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.

 

 

 

No Justice in Black & White (part 2 of 2) (The scene was so surreal with banana and papaya trees everywhere…)

No Justice in Black & White (part 2 of 2)

Early on the morning of October 31, 2009 Munn’s brother-in-law arrives with his pickup truck to take us to her village. It will be a 9-hour ride although we will stop for a roadside lunch. Needless to say, I was really excited about this trip. I love road trips in the USA because it usually means I get to see new and different places and now, I get to experience Thailand by “road trip.” As a photographer; is there any better joy than that? But of course, I was still a novice photographer by all means. By October 2009 I had been into photography for several years, but now I had my first DSLR, a Canon T1i with two lenses.

At this time, I was still shooting in JPEG (mostly). I knew what RAW was, actually let me restate that. I thought I knew what RAW was. Either way, I was riding in the front passenger seat of the pickup truck and loving every minute of it. I would anticipate our next restroom or fuel stop, so I could get out and walk around and explore a little before it was time to hit the road and be back on our way.

1/320 sec at f/5.0 ISO 100 82mm

As we headed north, I notice a little change in architecture of the buildings and other things such as farmland. Farmland really excited me just as much as city life. I couldn’t wait to get out in the countryside and see Thai nature. Sadly, with the short days of October and nine plus hours of travel, it meant the last leg of the road trip would be in the dark. We rolled into Kalasin City in the early evening and we had to stop by the market to get food for the next day. I say “market” however it was not a store. It was more like a central marketplace for the whole city of Kalasin. It was big, there was fresh everything, from fresh fish to fruits and vegetables and of course there was a lot of prepared food in the way of barbequed chicken & fish, soups and so much more.

After a day of traveling in the car and fighting an intense case of jet lag, the smells of the market were really getting to me. I wanted to capture photos, but I was really hitting a wall of fatigue. We rolled into the village under the cover of darkness and that was actually a good thing, although I did not realize it until the next day.

Okay, so as a little side note here; Thai people are very friendly, Thai village people are even more friendly. Friendly to the point you need to prepare yourself for it. When you’re new to a village (in most cases) everybody wants to know you, they want to say “hi” and bring you food and beer and just talk… even if you can’t understand them, they still want to talk lol. I found this all out the next day, as the word spread though the village that there was a big white American guy in the village.

I woke at 5:00am the first morning, Munn was up and gone at 4:00am. She would walk to the nearby temple to cook for the monk and would return, but not before I woke up. Upon waking I hear voices in the distance, some laughing and other just talking. I could hear occasional footsteps outside the house in the street as someone was walking by. Every so often there was a dog bark and not too far away I heard two dogs fighting for about five seconds, then a lady yelling to break them up. I could smell a rather pungent smoke in the air as it lightly drifted in the open window. For me it was like Christmas morning, I wanted to see the village in the daylight, but was only predawn. I used the restroom put on shorts and a t-shirt and out the door I went. Actually, now that I was outside, I was afraid to go very far because I spoke very little Thai and Munn was no where in sight. I soon learned the pungent smell was coming from small piles of trash burning in the middle of the street. I seen a few neighbors raking dead leaves, paper, sticks and other debris that had gathered in front of their homes. They would rake it to a small pile in the middle of the street and burn it, the smoke would hang in the heavy morning air.

As I looked up and down the peaceful empty village streets there was an early morning haze or fog of sorts. The haze was a mix of the humidity and smoke, the temperature was about 70°F and it felt great to me. The scene was so surreal with banana and papaya trees everywhere, chickens coming down from their roost and an occasional dog walking down the street by himself, heading somewhere with a plan just like a person would. The streets were mostly concrete but covered with red dust from the local dirt. I stood there taking the whole scene in and just processing it.

It wasn’t long before the sun was up and the village came to life. Gone was the smoke and haze of the predawn hours and now I could smell food cooking, tractors and motorbikes filled the streets with an occasional car or pickup truck. Most of the motorbikes were people starting their daily commute to work or school. Small children crying, neighbors yelling to each other from five houses away, just so much activity, I loved every minute of it and of course my DSLR never left my hand. I was always looking for that something to make an interesting photo. Years later I would soon learn that I needed to be looking for the “moment” as most photographers will call it, especially wedding photographers.

Before I knew to look for the “moment” I did know that I needed to find “interesting,” oddly enough sometimes the interesting moment will find you. All you have to do is be prepared for it, have your camera at hand and be ready. It was fun and memorable, to be able to capture so much at every turn of my head. After the morning past I headed out to the country side on the back of a motorbike. Yes, the back of a motorbike so I could have my hands free to shoot as we traveled. But that story is for another post.

In conclusion; the whole trip was awesome and I have returned many times. Munn and I were married and that is an amazing story by itself. Two people 10,000 miles apart, meet as 100% cold contacts, no dating websites or couples’ services, just me pulling a name out of the Skype world directory. Just looking for a chat friend, not knowing if they were male or female. It is actually hilarious every time I think about it.

From this trip my love of photography intensified ten-fold and I eventually grew to be a commercial photographer. Thailand was special for so many reasons, but one is; this is where I found how it is very hard to create black & white photos of a place that is so beautifully rich with color. I have edited some black & whites from Thailand and people have liked them, but for me I see the color and it is so much more beautiful.

Thank you for reading and have a great day.

Read part one.

No Justice in Black & White (Welcome to the land of smiles… and lots of color)

1/125 sec at f/4.5 ISO 100 70mm

No Justice in Black & White (part 1 of 2)

I love black & white photography. What I love most about B&W is that I have to convert it over from a color image to B&W. Of course, today there is more ways to convert to B&W that you can shake a stick at, but my favorites are Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom. Most of the time I use Photoshop and Nik Silver Efex Pro 2. It is a lot of fun to run a photo though this process and it is certainly altogether different form the days of film where all we had to do was put black & white film in the camera.

1/125 sec at f/4.5 ISO 100 70mm

Okay, with all that said; B&W photography is, like all things in photography, very subjective. After all some photographers shoot exclusively in B&W and others reserve it for certain situations or genres. I know photographers who will shoot color most all the time but reserve B&W for landscapes. Then there are those who feel “street photography” should always be shot in B&W. While I too feel street photography looks great in B&W, I tend to totally break away from that rule while traveling to Thailand. Thailand like other Asian countries is so vibrant with color that it is hard to capture an image and look at all the colors and say “ok this needs to be a black & white photo.”

Thai Snorkel Boat Koh Chang

It is obviously the culture; Thai people love vibrant color and use it in a way they we usually do not see here in the USA. I travel to Thailand for a month every year or so because my wife is Thai and we go to visit family, travel around and basically enjoy Thailand. Now I am using Thailand in my example, however other Asian countries have a lot of color too, it’s just that I’m partial to Thailand, my second home.

On my first trip to Thailand my plane arrived just before midnight October 27, 2009. My arrival was not at a jetway, but rather the old-style mobile stairs that roll up to the aircraft’s door. So, after all most 30 hours of travel I was perplexed to see this and then I was stunned when my face hit the 92°F (33°C) humid and pungent air of Bangkok. Having left the USA where it was very cold with rain & ice, I met up with my girlfriend (now wife), headed to the taxi line and off to the hotel located in Pattaya about an hour away along the water front.

At the airport I did not notice any change in color, maybe I was too tired. During the midnight taxi ride I was looking out the window the during the whole ride. My girlfriend Munn was very tied from her bus ride to meet me at the airport so she quickly fell asleep in the taxi.

I am in a new country, a new land and I want to take it all in, but the night view was just highway scenery with giant billboards. I mean like the biggest billboards I have ever seen in my life. As the taxi hummed on through the night, blazing down the highway that had very little traffic, I just stared out into the night and was mesmerized at how all yellowish-orangish everything looked from the highway lighting. There was also an almost full moon with ominous dark clouds around it, everything looking so surreal.

Soon the taxi starts to slow a bit and I know we’re close. I have to explain for those who may not know Pattaya is a party city that practically never sleeps. It is a mix of beer bars, restaurants, night clubs, hotels and everything else that tourist come to enjoy. Munn chose this destination as a place for us to layover for a few days before traveling to her village. Why? I have no idea whatsoever. Munn is a very traditional country girl, she worked just outside of Bangkok for several years, but would often spend weekends back at her village. She wanted me to see Pattaya, however this is not really my style either, but for photography this place is awesome.

1/800 sec at f/4.0 10.835mm Canon A640

After only a few hours sleep I was awake and eager to get out and see Thailand in the daylight. A quick trip to the breakfast buffet and then out into the day. Again, it is a new experience for me, Thai culture, food everywhere and motorbikes… The motorbikes were just everywhere I turned. The air was hot and humid, but I was embracing it. As Munn and I walked along and I am taking in all this new “everything” all of the sudden it hit me as to “how colorful everything looks.” The motorbikes, the people on the motorbikes, the signs, the buildings, the boats, just everything seemed to have more color than I would see anywhere I had ever been in the USA. Well, anywhere in the USA except for Chinatown. So again, it is an Asian culture thing… I guess. But I love it!

1/320 sec at f/2.8 ISO 100 200mm

After a morning of walking along the waterfront and other streets I start to get tired, the heat is taking its toll. I retreat to the hotel room where I am eager to look at my bounty of photos I have captured. As I start to go through the images again, I realize even more how much color I see. It was at this time I started to come to the realization that I do not think black & white edits can do justice to any of my photos. Here again some photographers would argue the point that “street photography” should always be black & white because it strips the image down to just looking at the scene for what it is and blah, blah, blah… Whatever. For me, to edit a photo into black & white is more of a creative decision, rather that following a rule.

So, after a few days it is time to head 9 hours north by car to Munn’s village in the Kalasin province.

See part two.

That Teal & Orange Thingy Has To Go (just whack them upside the head and say “don’t ever do that again.”)

International Model Zhan. Location Javitz Center NYC Very lite Teal & Orange LUT applied.

That Teal Orange Thing

Happy New Year to everybody and with a new year we hope for new and better things in our lives. We wish everybody from family, friends and colleges joy and happiness in the new year. We set goals and overall it is a time to “throw away the old and bring in the new.”

Now there are many things I would love to throw away from 2K18 and wish to see very little of in 2K19. As for photography; That putrid “teal orange” bullshit has got to go. Most of you know what I’m talking about and I would guess there are others who have no idea what I’m talking about, so I’ll elaborate.

Beit a filter or a LUT the teal to orange look has inundated the photography world, particularly on social media. It is akin to the horrible “HDR look” that took place several years back and still happens to day when a new photographer very first discovers HDR. He/she will jump into Photoshop and create the horrid mess on an image with halos and virtually no shadows and think they “really have something here” and then they run off and post it on Flickr and elsewhere.

However, hopefully this photographer has a good enough friend who will pick up a big stick (not just any stick, but a big solid stick) and just whack them upside the head and say “don’t ever do that again.” Kind of like teaching your dog not to poop on the kitchen floor. Now to be honest I would never hit a dog in the head with a stick, but I would whack a photographer who creates bad HDR. Why? Because it is that bad.

Same goes for this teal orange thing. So where did the teal orange thing come from? Legend has it there was this German photographer named Berger Meister, Meister Berger that hated other photographers so much that he… Ok so of course I’m pulling your leg there but here is my opinion on where the teal orange tide came from.

Instagram or IG for short has filters for your photos. I think by now everybody knows what IG is and how it works. So, some IG filters are more popular than others and people love applying the filters because it gives them a quick way to edit a photo into something a little more interesting than the color profile their phone assigned to the photo as it was shot. Essentially everybody wants to be a better photographer but without doing a lot of work. I don’t say that as a bad thing really, its just human nature. Who doesn’t want to have a beautiful physically fit body without going to the gym?

So, IG is only part of the equation, there is more to the teal orange tide than just IG. Ig is in my opinion what spawned the everyday photographer the ability and desire to apply filters and again this is not in and of its self a bad thing.

I feel LUTs are maybe a bigger culprit than IG. LUT is short for Color Look Up Table. I’m not going to go into all the details of LUTs because what a LUT actually is and how it “really” works is a topic as about as vast as the Iceberg that the Titanic hit. But here is the short answer; LUTs are generally used to color grade video because they have the power to change one color to another and a LUT can just overall enhance a scene by conveying a look and feel to the viewer that enhances the movie, video or photo. In a nut shell it helps to tell the story the creator wanted to tell.

At this time more and more creators are shooting video on cameras that record in logarithmic format or “log” for short. Log format is a very flat looking style that is void of color saturation however this in-turn allows the camera to capture video in a higher dynamic range, essentially meaning more editable information in the shadows & highlights.

Log format is not new, it was reserved for very high-end expensive cameras, but now it is readily available on many prosumer cameras. Many vloggers shoot in log format everyday and using a LUT or more than one LUT allows the editor to put color back in to the video footage I a creative way.

At this point you may be asking “how does this log video thingy relate to photography?” It relates because of a few reasons, but mostly because most DSLR cameras are hybrids that capture both video and still images. I honestly don’t know who started using LUTs on digital images, but I first heard about them from a British photographer when he did a tutorial about them on his YouTube channel. He showed how you could stack them and blend them using Adobe Photoshop (he did not use teal & orange). I found this very interesting and I’m always exploring new editing techniques for my photography. Around this same time a realized LUTs were used in Adobe Premiere Pro and I also stared using them to edit my video. I downloaded free LUTs from the internet and they were horrible, they did not enhance my images at all, in-fact were not usable at all. The reason for this problem was because the LUTs I downloaded were for log format and my images and video were shot in standard format using whatever camera profile that was in my camera.

Now with all that said I find that there are many photographers that us LUTs to an extreme much the same way that photographers over used HDR editing a few years back. So, for whatever reason the “teal & orange” look seems to be the hot flavor that has risen above the rest, with the teal color (or some variation thereof) being more common than the orange. I will admit it looks good on some images and I have used it myself… on some images. But I have seen some photographer using it on every single image they post to their IG or other social media. I mean like every single image on the IG for the past two years, almost as if that is their signature thing or their style. If this is your style; what happens next year when this fad passes? What happens to your style when the teal & orange tide recedes and your left holding the bag (so to speak).

Maybe I’m just ranting, however I really do feel it is a look that is very over used. I will be the first to admit I’m not a color grading expert but do as much as I can to learn more about it and about using LUTs.

So, let’s hope 2019 is the year the teal & orange look recedes.

Happy 2019!

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.

Drone Message Internet Message Boards (it is like taking a stroll in to the local pub or bar.)

Let’s talk about internet message boards in regards to drone ownership. Message boards can be a wealth of information right at your fingertips. You can quickly find answers that will help you solve problems and just all around they can help you with general knowledge of all things drones. Many people are already familiar with message boards from other aspects of our lives. Things such as finding answers to the noise your car is making or solving a problem with an error message on our computers and so much more.

However you are now dealing with the “internet” and you have no idea who is providing the information you are seeking. In my opinion I would say a good amount of all the info we seek on the internet is accurate, but you would be a fool to think everything you read and see is correct information. So when it comes to message boards… it is like taking a stroll in to the local pub or bar. You may meet a really nice bunch of people who are willing to be your friends and help you out or you may meet a bunch of know-it-all snobs. However, the one thing I can assure you is that, you will meet a few (maybe a lot) assholes and people who you will wonder “how they tie their shoes in the morning.”

I get an email once a week from one of the drone forums I follow and it will have links to the most popular topics from the past week. Guaranteed the “my drone flew away on my first flight” topic is always listed. Please don’t be one of those people. If you are reading this post and haven’t purchased a drone yet please take the time to read the proper setup and safety features for your drone. Most all drones have a beginner mode and my advice is “use it.” I set my Mavic Pro 2 to “beginner mode” even though I had been flying my first Mavic over 1 year. Understand your RTH (return to home) feature and how it works before you even turn the drone on for the first time.

Other popular topics are usually about laws, rules & regulations. This is just as important as any other aspect of flying your drone. You want to understand Return to Home because you don’t want to lose your drone. You also need to understand laws rules and regulations because this is another way you can lose your drone. While I will admit some laws are downright stupid, other laws need to be obeyed for safety & security. One of the most violated laws is flying too close to major airports. This absolutely perplexes me and just goes to show how many assholes our society has. And again this topic is a popular one on most all drone message boards. At first reading these threads is quite comical but is soon loses its luster because it is the same rhetoric, post after post. One guy claims to know the law and says another person is wrong. The guy, who says he’s right, knows he is right because the kid who lives next door told him so. And other times both people are right because they live in different locations and the laws are different. As you can see this all becomes very confusing and mind boggling to someone who “just wants to go fly their drone.”

My way around all this confusion was to seek out people who knew more than me and that had credible knowledge, if you look hard enough you will find them. All message boards have a few members who are just a wealth of correct information. They may be a person who flies drones for a living or may have previously/currently works in drone design & manufacturing or they could just be that good ole geeky guy/gal who understands all thing drones that the rest of us need a little help figuring out. Become friends with these people, appreciate them and respect them for their knowledge that you don’t have. This has worked for me and I made some pretty cool friends around the world and there’s nothing wrong with that.

So as you see my thoughts and opinion of internet message boards is “be careful” whose advice and info you decide to use. Happy flying and thanks for reading.