping that someday, I'll be able to truly travel light. As it is, that Fuji kit I mentioned above is burning a hole in my psyche. 

THIS JUST IN!  On the day I posted this blog entry (tonight) Fuji has just announced a 50-140mm f/2.8 lens, to be released toward the end of this year.  Must have….

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swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) Events Portraits Travel https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2014/7/traveling-light-working-heavy Fri, 25 Jul 2014 07:03:27 GMT
Things are Gonna Get Real Busy https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2014/6/things-are-gonna-get-real-busy I haven't posted anything on the blog since March, as things around here have been pretty hectic, including several quick turnaround jobs for Santa Margarita Catholic High School and a wonderful choir trip to Spain with a great group from Tesoro High School.  Well, things are going to get a lot busier during the month of June, with 14 days of shooting, including five days of dance portraits, seven days of recital rehearsals and performances, plus two nights of choral performance work.  The dance and recital shoots will each require about three days of non-stop culling and editing, plus print order fulfillment.  By my math, that means 29 days of full-tilt project work, a few hours after which I hop a red-eye to Europe to join the Monte Vista High School (Danville, CA) choir on a performance tour to London, Paris, Florence and Rome, with performances in Notre Dame, St. Peter's Basilica, and the Sistine Chapel.

So I'm taking a few minutes to post some images from yesterday's dance portrait shoot at Pacific Ballet Conservatory, the first of two weekend shoots there.  I brought a new, very large Studio Dynamics backdrop, which I unrolled for the first time at the dance studio.  It's so big (12' x 30') I have no room at home to even look at it.  Why so big?  I want the ability to move the subject far enough away from the back of the backdrop to enable me to control the light on the subjects independently of the backdrop.  I did that to some extent on Sunday, and I like the way it turns out.  But there are other reasons for picking the photos I've selected to show here.

Sometimes a costume makes a huge difference in how a dancer looks.  This is Carol, who has great technique and a real stage presence about her.  But this brilliant blue dress flows with an elegance that accentuates Carol's technique, and provides a dimension to the photograph that other costumes might not.

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 The same is true with the photo below of Kendra, whose form and technique are augmented by the same blue dress.

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My lighting approach for weekend-long dance studio shoots has to be broad and flexible, because I need to be able to shoot individual dancers ranging from very young, inexperienced children to accomplished and technically proficient older dancers.  I also need to shoot groups as large as 20+ dancers, followed immediately by individuals, with no time to change the lighting grid.  So one way I can adapt to rapidly changing subjects is to design the grid to selectively use the lights.  The change that makes the most immediate difference is to either kill or drastically reduce the fill light, which is placed on axis with the camera and is used to provide lighting for the backdrop and to open up shadows on the opposite side of the key light.  Then, by placing the dancer either in or just behind the spread of the key light, I can get some dynamic images primarily lit with the back rim lights placed at a 45-degree angle behind the dancers.  You can't light a five year-old with this, but a proficient dancer certainly benefits from this approach.  Here is Amanda, lit by the feathered rear edge of the key light, plus the rims:

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And here's Jenny, lit similarly. The feathered edge of the key light, combined with the right rear rim defines her jaw and neckline.

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I really like it when a dancer wants to try something new.  I often tell them that the best photographs are usually made with dancers doing something relatively simple but executed perfectly.  But when a good dancer wants to try something new for her, I'm certainly game.  Here's Carol again, trying this move, and nailing it on the fourth take.

_09A4509_09A4509 I also really like it when a young dancer who is new to me takes the set and just kills it.  This is Makenzie, and this is her first frame in front of my camera.

_09A4555_09A4555 Seriously, her first frame.  So later she comes in and gives me this, again, on her first frame.

_09A4667_09A4667 Can't believe it...

On a long day, things can get a bit routine, shuttling in dancer after dancer.  So sometimes I look for other opportunities to make a picture with some impact, something out of the ordinary, something not designed to be "perfect" dance form.  Often it's of younger dancers.  Here's Rachel, trying to decide which pose she'd like to do next.

_09A4683_09A4683 This is totally candid, and not to take anything away from Rachel's dancing ability, this was her best picture of the day.  Everything from her facial expression to the curve of her foot tell a story.  There is always a place in the family archive for images like these.

Sometimes you create these looks.  This is absolutely posed, but with no technique to worry about, it's a lot more natural, especially for a youngster like Ivey.

_09A4950_09A4950 This is what you do late in the day when you, the photographer, try to decide what pose to try next….

Finally, here's Mackenzie, tying up her pointe shoes.  This shot has been made thousands of times with variations by just about every dance photographer. So I finally jumped in that pool.  She had no idea I snapped this one off, but she liked it a lot and wanted it in black and white.

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So, back now to culling, editing, order fulfillment, and the wheel goes around and around.  That's June for me.  Back after Europe.

 

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swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) Dance Portraits https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2014/6/things-are-gonna-get-real-busy Tue, 03 Jun 2014 00:06:31 GMT
Emily https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2014/3/emily _09A3116 edited 8x10_09A3116 edited 8x10 Back about ten months ago, I posted a tutorial on how to achieve three different looks from one headshot lighting grid.  This past week, Emily came over to update her headshot portfolio to submit to her agent for occasional work.  Based on Emily's requirements, I decided that the same basic approach would work well for her, with a little tweak.  In May, with Halley, I decided to warm things up just a bit, and to render the white background significantly below clipping, but still apparently white, or nearly so.  For Emily, I wanted just a touch under "blow out" white, so there would be no question as to the color of the background.  As always, I flagged the two speed lights lighting the background, to prevent any kind of blowback from robbing the subject of contrast.  And in keeping with that decision, I wanted to open things up a bit more, and cool things down just a bit, and present Emily in a bright, snappy light, perfect for her skin tone and choice of wardrobe.  So this is about 1/3 stop brighter than Halley, and the same 1/3 stop over my Sekonic meter reading of the beauty dish-mounted Qflash.

Although we started out with a portrait orientation, I also showed Emily and her mom what a landscape orientation could do for her.  In this particular frame, however, I manufactured the 10x8 aspect ratio by adding "canvas" to the right of the edited, retouched photo above, matching color, and recropping.

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From there, Emily changed her shirt and we moved on.

_09A3137 edited 8x10_09A3137 edited 8x10 This look, achieved by having Emily simply cross her arms across her chest, has the natural effect of causing her to lean back a bit and drop her right shoulder.  Normally, I wouldn't recommend anyone leaning back for a portrait.  Rather, you want the subject to project the face forward, by leaning forward over the belt, actually more than the subject would normally find comfortable.  In a photo, however, it projects strength and accentuates the jawline.  Here, with Emily leaning back, it's a more relaxed look, and her classic facial structure, lit carefully with the beauty dish, takes care of the jawline just fine.

Next, we simply switched off the backdrop lights, letting the white backdrop go gray.  I love the flexibility of using a white backdrop, whether muslin (as here) or seamless paper.  I also like it when the client sees how simply turning off the backdrop lights creates a totally different look.  No other changes to the key light or camera settings were made.

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And finally, we turn the white backdrop around to the black side, take it off the stand, and move it to Emily's right side.  I move my position to Emily's left side, leaving the light just as it is.  The look is now radically different, but just as beautiful.

_09A3156 edited 8x10_09A3156 edited 8x10 At this point, it's all about expression and mood, and minor facial changes and orientation toward or away from the light make all the difference.

_09A3160 edited 8x10_09A3160 edited 8x10 Emily and her mom came in with the expectation of getting something akin to the first look above.  In the end, they chose all of these.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

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swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) Portraits https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2014/3/emily Sun, 23 Mar 2014 22:36:29 GMT
And Now for Something Completely Different: A Geology Question Asked and Answered https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2013/11/and-now-for-something-completely-different-a-geology-question-asked-and-answered _DSF0764_DSF0764

Karen and I had the brilliant idea to spend a nice weekend in Tucson, Arizona, watching the Ducks of the University of Oregon defeat the Wildcats of the University of Arizona on their march to the Pac-12 championship.  It would be a mild, sunny weekend in the desert capped by a big Oregon win.  Too bad that I'd have to miss a chance of a lifetime to photograph the great Al Jarreau performing at the McKinney Theater at Saddleback College, but choices had to be made.  Well, crap, if it didn't turn out to be a major embarrassment for the Ducks, who got hammered 42-16, knocking them out of the BCS championship consideration, the Pac-12 championship, and quarterback Marcus Mariota from any consideration for the Heisman Trophy.  And it wasn't a mild, sunny weekend either, until we got the hell outta Dodge.

 

Which brings me to the La Posta Pluton, which rises like a wall from the eastern edge of the Coachella Valley as you come westward on Interstate 8 into San Diego County along the Imperial County line.  Or conversely, it forms the backbone of the mountains east of San Diego, home to a half dozen Indian casinos and the troops from the Border Patrol.  My first exposure to this weird and wonderful geology was in high school 40+ years ago, when my church group spent a Spring Break week helping to build a one-room schoolhouse just across the border into Mexico from the tiny town of Jacumba.  We stayed in Jacumba and walked the hundred yards or so across the border into Mexico every morning to build the school.  My fondest memory of that trip was a communal dinner prepared for us one evening by the local Mexicans, including a stew of chicken complete with feet (chicken).  Today, there's no way to walk across the border, which is hermetically sealed off by that giant metal wall, equipped with forests of communication infrastructure, and Jeep-mounted Border Patrol agents who eye you warily, because after all, there's no reason for anyone to go to Jacumba anymore.  Except, perhaps, to explore the geology of the La Posta Pluton.

When you come along I-8 from either direction approaching the vicinity of Jacumba, the landscape turns magical.  The mountains are no longer forested by scrub (from the west) or tamarisk and cactus (from the east).  Instead, the mountains are literally covered with giant, weathered granite boulders.  Millions and millions of boulders.  The kind of boulders you might expect to see along alluvial river banks draining the San Gabriels, the San Bernardinos, or the eastern escarpment of the Sierra Nevada.  But these boulders have not been deposited by alluvial runoff.  They occupy steep slopes from the bottom of the mountains to the very tops.

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It's as if they were scattered along the tops of the mountains like chopped nuts on a hot fudge sundae.  How can that be?  Boulders don't roll uphill. And if you examine a road cut, of which there are many along this stretch of I-8, you see that the underlying layers of granitic rock are (more or less) solid.

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I had to figure this out.

Fortunately, Karen and I stumbled upon one of those roadside "attractions" that are so unique to the desert southwest: this one by the name of the Desert View Tower.  Built in the earliest decade of the 20th Century, Desert View Tower was meant to be a visual reward for travelers who made the arduous trip over the mountains or across the desert and up through the maze of rocks.  For those heading west, it was a memory of what they had endured; for those heading east, it must have been a warning of things to come.  But for me, Desert View Tower was the answer to my question, "how did those rocks get there?"

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As we wandered around this property, complete with rocks painted to resemble animals, a guy selling handmade knives, and assorted other memorabilia, I wound up talking with the current owner of the place (I wish I got his name, but unfortunately I didn't).  He told me the story of the La Posta Pluton.  And as someone who's had a lifelong interest in geology, it made perfect sense to me.

This region lies astride the San Andreas Fault, the border of the North American Plate (seen in the far distance in the photo at the top of this post) and the Pacific Plate, on which we stand.  As we know from Geology 1, the Pacific Plate is subducting under the North American Plate, except that along the California coast, it has largely been stopped in its subduction, and instead is grinding past the stable craton of the rest of the USA, and is moving more or less steadily north.  That grinding is the work of the strike-slip fault known as the San Andreas.

Where the fault erupted, approximately 100 million years ago (give or take a few million), some pieces of the North American and Pacific Plates broke off the main basoliths and subducted down into the hot mantle below.  This molten rock then "burped" back up in the form of a chain of plutons running roughly from Riverside down into Baja California, of which the La Posta is the largest.  A pluton is a belch of rock emerging from below, cooling as it heads back up the tectonic equivalent of an esophagus. It's not a volcanic eruption of molten lava.  Rather, in effect, the earth hacks up a mountain, or in this case 1700 square kilometers of mountain.  The mineralogy of the pluton is complex, but basically it's granitic, and not especially dense.  It's easily worn down.  So the processes of erosion by wind and weather over eons have stripped much of the sand and softer elements and sent them eastward to the dirt bikers, ATV riders, and other denizens of the desert of Imperial County, leaving what are now boulders in place.

 

With the answers to my questions in hand, Karen and I left Desert View Tower, as the late afternoon sun rapidly faded to twilight.  The place got cold and eerily silent.  At the base of the entrance, we found the perfect accompaniment to Desert View Tower: "Coyote's Flying Saucer Retrievals and Repairs Service".  The only thing missing were the all-seeing eyes of the Border Patrol.

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swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) Landscape Travel https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2013/11/and-now-for-something-completely-different-a-geology-question-asked-and-answered Mon, 25 Nov 2013 09:04:10 GMT
My First Exposure to Wheelchair Tennis https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2013/11/my-first-exposure-to-wheelchair-tennis _09A7591_09A7591

Several weeks ago, I was asked by Steve Bell, Community Services Manager for the City of Mission Viejo, to provide official photography services to the City for its upcoming wheelchair tennis tournament.  Well, I've never shot tennis before, I said to myself, but hey, how tough could it be?  I shoot dance pretty well, and am reasonably competent at high school football, so I know how to capture peak action.  I have that going for me.  Plus, these athletes would be in wheelchairs, so following them shouldn't be all that difficult, right?  

Little did I know at that time that these 38 men and women would be world-class athletes who happen to be in wheelchairs, and that if given the opportunity, they could beat the pants off you without breaking a sweat.  I didn't know at the time that these athletes compete at Wimbledon, at Roland Garros in Paris, at the US Open, and other elite venues around the globe.  I didn't know that the NEC Wheelchair Tennis Masters and the ITF Wheelchair Tennis Doubles that I would be shooting are considered Grand Slam events in the wheelchair tennis world, and that tennis organizations around the world would want my photos, pronto.  In short, I didn't know anything.

Eight days after the tournament began, I ended my work proud, happy, and exhausted, but most of all, blessed.  Covering this event was one of my most fond photographic experiences, one which enabled me to exercise my best skills, learn new ones, and best of all, just be with these amazing athletes and the people who help promote their sport.

 

Just to get the technical stuff out of the way, this is how the week went.  In addition to covering the two draw parties (singles and doubles), I covered all matches I could (I missed the Friday night matches due to other commitments).  Until the Finals, there were usually two, three, or four matches going on at once, so I had to bounce back and forth between them.  I sat in a very low folding three-legged stool at the net across from the umpire, enabling me to swing right or left to focus on one or more players.  I knew that shooting low would be absolutely necessary to capture the best angles.  The last thing I wanted to do was to shoot down on these athletes.  I found the most versatile lens in my bag to be the 70-200 f/2.8 IS L, and stuck with it for all of the matches, pulling out my 24-70 for some portraits, and the 24-105 for the Finals awards ceremonies.  (On a couple of occasions, the local paper sent out photographers to cover the event.  They'd bring 300-400mm bazookas and wind up standing at the top of the bleachers to get a single player in the frame. One guy even brought a 1200mm behemoth. I have no idea what he thought he'd get with that thing.)  Each day, I'd shoot anywhere from 800 to 1500 images, go home, and spend about 6 hours culling, editing, and pushing the selected images to the International Tennis Federation, the United States Tennis Association, the City of Mission Viejo, and various paralympic organizations in Canada and Europe.  These were 18 hour days, and I operated with very little sleep for a week.

Once I got over my initial shock at the spectacle before my lens (the shot of number one-ranked Shingo Kunieda above was one of my very first frames), I settled in to work on the goals I had set out for myself as I planned for my coverage.  

 

Convey Motion

It's pretty obvious that wheelchair tennis would involve motion, just as able-bodied tennis does.  What impressed me right off the bat was the speed and dexterity these athletes brought to the game.  The best of them hit just as hard as anyone else can, and that means getting from one place on the court to another with speed, and stopping just as quickly.  So conveying speed and motion were actually pretty easy to do.  For me there was no compromise between freezing motion and conveying motion (which is usually captured by slow shutter speeds); I opted to freeze the action and let the athlete's body positions convey motion as in the frames below:

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A side note to this:  Consider the strain on the back muscles of these athletes, who are strapped and immobilized in their chairs, putting all the torque on their back as they push, pull, twist, turn, reach, hit (violently hard), and react.  It has to be more straining than an able-bodied tennis player who can move his or her lower body.

 

Convey Emotion

A good sports image needs to convey not only the action, but the athlete's reaction to the action, either in the intensity of the moment itself, or immediately after.  (There's a different category here, the jubilation [or "jube" as sports shooters call it] of a great shot or victory and we'll get to that later.)  Facial expressions during play can convey the joy or difficulty of competition, the energy required to compete at this level, or other factors.  So I needed to be aware of these, search them out, and compose the finished image to place focus on them:

_09A1648_09A1648 _09A1995_09A1995 _09A2177_09A2177 _09A3300_09A3300 _09A6041_09A6041

 

Show the Sponsors

The organizers and sponsors of an event like this are paying you to bring back great shots.  But for them, what makes a good shot great is when you incorporate their logo into the frame.  Fortunately, the two main courts were ringed with sponsor logos (though other courts weren't).  So putting the logo into a photo wasn't exactly difficult.  The best shots, however, were a blend of great action, the athlete's emotion, and careful placement of both against the backdrop of the sponsor's logo.  You can't plan for this kind of thing, but when it happens, you'd better be able to get it.  This is where experience in anticipating peak action really helps.  It also helps to pull back a bit, to give yourself some room to crop effectively in the finished image.

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Catch a Break

Here's a category that absolutely can't be anticipated, but it's wonderful when it happens.  An interesting framing of a body part in the composition, something that only a super fast exposure can catch, or some other anomaly can turn an ordinary photo into an eye-catching image.  Sports Illustrated runs these all the time, and while I have no illusions that my captures are worthy of SI, it's great when you get them.

Lucy Shuker and Marjolein Buis have their eyes on the ball:

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I don't think I could have asked Maikel Scheffers to frame his head within the racket as perfectly as this:

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An exposure of 1/2500th of a second froze the fuzz being knocked off the ball by Joaquim Gerard:

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Catch the "Jube"

This one's so easy, but also easy to miss, as many photographers do when they stop shooting when the crucial play is over.  Sometimes the most compelling images are made after the play, as the athlete celebrates his or her accomplishment with jubilation.

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Wipeouts

Here's a category I was totally unprepared for when I first started.  I quickly gained an appreciation of the speed and agility of these wheelchair-bound athletes, but it took me by surprise when I saw how fearlessly they pursued a volley, even when it meant a certain crash into the fence.  They're strapped into their chairs, and at that point, they're pretty much passengers.  But they get back up quickly, as if nothing happened.  At one instance (on a court other than the one I was covering at that particular moment) one of the competitors actually came out of the chair; I'm not sure I wanted to see that.  But these frames show the commitment they have to getting the point.

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This one was a near rollover by Michael Jeremiasz during his match point victory in the Men's Doubles Final:

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Make Some Portraits

I guess, at bottom, I'm a portrait guy.  As the tournament progressed, and I had made thousands of images, I began to focus more and more on the faces of the athletes and others associated with the sport who were there.  Some of the images made during the matches almost rise to the level of portraits.  For them, I ignored the goal of sponsor inclusion and got in very tight, either by cropping in camera, or after in post.  As the best sports shooters will tell you, "Get in tight, and when you do, get in tighter."

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Others were made with specific portraiture in mind.  Here's David Hall, six-time World Champion from Australia, whom I posed seriously (he's not a very serious guy) to show off his artwork:

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Brad Parks is credited with inventing the game of wheelchair tennis in 1976.  He joined David Hall on one of the side courts for a few minutes of friendly banter and volleys. _09A5288_09A5288

One of the more interesting people at the tournament was Mike Box, who builds custom wheelchairs.  He was there to provide repair and maintenance services for the athletes.  He would work on their chairs right there on the court, where I first saw him, or in an EZ Up shelter away from the crowds, where I made this portrait during the "blue hour" after the sun went down on Saturday:

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The clear crowd favorite of the tournament was San Diego's David Wagner, defending Quad Champion.  Several family members and friends were enthusiastically supporting David, including his grandmother, sporting a larger-than-life-size cutout of David's face.

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It has taken me about three days to recover from this project.  But was it ever worth it!  The City of Mission Viejo, particularly Steve Bell and Jason Harnett, did a masterful job of planning and organizing the event, with extensive support from the rest of the City family and community volunteers.   I heard many unsolicited comments from the players how much they enjoyed competing in Mission Viejo and the support that was offered to them in transportation, lodging, food, and other needs of daily life.  I hope the event comes back to Mission Viejo next year, and that I'll have another opportunity to play a part in it. Now, the challenge will be to bring this exciting sport to the general public, and fill those stands!

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swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) Sports https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2013/11/my-first-exposure-to-wheelchair-tennis Fri, 15 Nov 2013 20:12:18 GMT