Steve Wylie Photography: Blog https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog en-us (C) Steve Wylie Photography swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) Tue, 02 Jun 2020 04:33:00 GMT Tue, 02 Jun 2020 04:33:00 GMT https://stevewyliephotography.com/img/s/v-12/u141651050-o687112783-50.jpg Steve Wylie Photography: Blog https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog 120 120 Porch Portraits Under COVID 19 Restrictions https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2020/6/porch-portraits-under-covid-19-restrictions March 4, 2020 was the last photographic assignment I had before the imposition of stay at home orders in light of the novel Coronavirus pandemic.  As the overwhelming majority of my work is in service to high schools and dance studios, with their closures came cancellations of concerts, theatre productions, dance concerts and recitals, and just about everything else. For twelve weeks I had no commissioned work to do.

One of the things I do each year for Santa Margarita Catholic High School's Talon Theatre program is to produce cast and crew members' headshots in support of their spring musical.  Each year, these headshots are also used to create commemorative lanyards worn by family members during performances, and serve as mementos of these students' high school careers in theatre.  To create these headshots, I bring in lights and a backdrop to build a studio environment in the school's black box theatre or in a classroom, wherever I can find the space.  But with the closure of the school and the implementation of distance learning, setting up a studio environment for the students to cycle through became impossible.

To address this situation, I volunteered to set up a schedule to travel to each student's home, to photograph each participating student in costume for this year's production of "Into the Woods" somewhere in the exterior of the student's home.  The idea came to me via a community of dance photographers during a Zoom conference, during which one enterprising photographer described her idea to photograph dancers in costume on their front porch while she (the photographer) sat in her car at the curb.  Although that was a bit extreme, the obvious goal would be to photograph the student while maintaining social distance.  That's pretty easy to achieve.  Because each student's home would be different, and I wanted to make these photographs with a minimum of equipment (just a Fuji X-Pro2 camera and a choice of two lenses [35mm f/1.4 or 56mm f/1.2], depending on the distance and environment presented), the one criterion I insisted on was to photograph the students in open shade.  This produced two distinct benefits.  First and foremost, open shade would provide even, soft light on the subjects, without harsh, contrasty sunlight or the need for additional modification by off-camera flash, scrims, reflectors, or anything else.  Second, the photographs straight from the camera would be usable without significant post production edits in Lightroom or Photoshop.  My preference at the outset was to use front doors as background and framing devices, unless something else at the home presented a more compelling backdrop.

The obvious theme of this approach was to provide photographic documentation of the unprecedented (and hopefully never repeated) circumstance of the pandemic's affect on the production and the students themselves.  The lanyards, consisting as they do of headshots and related graphics, would be the primary deliverable.  But at the same time, I wanted to create a series of portraits, again in costume, but with the students wearing protective masks.  The themes of these "mask portraits" were twofold: to convey the emotions experienced by the students who have been deprived of two months of "normal" school during the closure, or to show something about how the students have adapted to the stay-at-home restriction in pursuit of their hobbies or other activities they enjoy.  Either theme would work, depending on the student's desire.

To create these portraits, I traveled over eight days to disparate locations in south Orange County, putting on nearly 400 miles on my car (which surprised me greatly). At the end of the process, I saved approximately 70 photos. I'm very pleased with the results.  Here are some samples of the portraits for the lanyards:

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The photo above was made at the front door of this student's home.  The unique feature of this location was the roof over the walkway leading to the front door (providing shade), with an open courtyard immediately out of frame on the right, providing strong yet still soft, directional light.  A wall to camera left provided bounce fill to open shadows on that side of her face.  The result was nearly perfect Rembrandt light on her face.

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And here are a handful of the "mask portraits".  The emotions ranged from sadness, to strength, to abject boredom at being confined to home.

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There was one photo I had in mind before I arrived at this home.  Two actors, brother and sister, sitting for a "formal" family portrait.

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I asked several students, "How do you spend your time at home, when you're not doing school work and unable to hang out with your friends?"  Here are some of the results: 

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Each visit to the students' home generally lasted no more than 15 minutes.  I was careful to emphasize the need to determine what time of day would present  the home (preferably the front porch area) in open shade.  That enabled me to get in and out relatively quickly, with results I could use almost straight from the camera.  The only edits to these were to eliminate small distractions that might be present in the background, typically less than a minute's work.

Scheduling and travel were the biggest challenge in completing this project.  Photographically, it was a piece of cake, and I think all of us enjoyed the experience.  My only regret was that this talented cast, crew, and faculty advisors couldn't bring the production to the stage for a live performance before an appreciative audience.

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swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2020/6/porch-portraits-under-covid-19-restrictions Tue, 02 Jun 2020 04:33:13 GMT
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:

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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
Nick Colionne, Eight Ways https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2013/7/nick-colionne-eight-ways _09A9144

 

It's been several weeks (months?) since my last blog post; Spring is my most busy season, what with dance studio portraits, multi-performance dance concerts, and other end-of-school year projects.  I'm still working through over 300 portraits from one of my dance studio clients.  But sometimes a guy just has to take a break and do something for sheer fun.  For me, it's photographing live music, and most often, it's at one of KSBR's "Gary and Kelly Show" broadcasts from the Norman P. Murray Center in Mission Viejo. Today's show featured Nick Colionne, who pretty much blew the roof off the place, as we all knew he would.

I've posted several images from previous outings at the Murray Center, and I have a gallery on the website solely devoted to artists photographed there.  I've also discussed at some length the strategies needed to produce good images at this venue, primarily the need to shoot from the sides into the dark voids in what would otherwise be wings if this were a legit stage.  Otherwise, shooting from the front toward the back produces utterly distracting and unmanageable backdrops to the artists, due to bright windows covered in sheer draperies lit by colored gels.  Looks okay to the naked eye, but in photographs, no.  I've also commented on the limited shooting angles here, necessitated by avoiding conflicts with the video crew and the audience members.  Some of these shooting angles are measured literally in inches.  Constrained as these angles are, photographs can tend to take on similar looks, and thus, become repetitive and boring, no matter how talented the artists are.

So lately I've turned to different post processing techniques to try to give fresh looks to otherwise repetitive compositions.  I've found several I like, and will use them depending on the mood of the shot.  These techniques are primarily based in Lightroom, my first stop in the post production process.  Next comes a trip to Photoshop for more detailed or localized adjustments not possible in Lightroom, especially getting rid of distracting background elements.  Finally, I'll employ one or more plug-ins from Nik Color Efex Pro if the mood of the shot would benefit from them.

Today, Nick Colionne provided opportunities to make use of many of these techniques.  Colionne hails from Chicago, and was introduced to the music scene at a very early age.  He auditioned and toured with the Staples Singers at the age of fifteen.  His mom wanted him to play like Wes Montgomery.  Dad wanted him to emulate the style of Kenny Burrell.  Nick himself preferred Jimi Hendrix.  Today, you can see all three of these influences in Nick, both musically and visually.  (My first photograph of Nick Colionne, made at the 2013 KSBR Birthday Bash, immediately struck me as channeling Jimi Hendrix, before learning of Hendrix's influence on Nick.  It's the photo at the top of this post.)

So today, we saw and heard each of these musical influences, which created visual moments captured on the sensor of my Canon 5D Mark III.  These moments can be characterized, in the words of Jay Maisel, in terms of light, gesture, and color.  Together, they create a mood, which leads me in certain directions.  Sometimes I want to tone things down, while at other times I want to jack 'em up.  

So here's Nick Colionne, captured and processed eight ways.

This image has relatively little post-processing.  The lighting today, for some reason, rendered more yellow/red and contrasty than in previous broadcasts, so color correction and reduction in vibrance was applied globally to all of the images.  This had the unfortunate result of washing out some of the blue in Nick's suit and hat. But it provides a baseline for further adjustments depending on the composition and mood of the frame.

As Nick's performance gets edgier, so too does my interpretation. More liberal application of mid-tone contrast (clarity), and less vibrance gives the shot a bit more "grit".

Then, as Nick does a vocal performance, his mood softens.  A brief guitar riff between vocal passages produces an inward-focused moment.  I look for these moments as they, too, tell a story.  For me, they call for a softer, less aggressive approach.  A subtle application of the "Midnight" filter in Color Efex Pro takes the edge off the scene, while at the same time helping to restore the blue of Nick's suit.

Here's another shot without much noticeable post-processing.  What's missing from this frame are distracting elements in the original capture, including light leaks from the gridded soft box behind Nick, and miscellaneous fixtures on the wall.  These distractions are easily removed in Photoshop.

The image above was the first one that immediately caught my eye.  The combination of light flare on the headstock of the guitar and Nick's facial expression led me to hit the Lightroom sliders hard.  Boosting contrast, clarity, and vibrance restored color intensity that was threatened by the flare.  At the same time, the flare is the key element of the mood of the photograph.

This image is one where the mood is contemplative, but not downbeat.  It called for a light touch.  A slight boost in clarity, offset by reduction in vibrance to reduce redness in the skin, produced a more natural result than the camera's internal engine did.

Back to higher energy, both in terms of Nick's performance, as well as the clutter of visual elements in the frame.  This is one of those shots where the shooting angle is so constrained.  As a result, the image is a jumble of colors, lines, and shapes.  Perhaps not the most immediately accessible frame, but it's still one I like, primarily due to Nick's facial expression.  So I went with it, boosting contrast, clarity and vibrance again.  I left in some of the elements I would normally clone out, such as the light leaks and red label on the video soft box behind Nick.

Here's the final frame of the day, made in the final moment of Nick's final song.  This image is clean, focusing solely on Nick, his expression, and his interaction with the audience.  What it doesn't have are: a headless portion of host Gary Bergeson behind Nick, unrecognizable foliage from the background at the upper left of the frame, portions of a desk at the bottom of the frame behind Nick, and a half-wall of purple color above a black fabric used to flag off stray light behind the desk.  Each of these distracting elements were removed in Photoshop, not by the use of selections and extractions, but by careful cloning away of each separate piece of visual junk.  And although the final result is devoid of any contextual elements present in the other photos, the starkness of Nick's expression, and his engagement with the unseen audience, is a more powerful representation of this very talented individual.  Would this treatment work in all cases, with every artist?  Probably not.  But for Nick Colionne?  Most definitely.

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swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) KSBR Musicians Portraits https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2013/7/nick-colionne-eight-ways Sun, 14 Jul 2013 09:55:02 GMT
The Fashion Show https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2013/5/the-fashion-show Every once in a while I get to do something I've never done before.  A few weeks ago, I was asked to volunteer my services in support of the Santa Margarita Catholic High School Mothers Club annual fund-raising senior fashion show.  Well, I've never shot a runway fashion show before, so I said, "Why not?"  As it turned out, I joined dozens of Santa Margarita students who also had never done anything like this before as well.  Together, it was a fun ride.

The show had previously been staged in the school gymnasium, but this year, the organizing committee of the Mothers Club was able to secure the services of a professional fashion show producer, James Campbell, and the use of the neighboring San Francisco Solano Church Parish Hall, which was still under construction when rehearsals began.  So the group conducted its first rehearsals in the courtyard outside the church.  Most of the kids had no clue what they were doing (and some were wondering why they had been volunteered into doing this).

_MG_0482 First lessons included how to walk like a runway model.

_MG_0506 It was easier for some to grasp than for others...

_MG_0587 The guys were even talked into learning some choreography, to Justin Timberlake's new release, "Suit and Tie", a perfect piece.  The guys' ability to pick up the choreography....not so perfect.

_MG_0609 _MG_0640 Eventually, things began to shape up.

_09A1594 _09A1642 Though there were always a few that just didn't quite get it.  if it was a guy, he was subjected to good natured ridicule from guys who probably just squeeked by themselves....

_09A1648 As the show neared, the kids finally got to move into the new Parish Hall for two final rehearsals.

_09A2529 _09A2654

The day before the show, the crews came in and transformed the Parish Hall into a full-fledged fashion show venue, complete with elevated runway and wings to create entry and exit points.  The lighting crew erected a scaffold filled with LED lighting focused on the runway, which would be my shooting position.  The power required for this rig pretty much taxed the load designed into the building, preventing the producers from bringing all the light they were used to.  But things were rapidly coming together, which was a good thing, as the show was just 24 hours away.  You could see the progress that the producers and the kids had made.

_09A5123

 

Sunday was show day.  The event began with a boutique and a luncheon.  To give some insight into the behind-the-scenes activities of the day, I like to shoot details of things like the clothing and food prep.

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The event was catered by Dave Hanna, owner of Hanna's Prime Steak in Rancho Santa Margarita.  Not only is Hanna's the best restaurant in town, but Dave Hanna has got to be the most active businessman in town when it comes to supporting charitable activities.  Here's Dave pausing during the morning rush to speak with guests.

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After lunch, the show began.  It was at this point that I realized that the big white void above the back of the runway was actually a video screen, showing the logos of the merchants who provided the models' clothing.  Unfortunate for me, because I had dialed in a shutter speed of 1/125 or 1/160 of a second to freeze the models as they walked down the runway.  That shutter speed was way faster than the video image cycling.  The result was unacceptable color banding across the video screen.  I would eventually have to desaturate the video screen in Photoshop, rendering it essentially in black and white.  Occasionally, I was able to save some color.  But the focus was on the models, who now walked the runway with confidence and poise.  The audience was blown away.  From my vantage point, so was I.  It was great to have a bunch of dads around me, marveling at their sons doing something they'd never imagined they'd ever do.

_09A6339 _09A6446 _09A6477 The girls rocked it!

_09A6528 _09A6644 _09A6687 _09A6718 _09A6775 Even the guys' choreography looked sharp.

_09A6894 The merchants' part of the show concluded with some formal wear.

_09A6979 _09A6990 _09A7029 Finally, a parade of graduating seniors in their soon-to-be college sweatshirts.  

_09A7068 _09A7159 _09A7177

All in all, it was a great day for everyone.

2013 Fashion Show Cast-2

 

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swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) Events https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2013/5/the-fashion-show Mon, 06 May 2013 23:40:45 GMT
One Lighting Setup, Three Looks https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2013/5/one-lighting-setup-three-looks Here's a quick tip on getting three different looks from one lighting grid, without moving a single light.

Today I received another urgent request for a quick headshot for a young dancer, Halley, who has been accepted into a fashion show/dance competition.  She needed the headshot for the event program.  So it was time to set up the Qflash in the Kacey beauty dish as a key light, with a collapsible white muslin backdrop lit by two speed lights.  The speed lights are unmodified, except for flipping down the built-in wide angle diffuser and attaching a velcro'd Honl Speed Gobo to flag off the light from spilling onto the subject.  

The hardest part of this setup is getting even light across the backdrop with the two speed lights.  I place each one about two feet outside the backdrop, about one to two feet in front of it, each one twisted vertically and aimed across to the opposite edge of the backdrop.  This cross lighting, aimed properly, provides fairly even lighting across the entire backdrop.  It requires multiple tweaks to get the coverage even.  I check it first by using my light meter at various places on the backdrop.  I then examine the coverage more closely by using the highlight clipping warnings on the LCD of the camera.  With a constant ISO of 200, a shutter speed of 1/160 and aperture at f/8, adjusting the power levels and aiming the flashes will eventually trigger clipping across the entire sweep.  Stopping down the aperture incrementally will reveal where the clipping drops off.  From there, more careful aiming can reveal exactly where the light is hitting the backdrop.  Once this precise aiming is complete, you can then dial up the flashes to blow out white, or leave them just below clipping, as I did here, according to your taste.

From there, the key light is placed in a clamshell configuration, centered above Halley about three or four feet in front, with a reflector below.  I first used a white foamcore fill board, then decided to decrease the lighting ratio even more by substituting a silver reflector, placed immediately out of frame below her.  With the backdrop metered at f/11 and the key light giving me 1/160 at f/8, here's the result:

 

After making several frames with this setup, the second look is achieved by simply turning off the speed lights.  The falloff from the key light renders the backdrop a darker gray.  Still at 1/160 at f/8.  No other change was made.  Here's the result:

From here, the next move is dramatic, but the lighting setup hasn't changed at all.  What has changed is the camera position.  I've moved about 120 degrees to my right. Halley is now rendered in perfect profile.  I've taken the white collapsible muslin (which has a black side on the reverse), and placed it to what was the previously the camera left side of Halley, now behind her relative to the new camera position.  That prevents spill from the beauty dish from contaminating the background.  Why 120 degrees rather than a straightforward 90 degrees?  Because at a 90 degree angle, the coverage from the beauty dish provided more illumination on Halley's cheek and hair than I wanted.  From my position at 120 degrees, and turning Halley that extra 30 degrees toward me (leaving me 90 degrees from her - a perfect profile), the light is coming from slightly behind her, wrapping around her slightly, then falling off rapidly.  The result is beautiful, and dramatically different from the look with which we began the shoot.

Still at f/8 and 1/160.  

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swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) Portraits https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2013/5/one-lighting-setup-three-looks Sun, 05 May 2013 08:07:40 GMT
The Busy Season https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2013/4/the-busy-season Some photographers (i.e. the good and famous ones), are noted for either a specialty, such as landscapes, or portraiture, weddings, sports, or whatever, while others are known for a particular style.  Then there are guys like me, who shoot everything under the sun, and hope that something sticks.  I'm being a bit hard on myself, because just about everything I shoot these days is in response to a request, whether paid or not.  So I've set myself up for this, and I'm certainly not complaining.  The point, however, is this: no matter what the assignment, whether it's a dance competition, headshots, a charity event, or family portraits, the photographer has to bring all of his or her skill, experience, and perspective to the assignment.  That doesn't mean pigeonholing the client's needs into the photographer's own "art"; it means drawing on the photographer's experience, technique, and ability to see and tell the story visually, no matter what the assignment demands.

My last blog post was in early February, and here it is in mid-April.  In the intervening weeks, I've had fourteen assignments, some requiring only a small amount of time, and others covering multiple days of shooting in high volume, with similar demands on the back end, editing and delivering the final images.

The first assignment came from the Advancement Office at Santa Margarita Catholic High School, where I volunteer my photography services on request.  This one was to cover the visit of Bishop Kevin Vann, the new Bishop of the Diocese of Orange.  Bishop Vann's visit to the school was his first public appearance in his new role, and the school was very proud to welcome him to celebrate the Mass.  This was the kind of assignment that demanded a quick turnaround, as the school and the Diocese both wanted photos as soon as possible.  This image was my favorite of the day, isolating Bishop Vann visually, with a diffused background of students in the gym.

Later that same day, I traveled to the theater at Soka University in Aliso Viejo to photograph the first Winter Showcase of the JSerra Catholic High School performing arts department.  This production featured drama, musical theatre, dance, vocal, and instrumental music.  I shot two rehearsals and the performance over a two night period.  Lots of good images came from this venue; one of my favorites was of this violin player, whom I placed in the center spotlight during a break in the rehearsal.  Normally, performance photos are "found"; this one was "made".

_MG_4062

Two days later, still in a black and white mood, I covered another live radio broadcast of the Gary and Kelly Show on KSBR, featuring pianist and composer Brian Simpson.

Brian Simpson

I picked up a new dance studio client, Center Stage Dance and Performing Arts in my hometown of Rancho Santa Margarita.  My first assignment was to photograph their Dance Team.  This engagement included photographing approximately fifteen groups and individual portraits of each dancer.  Because some of the groups were quite large, the lighting setup was intentionally broad, flat and flexible.  Not particularly artistic, but appropriate for the fast-paced progression of groups, individuals, groups, and more individuals.  So, from a photographic perspective, I can't say that this was an "artistic" result, but it was a success from the clients' point of view.  For my purposes here, the photograph presented below represented a highlight of the weekend.  This is Brooke Schulte, trying to replicate a jump attempted by a previous dancer.  In two attempts, she nailed it.  

This was a high-volume project requiring about two weeks of editing and order fulfillment.  As soon as it was completed, I was back in dance competition mode, this time at Santiago High School in Corona, one of my least favorite venues.  Why?  Because the gym floor is the darkest place in the entire gym, and it usually requires significant post processing to pull anything usable from the captures.  This time, however, there was some sunlight filtering through the windows, enabling me to get some direction to the light and better shots than on other occasions.  Empty bleachers on the other side "helped", at least in that there were no other distractions back there.

_MG_6061

Two days later, I was in mid-afternoon sun shooting 65 members of the SMCHS Pep Squad.  Shooting in mid-day sun requires careful attention to mitigating the harsh shadows cast by the sun, which at this time of day is behind the camera-right shoulders of the girls.  Filled properly, the sun angle presents a pleasing rim light; improperly filled, it could be a mess.  The challenge here is wrangling all 65 members of the squad across the chosen location, taking into consideration the placement of the individuals as well as the curvature of the group, and lighting them effectively.

2012-13 Pep Squad 8x10

The location selected for the individual portraits provided the same challenge: harsh side lighting and deep shadow on the other side of the face.  Not really a problem, though.  I asked another squad member to hold a two-stop scrim just out of frame between the sun and the subject, and filled the face with light I could control, in this case a Qflash in a socked beauty dish.  At the end of the session, I asked one of the girls, Mari Yacoubian, to take a different pose for a more casual look, but I used the same technique to diffuse  the harsh afternoon sun and fill with flash.

_MG_7527

Two days later, it was young actor headshot time.  I've photographed the St. John's Episcopal School Middle School play for the past seven years.  This year's production is "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory".  Big cast, young cast.  I tried a different approach here.  One light in a 72-inch diffused Westcott umbrella with a white seamless behind.  Placed properly, this one light gives an almost shadowless look vis-a-vis the background.  If you look closely at the catchlights in Lexi's eyes, you can see me, blocking the lower portion of the light.  

k

The very next day, it was back to high school dance competition, this time at Glendale High School for the CADTD State Championships.  I had never photographed anything at Glendale High School, so I wondered what kind of knuckleball this venue would present.  Friday night was the preliminary solo competition, held in the school auditorium rather than the gym.  Nirvanna!  No crappy gym light, no distracting gym floor or bleachers behind the dancers.  This was like studio competitions, but with no annoying competition banner behind the stage.  What could be better than that??  Here's what:  Ashley Traber of Saugus High School.  When I shot this, I knew she had nailed the leap; when I opened the image on my computer, I literally stared at it for nearly thirty minutes.  My favorite image of the year.

Well, this was the high point of the competition.  The rest of the event transpired in two gyms, one decent and one absolutely devoid of anything to work with.  I was spoiled.

I'd say that at least 75% of what I shoot involves performing arts or performers of one sort or another.  So shooting products and architecture takes me out of my comfort zone.  But for the past three years, I've shot the National Charity League Canyon Chapter's annual Home Tour.  It involves careful awareness of my own limitations of equipment (no Tilt/Shift lenses to mitigate wide angle lens distortion) and access to the properties.  So you get what you can, and concentrate on the environment, the details, and the people.

_MG_8885 _MG_9055 _MG_8898

 

Three days later, back to performances.  I've been blessed with the opportunity to photograph the Tesoro High School choral groups twice now; most recently at their Spring Concert.  For this particular engagement, Director Keith Hancock asked me to get some shots of him directing the Madrigals.  This sounds like a pretty straightforward photo, until you realize that the subjects (Keith and the singers), are facing each other, and the photographer has no angle to capture both, except in profile, and even then, with no angle to get the whole group without Keith's back to me.  Well, I got those shots, and they're competent frames.  To get them, I concentrated on the Director, timing my shutter to his instantaneous movements.  But for me, the better shot was made in the tight corner of the stage, tucked in next to the singers, during the final rehearsal.  What did I see from there?  The light on Keith's face, bounced back into it from behind him via the sheet music on his piano.  Sheet music fill light; what could be more beautiful?

_MG_9652

Two days later, it was back in mid-day sun covering the Special Olympics at SMCHS.  This was a huge event at the school, with hundreds of athletes of varying ages from all over Orange County competing in track and field events.  Lots of opportunities for good picture making.  My favorite of the day was this guy, the winner of his 50-yard dash.  It's the thrill of victory.  And as I said when I posted this shot on Facebook that day, there was no agony of defeat that day, anywhere.

Two days later, a celebration of a different kind, the commissioning of Lieutenant Sean Watson into the United States Marine Corps.  I had photographed Sean first several years ago, as he came back to St. John's as a high schooler to portray the Cat in the Hat in St. John's production of "Seussical the Musical".  Little did I know that the next time I saw him, it would be on the Janss Steps at UCLA receiving his commission.  Photographically, this was actually a tough gig.  Absolute mid-day sun (high noon), in a ceremony that lasted only five or ten minutes.  Gotta get everything and get it quickly.  Followed by portraits of family and friends, while the restaurant was holding our reservation.  No pressure there....  So after the ceremony, I asked Sean to follow me to the colonnade at the front of Royce Hall, where I could find some soft yet directional, diffused light. Three minutes and we were out of there.

_MG_0257 8x10

With all of this activity, I was a very busy guy.  But just when I completed delivery of all of these disparate projects, another one flew in over the transom.  One of my favorite dancers, Emily Justiniano, needed some senior photos quickly.  I mean, like now.  Her mom had an idea to create some cap and gown shots with Emily en pointe, so off we went to the Mission Viejo Library to place Emily in the stacks.  I had done a variation on this theme two years ago with the seniors on the SMCHS Dance Team for a calendar project, so this was an easy task.  One speedlight in a Westcott Asymmetrical Strip Bank and we had the shot.  The scholarly dancer who's going to study the human body.

_MG_0328 Emily wanted some more "traditional" senior portraits, so we went over to the windows for some casual, relaxed looks.  No lights, no reflectors, no nothin'.

_MG_0422

That night, I delivered her favorites of the day, in time to make her deadlines.

Right now, I'm smack in the middle of the busy season.  This week it's more volunteer work at SMCHS, including shots for the school's publications,  plus rehearsals and staging of a runway fashion show fundraiser and the Middle School play, all in the same week.  Then it's more portraiture, and vocal and dance concerts followed by studio dance recital season.  

I need a bigger hard drive.  And vitamins.

 

 

 

 

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swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) Dance KSBR Musicians Portraits Sports https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2013/4/the-busy-season Tue, 16 Apr 2013 06:26:06 GMT
Sophie, On a Moment's Notice https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2013/2/sophie-on-a-moments-notice Lots of good, young, ballet dancers aspire to attend summer intensive workshops put on by some of the most prestigious ballet companies in the nation.  To be accepted, the girls need to submit an application, accompanied by a photo of the dancer doing one or more ballet poses, including an arabesque, and a headshot.  Many times, a dancer (or a bunch of dancers at a studio) will simply have a mom or dad with a camera snap a frame or two at the studio and submit them with the girls' applications.  So these apparently don't need to be portfolio shots, but they get the job done.

Me?  I'm not satisfied with that approach.  I've done several of these audition sessions.  Until last night, my approach has been to set up a white backdrop, whether muslin or 12' seamless, and light the heck out of it.  Last time I did this, I set up two completely separate shooting sets, one for the dance pose and another for the headshot.  The dance pose was lit by four moonlights, including a key fitted with a big octa, a broad umbrella fill, and two accent lights in stripbanks.  The headshot was lit with a Qflash in a beauty dish augmented with two speedlights to hit the back.  Lots of setup time, but when you're shooting a dozen or more girls, the results were worth it.

So yesterday (Wednesday), I got an urgent phone call from a mom whose daughter, Sophie, needed an arabesque/headshot combo for an audition this weekend.  She needed the photos ASAP.  Uh, okay....  I'm thinking to myself, how am I going to pull this off?  No time to set up the usual grid, and I certainly don't want to set up two.  But the most important aspect is the need to have a qualified ballet instructor present to ensure that the pose is good, and that the image selected is the best one captured.  So I immediately called the studio, whose staff helped secure the assistance of one of the instructors who kindly agreed to stay after her last class to help with this.  

Knowing that the instructor would stay after class was a big relief, but the pressure to set up quickly and efficiently to not abuse her generosity weighed heavily in my thoughts on the approach I decided to take.  First off, no backdrop.  Setup time for the seamless is not long, but steaming a muslin would be out of the question.  Instead, I decided to use the environment of the studio, including the marley floor and the ballet barre as a setting.  My lights of choice: the Qflash T5DR mounted in a Photek 60" Softlighter to provide a big, soft, pillow of light.  It was set just to the left of the camera position, because I wanted to get a slight gradient effect from left to right as the light falls off.  In post, I decided that the gradient was a distraction, and a quick fix in Lightroom took care of that.  The other light was an unmodified speedlight from camera left pointing to the wall, to add a bit of spark to Sophie's face and knock down the barre shadows just a bit.  Manual mode, maybe 1/32 power.

We needed to get in and get out quickly, so I put together the Qflash and Softlighter at home and brought it to the studio already assembled. I even decided on exposure settings ahead of time: ISO 400, f/6.3 at 1/160 of a second.  I set the Qflash to give me that at around 6 feet away from Sophie. I also mounted the speedlight on a small stand at home.  On arrival, all I needed to do was mount the main light on a C stand and check the exposures of both the key and accent lights with my trusty Sekonic flash meter.  Total setup time: less than five minutes.  Call in the instructor, make about 20 frames, and here's the result:

I'll take it.  Sophie's form is good, the instructor's happy, Sophie's happy, and that's what matters.

So on to the headshot.  I brought a popup Westcott black/white reversible "Illumimator" muslin with me.  Allowing it to spring open and propping it up on the floor against the wall, it became my backdrop.  I put Sophie on a stool about two feet in front of it.  I moved the speedlight on the stand to a position immediately behind Sophie (so as not to see it), opened its zoom setting to it's widest at 14mm, aimed it at the backdrop and metered it to just clip behind her head (giving me f/16).  I then moved the Softlighter to a position about 3 feet from Sophie at about an 11:30 position.  Not quite straight over camera position, but close.  Dialed down the power and metered her face at f/8.  I then asked her mom to sit on the floor in front of Sophie and hold up a white foamcore fill card just out of frame below her chest.  Total setup and test time, less than five minutes.  Because Sophie has a perfect face, about ten snaps later we have this: 

I like delivering headshots in landscape orientation.  It allows me to put the subject's name in an attractive font to the side of the image if desired.  Plus, I just like the look of a horizontal headshot better than the old-school vertical.  

So, from arrival at the studio to turning the lights off and locking the door, we spent less than an hour.  Post-processing at home was minimal, including cloning out some distractions on the floor and wall on the arabesque shot, and not much on the headshot.  Delivered five shots to Sophie's mom last night via email.  She prints them today, and Sophie's good to go for Saturday.

 

 

 

 

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swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) Ballet Dance Portraits https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2013/2/sophie-on-a-moments-notice Thu, 07 Feb 2013 19:01:31 GMT
Why I Love Lightroom https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2013/2/why-i-love-lightroom _MG_2590a

My last blog post described the challenges we face when shooting in late afternoon unfiltered, slashing light.  This one follows on that, but from a different perspective, editing in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.  

I was asked to photograph the Santa Margarita Catholic High School Girls Soccer teams at the Frosh/Soph and JV levels this year.  (The school's official sports photographer Bob Russell had responsibility for the Varsity, which won the Trinity League for the fourth straight year, by the way.)  The intended result of this assignment is to provide images for the teams' awards banquet at the end of the season.  

So today's game was the final game of the season, a convincing 4-0 victory over neighbor and rival JSerra.   Lots of family members came out for the finale, and with the win, the girls were upbeat and in a celebratory mood.  Perfect for a big group photo, for which one of the moms eagerly asked the girls to organize themselves, and they happily obliged.

I absolutely love the composition of this group.  It's natural, with no posing direction whatsoever.  Every girl's expression is great, and despite the glaring sun, there are no blinks and surprisingly little squinting.

But here's where we started from:

Yikes!

This is the result of hard, slashing sunlight, which produces blinding highlights and deep shadows.  Exposing to avoid blowing out the white jerseys results in an underexposed image right from the start, which forces the shadows even deeper.  But I'm just one of several folks shooting here, and am in no position to re-orient the group or to keep them from their celebration.  I'm not sure I could replicate the spontaneity and genuine joy of this particular moment anyway.  I'd rather deal with what I have going for me already.

Fortunately, I can bring this photo to some semblance of balance relatively quickly in Lightroom.  The current version of Lightroom (4.3) is a vast improvement over previous versions in the way it segments certain tonalities and luminosity values, allowing more targeted adjustments even when applied across the board.  I shot over a thousand frames during the game, meaning I shot jpgs, which have their own parameters baked in already, giving me less flexibility than had I shot in RAW.  With about 150 keepers to edit, most of which suffered from harsh light and deep shadows, this is a real timesaver, especially when you're on deadline.

So what did it take to resuscitate this file?  First, in the late afternoon sun, the photo was a bit too warm, so I lowered the Temperature slider a bit.  Next, to counteract the reflectivity of the grass, which produces a green cast, I upped the Tint a bit to introduce a bit of magenta.  You'd think that adding exposure would be counterintuitive, but with the underexposure to begin with, I moved the Exposure up by around a half stop, which did quite a bit of the heavy lifting needed to bring the darker tones up.  Recovering the now blown jerseys was accomplished by a countering move downward with the Highlight slider.  The most radical move here was a very aggressive application of the Shadow slider, nearly a full stop.  This brought up the shadows in most of the image, including the back, but it also introduced a quirky, almost HDR-like feel to the image.  I kinda liked it, but it was a bit too heavy handed, so I reduced the Vibrance slider a bit to modulate it somewhat.  That left just a couple of the girls' faces in deep shadow.  Fortunately, the Adjustment Brush took care of that, with additional exposure of another half-stop of light.  That left me with the following result, accomplished in less time than it took to write about it.

The only thing I couldn't do in Lightroom to finish this off was to remove the tree trunk behind the girl in the middle of the back row and a bit of a house up in the upper left corner.  A quick trip to Photoshop took care of that.  This one fix is the only Photoshop edit in the entire batch of 148 images posted that night after the game.

Is this a portfolio shot?  No.  Is it a genuinely joyful capture of a perfect moment in these girls' year? Absolutely.

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swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) Lightroom Portraits Sports https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2013/2/why-i-love-lightroom Tue, 05 Feb 2013 10:42:55 GMT
Nuclear Light https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2013/1/nuclear-light _MG_1841

High school dances are a lot different today than when I went to school, back in the middle of the last century.  These days, at least among Katherine's cohorts, a high school dance is first and foremost a fashion show and an opportunity to take pictures before the gig.  What comes after is apparently anticlimactic (or so I hear).

This year's photoshoot was scheduled for sunset on the grounds of the beautiful Montage Hotel overlooking the ocean in Laguna Beach.  It's a favorite spot for this sort of thing.  Last time we did this, a blanket of fog enveloped the hotel and beach, giving the kids and their camera-toting parents a lot more dampness and softness to the light than they bargained for.

This time, we had the opposite circumstance, a cool, cloudless, low-humidity afternoon, producing hard, slashing, brilliant, unforgiving, blasting light.  The girls and their parents were scrambling to find light that (a) didn't produce squints, or (b) didn't produce absolute silhouettes when shot into the western sky, or (c) didn't produce razor-sharp delineation from blown highlights to deep shadows on their faces.  

That's the problem that slashing sunlight gives you.  Undiffused by clouds, the sun's a highly directional, pinpoint source of light, putting out more photons than a billion hydrogen bombs.  It travels in a straight line, packing a punch.  It does not fall gently, gracefully on the face, filling the shadows nicely.  It hits hard, and to get a good image, you have to fight back.

Okay, how?  Well, first up, you probably want to avoid the squints by putting the sun to the subjects' back.  This is why you're at the Montage at sunset in the first place, right?  Then, to avoid the absolute silhouette, you need to bring your own punch, in this case, a simple 580EXII speedlite. If this were a commissioned shoot, I'd consider bringing in a big light and an octa or at least an umbrella, and have a chance at overpowering the sun.  In this mob scene, that's just not gonna happen.  So instead of walloping back, I'm just going to jab, with the most mobile setup I can bring.  I'm not even going to drive the flash into high speed sync.  Instead, I'm going to peg my exposure at the native sync speed of 1/200 and let the aperture go wherever it will, to give me a nice baseline exposure for the scene behind my subjects.  In this case, it's about f/16 or so, not your typical portrait setting, but who cares about shallow depth of field when the nearest background element is 26 miles offshore?

So then, it's a matter of balancing your exposure on the faces, lit entirely by the flash.  In the shot above, I wanted to bring the sun into the frame, which drove my aperture way, way down (the camera was squinting).  That meant cranking the little speedlite to the max, full power.  Undiffused, except for a Stofen Omnibounce, it cried for help but gave me enough to light Katherine and Chris.  Still not as powerful as the sun, which left a nice rim light on the couple.

Moving the sun out of the frame, I was able to give the speedlite a bit of a break, and reduced the power to give me this:

_MG_1844 And this:

_MG_1847 I liked this pose especially for Chris, and thought it might make a pleasing black and white conversion:

_MG_1847 bw I finally settled on this composition:

_MG_1849

As the sun gets lower in the sky, it begins to lose some of its punch.  It's still highly directional, but you can have your subjects look in the general direction of the light without overly squinting.  Color balance becomes an issue, but a late afternoon shot like this can be effective and very pleasing, if your subjects are.

_MG_1863

Of course, there are other problems with slashing light, and several ways to deal with them.  As mentioned at the outset, the transition between blown highlights and deep shadows can be very stark, which is rarely a good thing in a portrait, especially portraits of beautiful young ladies.  So you take what the light gives you and follow its lead.  No longer a boxing match, it's now a dance.  Instead of trying to bring the exposure down to a conventional level, you go the other way, and fill the shadows with overexposure in camera.  Here, there's just a hint of fill flash, not even pointing directly at the girls.

_MG_1879

 

You can also achieve this in post processing, going high key to even out the transitions between highlight and shadow.

_MG_1877 This is nowhere near what the human eye sees at this moment in time, but it's a great way to solve a problem that the camera's limited dynamic range can't handle.

And here's the interesting part...the difference in time between the final shot above and the scene below: about five minutes.

_MG_1887

 

 

 

 

 

 

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swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) Events Portraits https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2013/1/nuclear-light Sun, 13 Jan 2013 10:32:49 GMT
One Light, Two Very Different Looks https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2013/1/one-light-two-very-different-results

This past weekend, I did a promotional shoot for the Center Stage Dance and Performing Arts studio in my hometown, the beginning of what I hope will be a lasting relationship.  The purpose of this shoot was to create a promotional poster to be displayed in the studio for some upcoming portrait shoots at the studio, including individual and group shots.  Some of the groups will be rather large, and the individual shots may be static full-length portraits, tighter headshots, or aggressive jumps and leaps.  There won't be time to change the lighting setup between shots, so the set and lighting grid will have to be broad, open, and flexible to accommodate shooting changes on the fly.  Typical dance studio environment for me.

 

But the point of this blog post is that broad, open static lighting setups can still yield vastly different results, with only minor modifications and no change to the basic lighting grid or even exposure settings in camera.

 

The two shots above were made with the same single light, in the same position, with pretty much the same exposure values in camera.  The shot on the left is Brooke, made before we started, as nothing more than a lighting/exposure check.  I wanted to make sure that my key light, a monolight mounted in a 53" octagonal softbox located 45 degrees up at camera left was positioned so as to capture light in the eye sockets and not leave them "hooded".  I placed Brooke about five feet from the octa and asked her to simply look at me and we made a test.  It was fine in terms of light placement, so I asked her to look at the light, and the result is what you see on the left.  The gray background you see is a big Westcott "Pearl" backdrop mounted horizontally to give me 24 feet of lateral coverage for a large group.  It's lit with another broad fill light in a 60" umbrella at camera and two more lights in stripbanks at the wings to guarantee even fill across the entire sweep.  But for all practical purposes, Brooke is lit entirely by the key light in the octa.  The exposure was made at ISO 200, 1/160 second at f/7.1 (to give me sufficient depth of field for a group shot).  I tweaked the exposure a bit in Lightroom, giving me what would effectively be f/6.3.  Done deal.  I didn't measure the light at various places on her face, but the lighting is pretty even, showing decent but not overly dramatic rotation between light and shadow.  Very forgiving light, good for fast production shooting on a schedule.  I went manual for the rest of the day at 1/160 at f/6.3.

 

As we moved through the planned shots for the day, Jacqueline took her turn, dressed in a black costume with a neat, intricate hoodie.  I knew right away that I wanted a dark and moody headshot with the black hood enveloping her face.  But with everyone waiting and much more to shoot, there was no time to change the lighting grid or the set.  How to accomplish what I envisioned for Jacqueline?  Easy.  Bring her right next to and parallel to the octa, add a black panel behind her to cut the pearl backdrop and attendant lighting on it, and hold an additional 2 stop diffuser between the octa and Jacqueline.  She's about 8 inches from the octa's front diffuser, and the handheld 2-stop is no more than 3 inches from her shoulder, just out of frame.  The location and power level on the key light haven't changed and the exposure value in camera is still f/6.3 at 1/160.

 

But the difference is dramatic.  The light is much softer; the shadow rotation is rich, and the effectively larger source of light wraps around the hoodie into the recesses of her face next to her eyes.  This is all due to the proximity of Jacqueline to the key light and extra diffusion between the light and her face.  These two images couldn't be more different.  The time needed to set up this second shot?  About 30 seconds.  

 

As is so often the case, thanks go to Joe McNally for this one.

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swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) Portraits https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2013/1/one-light-two-very-different-results Tue, 08 Jan 2013 21:40:13 GMT
Nutcrackin' https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2012/12/nutcrackin

For the past three years I've had the pleasure and the honor of photographing the Pacific Theatre Ballet's production of "The Nutcracker Suite".  Under the direction of Ann-Marie McClellan, the production draws its cast from the Pacific Ballet Conservatory and spends months in preparation, choreography, costuming, and rehearsal, culminating in a weekend of six performances at the Laguna Hills Community Center.

My part of the process begins with portraiture, which occurs on one day a few weeks prior to the performances.  This year, with a growing cast, the challenge was to keep things fresh throughout the very long day of shooting.  The lighting setup has to be open and flexible, enabling the girls to cycle through in about five minutes each, giving us precious little time to shoot a number of poses for the families to consider.  They range from traditional ballet poses, to poses with props, and sometimes as whimsical as we can make them.  I light them with a key light in a 53 inch octabank from a traditional 45 degrees up and over position (from the left this year), supplemented by a broad fill to give me an approximately 2:1 ratio, with two back 45's in strip boxes to accent and separate the girls from the background.

The performances, as noted above, are held in a multipurpose room at the Laguna Hills Community Center.  I've described this location before.  It's a small stage, maybe thirty feet wide by twenty feet deep, lit by nothing but overhead cans.  Sometimes a light from above can be missing, but when they're all working, the lighting is predictable, warm, and surprisingly flattering. 

From the back of the audience, shooting with a 70-200mm lens, you can get the entire stage, and get what might be called "record" shots of the production.  I don't mean to discount these shots, because the cast is really good, and you can pick up some nice images.

 

But I much prefer to capture these dances from the sides, and focus on individuals or small groups of dancers.  With the amount of light available in the room, shooting at 1/250 is about all I can get, and at f/2.8, the depth of field is pretty limited.  Also, shooting at acute angles means the stage is also angled, which presents another limitation.  But from these angles, you can really focus in on the dance skill of these performers.

 

As nice as this venue is, one thing it is not is "grand".  One of my dance photographer colleagues, Ron McKinney, recently showed some marvelous Nutcracker images of the Ballet Chicago on a very large and very brightly-lit stage.  His sweeping images were stunning, but absolutely impossible to get in the intimate setting of the Laguna Hills Community Center.  Instead, I go in an entirely different direction.  My favorite images from this production are those that capture the expressions of joy that these performers display.  One of my favorite performance lessons comes from hip hop choreographer Shane Sparks, who once told my daughter's class that performing on stage is like selling shoes: "If you ain't sellin' it, the audience ain't buyin' it!"  These ladies knew how to sell it.  I think they sold it, because they genuinely love it.

As I write this on Christmas evening, one of the things I'm grateful for is the opportunity to get to know this community of dancers and their families, and to photograph them doing what they love to do.

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swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) Ballet Dance https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2012/12/nutcrackin Wed, 26 Dec 2012 02:57:21 GMT
Working the Scene, Part II https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2012/12/working-the-scene-part-ii Brian Culbertson

In my previous blog post, I talked about "working the scene" to eliminate distracting elements from the periphery of otherwise strong photos, and refining the images to bring something unique to what might otherwise turn out to be rather ordinary renditions of even extraordinarily talented artists.  I wound up with a really cool take on an image of sax virtuoso Euge Groove.  I ended with a look forward to the next show at the Murray Center with Brian Culbertson.

There are three things I know about Brian Culbertson.  First, he's a very talented musician, as are all of the folks that hosts Gary Bergeson and Kelly Bennett bring to the Murray Center as a part of KSBR's ongoing series of live performance radio broadcasts.  Second, Brian is a versatile musician on many instruments.  I've seen him perform at the annual KSBR Birthday Bash on keyboards as well as the trombone.  The third thing about Brian is his exceptional energy.  It's seen not only in his trademark spiky hair, but also the stage presence he projects during his performances.

Which is why I was looking forward to trying something a little more edgy with my shots of Brian at last week's radio show.  He did not disappoint, starting out his set with a high-energy, up-tempo rendition of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" (it was, after all, the beginning of December, and time to do this sort of thing).  From there, Brian stuck with the keyboards.  His keyboard playing style is interesting.  Especially in this setting, playing the Rowland in front of a more "mature" audience (it's the Norman P. Murray Senior and Community Center, by the way), Brian's style was measured, nuanced, and different from what I expected.  I probably have over 100 photos of Brian, and in most of them (including the shot above), his eyes are closed either leaning closely into the keyboard or serenely looking upward.  Not that the music wasn't beautiful; it certainly was, and the audience enjoyed it immensely (as did I).

But as the set progressed, I finally got the shot I envisioned from the outset.  It's a simple treatment actually, with almost all of the editing done in Lightroom, except for the removal of some distracting elements in the frame that required more intricate masking in Photoshop.

Brian Culbertson Now THAT'S the Brian Culbertson I was expecting.

I don't know who's next up in this continuing series of broadcasts, but I'm definitely going to continue to explore different post-processing techniques to bring out what I consider to be the essence of the performers as I see them.

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swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) KSBR Musicians Portraits https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2012/12/working-the-scene-part-ii Fri, 14 Dec 2012 18:56:13 GMT
Working the Scene https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2012/11/working-the-scene I usually like to open my blog posts with an image, hopefully a somewhat interesting image.  But this one needs a little setup.  

One of the lessons we learn as photographers is the need to "work the scene".  It means looking at all of the visual elements and photographic possibilities inherent in a given location, with an eye toward composition.  It's most frequently employed in landscape and architectural photography, where the scene doesn't change, but the position of the photographer and camera angle can change in relation to the scene.  It's also used in portraiture, so the subject can be placed in a way that minimizes background distractions and renders the subject in a more compelling way.  Most folks aren't typically aware of this process; they look at an interesting landscape and fire away without knowledge of how the eye moves through (and hopefully stays within) a photograph.  Or they focus on the face of the person being photographed, and fail to notice the tree seemingly growing out of the person's head.

I've posted quite a few photographs here that were made at various live performances during broadcasts of KSBR's Gary and Kelly Show at the Norman P. Murray Center in Mission Viejo.  These broadcasts are great fun for those who attend them, and they give me wonderful access to incredibly talented performers.  I've also commented on the benefit of repositioning myself during a performance to get a more interesting background.  But today I want to take this concept a little farther, not only in terms of working the camera angles, but also exploring the performer in greater detail.

This opportunity comes by way of the realization that at this particular venue, with the audiences' chairs set up the way they are, and video crews located where they are, there are only about five unobstructed camera angles available to the photographer: center rear at eye level, stage left (high or low), and stage right (high or low).  So the more I shoot there, the more challenging it is to get fresh, compelling images that differ from those previously made.

Such was the challenge I faced last Saturday when sax virtuoso Euge Groove performed hits from his recent release "House of Groove".  The morning of the performance was bright and sunny, rendering the window behind the stage (although covered by a drape and some light) completely unusable as a background.  Sometimes, if the weather is cloudy, this can be overcome, but today, no way.  Here was the starting point:

Euge sounded great, but visually...yuck.

So we move to the side, try to minimize the window as much as possible, and hope to get a good look at Euge talking with host Gary Bergeson, and place him in relation to his publicity picture on the stage.  We get a nice expression that shows what kind of guy Euge is, but that window is just killing the shot:

 

Okay, gotta get rid of the window altogether.  So we move to the tightest view from stage left and wait for him to step forward during his set:

Nice shot, but one I've taken a hundred times from this same vantage point.  I like the light from this angle; it's short lighting that provides a nice loop lighting pattern on the face.  But we need to do something more.  Maybe a tighter composition with a little more expression from Euge.  He's working hard, and with the hot lights, he's starting to get red in the face and sweat:

Not bad, but not that different, either.  So what can we do now?  What about a totally non-sax-playing portrait of Euge enjoying the applause from the audience after performing one of his hits?  This one requires careful observation of the performer and precise timing to capture a look of inner satisfaction, rather than simply a reaction to the fans themselves.

And finally, what can I do to create a different kind of look from all of the others that I've captured at these wonderful performances?  How about a darker portrait, softer but with deeper contrast, out of the specific context of this venue?  I think the application of different treatments specific to each performer is the direction I want to explore more as I continue to work this particular scene.  

Next up with Gary and Kelly:  Brian Culbertson on December 8. I'm pretty sure I'll be using different, grittier techniques for him.  I can't wait!

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swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) KSBR Musicians Portraits https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2012/11/working-the-scene Fri, 16 Nov 2012 02:01:58 GMT
Jordan Matter's "Dancers Among Us" Redux https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2012/10/jordan-matters-dancers-among-us-redux Back in March, in one of my first blog posts here, I wrote about a fantastic opportunity I had to work with Jordan Matter, who was working on a three-year effort to publish a book based on his "Dancers Among Us" project.  It was a fantastic opportunity to watch Jordan at work, and to contribute to the project by bringing him two amazing local dancers I know, as well as to scout, suggest, and coordinate locations for Jordan while he was here in SoCal.  There was only one caveat; I couldn't release any photos that I took that might be similar in composition to those that Jordan made, prior to the publication of the book.  Well, the book comes out later this month, and just today, Jordan released the names of the dancers whose images will be included in it.  So I conclude from these two facts that it's now okay to show you what we were up to on those two days.  These photographs are mine, not Jordan's.  Some were made to give Jordan something he could use for his own purposes (showing him at work).  Others were shot alongside Jordan, or from a different angle.

The first location I suggested was the famous entrance to Grauman's Chinese Theater, with the handprints and footprints of Hollywood's elite.  A shot of a dancer in Fred Astaire's or Ginger Rogers' handprints would be cool, and Jordan agreed.  So here's Kevin Williams doing a handstand, but in Jack Nicholson's handprints.  Why not Astaire's?  Because Fred Astaire had these little bitty hands, and Kevin dwarfed him.  Here's Jordan shooting Kevin in one of about 100 takes, before security kicked us out. 

After Grauman's, Jordan wanted to consider a location in the Hollywood Hills where there might be a sweeping vista of LA.  I knew just the place, so off we went, and Jordan captured Jamila Glass hanging off a fenced-in communications tower with LA in the back.  I don't think this shot made the book, but I do believe that Jamila, who went out to Joshua Tree with Jordan the day after we did this, will be in the book.  By the way, it's a long way down below Jamila.

When I first contacted Jordan about this opportunity to work with him in LA, I had two high school dancers in mind, Lauren Rauen and Caitlin Pulone, both of whom could easily perform the kinds of amazing leaps, poses, and characters that Dancers Among Us embodied.  Jordan envisioned an out-of-work actress in front of the iconic Paramount Studios gate on Melrose Avenue, and I knew that Lauren was the perfect dancer to pull this off.  So I made a sandwich board of a previous headshot I made of Lauren, and a stack of 8x10's for her to hold.  Jordan amped up the concept by asking Lauren to hold them in both hands as well as one foot.  We ducked into an alley so Lauren could get comfortable doing this very tricky pose in the middle of the street, and when she was ready, out we went.  She performed flawlessly.

Jordan wanted to photograph Caitlin in a bookstore, and I suggested Book Soup on the Sunset Strip.  It was long after dark when we arrived, and Jordan talked his way into shooting Cate on a bookshelf ladder.  The staff at Book Soup was more than happy to accommodate us.  I put a pair of reading glasses on Cate, and here's what we got.

It was a long day of shooting, and we got back to OC after 11:00.  Time to crash and burn, because tomorrow would be another long day.  The first location I had suggested to Jordan was the Walt Disney Concert Hall.  I had photographed Cate there on a previous occasion, and it was a sample from that shoot that got Jordan interested.  So we met there, along with a bunch of dancers who had responded to Jordan's casting call.

We met in front of the WDCH and Jordan briefed the dancers on how the day would go.  While Jordan was talking with the dancers, I made this tight profile of dancer Mysti Rose.

She would later pose in this partner shot with a male dancer whose name I unfortunately didn't record, in a location I had used with Cate previously.

Jordan is a very creative guy; one of the shots he envisioned at WDCH was to put this same male dancer up in a tree, reading a book.  Okay, a reasonable, kinda predictable shot.  But no; Jordan's concept was for him to hang upside down in the tree, reading a book.  Something like this:

 

From here, we went down to Skid Row, where Jordan photographed Terry Beeman in front of the Continental Hotel, not exactly the Ritz, where just a few days before, somebody got whacked upstairs.  This shoot was high-concept, and Terry pulled it off very well, first staggering (artistically) in the street, and later in this pose in front of the hotel.

One of the dancers we brought along that day was Melinda Marchiano, a young dancer from the Central Coast area.  Melinda loves dance, and she's a very good dancer.  What sets Melinda apart, though, is the fact that she's a cancer survivor and has published an amazing book on her experience.  It was her love of ballet that inspired her through recovery.  Here she is, down in the Toy District, with her book, titled "Grace".  The eerie, depressing mural provides a reminder of what she must have gone through on her journey back to health.  But Melinda is anything but depressed; she's an inspiration.

 

Moving through downtown LA in mid-day traffic can be daunting, especially when you're traveling in a caravan, with drivers who aren't that familiar with the territory.  Especially when you're pulling illegal U-turns in the middle of Skid Row so Jordan can check out a location.  Especially when you're two guys who are dancers, and acrobats, who don't exactly frequent Skid Row.  And especially when you get pulled over by LA's Finest, and get a ticket for said illegal U-turn.  That experience was enough to cause our two intrepid acrobats to depart the neighborhood for safer, more familiar digs.

Fortunately, we met up with them later that evening in Beverly Hills, at Two Rodeo, on the corner of Wilshire and Rodeo Dr.  I had suggested this location earlier, as it has a very European feel, with a winding walkway down a faux hill.  Jordan captured them at the prime location of this retail development and made a photograph before we got kicked out of this place, too.

Jordan Matter spent two more days in SoCal, but I had other commitments, and could not join him on those two days, as he photographed dancers in Venice Beach and all the way out in Joshua Tree National Park.  Nevertheless, it was an experience I won't soon forget, and one which has strongly influenced me in how I will approach my own location-based dance photography.

"Dancers Among Us" will be in bookstores later this month, and can be pre-orded through the usual online channels.  Check it out; it will change the way you think about dance and dancers.

 

 

 

 

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swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) Dance Portraits https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2012/10/jordan-matters-dancers-among-us-redux Fri, 05 Oct 2012 19:52:32 GMT
Alyssa with a Beauty Dish https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2012/9/alyssa-with-a-beauty-dish I've been asked to do a lot of headshots lately, including some environmental portraits (which I loved doing), to corporate headshots for a company wall, to studio work (if by "studio" you count my living room...).  Right now, if I had to choose, I think simple shots like these are my current favorite style.  This approach is strongly influenced by Peter Hurley, a New York-based actors' headshot specialist who has his style and method of interacting with clients down pat.  Hurley's lighting approach is bright, broad, and flexible, giving his clients room to move and interact with him to get the kinds of expressions that get his clients booked.  Lighting-wise, Hurley uses four banks of KinoFlo fluorescents with accents as needed; he shoots with a Hasselblad.  So there's about $40 G's right there.  For me, it's my trusty Qflash mounted in a socked Kacey beauty dish, with different kinds of reflectors underneath, and two 580EXII speedlites providing blow-out white on the backdrop.  The camera is my old-school Canon 5D, with a 24-105mm f/4 or the 135mm f/2.

We started out with the white backdrop and a white fill board underneath, to open up the shadows under the subject's chin in a classic butterfly lighting pattern.  In this case, the subject is Alyssa, a talented and powerful dancer who's looking forward to a professional dance career.  She needed a headshot for an agent.  So we started with this basic setup, and got this:

Okay, a nice, serviceable frame.  An engaging, forward-looking expression that says, "I'm here and ready to show you what I can do."  It's probably not the headshot you want to submit to the agent, but it's a good place to start.  So we move things around, get some different expressions, including the one at the top of this post.  We back up a bit, and get a vertical with more of Alyssa.  This one has her posing on a piece of white foam core.  What you don't see is my long-suffering wife Karen, who's sitting on the floor, holding up the foam core for Alyssa to rest her arms on.

 

It's always fun to take a break from focusing on facial expressions, to loosen up a bit and do some hair flips.  The flash duration on the Qflash isn't exactly bullet-stopping, but it's short enough to do these.  You're always at the mercy of the moment, but if your timing is quick and the hair cooperates, you can get some fun images like this one:

From here, we decided to change things up.  Off go the two speedlites, and the white backdrop goes gray.  Why?  It's the inverse square law; look it up.  So we also need a change of wardrobe; the blue tank contrasts nicely with the gray back.  Placing Alyssa off to the side gives her "room to breathe".  It also provides an opportunity to overlay some text in the negative space on the right if you want to do that in your headshot.

The thing about this image is THOSE EYES.  Alyssa can give you any number of looks, but the best ones are those where her gaze fixes right down the center of the lens.  She could have three arms, and your focus would still go straight to the eyes.  As Hurley would say when he gets one of these:  "SHABANG!"  This was probably my favorite of the shoot.  Alyssa chose this next one, but cropped to vertical as requested by the agent (I still prefer the horizontal orientation shown below).

As mentioned above, the off-center orientation of the subject is usually best from a photographic perspective for a number of reasons, but sometimes a face screams to be centered.  It's rare that a person has a perfectly symmetrical face; that's why people have a "good side" and a "bad side" for photographs.  If you were to take a picture of yourself, cut it down the middle, reproduce one side and flip it over onto the other side, you'd be amazed at how different it is from reality.  But Alyssa's face is quite symmetrical, and she can easily stand up to a centered frame.  Plus, when you have THOSE EYES, you want to maximize their impact on the viewer.  So this next image owes a lot to Scott Kelby, who teaches this version of clamshell lighting, replacing the white fill board with a silver reflector to open up the shadows even more, and to put some additional pop into the eyes.  This kind of photograph is very commercial and "graphic" in style; you want clean lines, minimal wardrobe distraction, and pulled back hair to really focus on the face.

We were at it for only about an hour and a half, but it was time to pack it in for the evening.  We decided to end with a few more hair flips, to see if we could get some lucky combinations of hair, eyes, and expression.  I liked this one best.  It shows the Alyssa I know, fun-loving, quirky, and great to be around.

 

 

 

 

 

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swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) Portraits https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2012/9/alyssa-with-a-beauty-dish Fri, 14 Sep 2012 15:55:20 GMT
Shooting Groups https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2012/8/shooting-groups _MG_6511 I've been shooting a lot of groups recently.  Good group photographs look easy, almost effortless, but the reality is a lot different.  If you're lucky, a choreographer and lighting tech have done the heavy lifting for you, including posing and lighting a stage.  The dancers look where they're supposed to.  The photographer can't provide additional direction during the performance.  A chimp could make this picture.

If you're really lucky, a master like Gianlorenzo Bernini will build a setting so stunning that your group stands in service to the environment, such as this shot of the Santa Margarita Catholic High School choir, after singing the Mass at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.  This is all ambient light.

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But these are by far the exceptions, not the rule.  To photograph groups, there are as many variables as there are members of the group, plus lighting the scene, lighting the group, posing the group, and hopefully getting everyone in the group to "cooperate" while "looking natural".  Here are a few examples where all of these variables came into play.

Shooting in a studio environment takes some of the compromises out of play.  You can control the environment, the lighting grid, and exposure before the "talent" shows up.  From that point, it's a matter of group dynamics and getting the composition and expressions you want.  This group shot of the 2011 Santa Margarita Dance Team was made after we did the standard three or four rows of carefully posed dancers.  We asked them to come together as tightly as they possibly could.  The more I yelled "Closer! Closer!" the better their expressions got, and the better the frame turned out. Two monolights fitted with reflective umbrellas placed equidistant from the camera and pointed straight forward provided the illumination for the wider group shot; I don't think I changed it for this quick "mosh pit", but I could have gotten away with just one light.

 

Environmental portraiture, particularly made outdoors, introduces another level of complexity, the ambient conditions at the location and during the time of day when the portrait is made.

Here are three generations of an extended family, made on the occasion of Gil and Sharon's 50th anniversary.  They celebrated their special day at the Arroyo Trabuco golf course, a very picturesque location.  Unfortunately for us, there was a wedding going on nearby, with all of the usual photo locations being used by the wedding party.  I looked for open shade with a darker background that wouldn't compete with the folks in the picture.  At the time of day we were there, we had to contend with slashing light on the foliage behind the group that required a lot of post processing to tone down the highlights on the grass, as well as dappled light through the leaves of the sycamore trees falling on some of the faces.  Lighting for the subjects was provided by one Qflash behind a large shoot-through umbrella.  With only one light, the choice of color temperature was limited to matching ambient conditions of open shade.  Getting everyone in a group portrait like this to look at the camera is often a challenge, especially with little kids (here there are three).  This was one of several shots of the family; I like it best primarily due to the expressions, particularly on the face of the little girl between her grandparents.

Open shade in mid-day is "cool".  I think the color rendition of the family photo is fine; it matches the ambient conditions under which it was made.  But it's not the only way to light a group.  This past weekend I was asked to support the Santa Margarita Catholic High School Eagle football "12th Man" fundraiser, by providing portraits of couples.  Because this event was to be held late in the afternoon and into the evening, I knew I would be faced with (or blessed with) warm, late afternoon light. Because it would be highly directional at that time of day in that location, I selected a spot under the canopy of a very large spreading oak tree that would give me the open shade I needed.  The goal was thus to balance the warm ambient late afternoon light with fill flash to match.

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Once again, I went to the trusty Qflash T5dr behind a smaller shoot through umbrella.  Setting the camera's white balance to "flash" rendered the faces warmer than had I used "average white balance" (AWB).  This choice brought the subjects into balance with the warm ambient.  But one element of the frame bothered me; the trunk of the large oak tree fell into deep shadow.  To remedy that situation, I brought in a Canon 580EXII speedlite, fitted with a half-cut of CTO ("color temperature orange") gel, and placed it out of the frame to the left, on 1/4 power, just enough to illuminate the tree trunk.  

Why would I use a smaller shoot through umbrella than the one I used for the family portrait above?  Answer: it's all I had that day.  I was planning on shooting couples only, for which the small umbrella would be fine, but the moms of the sixteen seniors on the varsity team asked me to give them a quick group portrait.  So off we went, with this shot being organized and made within about a minute.  No time to give individual posing instructions.  But I like the natural expressions on the ladies; the shot conveys the fun they were having at the event and the great relationship they have with each other and the football program at SMCHS.

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swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) Portraits https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2012/8/shooting-groups Tue, 14 Aug 2012 06:02:07 GMT
Fun With Pudding...Oh, Yeah, and David Benoit https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2012/7/fun-with-pudding-oh-yeah-and-david-benoit

I tell ya, if you like music, if you live anywhere near South Orange County, and you're NOT on the mailing list for KSBR's Gary and Kelly Show broadcasts from the Murray Center in Mission Viejo, you are missing the best Saturday mornings you'll ever find.  Today was no exception, as Gary Bergeson and Kelly Bennett welcomed David Benoit to the Murray Center for another live broadcast.  I've blogged about these broadcasts before, usually from a photographic perspective (this is, after all, a photography blog), but today, from a technical standpoint, I've got nothing new.  Just a great time, with some great music.

The program features world-class jazz artists, like David Benoit today, but Gary and Kelly bring on other guests and topics as well.  The non-musical highlight today was a "cooking demonstration", more or less, with Kelly Bennett making vanilla pudding with Nilla Wafers.  Suffice it to say, as you can see above, that it was a lot of fun, and the chemistry between Gary and Kelly was just hilarious.

Of course, today's headliner was pianist and composer David Benoit.  Usually, the solo artists need some accompaniment, which is provided via recorded tracks backing up their live performances.  Today it was David alone on the grand piano, playing some favorites along with pieces from his new album "Conversation".

I'm showing just a couple of frames from the performance.  I prefer this angle when photographing pianists. Shooting hands was difficult in this particular location without blocking others' view, and the orientation of the piano puts the artist in profile to the audience.  Better to move way off to the side, behind one of the TV cameras, and get in tight.  If you're lucky, you might get a nice reflection off the underside of the piano top.  I don't even mind the intrusion of the two microphone booms in this frame.

 

The show was over way too soon.  Can't wait for the next one!

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swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) KSBR Musicians https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2012/7/fun-with-pudding-oh-yeah-and-david-benoit Sat, 14 Jul 2012 23:33:18 GMT
A Most Magical Week https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2012/6/a-most-magical-week  

046_MG_2904 This past week I was blessed with an invitation to photograph a Santa Margarita Catholic High School choir on its nine-day, three city performance tour in Italy.  I say "a" Santa Margarita choir intentionally; these performers were a collection of singers from a variety of ensembles at the school who, prior to the rehearsal period, had never performed together.  And while we all anticipated a wonderful experience in the three principal cities we visited, Rome, Florence, and Venice, I (for one) left Italy at the end of the tour with profound gratitude for the opportunity to experience not only the sights, tastes, and rich history of Italy, but more importantly, the talent and growth of this amazing group of kids, led by Director Francisco Calvo.

 

But since this is a photography blog, we need to move to that subject....  My goals for this assignment were three-fold: first, to capture the performances in the incredible locations on the tour; second, to provide some additional context for the trip along the lines of traditional travel photography; and third, to produce sufficiently good work to populate the pages of a book.  Going in, I anticipated two big challenges.  First was the expectation of low light in the churches where the group would perform.  This would require high ISOs, wide-open apertures, and slow shutter speeds.  Without the encumbrance (and benefit) of a monopod, it was going to be a hand-holding high-wire act. Second, the need to be a part of the group, on the group's schedule, meant that photographing these magical locations would usually occur during the least attractive periods of the day - high midday sun, stark contrasts, and large crowds.  No deserted early morning streets.  No early evening, soft light.  Not much time to contemplate and compose thoughtful, creative images.  For the most part, this was going to be "run and gun" street shooting.

 

Our first stop was Rome.  On our first full day of the tour, the group was scheduled to sing the Mass at St. Peter's Basillica.  Now think about that for a moment.  First-ever public performance for this choir.  First day after transcontinental travel.  Performing after a cattle-pen tour of the crowded Vatican Museums in 90+ degree temp, ending in a flash-mob rendition of "Locus Iste" in the Sistine Chapel (a story for another place and time!).  Performing at the very pinnacle of the Catholic faith, and the pressure of that opportunity.  And the result?  To my eyes and ears, perfection.  Right there and then, I realized we were in for a magical week.

 

Here are a few views of St. Peter's.

 

After dinner, we paused in front of St. Peter's Square to capture a night view of the Basillica and the illuminated windows of the Pope's residence.

The next day, we visited ancient Rome, including the Colosseum and the Roman Fora.  For me, the most impressive sight was the Pantheon.

At the end of the day, the choir performed its first concert at Sant' Agnese in Agone, a beautiful round church topped by a marvelous domed ceiling.

Prior to each performance, the choir did a brief placement and sound check.  Except for St. Peter's, each of these sound checks were done prior to the choir changing into their concert wardrobe.  With light levels relatively higher, and no restriction on location, I decided to use these opportunities for some individual portraits of the performers. The goal and challenge here was to hit that moment where facial expression was meaningful, and background elements (including other performers) would add to the image of the principal subject.

 

Taking a group shot at these remarkable places of worship became not so much a portrait of the group, but rather having the group simply be an element of the larger scene itself.

St. Agnese was the first performance where we saw posters advertising our presence.  As the tour progressed, the number of visitors in the audience grew.

Our next stop was Orvieto, a beautiful hilltop town in Umbria.  The Duomo there was off limits to photography, but a climb to the top of the Torre del Moro gave me sweeping views of the Umbrian countryside.  More compelling for me, though, was this view of the rooftops of Orvieto.  

Next stop, Florence and a concert at the beautiful Cenacolo di Santa Croce.  Below, a scene in front of the Uffizi Galleries, where costumed "performers" pose for tourists in hopes of a tip.

The downstream backside of the Ponte Vecchio.  The "interior" of this famous bridge across the River Arno is a collection of jewelry stores.

In the Cenacolo.

 

 

In the audience for awhile during our concert was another high school choir from Minnesota, who stopped in prior to their own performance at another location.  Later that evening, we found this same choir in our restaurant.  They expressed appreciation for our performance, and treated us to a song from their repertoire.  I thought for a moment that we'd have a "Battle of the Choirs", but we were ready to eat...

Our next and final stop was the incredible city of Venice, where the choir performed at the Chiesa (church) di San Moise, just off St. Mark's Square.  Prior to the concert, we walked the streets of Venice, which gave me my best closeups, including this mask and some beautiful scallops at an open-air fish market.

 

 

 

Several of us experienced "gondola gridlock".

 

 

 

Sound check at San Moise:

 

For the seniors on the choir, this would be their final performance as members of Santa Margarita Catholic High School.  Two members, Alex and Kelly, asked me if I could take their picture together for the last time.  I told them, "I just did".

 

 

 

 

 

Just prior to the beginning of the performance at San Moise, I looked at the floor of the church, and saw a real problem in the making.  A shaft of blazing light from the rear window of the church was making its way from the audience and approaching the front of the church; it would hit the right side of the choir during the performance, making a shot of the entire group under one light condition impossible.   You can see the problem below.  In technical terms, if the exposure for the front of the church was f/2.8, this shaft of nuclear light was f/22.  Shooting a live performance under these conditions is simply not possible. 

 

 

Now what??

When faced with a circumstance like this, you take what the light gives you.  Forget the big shot and expose for the light.  You might get something good, even from sunlight that is essentially coming upward, bounced from the floor.

 

 

As conditions deteriorated, and the performers on the right side of the choir were hit by blinding sun and couldn't even see the Director, I settled in for some tight portraits.  These kids are absolutely nuked by the sun; but when properly exposed, their faces become angelic and their cohorts are underexposed to blackness.

 

 

At the conclusion of the performance, this shaft of light had migrated upwards, leaving the group in beautiful light for a final image of their final performance together.

 

 

We left San Moise and made our way back to St. Mark's Square and our boat ride back to the hotel.  A passing squall during the afternoon had cleared the air of the humid conditions, leaving the waterfront bathed in the early evening light that I had hoped for all week.

 

 

A final dinner together, topped off by the presentation of a cake.

 

 

I'm still culling, sorting, and editing images for posting on the website and populating the book I've promised.  But I couldn't wait til then to post these initial impressions while my thoughts (though jet-lagged) are still relatively fresh.  

 

My thanks, once again, to Francisco Calvo and Santa Margarita Catholic High School for the opportunity to experience and record this marvelous choir together, and to Michael Whang, Ray and Alissa Medina, our tour guide Francesca Scasso, our bus driver Emilio, and the parents of these amazing kids who traveled together with us.  I'll never, ever forget this.

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swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) Events Portraits Travel https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2012/6/a-most-magical-week Tue, 26 Jun 2012 17:59:55 GMT
The Bash https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2012/6/the-bash _MG_2407

This past weekend I had the privilege of photographing the annual KSBR Birthday Bash held each year at Oso Viejo Park in Mission Viejo.  The Bash is KSBR's primary fundraising event each year, a celebration of smooth jazz in a tremendous setting.  KSBR is the public radio station of Saddleback College, and is staffed by a dedicated and fun bunch of folks.  I've been fortunate to get to know these people, and in turn, to gain access to several of the station's productions.  The Bash is the capstone of the musical year, at least for me.

There's not much to share in terms of photographic technique in these images, but I want to share what, to me, are some of the best, and why I've chosen them.  First and foremost is the photo above, with Mindi Abair and Dave Koz in a sax duet covering "Just the Two of Us".  It was a magical moment and I was in the right place at the right time to the left of the stage to capture Mindi's joy and Dave's kinda devilish expression.  Right after the set, I showed Mindi and Dave this photo, which is now featured on both of their Facebook fan pages, as well as KSBR's event page, with about 800 "likes" altogether.  A couple of days ago, I brought a disc of photos to the station, and ran into David Hopley, a brilliant, generous, and understated photographer who knows just about everyone in the jazz community.  He brought in his own disc to the station, along with two absolutely amazing 16x20 prints he made, including a crazy good shot from a different vantage point about five seconds before or after my shot above.

Sometimes you can get cool images away from the performance stage.  Before the show started, KSBR DJ's Bob Goodman and Kevin Melvin were broadcasting from a tent in the park.  A shot of both in the frame didn't quite work for me, but individual portraits of these two guys doing their thing worked very well.  This is Kevin:

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It's also good to get some crowd shots, or to isolate some folks enjoying the moment, like this couple:

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Of course, one of the standard goals for music performance photographers is to capture energy and movement in the performance.  Rock concerts are obviously target-rich environments, but a jazz concert can also deliver high energy as these two consecutive frames from the Mindi Abair - Dave Koz set reveal:

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And, if you hurry, you can get it from three different angles, this one from the right side:

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Most of my images were captured up close; sometimes almost too close.  This is Vincent Ingala.

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Once again, Mindi Abair, comin' right at ya:

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Blake Aaron:

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Greg Vail:

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Chris Standring:

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Derek Bordeaux:

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I don't usually go for the "up the nostrils" shot, but this one of Derek Bordeaux works for me.  Derek's a joyful man, and this shot captures him perfectly:

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When night falls, and the light gets interesting, you can go for a different feel.  I like to isolate performers and go for mood and expression.  This is one of my favorite artists, who also acts as the Bash's emcee, flugelhorn virtuoso Tony Guerrero (this time with the trumpet):

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A perennial favorite is trumpet legend Greg Adams (this time with the flugelhorn).  Rather than leave him floating in black space, I decided to support the base of the photo and provide some depth by including these out of focus lights in the frame:

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One of the delights of the Bash this year was the appearance of Tom Schuman, keyboardist with Spyrogyra.  Here are three consecutive frames, each with its own expression and mood.  Which one do you like best?  For me, for some reason, it's the last one.

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The Bash ends with a big jam with everyone joining in.  Unfortunately, this year, the frontal lighting of the stage wasn't bright enough to illuminate the entire field evenly, but from my position, I framed up the farewell wave from featured vocalists Darryl Walker and Derek Bordeaux, with final "thanks" from Tony Guerrero.  

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Lots of folks thought this might have been the best Bash ever.  I don't know about that, but I do know this; I had a most amazing day and am continually grateful for the access that KSBR and the City of Mission Viejo have given me to these fantastic and giving musicians who donate their time and talent to the Bash every year.  Can't wait 'til next year!

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swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) KSBR Musicians https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2012/6/the-bash Fri, 01 Jun 2012 20:36:39 GMT
Leaving Las Vegas https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2012/5/leaving-las-vegas _MG_1452

This past weekend, I accompanied my wife Karen to Las Vegas, the site of the annual International Council of Shopping Centers gabfest.  It was her first ICSC conference; I had been there a few times during my tenure at the City of West Covina several years ago (15, but who's counting?).  So while she was hobnobbing with brokers, mall developers, retailers, and other associated types, I decided to give myself a photographic assignment to put my free time to some productive use.

What I should have realized was that it was going to be hot during the day; not just hot, but DAMN HOT, like 105 degrees hot.  But never mind.  My first foray was to the world-famous Gold and Silver Pawn Shop, home of the hit television show "Pawn Stars".  Little did I know that they'd be filming that day for the show, so there I was, along with about a hundred other knuckleheads standing on the Las Vegas Blvd. sidewalk (beneath the blessed array of misters installed along the roofline) waiting an hour for an opportunity to get into the shop and then what, see Chumlee?  I did see the store's owner, Rick Harrison, who had just about enough taping for one day.  After ten minutes of posing for B-roll, he left, muttering, "I'm done."  My thoughts exactly.  I mean, what was I thinking?  So that was an hour of my life I'll never get back.  No photos either; they were prohibited during filming.

So, when it's that hot outside, what better place to try to stay cool, and maybe get some cool shots, than the interior of Hoover Dam?  This engineering wonder of the world, built for about $50 million between 1931 and 1935, fits like a cork on the bottle of Black Canyon, holding back a gazillion acre-feet of 53-degree Colorado River water.  There's no need for AC down there.  Okay, off I go.

So everyone who's ever been to Vegas has probably been to Hoover Dam.  Nothing new there, right?  And everyone who's ever been there has had a camera around his or her neck.  So what's my strategy for bringing back images that are at least marginally interesting?  Especially when I can't be there during the pre-dawn or post-sunset "golden hours" of magical desert light?  The answer in two words: Tonal Contrast.  Despite the really stark contrast of light and shadow in all of these images, whether caused by harsh direct sun, or interior lighting within the dam or power plant, the lit areas of the RAW files, straight out of the camera, are pretty flat.  Colors are muted, and detail is difficult to discern.  So right off the bat, in Lightroom, I jacked the contrast.  I pulled down the luminosity of the sky.  I added fill to the shadow areas to bring out some detail lost in there.  In the interior shots, I tried my best to render color temperature something close to what it looks like to the naked eye.  Then it's off to Photoshop.  No difficult processing there; noise reduction via Nik Dfine 2.0, and the magic of Nik's Tonal Contrast filter in Color Efex Pro 4, dialed individually to taste.  Every image in this post got a hit of Tonal Contrast except for the bronze sculpture of the High Scaler above.  Then sharpening via Nik Sharpener Pro, and I'm done.

My good friend Ralph Nordstrom, a fabulous fine art landscape photographer, would have been a lot more careful and selective with these images (if he'd have taken any of them at all), and undoubtedly would have produced a superior end product.  But my goal was to approach the top, but not go over the top, in terms of contrasty processing.  There are two HDR images here, each one a combination of three exposures over a six stop dynamic range.  The rest were finished as described above.

 

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This is simply a corner of the multi-story parking structure built into the canyon wall on the Nevada side.  The architects of the new Visitors Center have done a great job integrating the Center into the site. The color palette reflects the canyon walls, while the generous use of art deco motifs continue the commitment to visitors that was designed into the construction of Hoover Dam back in the '30s.

 

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These two images of the intake towers, especially the second one (one of the Arizona towers), show how low the current water level of Lake Mead is, about 100 feet below the high water mark.  You can see the "bathtub ring" in both images, as well as the Arizona spillway that would divert overflow water during peak times.  In recent years, the water level in Lake Mead has actually been rising, but apparently not this year, which was particularly dry in the Colorado River Basin.

 

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Before going into the Visitors Center for the dam tour, I walked along the top of the dam to get a few images of the dam face, the power plant below, and the Mike O'Callaghan - Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge in the background.  This bridge, completed in 2010 at a cost of $240 million (nearly five times the cost of Hoover Dam), serves as a bypass for US 93, which used to gridlock when traffic was forced to cross over the top of the dam.  That route was picturesque, but often painfully slow. This is one of two HDR images in this gallery.

 

_MG_1464 Not the place to drop your lens cap....

 

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The exterior images were captured with my Canon 24-105 mm f/4.0 glass.  Once inside, I switched to my Sigma 12-24 wide angle optic.  The first stop on the dam tour is this view of one of the 40-foot tunnels containing a 30-foot penstock (a fancy word for a big-ass pipe) carrying water from the Nevada intake tower to one of the massive turbines of the power plant below.  This shot is from a viewing window; on the right is a reflection of our tour guide.  This was mixed lighting at its worst, a combination of fluorescent and tungsten yuck.  There's no way to render this exactly as my eye saw it, so this is somewhat a "forensic" shot.  You can see what it is, but that's about it.  Impressive engineering, yes; artistic, not so much.

 

_MG_1484_HDR Here's the power plant on the Nevada side.  This is the second HDR image in this gallery. Does it work, or is it another forensic shot?  The verdict: forensic.  But the full range of detail is there, such as it is.

 

_MG_1497

This is an interior view of the corridor leading into the dam itself.  As mentioned above, the engineers and designers of the dam knew that visitors would be coming to Hoover Dam for years to come, so the visitors' experience was designed into the structure of the dam itself.  Corridors were paved with terrazzo, and the decorative floor treatments were designed to reflect southwest motifs. Metalwork, including doors, light fixtures, and other trim, was cast from aluminum in the prevailing art deco style.  This shot, at 12 mm, shows the distortion typical of ultra-wide lenses.  I didn't have a tripod or the time to frame this shot as accurately as I would have liked, so there's some angular distortion that couldn't be avoided.  All of these interior frames were handheld at about 1/8 second at ISO 1600.  I used whatever I could to steady and brace myself for these long exposures. Here, I'm sitting on the floor, using my knees as a makeshift tripod.

 

_MG_1502 _MG_1504

The next part of the tour takes you into a couple of the interior corridors of the dam.  There are two miles of these corridors winding their way through the dam.  Built for inspection purposes, they provide interesting compositional opportunities for photography.  Then you learn how inspections were and continue to be done, and you realize just how amazing this structure really is.  At this gate, the tour makes a right turn into a low-ceiling tunnel leading to a window on the dam face itself.

 

_MG_1510

This view of the tunnel reveals the conversion of tungsten lighting in the ceiling to daylight, something the human eye does automatically.  The digital camera needs blue to convert the warm tungsten flavor of the ceiling light, so the exterior sunlight at the far end of the tunnel picks up the same blue conversion.

_MG_1505

Midway down the tunnel you come to a vertical shaft that reaches down to the bottom of the dam.  There are a few lights down there, but most have burned out, leaving this one.  You cannot cross this shaft without walking on the steel grate.  If you're skittish about heights, this is kind of a gut-check.  But the end of the tunnel leads to this view of the Colorado, Black Canyon, and the Bridge.  This view is from about one-third of the way up from the bottom of the dam to the top.

 

_MG_1506

Back into the corridors, the tour takes you to a very long, steep descent, or if things get too shaky, a steep ascent to the top. This view is actually looking downward at about a 60 degree slope.

 

_MG_1517

Speaking of "shaky", Hoover Dam is built to withstand an 8.3 magnitude earthquake, but it is also said to be 70% overbuilt above that standard.  A seismograph sits just a few feet away from this escape shaft.  Hopefully, the access door at the top isn't locked from the outside!

_MG_1522

Back on top.  Still at 12mm, but angular distortion is minimized due to placement of critical elements in the center of the frame, except for the Hoover Dam plaque, where I wanted a bit of angular distortion.  But back to the dam face, from the corner of the dam on the Nevada side, and you get this:

_MG_1530 and this: 

_MG_1531 Plenty of angular distortion here, but I still like these frames.

_MG_1533

After leaving Hoover Dam and the Visitors Center, I took a walk up to the O'Callaghan-Tillman Bridge (the bridge is named after a former governor of Nevada and Pat Tillman, the NFL player-turned Army Ranger killed in Afghanistan by friendly fire).  This bridge rises 840 feet above the Colorado River, 1500 feet downstream from the dam.  It is the widest concrete arch in the Western Hemisphere.  Here are some views from the bridge back to Hoover Dam.

_MG_1536 _MG_1537 All in all, a fun way to spend part of a day in the desert.  

 

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swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) Landscape Travel https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2012/5/leaving-las-vegas Thu, 24 May 2012 18:08:08 GMT
The Spring Dance Concert https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2012/5/the-spring-dance-concert _MG_1367

The Santa Margarita Catholic High School Dance Department recently concluded its four-performance Spring Dance Concert last Saturday night.  Each night featured 27 or 28 dances from the Department's Beginning Dance class through the Dance Team.  The Concert was held in The Dome, the prefab building that serves as the rehearsal and performance space for the Performing Arts program until a permanent theater is built on campus.

Photographically speaking, shooting in the Dome is a hit or miss proposition.  Lighting Director Daniel West does a good job with the space and equipment available.  The lighting design is for the performers and the audience, of course, and I wouldn't change that.  For the photographer, sometimes it rocks, while other times it presents a challenge.  The stage itself is small, making choreography for the larger groups difficult.  From a photography standpoint, this introduces extraneous arms, legs, hands, and assorted body parts into most images, unless it's a solo.  So you do the best you can to capture movement, lines, and hopefully, expression.  Typically, for me, the exposures are ISO 1600 or 2500, f/2.8 (or 3.5 if I'm lucky) at 1/250th a second.  That won't completely freeze fast motion at the extremities, but as they say, it's "close enough for jazz."

Before the performances, the Dance Team warmed up on stage.  I asked Daniel to give me as much white light on the stage as he could.  Taylor, above, asked me to shoot her in a leap, as we had done a year ago just as an exposure check.  This time, I wanted to capture the back lights in the frame, and to place one of the lights directly behind Taylor.  That's not something you can easily direct.  Of course, Taylor nailed this jump time after time. And I'm usually able to catch it at the peak of the movement, so that's not a real challenge.  The trick was capturing the alignment of the light and Taylor's hair, to achieve the rim lighting I wanted.  After just six attempts, we nailed it.  I was really pleased with every aspect of this frame, including the relative lack of shadow density, the direct lighting on Taylor's face from the lights in the wings, and the rim lighting all around Taylor, caused by top, rear, and side lights, plus a bounce from the floor.  I was extremely happy to give this frame to Taylor, a graduating Senior, who's off to college at the University of Alabama next year.  The details on this shot were ISO 1600, f4.5, at 1/320; everything, including focus, in fully manual mode.

With this as a template, we made a few other shots, including these.

Malia:

_MG_1374

Berit:

_MG_1375

 

Maddy:

_MG_1386

 

Emily:

_MG_1404

 

My daughter Katherine:

_MG_1415

 

and Alyssa:

_MG_1420

Before the final performance, the Dance Team Seniors asked for a group photo, including this "stack".  

_MG_1449a   Here are a few of my favorite images of the performances:

_MG_0204

_MG_0248

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_MG_0596

_MG_5166

_MG_5320

_MG_7487

_MG_5576

 

_MG_7576

 

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_MG_5920 One of four "Dances with Teachers", this one with Ms. Taylor, who teaches Physics:

_MG_1554

 

_MG_1963

 

_MG_6460

_MG_2560

 

 

_MG_8263

All told, 8,000 frames over four nights, the last hurrah for the Seniors in the Dance Department, an eye-opening experience for a lot of students who had never before seen a dance performance, several sold-out shows, and "a good time was had by all".

Next stop...the annular solar eclipse, hopefully photographed from Valley of Fire State Park north of Las Vegas.  Or maybe I'll get the Stratosphere tower into the eclipsing sun.  Who knows?  We'll see....

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swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) Dance https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2012/5/the-spring-dance-concert Fri, 18 May 2012 22:56:18 GMT
Michael Lington https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2012/5/michael-lington

Another great morning with the Gary and Kelly Show at the Norman P. Murray Center in Mission Viejo.  The guest artist today was Michael Lington, who gave a customarily great performance.

I've described the approach to shooting artists in this venue already, shooting into the wings to create a dark void behind the performer.  The details for this shot are ISO 400, 1/250 at f/2.8, pretty standard settings for this kind of shot.  White balance was set to Auto in camera, then cooled slightly in Camera Raw to render skin tones better.  

I thought I'd try something a little different this time, though.  During Michael's last number, I got down low in front of the stage, off to the right, to see what a low and wide view would deliver.  I like the leading lines and framing elements that the ceiling lights provide.  This shot is 16 mm, but cropped to a 4x5 format.  With the crop, I lost some of the lights, but also much of the large void in the ceiling.  The Gary and Kelly Show not only features performances by the guest artists; they interview the guests as well, hence the desk and chairs.  For this shot, I would have preferred the chairs to be filled, but to give Michael the undivided spotlight, Gary and Kelly left the set during his performances.

Michael has performed in the annual KSBR Birthday Bash in the past.  The 2012 Bash is coming up in about three weeks, and I can't wait.  I first photographed Michael at the 2009 Bash.  It was one of my favorite images of this annual celebration of KSBR and smooth jazz.  He stepped out in front of the stage lights, such that the majority of the frontal lights washed over and behind him, leaving him in soft, feathered light.  I captured a number of frames in both horizontal and vertical positions while he was there, and converted my favorite one to black and white.  I presented a print of this image to Michael this morning; he was gracious and appreciative, and told me he would frame it and hang it in his studio.  That's a real honor for me.  Here's the image from 2009.

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swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) KSBR Musicians https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2012/5/michael-lington Sun, 06 May 2012 04:53:19 GMT
Pulling Out a Rabbit https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2012/4/pulling-out-a-rabbit

The Santa Margarita Catholic High School Dance Team performed a variation of its 2012 hip hop routine at a Dia del Nino celebration in San Juan Capistrano today.  This routine features nineteen of the team members, and they knew the stage was going to be very small, so they re-choreographed the dance to make it more compact.  The stage was also about three feet high, and some of the girls were worried about falling off.

When we got there, I took a look at the performance space, which was under a heavy duty, white tent at midday with bright sun all around.  Not good for photography.  The dynamic range of exposure was between five and six stops from inside the tent to the back wall, which was bathed in light.  The only optic on the planet that can handle dynamic range of this extent is the human eye; certainly no camera can.  Faced with this circumstance, a photographer has three choices: (1) curse fate and pack it in; (2) fight back and compete with the sun by blasting the interior with flash (thereby preserving the exposure of the outside environment); or (3) give up all hope of saving the background and expose for the interior of the tent.

My initial reaction, unfortunately, was the first alternative. How the heck am I gonna get anything out of this?  But then I recalled the wise counsel of legendary photographer Jay Maisel: "Always carry a camera; it's tough to shoot a picture without one."  So, that took Option 1 off the table and sent me back to the challenge at hand.

Shooting dance, especially fast moving routines like this, is not conducive to flash photography, so I never use it.  First off, using a flash is very disruptive for the dancers.  Here, in this environment, I would have had to bring every photon I could deliver to cut down the dynamic range.  Even blasting that much light into the tent ceiling (which is the only way it could be done without blinding the dancers), would have been disruptive to the audience, and potentially dangerous for the dancers.

So really, there was only one viable alternative, which was to expose for the conditions inside the tent.  Here, it's 1/320 at f/5.6 at ISO 800.  Doing so caused the back wall to completely blow out, but it also did two good things for me. First, it enabled me to completely freeze the dancers, something I rarely can accomplish in dimly lit gymnasiums where they usually compete.  Second, the drastic overexposure of the outside conditions actually brought in some of the ambient exterior light, giving most of the dancers an appealing rim light to their arms and legs.  That's not something you could achieve if the dynamic range weren't so drastic.

So, all in all, I'd consider this a qualified success, kinda like pulling a rabbit out of a very dark hat.

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swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) Dance https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2012/4/pulling-out-a-rabbit Sun, 29 Apr 2012 04:17:02 GMT
You Shoot What You Love https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2012/4/you-do-what-you-love

As photographers go through the process of honing our skills (a process that should be never-ending), most of us start out as generalists, and gradually move to the kinds of photography that we really enjoy most, whether it's family, landscapes, travel, product, fine art, sports, performing arts, or portraiture.  Right now, I'd consider myself primarily a performing arts photographer, based on the percentage of dance and theater images in my inventory.  But eventually, we do our best work in what we really love to do most.  For me, at least right now, it's environmental portraiture, or as Joe McNally calls it, "a face in a place".  

I recently finished shooting the St. John's Episcopal School's production of "Beauty and the Beast", which concluded its four-performance run.  I try to cover the production from rehearsals through the final performance, including at least one trip to the school's multipurpose room where the cast members do their hair and makeup.  It's a fun environment before the "last hurrah".  I get images of the kids putting on each others' makeup, or moms fussing over hair, maybe some group shots... you get the picture.

This year, I had a little more time, so I pulled a few of the kids aside for some impromptu portraits, either with their tools (as with Natalie above), or just up against a blank wall.  I like the way they turned out.

Emily played the role of Cogsworth, the human clock. She was putting her own hair together, and I asked her to simply look toward the window light, supplemented with a single speedlite fitted with a Lumiquest Big Bounce, held off-camera and pointed straight into Emily's face by another student cast member.  Total time from concept to execution, about 30 seconds.

Aashi was doing her eye makeup up against a blank wall, with window light flooding in from behind her, camera right. For this shot, I asked her to hold her mirror just out of frame at an angle that would reflect the window light back into her face.  The catchlight in the bottom of her iris comes from the hand-held mirror. I then exposed for her face.  Exposing for a face otherwise in shadow brings a glow to the rest of the image. This is all ambient light.

Andi is fair-skinned, and I wanted to take it even further with a cooler, almost high-key, high contrast look.  I asked her to pose up against the blank wall and to give me a serious look.  My VAL ("voice activated lightstand" - another cast member) held the speedlite 45 degrees up and over to camera left to give me a loop lighting pattern on Andi, and I captured this very mature look, especially for a middle schooler.  Ordinarily, I'd want a little more light in the eyes, but without it, the mood is even more dramatic.  Not a typical look for a fun-loving kid, but very effective for a young actress.

I went the other way with Joe.  This is Joe in costume.  I loved the way he rocked the hat, kind of a cross between a fedora and a porkpie.  The costume designer really picked a winner with her atypical approach to Beauty and the Beast.  This time, the single speedlite is held at eye level to camera right to give modeling to the face.  The typical 45 degrees up and over would have produced shadow on the eyes from the hat, which I didn't want.  I asked Joe to lower his glasses for two reasons, first, to avoid glare from the flash itself, but more importantly, to give Joe some attitude.

Dylan played the lead role as the Beast.  If you look up the word "ham" in the dictionary, you'll see a picture of Dylan.  This kid was born to act.  Though short in stature at this age, he more than makes up with confidence and dedication.  One might not initially consider casting a shorter actor for the lead role as the Beast, but Dylan brought his own energy and personality to the performance and totally sold it.  I wanted Dylan's confidence to show in this quick portrait, minus his Beast wig and mask, so I shot from below and gave him precise facial direction, including the patented Peter Hurley squint and smirk, and once again, he sold it.

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swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) Portraits Theater https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2012/4/you-do-what-you-love Sun, 22 Apr 2012 21:25:49 GMT
Into the Belly of the Beast, Lightly Armed https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2012/4/into-the-belly-of-the-beast-unarmed

Last night, at about 2:30 a.m. my "best girl ever" daughter Katherine and I got back from the Coachella Music Festival, the annual alternative music fest in Indio, California, that draws kids from all over for three days and nights of ear-splitting, brainstem-wilting music and other fun activities.  Going to Coachella was the greatest thing Katherine could possibly imagine, but it took moving heaven and earth to convince her mom and me that she could go.  The solution, which was validated by several other random and dispassionate folks who offered their opinion on the matter, was that mom would by the tickets and I would also go. And while "alternative" music isn't exactly my cup of tea, I looked on it as an opportunity to test a couple of cameras that I could legally carry in with me, as the posted rules prohibited anything that looked like a professional camera on the premises.  So in I went, armed only with my trusty Leica D-Lux 5, and my new iPhone.

The D-Lux 5 is a nice camera for a point and shoot, outfitted as it is with a Leica Vario-Summicron lens that will go down to f/1.2.  It's feature-rich and very flexible.  What it isn't is rapidly responsive, which is exactly what you need in a target rich environment like a music festival, where interesting faces and images flash across your field of view and then rapidly vanish.  It also doesn't have the reach you need to see the action on the stage when you're about half a mile back. I desperately wanted the reach and the responsiveness of my Canon 7D fitted with the 70-200mm f/2.8.   (Heck, I coulda used 800mm for some of the acts.)  The iPhone cam is also much better than my previous DroidX; the sunset image above was captured with the iPhone, and managed through iPhoto, Nik Dfine 2.0 and HDR Efex Pro.  Not bad for a phone cam.

Ben Jonson's 1614 "Bartholomew Fair" is credited with the first use of the phrase "belly of the beast".  He asks, "What do you say to a drum, sir?  It is the broken belly of the beast, and the bellows there are his lungs, and these pipes are his throat, those feathers are of his tail, and thy rattles the gnashing of his teeth."  

I can honestly say that for the first time in many years, I was left speechless, musically speaking.  Also hearing-less.  The beast that is Coachella was simply overwhelming.  My industrial grade earplugs disintegrated under the barrage.  The image to the left was made on the first afternoon, before the rains came, at a central location called the "Do Lab".  What they "do" at the "lab" is feature non-headliners who blast dubstep and similar riffs at Atlas rocket decibel levels.  Located at the center of the fairgrounds, the bass lines from the Do Lab carry across the entire festival grounds.  The only way the other acts can compete with this is to match them decibel for decibel, which they are more than happy to do.  Meanwhile, they hose down the crowd with pressure washers. 

 

Having celebrated the 30th anniversary of my 30th birthday last week, I was pretty much at a loss when it came to identifying the dozens of performers on the three-day lineup.  Highest on my list of acts to see was the venerable reggae artist Jimmy Cliff, who performed on the main stage early Friday evening, just as the rains came.  I got to the main stage early enough to be relatively close (like maybe 100 feet away).  Unfortunately, the little Leica didn't quite have the reach I needed to get the performers in tight.  But fortunately, each of the five stages at Coachella has two large video screens on either side of the stage, and most people wind up watching a live performance on TV.  

For me, the most poignant image of Friday was Jimmy singing "I can see clearly now, the rain is gone...it's gonna be a bright, bright, sunshiny day" while the rain soaked everyone.

I also wanted to see Florence and the Machine, who performed on the Outdoor Stage.  I got there in what I thought was plenty of time, but the stage was so far away, she might as well have been in Denver.

Some of the acts did surprise me, in a good way.  "St. Vincent" (aka Annie Clark) was news to me, but I enjoyed watching her high-energy performance. Standing off to the side of the tent in which she performed, I was able to capture one decent image of her performance, at -2EV.

At one point, she decided to "crowd surf" as far as her microphone cord would reach.  The crowd went predictably nuts, but from my vantage point, all I could get was the image from the video screen taken from the stage as the security guys anxiously hoped nobody would drop her.  She never missed a beat.

 

The main reason Katherine wanted to go to Coachella was to see some of her favorite "dance music" artists, including Alesso, Avicii, Calvin Harris, and Afrojack.  There were others, too, but at my advanced age, I can't force myself to remember them.  Here's the deal: the tent fills up with amped up kids, the "artist" gets up on a high perch with his turntable/mixing board/whatever he has, and pumps his fists for about an hour or more, while a light show flashes and the same incessant bass beat pounds into your brainpan til it has the consistency of naval jelly.

Katherine and I re-enacted the age-old parent/child debate:  Me: "How can you listen to that shit?  It all sounds exactly the same!  You're gonna go deaf!  I already am!!"  Her: "Daddy, this is the best day of my life!!"

At the end of the three days, we were both exhausted.  I drove back home while Katherine slept in the car.  She needed to get up for school this morning.  While driving back, I riffed on the oft-seen commercial:  Coachella tickets - $700; hotel and meals - $300; bonding with your daughter - priceless.

 

 

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swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) Events Musicians https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2012/4/into-the-belly-of-the-beast-unarmed Mon, 16 Apr 2012 23:59:12 GMT
Shooting a National Dance Competition https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2012/4/shooting-a-national-dance-competition I shoot a lot of dance.  Studio shots, performances, locations, and competitions, you name it.  I've shot dozens of dance competitions over the years, ranging from ancient high school theaters to modern high school gyms.  

Being designed for performances, the lighting in high school theaters is not generally bad, as long as the school continues to pay the light bill. Sometimes it's not up to par, but usually setting a tungsten white balance on a digital camera will give you a place to start and a fighting chance.   Then you have to contend with the dance competition banner in the back.  Some are relatively inoffensive while others are just plain garish.  But you can deal with it, as long as the company producing the competition allows photography in the first place, which is becoming less and less the norm.

But shooting high school competitions in gymnasiums is a whole 'nuther thing.  Even the most modern high school gymnasiums have lighting that cycles between magenta and green color casts.  Usually the naked eye doesn't pick up on this cycling, but a shutter speed that's fast enough to freeze the dancers' action will often pick up the color cast.  So a burst of three to seven frames will generally give you a magenta-cast exposure, a green-cast exposure, and sometimes a rainbow of magenta, green, and something approaching normal all in one frame.  Add to that the fact that the background behind the dancers in a high school gym usually consists of bleachers half-filled with assorted spectators who may or may not be paying attention, plus speakers, trash bins, dance bags, lunch bags, old bags, water bottles, and other dreck, and you have little hope of getting anything that approaches art, no matter how talented and beautiful the dancers are.

And then there's the Anaheim Convention Center, this weekend the home of the USA National Cheer and Dance competition.  The preliminary competitions are held either in a dimly lit hotel ballroom, complete with parquet flooring pieced together like every wedding reception you've ever been to, or in the hangar-size trade show hall in the Convention Center itself, which has been outfitted with the aforementioned bleachers, a basketball court (minus the hoops), and color-casting lights.

Then there are the two hired photogs who capture each and every dancer with eight (count 'em, eight) nuclear strobes mounted to the top of the bleachers.  (Even at a flash duration of 1/1500 second or faster, you're bound to get at least 10 of their flashes during the weekend.)  I don't envy these guys.  They probably see about 250 dance performances a day, with anywhere from four to over thirty dancers in each performance.  Trying to get something for each dancer is an exercise in futility.  They're good, but really all they can do is "spray and pray".  By the end of the day, I don't think they can see straight.

After qualifying in regional competitions weeks earlier and competing in the hotel or trade show hall on Friday, the dancers' first goal is to make it to the Finals, held on Saturday night in the Arena at the Convention Center.  For photographers, the goal is also to make it to the Finals, because that's where the Good Light is.  At this level, these dancers are incredibly talented and hard working.  They deserve to be seen performing their art in the best possible environment.  Here in the SoCal circuit, that's the Arena.  Directional without being harsh, and consistent across the entire performance space, the lighting in the Arena is more than you could hope for.  And the environment gives you the choice of photographing against a large clean backdrop with a boatload of trophies if you want that, or shooting into the void if you prefer that (which I do).

Photographing talented dancers in this environment is a dance shooter's dream. You can go for straight visual impact, as in the photo of Cole above, which is devoid of the normal distractions, and her expression and talent practically jump off the photo.  Cole is a beautiful dancer, with lines and an expression that are guaranteed to hold your interest.  In terms of impact on the judges, I'd be willing to bet that Cole is money.

Or you can tell a visual story, as in the picture of Ian and the Saugus dance team below.

This competition marked the return of Ian Waschak to competitive dance after several weeks sidelined with injury.  This routine is one of several he competed over the weekend, and was undoubtedly one of the most challenging and impressive of all.  It's an incredibly demanding piece.  You can see the pain he's fighting through, and his teammates appear to be caught in it, too.  That's not the story of the choreography at all, but it's the truth of this image at this particular moment in time.  Ian completely nailed every move, leap, extension, and lift.  He literally "left it all on the dance floor", and at the conclusion of the piece, he needed help to get backstage.  I've never seen anything like it.

 

 

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swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) Dance https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2012/4/shooting-a-national-dance-competition Mon, 02 Apr 2012 07:38:24 GMT
Jordan Matter in LA https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2012/3/jordan-matter-in-la

For about a year now, I've been looking forward to the possibility of meeting and maybe even doing something with Jordan Matter.  If you don't know who he is, Google "Dancers Among Us", which is Jordan's nation-wide journey discovering and photographing amazing dancers doing amazing things in places you wouldn't expect to find dancers.  The end product of this project is a book to be published by Workman Publishing and released later this year.

I became aware of Jordan by a roundabout process starting with Joe McNally and David Cooper, both of whom photograph dancers better than I ever will, and whose work inspires me to improve.  I often tell people that there are two kinds of photographers, technicians and artists.  Technicians can craft a usable frame out of any circumstance, but artists truly create the circumstance they bring to the image, whether by choreographing it or just seeing it in a different way.  I'm a pretty decent technician, but I aspire to flex the artistic side of my limited mental faculties.  That was apparent in my first print review with Joe McNally in Las Vegas a few years ago, when he challenged me to get out and choreograph a story with dancers, to take charge of the entire process, and not simply record what's happening in front of me.  And that, photographically, is exactly what "Dancers Among Us" is about.  It's about a lot more than that, but that's a story for Jordan to tell.

So I contacted Jordan several months ago, after photographing a beautiful young dancer I know, Caitlin, at the Walt Disney Concert Hall.  I sent it to Jordan and offered to help him with support and dancers if he ever came to Southern California.  A few weeks ago he responded and accepted my offer of assistance.  I spent a couple of days scouting locations and offered to bring two incredible dancers (Caitlin and Lauren)  that I knew would be able to do the kinds of things Jordan would want.  I can't show you any of their images because they may be used in the upcoming book, so they've been "embargoed".  But I spent the first two days of this week supporting Jordan and the dozen or so dancers who volunteered for his tour of LA.  

The image above shows how this thing goes.  It's Jordan shooting Terry Beeman in front of a cheap hotel for those who can afford it along LA's Skid Row.  Jordan asked me to stay just across the street with the engine running while he worked this scene with Terry.  We had driven around the neighborhood while Jordan looked for specific locations and created a mental story to place this dancer in the scene.  I shot behind the scenes images for him and suggested locations, perspectives, and other occasional things that a photographer "in the moment" might not otherwise see.

During my two days with Jordan, we hit about ten locations, working from noon to late at night, with eleven different dancers of all types.  (We only got kicked out of four, which is pretty much par for the course.)  He got some great frames.  While at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, he was gracious enough to make a few of me.

This has been an incredible experience for me, and one that I'll cherish and use as an inspiration for my future dance projects.  Jordan's a great guy. Look him up online now, and be on the lookout for the book when it's released this Fall.

Next up: three days of shooting Middle School theater and two days of high school dancers in National competition.  

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swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) Dance Portraits https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2012/3/jordan-matter-in-la Thu, 29 Mar 2012 16:49:24 GMT
The Home Tour https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2012/3/the-home-tour  

This week I had the pleasure of providing photography services to the Canyon Chapter of the National Charity League as they presented their third annual Coto de Caza Home Tour.  This is the Chapter's premier fundraising activity of the year, which raises something in the neighborhood of $30,000 to support the many philanthropies of the Chapter.  The Tour features five remarkable homes in Coto, each one decorated and furnished in elegant fashion.  This year was no exception.

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The event begins with a morning breakfast at the Bell Tower Regional Community Center in Rancho Santa Margarita, where the guests are also able to browse and purchase various products from local vendors who support the Chapter and its activities.  The guests then board shuttles for the brief trip into the gated community, where Chapter members lead guided tours of the five homes.  The homes are, in a word, stunning.

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One of the challenges of photographing architecture, especially interiors, is the need to shoot wide.  Photographers who specialize in architectural work use "tilt-shift" or "perspective control" lenses to keep vertical lines vertical and horizontal lines horizontal.  Shlubs like me, who don't have tilt-shift lenses make do with careful framing and cropping.  Or, we let the lines go where they will, and we call it "art".

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Another challenge in shooting interiors is balancing interior light and outdoor light.  Our eyes do this effortlessly, but cameras can't handle the dynamic range presented by bright sunlight and darker interiors.  There are three ways to deal with this extended dynamic range.  First, you can lock the camera on a tripod and shoot multiple exposures designed to capture detail in the bright exterior and detail in the darker interior, and then blend them in post production.  Or, you can bring enough studio light into the interior to balance the outdoor light, and get it in one shot.  Or, you can decide not to worry about it, overexpose the room to make it nice and bright, tweak the color temperature in Photoshop and lead the viewer to conclude that the outside light is flooding the room.  This, too, is "art".

Sometimes it's important to show that detail outside the window.  But if you can't set up a tripod to capture multiple exposures, and all you have is one little speedlight, you can point it backwards, bang it off the wall behind you, and get something like this.

_MG_8895 We call this luck "skill".

While all of these houses are remarkable in their design, decor, and landscaping, some of them have truly amazing features.  This house has one room devoted completely to ballet, although the three girls who studied ballet have since married and moved on.  As a dance photographer, I couldn't resist making a few studies of the details in this room.

_MG_8938 Some of the "amenities" are just plain over the top.  I say this with true admiration, because when I saw this "man cave", the entry to which is guarded by a genuine bank vault door, I had to chuckle.

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But my jaw truly dropped when I went outside beyond the pool to see the two-story gymnasium, which almost defies description.

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The gym was extremely dark and dramatic.  The low light level called for an exposure in the half-second range, way too long to hand-hold the camera.  So you make do with what you have, including door frames, railings, or a piece of gym equipment to steady the camera.

All of these interior images were made in very mixed lighting environments, including sunlight, tungsten lighting fixtures, and electronic flash.  I continue to marvel at the classic Canon 5D's ability to handle these situations and make the final images work.

The Home Tour is a fun day for the guests, but it's a ton of work for those who prep the homes and staff the event.  The Chapter members are a great group to spend the day with.

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swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) Events https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2012/3/the-home-tour Sun, 25 Mar 2012 07:21:49 GMT
Getting My Butt Kicked https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2012/3/getting-my-butt-kicked _MG_6033

On Saturday, I had the opportunity to photograph another live broadcast of the KSBR's Gary and Kelly Show from the Norman P. Murray Center in Mission Viejo.  This is a great community resource, with outstanding guest artists from the smooth jazz world.  This week the broadcast featured guitarist Chris Standring, who treated the guests to a wonderful performance.

I usually get good results from these performances, because the stage is lit for television.  The sides of the set are lit by hotlights, and the backdrop of the set is lit from behind through a curtain, which usually poses some challenges, but on this day, the background was much brighter than usual, and I couldn't get anything to work.  It affected my exposure, my white balance, my focus, and maybe even my stock portfolio.  I couldn't exactly stop the performance and hold my trusty light meter under Chris' chin, and I didn't want to completely blow out the background beyond recognition.

So what do you do when faced with a circumstance like this?  There's a saying that goes something like, "You can't change the wind, but you can change your sails."  First of all, you can change your own position to take the problem out of the frame.  I moved to the far sides of the room, to isolate Chris from the difficult backdrop.  I like this strategy, and use it all the time, even when the frontal view is working well.  Shooting into the wings is the best way to isolate a stage-lit performer.  Spot metering on the face will give you the proper exposure, and since  the face is lit by these stage lights, the void in the background will almost always go black.  Any remaining items in the frame can be left in for context or can be cloned out if they're too distracting.  In the photograph above, taken from the left, I intentionally included the Chimera softbox with the egg-crate grid, which channels the light and reduces scatter.  You can see its effect on Chris' face.  The fact that Chris' black shirt and dark vest blend into the background shows what the egg-crate does.  The light that doesn't hit Chris' face travels right behind him in a straight path, leaving the wings behind him unlit. The shadow side of Chris' face is lit by the stage lights, which would normally be the key lights.

For the next image, I moved to the right, and shot into the opposite wing.  Chris was at center stage, lit by the overhead stage lights.  The foliage behind Chris picked up some illumination from another Chimera light aimed at the interview set just out of frame to the right.

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Finally, if you can't avoid the problem by moving your vantage point, and no amount of Photoshop can bring the right balance of color, contrast, and exposure to your image, the last option before hitting the Delete button is to go black and white, and pretend you intended to do this all along....

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That's it for today.

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swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) KSBR Musicians Portraits https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2012/3/getting-my-butt-kicked Mon, 12 Mar 2012 01:28:02 GMT
Shooting Hockey https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2012/3/shooting-hockey StChamp-1176

I had the great good fortune to photograph the Santa Margarita Catholic High School Eagles as they marched through the inaugural California Amateur Hockey Association High School Championship tournament this past weekend.  The tournament pitted the two best SoCal teams against the two best teams from up north.  The final game pitted the Eagles against the a very good team from Bellarmine Prep in San Jose.  These same two schools fought for the CIF Division 1 football crown last fall, with the Eagles emerging victorious in a nail-biter.  This one was exciting for an entirely different set of reasons, and the Eagles dominated with a final score of 4-1.

High School hockey is a growing sport in California, but as of now, it's not under the California Interscholastic Federation.  Instead, the leagues are organized and supported by the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks, which is a great thing for these NHL teams to do.  Teams in the Ducks' league play at the Anaheim Ice facility, where the tournament was held, until Sunday evening, when the championship game was played at the Honda Center, home of the Ducks.

This is primarily a photography blog, but first, I need to tell you just how good this Eagle hockey team is.  To say that they outscored their opponents by a combined score of 21-3 is not enough to adequately describe this team.  The Eagles went undefeated in league play, and their principal goalie, Connor O'Brien, had a perfect Goals Against percentage.  That's right...unscored upon.  I've seen them six times this season, and every time I come away with greater respect for their skills, their discipline, and their ability to focus and just win.  That comes from great coaching by Craig Johnson and his staff.  

Though I'm not principally a sports photographer, I do know that hockey is one of the most difficult team sports to shoot (and my shots prove it).  Fortunately for me, photographing in the Anaheim Ice facility was about as easy as hockey shooting can be.  Perched on steps just above the glass provided a perfect opportunity to get the wide view while anticipating where the action is developing.

Transitioning to the Honda Center and photographing through the photographers' holes in the glass proved to be a different, and totally intimidating matter.

StChamp-1087 First, the lighting is as good as you could expect; I was getting 1/500 at f/4 with ISO set at 2500, not quite enough to freeze a fast moving stick or puck traveling across the frame, but better than most low-light stuff I normally do.  And shooting right in front of the action, at the players' level, gives you the opportunity to get shots like this.  Using a wide angle lens at 16mm, there's just enough distortion to give the shot even more drama than you experience when these guys slam into the glass right in front of you.  Of course, it can also work against you, as my view of the Eagles' first goal was completely blocked by an up-close and personal view of the backside of the referee's pants, if you catch my drift.

The real difficulty in shooting through the holes in the glass is trying to capture everything.  Shooting hockey in this environment is like being in the middle of a tornado, with bodies, sticks, and the puck flying from every direction.  Because hockey is so fast-moving, I found myself switching rapidly from one camera to the other, one fitted with the 70-200 lens and the other with the 16-35.  This had the unfortunate consequence of banging my equipment around quite a bit, which induced some inadvertent changes in my exposure settings.  But worse is the location of the hole relative to my height.  There was just no way to get comfortable and stable at this height; too high to sit, too low to kneel.  If I had a longer lens (say, 300mm), I could simply press the lens up against the glass itself, rather than shoot through the hole, and be assured that any imperfections or scratches in the glass would not affect the shot.  But lugging around 300 mm of glass in a fast-moving scene has it's own limitations and is not something I want to do, though my respect for those who do it certainly grew after last night's experience.

In the end, I was pretty pleased with my results from the tournament.  I have the utmost respect for the Eagle hockey team and enjoy the company of its parents and supporters.  I've learned a lot about shooting this sport, and I have some images that, while not exactly Sports Illustrated quality, I can take some measure of pride.

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Thanks to Barbara Abbott for inviting me to this party, and to Dave Black, who has taught me everything I know about shooting sports.  My skill level is about 1% of his.

 

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swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) Hockey SMCHS Sports https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2012/3/shooting-hockey Mon, 05 Mar 2012 18:00:54 GMT
June Kuramoto https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2012/3/june-kuramoto Anyone who knows anything about the west coast jazz scene knows the band Hiroshima.  Their unique sound, sometimes known as "World Urban", is grounded in the virtuoso work of kotoist June Kuramoto and her husband Dan Kuramoto on woodwinds. Tonight, along with keyboardist Kimo Cornwell and bassist Dean Cortez, the quartet performed for a VIP crowd at the Norman P. Murray Center in Mission Viejo in a kickoff event for this year's annual KSBR Birthday Bash on May 27.  The event was a live radio broadcast of the Blake Aaron Radio Show on KSBR, and Blake sat in with Hiroshima on a couple of numbers.

It was a great night of jazz, interviews, food and  beverages.  It was also a great night for photography, as the room was lit for television by our local Mission Viejo station MVTV under the leadership of Eric Winter. Getting portraits such as this one is technically easy under these conditions; find your exposure and fire away.  (In this case, it's ISO 400, 1/125 at f/2.8.)  The trick, however, is to find the expression in the artist that conveys a sense of who they are and how they work their craft.  To me, this portrait of June speaks of serenity, pride and confidence.  In reality, she's working the koto in perfect synchronicity with Dan on the flute.  The  other compelling aspect to this image is the framing element provided by the curtain behind June.

KSBR, the public radio station at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, has a very productive partnership with the City of Mission Viejo, and the result is incredible access to some of the best jazz artists in the country.  Frequent live radio broadcasts such as this one provide up-close and personal access to these amazing artists, all of whom are warm and wonderful people who love to perform.  The crowning event of the year is KSBR's annual Birthday Bash, the station's premier fundraiser for the year, in which dozens of jazz artists donate their time and talent on behalf of KSBR, and deliver some of the best live music in Southern California.  For me, it's hands down the best musical and photographic day of the year.  This year's Bash is Sunday, May 27, at Oso Viejo Community Park in Mission Viejo.  If you like great music, well produced in a great environment, you should be there.  

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swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) KSBR Musicians Portraits https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2012/3/june-kuramoto Fri, 02 Mar 2012 09:21:53 GMT
Shooting "Soloiste" https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2012/2/shooting--soloiste- Saturday evening was devoted to photographing the Pacific Theatre Ballet/Pacific Ballet Conservatory production of "Soloiste".  This is an annual project featuring solo variations, as well as a collection of pieces featuring duets and larger groups from the Pacific Ballet Conservatory's advanced ballet students.  As I've said previously, I like shooting in this venue, the Laguna Hills Community Center, even though it's a multipurpose room with a small stage.  The lighting is predictable and consistent throughout the production, even though it is not even across the stage.  That means that you can get different exposures and moods depending on where the dancer(s) happen to be at any particular point in the piece.  Cross-lighting at center stage gives way to strongly directional lighting at both sides, producing significantly different looks during each performance.  The halogen lighting provides a warmth that I like, although I've cooled it down a bit in this image.

Another reason I like shooting "Soloiste" is that I get to focus mainly on one dancer.  That removes another significant variable in capturing the precision that ballet photographs should provide.  I can then focus my energy and attention to what the solo dancer is doing, and try to anticipate the critical millisecond that is the peak of the movement.  I don't always capture it, especially if I haven't seen the dance before, but I prefer not to shoot in a burst mode, so I get what I can.  Somehow, burst shooting a ballet performance just doesn't seem quite right to me.  

The other aspect that I try to capture is the expression of the dancer.  While some younger dancers obviously try to work through stage fright and just get through a performance, other more seasoned dancers like these ladies embody the emotion of the music and choreography and allow it to play on their faces.  In this piece from "Raymonda" (above), Lauren expresses the full range of emotions, but this particular moment looks to me like it's all business.  It could be an advertisement for the designer of this rich and elegant costume, Rebecca Bush, which in fact Lauren and I have, on another occasion, actually done.

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swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) Ballet Dance https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2012/2/shooting--soloiste- Tue, 28 Feb 2012 03:48:43 GMT
Middle School Actors https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2012/2/middle-school-actors This past week, I began the photography portion of St. John's Episcopal School's production of "Beauty and the Beast".  As I noted in my previous blog post, my work begins with headshots of the cast members, moving on to rehearsals and then to the actual performances in late March.  Here's a sample of one of the headshots.  

I'm getting away from vertical headshots in favor of horizontal compositions for two reasons.  First, the negative space gives me room to add the actor's name in the photograph.  But more importantly, it gives the subject some "room to breathe", rather than being hemmed in.  My choice of where to place the face in the frame is guided by basic facial analysis, looking for each person's "good side".  With some kids, like John here, it doesn't really matter.   The name will be placed one third up from the bottom of the frame.

Lighting for these headshots is staightforward:  a Qflash mounted in a Kacey beauty dish with a diffusion sock and a silver reflector to provide fill in a clamshell configuration.  The white backdrop is lit with two speedlites at 1/4 power and placed to render it light grey.  

 

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swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) Headshots Portraits https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2012/2/middle-school-actors Sat, 25 Feb 2012 19:04:29 GMT
A Busy Week https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2012/2/a-busy-week This is the first post in my new photography blog, as my web host Zenfolio has just today released this feature.  So this is really a test post to see what this thing looks like.  It's catching me at a good time, because this weekend is gearing up to be a very busy one. 

Yesterday, I had a great time doing headshots of young actors at St. John's Episcopal School, as they near crunch time in the production of this year's Middle School Play, "Beauty and the Beast".  Although our daughter graduated from St. John's three years ago, I continue to photograph the school's production each year because I respect and enjoy the company of the director and inspirational leader of the troupe, Lori Speciale, as well as the cast, and all of the administrators and volunteers who make this production a success.  We start the photographic effort with headshots, which are used to promote the production, and are included in the Playbill (if we have the resources to produce it).  As the schedule moves more deeply into rehearsals, I'll shoot a few, to try to capture the cast and crew as they progress from "Where am I supposed to be now?" to "We can actually do this!"  I then shoot as many performances as I can, from different angles, to create a seamless record of the experience.  The culmination of this effort is a hardcover book.  I'm just now reviewing, selecting, and editing the headshots; I'll post a sample with some details on the approach when they're ready to go.

Megan Van Horn Another labor of love is coming up this weekend, as the Pacific Ballet Conservatory and Pacific Theatre Ballet are staging the annual production of "Soloiste".  This is a series of solo variations by the Conservatory's more advanced students, and is a wonderful opportunity to photograph these dancers doing what they love.  The venue is the Laguna Hills Community Center's multipurpose room.  You might think that a multipurpose room in a community center would not be a good location for photographing ballet, let alone performing it, but you'd be wrong.  The stage lighting can be very good, and exposures under ambient conditions are solid.  I've gotten some amazing photographs from this room, and this year promises to provide opportunities for more.  

Here's a sample from a previous production of "Soloiste", one of my favorite ballet images. This is Megan Van Horn during a piece from "Swan Lake" in 2010.  During the conversion process to black and white, I dropped out much of the background, leaving only a hint of the path leading away from her, to focus more on the play of light on her hands.  I've photographed Megan a number of times, and each time she amazes me more and more.  She's currently in New York, studying and performing with Gelsey Kirkland.

I've photographed "Soloiste" here, as well as several performances of "The Nutcracker Suite", and brought back some terrific images.  There was this one little episode last year that kinda makes sense in the context of a community center's multipurpose room.  I arrived at the center to photograph a Nutcracker rehearsal, only to find that the large, divisible room had in fact been divided into two sections: one part including the stage for the ballet rehearsal, and the other part for a private party.  Well, the party turned out to be a quinceanera, and Tchaikovsky had to compete with live music from a bunch of energetic mariachis.  I'm not sure that the director and dancers saw the humor in this, but I sure did. After all, the traditional "Nutcracker Suite" does feature Chinese, Spanish, Russian, and Arabian dancers....

 

That's it for now.

 

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swylie@cox.net (Steve Wylie Photography) Ballet Dance Theater https://stevewyliephotography.com/blog/2012/2/a-busy-week Thu, 23 Feb 2012 22:22:13 GMT