Where Will Your Camera Take You? (Jimmy was dying and Charon wanted me to photograph the two of them together.)

Koh Chang, Thailand

Where Will Your Camera Take You?

Most photographers never really think about where their camera will take them. I can honestly say “my camera has taken me to places I never dreamed I’d ever go to.” When I make this statement, many readers may think I have traveled the world over and have been to exotic places. In some ways this is partially true, but you don’t have to go around the world to see amazing things and meet wonderful people. There may be an amazing place right up the street from where you live or amazing people in your community that you haven’t met yet.

My camera and my love of photography has taken me to places 10,000 miles away and it has taken me into the fields and forest behind my house. My wife is from Thailand and while my photography played a very small part in meeting her, it has played a huge roll in my life when I travel to Thailand. I can say without a doubt that there are places I would have never seen and people I would have never met if it wasn’t for the fact that I am a photographer. This sounds so prolific when you put the “10,000 miles away” statement in the paragraph. It makes me sound so worldly, I can also honestly make that same statement about the area where I live right here in the USA.

I live on the west side of New Jersey not for from the Delaware River that divides New Jersey & Pennsylvania. As my photography grew, I wanted more and more out of it. I didn’t want to just take photos of my dog anymore and I never was that great of a landscape photographer, however I did like product & food photography. I like my own product photography, I would sell stuff on eBay and I knew that the better the images of the product or item I was selling, the higher the bids would go. I sold everything on eBay from a postage stamp to a Caterpillar bulldozer. With that I was hired several times to photograph moderate to high dollar items such as antiques and cars.

Organic Pumpkin Doughnuts with pecans and maple glaze. 1/60 sec at f/3.5 ISO 50 50mm

 

Still I wanted much more from my photography. I would photograph events, just for the fun of it. Many times, I would be at a public event and think to myself “If not for photography, I would most likely not be at this event.” Some events I chose just because I wanted the challenge of photographing fast-moving things, so I would go to an airshow. Parades are always nice, but again I still wanted something more.

As my photography progressed, so did my editing skills. Learning Adobe Photoshop & Lightroom were a bit of a challenge at first, but like riding a bike it comes quickly if you keep at it. Around this time, I decided I really liked photographing people and I wanted to pursue it. I had always liked photographing people, however one day I sat thinking long and hard and came to the realization how much I liked it. The reason I had not pursued it I think was mostly due to lack of confidence and lack of equipment. One, being a mental thing and the other being obviously a money thing. So, I soon set off on a journey to acquire what I needed to photograph people. In time came better lenses and then onto building an arsenal of lighting equipment.

As for the confidence; it too came in an ebb & flow kind of way. It wasn’t like one day I woke up and “hey today I can photograph anybody.” I think what happened was, I realized I had the skill all along, all I needed to do was talk. I am not an “up front in your face kind of person” when I fist meet someone, however I found a long time ago that I have the ability to strike up a conversation with just about anyone. It doesn’t matter really who it is, but I usually find something to talk about. This is nothing new of course, we have all heard or read that we can start a conversation if we can find a “common ground” topic. So, using my gift of talking to people I found photographing people easier to do if I could talk as I worked.

Shooting portraits is something I really like to do because for one, I can make money doing it and two, it is a way to network into other areas of photography. Think about how much easier is it to get a wedding gig when I have already met the person/s. Business headshots is another way to network and get some good commercial work. I love photography and I love it more when it makes me money.

So as time went on my photography allowed me to meet more people, some of which I have become very good friends with and other who have become regular customers over the years. As I look back at all the places, I have been just because of my knowing how to work a camera and edit a digital image is really amazing to me. I might add it is not all about working a camera and editing an image in Photoshop. Just take for instance an engagement shoot I did at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Now, I have done many engagement shoots and most times the couple wants to go to a rather quiet place, a somewhat peaceful place, but not these guys. The location is the Art Museum on a rather cold Saturday in January. It is a nice day, but cold and there is a lot of people and my job is to get good images of this couple and include the scenery of the outside of the museum all while not getting people into their photos. And if that is not bad enough there is not a cloud in the sky so the sunlight is as about as harsh as it gets. Also, I would guess about half the people walking around are also photographers on some level or another.

A little bit of a challenge it was. Just getting to the museum and parking was enough to make me want to go back home lol. Then there was the cold air and wind, the bright sunlight and all the people. All this is going on and at one point, for just a moment I think to myself “look where my camera has taken me today.” If not for the money I was making I don’t think I would have any reason to hangout one the steps of the Philly Art Museum on a cold windy day in January. The images of that day turned out great, the couple loved them and they pay for the job was very good.

 

“Look where my camera has taken me today” is something I actually think to myself a lot. Sometimes I will say it out loud even if I am all alone. I think the first time I really thought about it and actually said it to myself was in 2012 while I was in Thailand at a Buddhist temple on top of a mountain. We had driven to a parking area located nearly at the top of the mountain. Then we walked and we walked, uphill of course. “Don’t stop walking now we’re almost there” said my wife’s niece. It is very hot and humid, and I am carrying 30 lbs. of camera gear and a tripod. I am dying as we reach the steps. As I reach the top step and walk through the gate, I feel this wonderfully strong breeze blowing through the doorway. So, I step into the shade of the round roof & walkway that surrounds the temple and I stay right there. The breeze was heavenly and I drink two bottles of water in a about a minute.

As I was cooling down, I was taking in the beauty of the temple grounds, with all the amazing flowers, trees and walkways. Under the circular roof there were an endless line of gold monk busts. Then I looked toward the temple itself and it was nine stories tall and still under construction. As I walked across the courtyard into the bright sun, I was anticipating the coolness I knew would be inside the temple. I take off my shoes quickly and enter and “yes” it is cool, a nice breeze is blowing through. But nothing like the breeze that was blowing at the gate.

Okay, so there are nine floors to this temple and I will photograph my way to the top. Sadly, the elevator was still not finished and I had to climb the steep stairs. Each floor was hotter than the previous and there was no more breeze. Also, I was on my last bottle of water. So, I did make it all the way to the top and out to the open balcony. The view was breathtaking, I could see for miles. There was a slight breeze, but there was also midday sun beating down. While at the top I did take photos of the view and of the family and then back inside. After heading down the stairs, floor by floor I made it to the second floor and it was cool enough that I just wanted to sit. As I was resting, I seen a very nice scene I wanted to photograph. I was sitting on the floor preparing the camera on the tripod and then I stopped and waited as people were moving though my scene.

During this waiting for people to move and me recovering from the heat is when it hit me. I sat there thinking to myself; “look at me… I am here on this mountain top at this beautiful temple… me a country boy from 10,000 miles away” and then I said to myself “look where my camera has taken me today.” Sure, it was my wife’s idea to come to this temple, but only because she knew it would be an awesome place for me to photograph. If not for that reason I would have never been there. So, I just waited for the people to move and soon they did. I shot a series of HDR photos and moved on. But not before letting it really sink in that this camera, I am holding is really changing my life.

I have since returned to that temple once more on another trip to Thailand and I was better prepared. The second visit was well thought out and I annoyed the shit out of everybody traveling with me as I took my good ole time photographing all the stuff, I missed on the first trip lol.

Jimmy was dying and Charon wanted me to photograph the two of them together. Charon was a friend of mine who I had met on Facebook by way of her daughter who had done some amateur modeling. Charon had met Jimmy and they fell in love, I had never seen her so happy. I mean she was just so happy to have found Jimmy and he loved her too, they were an awesome couple. Charon said “I want you to shoot us, a couples shoot and it’s a paid gig, not a freebie.”

We all meet up at Smithville Park a very popular wedding and engagement shoot location in New Jersey. This was my first-time meeting Jimmy and he seemed a little “off.” I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but he seemed just a little weird. Then Jimmy said he had just had brain surgery a week or so earlier. When Jimmy left to use the restroom, Charon told me the bad news. Jimmy had brain cancer and he only had a few months live, maybe more. I continued shooting and never missed a beat. We all kept joking and moving around to the different locations at the park. We had stopped at a gazebo, it was shady and cool, I could see Jimmy was tiring and Charon was getting a phone call. So, I stepped back and let them have some private time together while I looked through my camera at the images.

I was really hurting inside. I was hurting for Jimmy who I had just met, but more so I was hurting for Charon. She is such a wonderful human being and her fulltime job is taking care of dying people. She met Jimmy because she was caring for his dying mother. They met, they fell in love and now just months later Jimmy was dying… and I am photographing the last good day of his life. And it was at that moment I said to myself “look where my camera has taken me today.” Not 10,000 miles away and not some exotic location, but to a place where I am capturing the end days of a man’s life with a woman he loves so much. After the job was done, I just sat in my car and after Charon & Jimmy left I cried.

I sat in the car just thinking about what had just happened. I was watching another couple with their photographer as she was photographing them in the park and thinking “they look just a happy as Jimmy & Charon, but I bet he’s not dying” and I laughed a little bit. I drove and got a cup of coffee to clear my head and then as I drove the hour or so back home, I ran though my mind all the places my camera had taken me. I thought about all the people I had met. It was one of those drives where I arrived at my driveway and don’t remember anything about the ride because my mind was so far away in thought.

Jimmy passed away four months later and left a hole in Charon’s heart that truly may never heal. I know they say “time heals all” and I truly believe that, but sometimes there are just not enough years in our life for time to do its good deed.

Sorry to end on such a sad note, but that is just how life is sometimes, that’s how it was for Jimmy & Charon.

Thanks for stopping by and reading.

 

 

 

Fun Day of Flying My Drone (It could be a bird, a shotgun, a low flying plane or just a douche bag in a Saab.)

So to carry on in the vain of my past few post about “what its like to own a DJI drone” in this post I would like to talk about my personal experiences when out and actually flying.

As I have stated in the past, the Mavic Pro and Pro 2 are stellar flying machines. Personally, I have never had any real bad problems with the aircraft. With my Mavic Pro (the first) I did have one battery mysteriously go bad after about six months. I have dropped a few of my batteries on the ground a few different times and I thought it could possibly be the culprit.

Now as for out flying and in the air, my first big worriment is bird strikes. I have had a few close calls, actually several close calls with birds. Secondly, I worry about someone shooting the drone with a shotgun and third is a “just as luck would have it situation.” There is a farm where I rent space to keep my BBQ cooking equipment for my catering business. I am allowed to fly there however it is a bit tricky because as luck would have it there is a natural gas pipeline that runs right through the farm property. Every day about 10:00am-ish a small single engine plane flies over at about 300 feet. The underside of the wings says “Pipe Line Patrol.” I fly at the farm mostly for practice and testing the different flight modes & profiles. It is a very wide-open space and I am not flying over people; however, I always have to keep a keen eye out for the Pipeline Patrol plane. Sure, it comes by each day around the same time, but what if one day it came at a different time? You just never know.

Birds were a problem from day one. There are several different kinds of birds at the farm, more in the warm weather, of course. The barn swallows like to gang up on the drone if it is 100 feet or lower and the closer to the buildings the more, they dive at it. I have never had one hit it yet, but I think that is because when I see them coming, I move higher and further away.

Hawks are common site at the farm, however they rarely come after the drone. But when they do it is quite scary. Most times the hawk will come in quick, he will first fly past as if not to notice the drone or care about it too much. Then after seeming to fly away and usually higher, the hawk will turn and go into a dive picking up a great amount of speed. His trajectory is usually not perfectly aligned with the done and he actually dives lower than the drone. Then at the last second with all the speed he built from his dive, he will pull up and arc directly toward the drone. Most times when the hawk comes close and I usually go into sport mode and hightail it out of his airspace.

Is the hawk just toying around or is the hawk serious? I’m not an Avian expert so I’ll just leave it at that. Better safe than sorry and at the same time I really don’t want the hawk to get hurt either. I think they are beautiful and majestic and after all I am the intruder here.

The dreaded shotgun; This is something I really do worry about. Although I never fly close and low over people’s houses and I’m not into peering or leering into people’s private lives, I still worry. People can be malicious, especially if they think they can get away with it and most likely they would. I have overheard locals talking about drones and not knowing I own two and also not knowing I was listening to their conversation outside the local convenience store; I heard one man telling another “I hope a drone flies over my property because I’ll blast it with a shotgun.” At this time laws are constantly changing and as far as I know at this very moment, it is illegal where I live to down an aircraft regardless of its size, manned or unmanned. However just because something is illegal doesn’t stop people from doing it. It is illegal to mug someone, still I think I’ll stay out of the dark alley in the bad part of town anyway. Sure, even if you caught the guy for shooting down your drone, the trouble one would have to go through to get another drone would certainly not be worth it.

Now as for encountering people when I fly; I have to say that most people who see me flying my drones are pretty nice and this can be a double edge sword of sorts. While it is nice to see that they are ok with me flying my drone there are sometimes the people who are nice, but very intrigued at the same time. They will come over and start asking questions about the drone because they are honestly interested. However, it can be very bothersome when I’m in the middle of trying to get a shot. Most often this person just doesn’t realize that I am in the middle of actually doing something with the drone. Usually I will say politely that I will answer all your questions in just a minute.

They will run though the typical gamut of questions starting with how much does that drone cost? Are they hard to fly? And then things like; I have a $30 drone that I chase my cat around the house with. They’ll ask about the video and photos and I’ll usually show them some video and photos on my phone or tablet.

In my two plus years of owning drones I have come across one real dick head, to put it bluntly. I was at a location that was an old abandon pharmaceutical farm. It is a large parcel of land that once was a farm that had many buildings and pastures for grazing. The pharmaceutical company housed animals there for testing animal medicines and vitamins for animal use. The land was now owned or controlled by the state and it is still unclear to me as to what the status of the land is. It is not actually a park or a reserve or even a preserve. However, the land does butt up to a park on one side. Rangers patrol the park, but again it is very unclear when I read online as to who has jurisdiction. One read will say it falls into the hands of the local police because it is not a park and another state website claimed it could be controlled by county or state rangers. Either way I though it would be a great place to fly the drone on a weekday afternoon because no one was around. I came, I flew and I left with no problem at all.

Upon returning several months later in the month of September, No one was there, I was flying and had used on battery. I found my locations for good video shots and a few locations for some photos. I use the first 20 minutes to figure out what and where I want to shoot, then I return and replace the battery and away I go. While returning for the battery swap, I see a car pull in the lot. Sometimes you just know, you get a bad feeling in your stomach. The car door opens and out steps a real living G.I. Joe doll. He’s dressed like he just fell of a page from the Cabela’s catalog. He’s decked from head to toe in camouflage and he opens the truck of the car (a Saab) and takes out what looked like a new style muzzle loader rifle. He walked until he is about 20 feet from me and starts to tell me in his Sean Connery voice that what I’m doing is highly illegal and he could have me arrested.

In my 54 years of being on this earth the one thing I have learned is “I know a douche bag when I see one” and this guy was just that. When people first threaten you with arrest in the very first few seconds of meeting you, in a situation where no one or nothing is being harmed, they’re not a police officer and they throw this vast wealth of information in your face… most times they have no idea what they’re talking about. Kind of like a peacock fanning her tail to scare off a perceived threat.

I gracefully continued to hover the drone at about 250 feet in the air and he didn’t even know the drone was up there. He seen me holding the controller and though I was getting ready to fly. I set the controller down on the hood of my vehicle and moved away from it, leaving the drone to just hover high above. I let him continue with his rhetoric, spewing his verbal diarrhea of knowledge about drones. Funny thing was he never once could tell me what the laws were, only that he knew I was not allowed to fly at that location. Of course, he wanted me gone because he wanted to go hunting and felt I was going to scare away the deer. The deer that were still grazing in a meadow about 250 yards from where we were standing. I seen them while I was flying and the drone never bothered them one bit.

I told him my name and said if he’d like he could call the police or whoever he felt he needed to call. “Maybe you need to call your therapist because you seem a little upset” and with that he started to get ruffled and stated “I’m not upset, I’m not upset at all, I know the law and you’re breaking it.” Then I delivered the final blow when I said “you are upset, you appear to have sand in your vagina and it’s ruining your wonderful afternoon of hunting.” Just then the battery on the drone reached its low-level limit and the controller started to beep and giving out the verbal commands of “low battery and returning to home.” This made him very uneasy because now something was happening with the drone and I wasn’t even holding the controller. The drone was slowly descending and you could hear the sound of the props. He was trying to act as if he wasn’t flustered, but he kept looking up and looking at me at the same time.

As the drone was landing, I walked over to his car and put my photography business card under the wiper blade on his windshield and said “just so you have all the correct information if and when you decide to call whoever you’re going to call.” He just continued the blah, blah, blah and I put the Mavic Pro in the car and left. But not before telling him “I hope that sand doesn’t irritate you too much, I hear it can be pretty bad if left untreated.”

Sure, I thought about going down the road, stopping and buzzing him with the drone a few times just to irritate him even more, but then I would be just as much an asshole as him. Needless to say, I never heard a word from any authorities about the incident confirming that he knew nothing of what he was talking about.

So, in conclusion there are a few things out there that can ruin your fun day of flying. It could be a bird, a shotgun, a low flying plane or just a douche bag in a Saab.

Happy flying, be safe and always be aware.

What’s It Like to Own a DJI Drone? (from the digital era to the half baked era, the new world order)

What’s it like to own a DJI drone? A bit of a strange question if I do say so myself! I own 2 DJI drones and few other pieces of DJI equipment such as camera stabilization gimbals. So with that said; Let me rip on DJI a little bit here.

The drone market exploded around the world in the past few years and DJI has been a front runner in the several areas of the drone market, both consumer and commercial. Dà-Jiāng Innovations Science and Technology Co. Ltd. Was founded by Frank Wang and their headquarters is located in Shenzhen, Guangdong, China. So let’s start off by talking about the “new world order” when it comes to designing, marketing and customer service and this does not just apply to DJI or other drone companies. This new world order applies to many manufacturing companies and it crosses over into the service sector too, many banks fall into this new world order as well.

So the new world order I am speaking of can be wrapped in a nut shell and labeled as “Do whatever it takes to suck the money from the customer and worry about lawsuits & backlash later.” This new rule or theory moves away from the old days of companies “wanting” to create quality products and wanting to give customers good service. The new theory is, or business footprint is closer to “strategic battle planning” in a war game. We have an objective and we must conquer it. The objective is to “get your money” and the battle plan is to make you think that what you’re getting is worth it, BUT we (the manufacture) are not really sure we have a complete product. So therefore, we will create diversions in hopes you won’t notice the pitfalls of the product. We will also make it very hard to return the product (short return window) and it some cases we will just rip you off, period.

Of course, the idea of creating a product and selling it is what business is all about. However, creating something that falls short of what you claim it to be is wrong and more so a lot of companies have accepted this as the norm. As we move into this era of “tech-rich” products and creating products that do more & more, I feel it is harder & harder for design teams to cover all the bases of what the end result should be. For example; if we look back several years (actually a lot), when I was a boy the radio-controlled airplane was a big deal when they hit the market. I did not own one but I had several friends who did. The radio-controlled cars, boats & helicopters were also amazing. All of these afore mentioned products only had to do a very short list of things. They had to communicate between the controller and the vehicle and make the vehicle move and stop.

The drones of today are so much more intense in design. There is the camera system, the GPS system and of course electrical circuitry and more. The drone is communicating to satellites, it is communicating to a controller that is communicating to your phone or tablet that is using an app. I forgot to mention the obstacle avoidance camera systems that is separate from the main camera. Add it all up and when you think about it, “a little drone is actually a pretty intense little piece of equipment.” This complexity certainly creates a challenge to produce a quality product and release it to the public and not have any issues. Many times, electronics products (drones included) are released knowing they have certain issues and the company decided to keep these issues hush hush and they go with the mindset “we’ll fix it in a firmware update.” DJI is infamous for this tactic and that was one of the reasons I waited so long to purchase my first DJI drone. When I purchased the second drone I just went with the mindset “the drone will have some sort of issue” and it did. Although minor, none the less it had issues and I was prepared for it. Stepping away from drones for a minute and shifting over to talking about DJI gimbals; gimbals are another electronic product that has exploded around the world. The prices have come down, there are many on the market to choose from and they’re very easy to use. DJY released the Ronin S and in my opinion, this was a total “monkey fuck” to the people who purchased them. Or I should say to most of the people who purchased them. A PDF was released showing camera models that the gimbal would be able to communicate with and when the gimbal was released, however we found that it would only work with a few cameras. DJI promised to correct this with… you guessed it “firmware updates.” As of this writing the gimbal has been on the market for several month, there have been firmware updates, however not all the cameras on the list communicate with the Ronin S gimbal as promised. Yes, I am one of the affected customers. You have to know the gimbal is a very fine piece of equipment and my camera balances on the gimbal just fine and I can shoot video. But I was under the belief the gimbal would communicate with my camera and allow starting & stopping of video as well as being able to use a focus wheel.

I know I got off the topic of drones, but the purpose was to point out DJI is a company that will actually just break the laws of advertisement and make flat out false claims about their products.

So yeah owning a DJI or any DJI product comes with drama bombs attached, for sure.

My original post ended with the previous sentence and I didn’t post right away because I thought I might have more to add. After about a week I was getting ready to post when I was watching a vlogger who was talking about “half baked” software. Meaning the software is released with known issues, but the maker of the software figures as people complain the company will fix the issues with updates. And then it hit me right between the eyes that all this “half baked” bull shit started with Microsoft Windows. Are you (the reader) old enough to remember the “Blue Box Errors” that plagued Windows software?

So truly anybody born after the late 90s would never know that before the digital era there were actually companies that cared enough to turn a nicely finished product for their customers. Today it seems ok to put out half baked software, however prior to the digital era everything was tangible and mechanical. Software is not tangible, gimbals & drones are tangible but the need firmware (software) to work, leaving us with this new world order.

So, there it is… we entered the digital era aka the “half baked era” and you thought hippies were the only thing that were half baked.

I haven’t flown my drones in over a month due to the holidays and bad weather. So yesterday I decided to charge batteries and get everything ready for some flying and well… after 2 hours of firmware updating to the drones, the controllers and the batteries, yes even the batteries needed firmware updates.

And that is what it is like to own a DJI drone. Happy flying… after the firmware updates of course.

Entering The Drone World. (Like many people I really wanted to embrace this new technology…)

Mavic Pro with Polarpro ND filter.

I purchased my first video/photography drone in May of 2017. The Mavic Pro was all the rage when it was first released in late 2016. I held off my purchase until spring of 2017 because I was very leery of a few things. I was very curious about the fact that it was taking a long time for DJI to come up to speed on the manufacturing and shipping of the Mavic Pro. Like many people I really wanted to embrace this new technology so I spent countless hours watching videos, reading blogs and checking out some spectacular video & photos that would appear every minute on social media. So at some point I said “let’s just do it” and I ordered the Mavic Pro and my journey began. And quite the journey it has become. I have had and continue to have so much fun, that I purchased the Mavic Pro 2 on the day it was released; ironically it was also my birthday.

But not all thing are so great about DJI drones and this post is going to be a multi part series of posts  in which I will cover the fun and the not so fun things that have happened with me and my little propeller friends. I’m going to try to stick closely to my own personal experiences and not touch so much on hear-say and rumored info.

So let me get started by saying that today many companies have found a very unique and cheap way of advertising the release of a new product. Being 54 years old at the time of this writing I have seen this change of advertising take place, whereas younger people think it has always been this way.

So let’s mock up an example; I manufacture drones and I want to get the word out. In the old school way I had to spend quite a hefty budget on TV commercials and magazine advertising, not to mention all the other forms of advertising such as billboards and giveaways ect… However today we have the “YouTube stars” or vloggers as they are called (at least for this week). The vlogger makes money from the advertisements that are placed on his videos. The more subscribers his channel has the more people, who watch, the more money our happy little vlogger makes. So I (the drone maker) send a free drone to the vlogger for him to review. The vlogger is so happy because he is one of the few to receive this product before it has come to market. This in turn creates a buzz amongst his subscribers and he’ll gain new subscribers. So he fly’s the drone and reviews it. Now here is where the magic happens… The vlogger will never trash the drone for fear of never receiving another free drone. If there is something about the drone that is just plain down right fucked up, our vlogger will more or less just say things like “I hope they change this before it goes to market” or some other smoke screen verbiage that just trails off into “it’s not so bad.” I have also seen super vloggers who just don’t even mention the worst thing about the product. So in the end it comes down to “hype” and let’s face it “hype” works. Hey if I stood in the street and hyped up eating dog shit on a cracker and was able to keep a straight face because I was making a boat load of money doing it, people would start lining up and buying dog shit on a cracker. And then of course they would bite into it and say “hey wait a minute, this tastes like dog shit on a cracker.” Okay, so then I say (with lots of hype and a smile) “you’re not doing it right, you have to buy this overpriced cheese to cover up the shitty taste.” … and yes then all the sheeples line up to buy the overpriced cheese. And so the saga continues.

Yes sadly this is how I felt when I first purchased the Mavic Pro. I unboxed the drone and I must say that the actual quality of the aircraft it’s self was and remains to this day a stellar piece of equipment. DJI (the drone manufacture) had the aircraft part down to a precision and amazing design. However the camera fell two miles short of the runway from what all the vloggers were saying about it. All the vlogger were screaming in orgasmic tones that this camera on the Mavic Pro was…  omg it’s like… you know it’s just… When in reality it was a cell phone camera on a drone. Just imagine the drone is a fine tuned Formula 1 race car and the camera is the driver, only the driver is the old guy that was your school bus driver. Yeah that’s pretty much it right there.

So much hype was put on how great the aircraft fly’s and how awesome your video will look. Yeah your video will look awesome after you spend weeks trying to figure out the settings for sharpness, contrast and saturation. And your video will look awesome after you spend around a $100 of ND filters. And your video will look awesome after you edit it in Adobe Premiere Pro CC (or comparable software). You have Premiere Pro? Right! Everybody has a subscription to Premiere Pro and everybody learned to edit cinematic grade 4K video in 3rd grade. Oh yeah… and you do have 4K monitor so your video doesn’t scitch along like it has turrets.

Let us not forget the 2 hours spent updating firmware the moment you take the drone out of the box. Even better yet… I open the box to find connection cords for the controller for every phone but the phone I own. At the time I owned a current and up to date android phone. However I had to wait two days for a cord to come from Amazon before I could fly my Mavic. Now let’s just think about that for a moment. I just purchased a $1300 drone (extra batteries, chargers ect…) and there are cords to connect the controller to various phones, but not my phone. A quick trip to the online message boards and I find that I am not alone. So this little incident was another strong clue that while DJI can design and build a stellar aircraft the company strongly lacks common sense in several other areas. And this seems to be a running theme that today’s Millennials just seem to think is the norm with a huge tech companies and it is ok to just bend over and grab your ankles. Apple which is most often thought of as very innovative is very innovative… at bending you over when it comes to buying   peripherals. Best of all their customers love it. Actually they do bitch about it, but they rub their sphincter and say “it’ll be ok because I own an Apple.” So get ready to feel a little hurt from DJI.

Ok, so cord issue solved and I’m up and flying for a few weeks and getting used to the drone. But the video was just horrible; blurry out of focus or when it was in focus it just wasn’t crisp. So here we go back to YouTube to spend countless hours listening to vloggers who are not experts at all. One vlogger says this and another says that. Then there are the DJI tutorials that were not really that helpful for my problem. Now let’s just make it more interesting, let’s change the DJI GO4 app every two weeks or so. Color profiles that were there last week are no longer available unless you uninstall the app and roll back to an older version. Then DJI releases and update that will not let you roll back once you’ve accepted the new update.

All I want to do is fly the drone and shoot video and photos. I am a photographer and I can reach in my camera bag and grab my new camera or my 10-year-old camera and start capturing images or video with no problems at all, just a memory card and a battery and I’m good to go.

I purchased the drone with the thoughts and intentions of having what I really thought would be a good quality flying camera that (from all the hype) was something you could easily carry and put up and take down with not too much of a problem at all. Instead I have this wonderfully engineered aircraft that needs firmware updates, app updates and the camera is nothing more than a flying cell phone camera with a fixed aperture. What a letdown!

So now you are probably asking “where does the fun part come in to the picture” (pardon the pun).  The fun in flying came right away because the aircraft is amazing. The fun in video started after I purchased a set of ND filters and finally figured out the proper camera settings, along with the use of LUTs for grading the video shot in D-Log & D-cinelike. But that camera fun faded quickly when I started to see the video was still falling apart due to the capturing bit rates and blah blah blah. Just remember “flying cell phone camera.”

At this point (about 4 months into owning the Mavic Pro) I decided “let’s just keep flying and shooting. Get good at maneuvering and capturing and practice good work flow habits so when the Mavic 2 come along I can hit the ground running.” I know that sounds a bit idiotic, but it is true.

Let’s run through a breakdown of things the average drone buyer may not know about video. Ok, so there is video and then there is cinematic video and there is a very big difference between the two. Most all of the vloggers I seen promoting the Mavic Pro were promoting the creating of cinematic video. Some would actually walk the viewer through the process while others did not. I, being a photographer and shooting a fair amount of video already knew about camera settings, ND filters and editing. However I have met (in person & online) many Mavic owners who did not really understand the “cinematic” process and they assumed the video (mostly coloring) came straight out of camera.

I have talked with many first time drone owners who did not understand firmware and constant updating.

Then there is the big mystery of “laws, rules & regulation.” This topic is baffling to many because it keeps changing, although we’re getting closer to a standardized regulation, it has not happened yet as of this writing. From the day I first heard of consumer drones I knew it would be a rocky road until the government is satisfied with the amount of money the government can make from it. Sure I will be the first to agree we need laws, rules & regulations to keep you and I and our country safe. But that will come with a price tag… to be paid to Uncle Sam.

So that about wraps up this post, but I will continue with other topics such as the problem with internet message boards and where to seek advice or help with your drone. I will also cover my opinion and experiences with the Mavic Pro 2. Also moving a little off the drone topic I will talk about my experiences with other DJI product and the horrendous misleading advertising DJI has performed directly. Yes DJI want you money bad enough they’ll promise you the moon and then some.

Drone laws and my experiences with the place I have flown my drones.

Thanks so much for reading.

Out THe Door Without A Plan ( Thanksgiving morning at daybreak is driving nirvana.)

1/200 sec at f/8.0 ISO 200 168 mm.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I started the day by getting up early grabbing the camera bag, the drone bag and heading out the door before sunrise. My goal was to capture a scene that would convey “Thanksgiving in The Country.” Or something close to that, however I knew going out the door without a plan is a horrible idea. And it was.

But not all was lost, because being out early on the empty roads was like therapy. It gave me time to think. For whatever reason driving for me is relaxing and driving when you’re the only one on the road is like heaven. Thanksgiving morning at daybreak is driving nirvana. After a while I could care less about capturing my Thanksgiving photo. I was driving along the Delaware River and I started thinking about the upcoming Christmas season and that thought lead to the “New Year” coming and that thought lead to “what are my goals” and then I… well let’s just say “I was lost,” like literally lost for a moment. Not really lost, but more like “hey I need to turn back” and head home because I do have a holiday dinner to prepare lol.

So I did just that and as I was heading back I kept taking roads that lead towards home, but just not the usual roads. And then I came across this scene with the horses and the farm in the distance. I actually turned the car around so I could shoot without getting out of the car (I’m lazy lol). First I sat and marveled the scene and took it all in. It was about 25°F so the air was crisp; the sun was on the rise and not a cloud in the sky. The foreground was still in dark shadow so this in my opinion made it “not” the perfect shot, but it was beautiful nonetheless.

I’m not a “horse” person per say, but I love to see them grazing, I love the fences and farms are part of me because I grew up on a dairy farm. Farms are beautiful and here in my part of New Jersey they are getting far and few between.

So there it is, my Thanksgiving Day photo and the day was more productive than I first though because I started planning out my goal for 2018. I have more thought to put into them before I solidify them and write them down. I truly want 2018 to be a great year in my life and as for my photography and videography… it’s going to the next level.

Photo notes: 1/200 sec at f/8.0 ISO 200 168 mm. Then I edited in Photoshop and applied a few LUTs.

Dancing On An Island (…“it is about decisive moments and interactions” )

These are the moments in life that really turn me on as a photographer. When you look in on a wedding reception and there is all of this chaotic interaction. People are eating, talking, some are outside smoking, there are people drinking and then… you see two people lost in their selves on a dance floor. Nobody else is dancing but just them and nobody is even paying any attention. These are the special moments that some wedding photographers will overlook because they want to stay pinned to the bride and groom for the whole day/night.

Wedding photography in my opinion is so much more than just capturing the beautiful images of a bride and groom on their special day. I once heard New Jersey based photographer Cliff Mautner  say “it is about decisive moments and interactions” and not all about getting technically accurate photos. Essentially at the end of the day you (the photographer) should have all the classic images of things like the bride walking down the aisle, ring exchange, the first kiss ect… Then of course you will have your formals of the family, the wedding party ect… Quite honestly these are very easy images to capture because most wedding flow the same. I say “most”, but not all. Think about it; you’re at a venue the guests are seated, the groom is waiting, the bride is entering and so on. Sure dealing with the iPhone people can be a challenge; weather (if it is outdoors) can be challenging, but after you do enough wedding these challenges become easier to deal with and overcome. This then of course make your job a lot easier and you can go slam out a wedding. But are you capturing the moments?

When we look at some wedding photographers portfolios or look at the couple’s photo books or albums we sometimes see all these great images, but are we seeing the special interactions or those special moments? Seeing the classic shots are nice, however like I said they are relatively easy to obtain. As long as you know and I do mean “know” your entire camera technical you should be looking for the special moments. Think about it; how much more you can do when you never really have to think about camera technical. You walk into a scene and you are the “auto mode” for the camera. You know what ISO, shutter speed, aperture, hell you even know if you should “spot weight metering” for a special shot. I mostly work with two bodies; one will have a 24-70mm f/2.8 and the other a 70-200mm f/2.8. I’ll have an 85mm prime for some special work that I can throw on real quick. And that is it for cameras & lenses, then there is a speedlight on a stick or a continuous light such as a wand light either hand-held or on a stick.

Some special moments take time to evolve and what I mean by this is; the image you captured today might not mean a whole lot today. However we all know time changes everything and what looks like an ordinary image today could mean the world to someone tomorrow. Weddings are the most likely place to find these kinds of shots. But if you’re just there to get photos of a bride coming down the aisle, rings, kissing and hugs you may not be living up to the potential of your job.

 

 

Energy Failure (…bounding through the door hyped on two lattes, one espresso and a bottle of 5 hour energy)

Chevy Corvair

“It is all about energy and without energy life is flat.” That statement holds more meaning than one could begin to interpret or write about in a single blog post. Sure you don’t get enough rest and you wake up lacking energy and your day runs kind of flat. But it gets much deeper that; Why I’m gonna bet that if you thought about the most memorable concert or music performance you ever attended, it was packed full of energy. That was one of the key components that made the performance so memorable. Sure you may have like the band or the performer/singer, however if the singer came out on stage and just sat on a couch and performed… well I think you see my point.

On a photography level and speaking in the realm of photo shoots energy is paramount to capturing great images. Even if the mood of the shoot is meant to be somber and there is no smiling, there still needs to be energy. And this is the very reason I have chosen this topic to write about today. Because I feel that energy is the key component (or lack of) that is missing in many photo shoots. The truth be told, lack of energy is missing in a lot of areas of our lives and I’ll talk about that later. But for now let’s break it down by each individual who is part of the photo shoot.

So does the photographer really need to have a lot of energy? Isn’t he/she the one who should be capturing the energy? Ok, so the answer is “yes and yes.” Sure the photographer’s job is to capture the moment (oh god here comes the clichés) but at the same time the photographer is the leader and the catalyst between this world and the eternity of the world where the frozen moment of the image will live. As much as capturing images and the technique of lighting the scene the photographer needs to draw the energy from the talent/model and this is not always easy if the talent is not at a professional level.

Scenario; your hired to for a private shoot, the subject is not a professional by any means. It is a girl, she somewhat shy, she has never had a professional birthday photo shoot before. She looks like a deer in the headlights… what do you do to get energy injected into this shoot? I’m not going to go into a long detailed synopsis, which would be for another post. But rather I just want you to see in your mind how those images are going to look. “Flat & boring” are just two words that come to mind.

Makeup artist… really? They need to have energy too? Sure it is the whole positive vibe thing, you know how infectious a smile can be and having energy to go with that smile will really help any job, photo shoots included. Now I’m not saying the makeup artist needs to come bounding through the door hyped on two lattes, one espresso and a bottle of 5 hour energy drink, that might be a little (or a lot) too much. And I am using the makeup artist as an example for anyone who is working the shoot. So the same goes for lighting assistants, hair stylists, wardrobe, and art directors and so on. I know it sounds hokie , but it is so true, everyone needs to project a positive vibe.

While all this sounds so obvious it still really is in my opinion why many photo shoots fall short of capturing great images. You could have the best of the best camera equipment, lighting, location ect… but if the energy is not there you’re on a sinking ship. And just the opposite; you do not need $10,000 of equipment if you have good energy.

The model; Ok so if he/she is a professional most likely they are bringing their own energy to the shoot. After all I said they are a professional and that is most likely one of the key things that has raised them up to a professional level… they have drive and they have energy. However what if your model is new to this, they are nervous, they lack experience and they just don’t project that energy. Again I’m not going to go into how to solve this problem; this post is more about identifying and understanding how lack of energy is a huge problem. Many new photographers fall short of identifying this missing component in the beginning. New photographers are focused more on camera gear, lighting and just hoping the talent and makeup artist show up on time.

The biggest way I have found to keep the energy level up and flowing is by “planning” and more planning. Having a plan gives you comfort and this will add or keep energy flowing. Many times I will deviate from my main plan, but not by much. Some things are obvious such as everyone knows the time, date and location of the shoot. However it is the little things that can mean big problems. Now I could go on a long tangent of “what ifs” but for an example; the shoot is an outdoor location and we had to walk to it from the parking lot. Only a fifteen minute walk, but what if a rain shower comes? It only rains hard for ten minutes and passes. Where does everyone take cover? If everyone and everything is wet… well I’m betting energy level will be in the negative lol. And again that is just one “what if” that could have been easily avoided with proper planning. There are many things that can tax the energy from the shoot.

How about your energy? Your personal energy level is important. Did you get enough sleep? Seriously for me this is a big one, because I seem to most times stay up later that I should working or just watching Netflix. But when I think about how important the job is and how good I feel when I sleep early and wake early. Waking early after a good sleep for me is such a good feeling, not to mention the fact of how relaxed life is when you’re not in a rush. I have time to sit a drink that morning cup of coffee, maybe walk a little extra with the dogs, rather than racing around with the dogs and drinking the coffee on the go in the car. I never eat a large meal before a big shoot, but I do eat something. A large meal will slow me down and having no meal is even worse. I tend to snack and I try not to drink too much so I don’t have to keep taking bathroom breaks. After the shoot a nice sit down meal is so nice and enjoyable.

Look around and give it some thought, energy truly is the key thing to all performances. And a photo shoot is just that, it is a “performance.” You’ll know you’re doing it right if at the end you are tired, depleted and spent. And that holds true for pretty much anything, whether it be an athlete running a race, a stage performer or someone looking after children all day. To do any job right you need to expend energy, to create something you need to expend energy, both physical and mental. And when you expend energy you project energy and a vibe. Projecting good energy is like projecting a smile, it is infectious and contagious. Or it scares people, positive vibes and good energy make some people uncomfortable and they just can’t handle it, and that is ok. Either they come on board or they leave or avoid it. If your smile can not make another person smile it is ok, maybe they’re having a bad day or they are a miserable person. I have no problem with them personally; however they cannot be part of my photo shoot.

Your energy comes from more than one place or maybe I should say there is more than one kind of energy. You have your personal energy, you slept well, you have a plan for what you’re doing, and you have confidence. Confidence is like a smile, if you are confident about what you’re doing and you’re the leader the vide goes out to everyone. Then there is your reputation and as they say “you’re only as good as your last performance” although I tend to not believe that whole heartedly because we all have a bad day or a bad performance at some time or another. However I think more over it is the fact that others had a good experience working with you and therefore more people want to be part of whatever your next project is. I call it the “Tom Sawyer” effect. Although I am not being punished to do something as Tom Sawyer was being punished to paint Aunt Polly’s fence. I do find that if you project a good vibe, have lots of confidence and you generally seemed happy about what you’re doing, people will join in… Of course money always helps lol. Money is a motivator but it is not an energy maker. Money will get people to show up to work as millions go to their daily jobs every day. But do they go to work with energy? Hell no! People of all skill levels from doctors to janitors (no disrespect to either) go to work each and every day just waiting for the day to be over as soon as it started. While I’m not a big fan of this thing called “work” I am a big fan of feeling good about what I do. Sure I have days when I just feel down and not so… full of energy. But if I have a big job (photo shoot or otherwise) I know the key to completing the job with a successful outcome is energy.

Many times when I see a local band playing I will see a huge lack of energy. They’re playing a good song, they’re all in key and they sound good, but they don’t sound great… something is missing. They lack energy. They lack that pure raw power or energy that a great performer can put out. And again it is not all physical it is also mental in most cases it is a synergistic effect that comes from both. Think of any good entertainer that ever took to the stage whether it be Billy Joel sitting at a piano or Mick Jagger, Steven Tyler and of course the list could go on and on, but you get the point. I am a huge AC-DC fan and I am also a guitar player and I can play a few AC-DC songs pretty damn good. But could I ever project the energy that Angus Young projects while he is performing? Just watching him makes me tired and again I am just using him as one small example. But when I walk into a club or a bar and I see somebody covering an AC-DC song… sure the song sounds good, the singing, the guitar, but most times the energy is not even comparable. This just confirms the difference between one who has learned how to play the guitar and one who has learned how to play the guitar and use it to master the art of performing while playing a guitar.

Ok, so let’s apply this concept to photography. There are millions of camera geeks out there that know all the tech specs of their cameras and their neighbor’s cameras. They can even tell you all the specs of the cameras that haven’t even been released yet. They spend hours, days and months reading the camera gaga on the internet. So while they have this vast data base of knowledge filling up their brain, subscribing to every tutorial site and taking in every camera expo, they still cannot create and to them energy is something that comes from a rechargeable battery. They’ll never “get it” and some don’t really “want it.” “It” being the ability to use a camera to find energy and capture it or to pull energy from the model or subject and capture it. I’m not here to say it is easy nor am I saying I have mastered it. What I am saying is “without it, you’re just another Saturday night bar band chugging away at playing a tune someone else created.”

So I will say it again “it is not about high dollar gear or fancy cameras” but rather the ability to create energy and capture energy. Learn how to use your tools, your camera and your lights, learn how to pose and after all of these things are in place create some energy and capture it.

Thank you for reading and have a great day.