Early Morning By The Creek (I want to get a decent shot of the all three creatures together before they disappear in front of my eyes.)

It was already a beautiful summer morning. I had dropped my wife and the dogs off at the farm and I had a free morning. The “farm” as we call it is actually a non-working farm were, we keep our commercial cooking equipment for our BBQ catering business. She likes to run the smoker herself and she chased me away. So, having a free morning for my photography I decided to head over to Delaware Township in hopes I would find some white tail deer grazing in a field.

It was about 5:45am the light was good, air was very warm at 70°, there was a ground fog that was quickly rising. The fog was not thick but, I thought it could add to any shot of deer grazing. I had the 70-200mm lens mounted and I also had my 24-70mm out and ready to mount if needed.

As I made my way along with no particular location or direction in mind, other than heading to the farmland, I felt peaceful and I actually said to myself “this is a good morning.” After heading down Route 202 I contemplated “should I just do a walk-around in the town of Lambertville?” Maybe I could catch some great street photography? Maybe not. I quickly turned up Headquarters’ road and on to Seabrook. “There it is” I thought, “that beautiful horse farm with the long winding lane.” I have captured this location in the past during the autumn colors but, hey, why not capture it during the early morning hours of a summer day.

Chicken Mushroom

I made my way down Seabrook and over to Grafton road where I was moving very slowly in fist gear and I seen a Chicken Mushroom off to the left about 50-70 yards away. And to make matters worse it was about 15-20 feet up a tree. I love Chicken Mushrooms and if that thing had been reachable from the ground, I would have snatched it. Still I took a nice photo of it to tantalize my wife with.

Then from Grafton I made my way over to Worman road, the road nobody ever seems to go down… Actually, not true lol there are several homes on Worman but, it does have a short distance of solitude where there are no houses or farms. And there they were… a doe and her lovely fawn, in the morning down by the creek for a drink of water. The fawn looked up rather quickly and flinched a bit when she first seen my truck slow down. The mother was somber but, very alert. They were about 150 feet away, down a ravine and on the opposite side of the creek. I just took a second to take in the scene, for I know once I raise the camera they will flee quickly.

 1/60 sec at f/2.8 ISO 400 185mm 6:03:58am

I moved quick with steady movement and raised the camera and snapped off a shot, then another and they started to move. Oh wait… this is not a good morning; this is an awesome morning. There is a blue heron with them and he is chomping away on minnows, having a delightful breakfast.

At this point I start going in to actions that I really don’t think about, they come rather instinctively from years of being around wildlife and knowing what’s going to happen next. First is “the blue bird is going to fly away and the deer are going to run up the hill,” I need to act fast. The road is downhill for about the next ¼ mile or more, I shut the engine down and put on the four-way flashers and shift to neutral, foot on the brake, knee on the bottom of the steering wheel. Now the deer are getting skittish and the bird is just looking. I want to get a decent shot of the all three creatures together before they disappear in front of my eyes.

1/60 sec at f/2.8 ISO 250 95mm 6:04:25am

This is how the whole sequence went down; I fired the first shot not knowing the heron was even there at all, the second shot I notice the heron and I go into the afore mentioned action of shutting down the engine. By time I take my 4th shot everybody is starting to move. Keep in mind the first shot was at 6:03:58am and the fourth shot is at 6:04:10am. Ok, so the deer are turning and getting ready to head up the hill but, my focus is on the blue heron. I know he will fly away because the always do. At 6:04:20am I get a shot of all three creatures. Next shot 6:04:23am I zoom to 200mm and get a (not good focus) shot of just the heron. I release my foot from the break and my truck rolls forward with only the gravel under the tires making a slight noise and zoom out taking another shot of all three at 6:04:25am, the heron is hopping a few steps and using the weeds as a curtain to hide form my line of sight. At 6:04:29am the deer are now heading up the hill and the heron is looking at them. 6:04:30am the heron flies but, not far. I’m still feathering the brake as my truck continues to roll down the gravel road ever so slowly.

1/60 sec at f/2.8 ISO 400 200mm 6:04:44am

The blue heron lands on a dead tree spanning the creek and positions himself so another tree is blocking my line of sight. At 6:04:44am I get a decent shot of the blue bird perched on the tree. It is not a perfect shot by any means, I’m in manual mode, 1/60 sec at f/2.8 ISO 400 200mm. I can live with those settings except the 1/60 second shutter speed, if it could have been 1/125 second, I would have had a wonderful shot. Not complaining because I am happy to just see this whole scene even if I had no camera. It is nature at it’s finest on a peaceful Sunday morning, I love it.

He now jumps from the tree down into the creek where I can barely get a view of him but, then I see him and he is already eating more minnows. I try to get shots of this but, to no avail, at 6:6:05:25am I get a shot where I can barely see he has something in his beak but, the shot is marred by weeds in my line of sight. I continue to follow him as he walks in the ravine of the creek and I fire the last shot at 6:05:38am. He is now staying stationary where I cannot see him and I know if I get out of the vehicle he will fly for sure and I get no shot because of the trees and lighting. Also, if he flies, he loses out on his minnows. So, I let him just stay hidden as I roll a little further down the road and fire up the engine and move along.

Now I continue on down Worman road seeing squirrels and birds and nothing more as interesting as the scene I had just witnessed.  Most people who are not from New Jersey think of this state as a congested wasteland of cul-de-sacs, highways and housing developments and while that is true of most of the state, there still are a few nice places where a person can witness a beautiful scene such as the one presented to me this morning.

 

Thanks for reading and have a great day.

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Ronin S (A good gimbal from a “Half-Baked” company, the new world order.)

DJI Focus Motor

Like many people who purchased the DJI Ronin S Gimbal aka camera stabilizer “when it was first released” I was really disappointed that DJI miss lead us Canon EOS 6D owners into thinking our cameras would be able to interact with the Ronin S. Not long after the release of the gimbal DJI kind of said “we’re not going to include the 6D on the list of compatible cameras.” I partially understand how this happened, but not really why it happened.

In order for any product to interact with another (especially in the electronic world) there is usually a little or sometimes a lot of sharing of technology and getting permissions to use another company’s technology. This can many times be a big hurdle in development of a new products and again I state “especially in the electronic marketplace.” Camera gimbals are a relatively new piece of technology and so they are still in the up and coming stages.

Now with all that said; DJI is increasingly (in my opinion) becoming well-known for their “half-baked” product releases. At some point I think they’ll step in a pile of shit that they can’t scrape off their shoe and get hammered by the FTC for some sort of fraudulent advertising or something along those lines. When this happens, they’ll most likely take a few high-profile YouTube vloggers/influencers down as collateral damage. Kind of like a NASCAR crash when an innocent driver gets collected into a wreck “just for being there.”

So, yeah, the Ronin S camera stabilizer was one of their “half-baked” schemes and a lot of people got duped. I will say that DJI did hold true to their promise that there would be improvements via firmware updates and they did make the gimbal compatible with many cameras on the so-called “list.” The “list” being the PDF that was released giving a list of compatible or soon to be compatible cameras.

For me: I am a Canon EOS 6D owner although the camera is old at this point (3/6/19) and I was already planning to move on to another camera to use exclusively for the Ronin S. However, I thought it was great that the 6D was on the initial list of compatible cameras because this would allow me to make an early purchase of the Ronin S and start working with it ASAP. I (like most) am new to gimbals because gimbals are new to us. I knew beforehand that it would take practice to get good with handling of the gimbal if I wanted to incorporate it into the workflow of my photography business. After all I am not going to go out using a product/tool for my business and be “half-baked” with it. Half-baked anything will eventually lead to trouble.

Any new piece of gear I have ever purchased is always run through the paces before it gets used on a paid job. Every photographer has had to work through problems that arise unexpectedly when using gear, we are already familiar with. In fact, it is a given that things will go wrong on any given day and part of what make a good photographer, cinematographer, director, 1st AC, 2nd AC ect… is being able to work through problems with gear. But what sane person wants to compound those problems by taking a piece of gear into the field without know how to use it. You cannot possibly expect to problem solve a piece of gear if you first don’t know how to use it “inside & out.”

So, that was my expectation when I would first receive the Ronin S, I would throw the old 6D on there and spend hours honing a skill… And well, that did quite happen as planned. However, I did put the 6D on the Ronin S and get to work practicing and trying to learn the ins & outs of the gimbal. But DJI’s “half-baked” hair brain bullshit keeps cropping up. Things like the app changes. I use the app to make changes to the gimbal setting and one day I wake up and the app changes and then the app changes again, and so on. Of course, anyone who owns a DJI drone like the Mavic Pro or now the Mavic Pro 2 knows full well what I’m talking about when it comes to app changes. Something that was there yesterday is not there today. Of course, it is not all a bad thing, some changes are for the better, but how is a person supposed to incorporate a piece of gear into workflow when it is constantly changing and you never really know when the changes will happen. I have cameras that I have owned for 10 years, I know them inside and out. I know the settings like I know the back of my hand. I can pick up a camera body I haven’t touched in three years and it works just as I left it three years earlier. Sadly, DJI and other companies don’t understand this concept.

My prediction is in the not to distant future a company will emerge as a true front-runner in “camera-gimbal” technology and understand exactly what I am talking about. Simply put they will move away from the “half-baked” mentality that plagues the marketplace today. What would be nice is to see one of the big camera manufactures get into the ring with camera and gimbals that are designed as one unit and can then be separated. Sort of a modular design, although I hate to use the word “modular” because it sounds dated or old. Let’s call it a camera and gimbal system. If I wanted to, we could start talking about how AI will totally revolutionize the camera industry in the near future. But that would best be left for another longer post.

To remedy the problem of focusing my 6D while mounted on the Ronin S I purchased the “Focus Motor” and I have to say it works pretty good, so far. My unit did arrive with a loose screw that let the gear wheel on the focus motor waver and wobble a little. I tightened the screw with w T-7 Torx driver and it resolved the problem. Only drawback to the focus motor is the fact it adds weight to an already heavy gimbal. It also adds another thing to go wrong when out in the field working. Engineering 101… the more moving parts to a design the more problematic the design, end of story. For users who have a camera that is compatible with the Ronin S they have less weight and less moving parts to break. Less setup time, less breakdown time.

But for now, having the focus motor allows me to use the Ronin S in a practice capacity until I decide what camera I want to purchase.

Hey thanks for stopping by and have a great day.


							

What Phone Did You Use? (envisioning myself beaten, bruised and bloody in a snowbank at the end of the parking lot)

Nam 1/125 sec at f/3.2 ISO 4000 142mm

What Phone Did You Use?

It was nearly 6:00pm on a Cold windy February evening when myself and a group of friends had finished our joyous dinner and were leaving the restaurant. Earlier I had promised my two friends that once we met up, I would take a few nice photos of them. Nothing special, just a few good photos. Knowing I am a photographer this would be a little treat of sorts for them. 99% of the time I have my camera bag with me and there is always a body with a full frame sensor, a 24-70mm and yes, always the 70-200mm both f/2.8 lenses. Also, there is always a radio controlled speedlite or two, but who the hell wants to use those when there is natural light to glorify already natural beauty.

However, the day did not go nowhere near as planned. I was to leave point “A” and pickup Nam & Kukik at point “B” and return to point “A” to retrieve my wife from shopping and we would all go to dinner. We had also planned that somewhere along the way we would find a spot for a little photo shoot. Nothing particular just a spot with good lighting so the girls could have some nice photos and then off to dinner.

Sadly, the trip from point A to point B involved driving in mid-Saturday afternoon traffic in North/Central New Jersey. When we think of bad traffic, we have visions of LA or Bangkok, however parts of New Jersey are just as bad. I know the area well so I know all the shortcuts and alternate routes. But on this day what should have been a 25-minute ride turned into almost 2 hours, mostly due to congestion and fender benders.

Kukik 1/125 sec at f/3.2 ISO 6400 115mm

Needless to say, I was able to finally get to Kukik and minutes later pick up Nam. However, I knew that by time I got back to point “A” where I had left my wife there would be little time for a photo shoot and dinner takes priority because… well because it is food lol and I know everyone was hungry and darkness would fall soon.

I start thinking to myself “maybe the girls forgot about the photos.” And as we’re eating and having a wonderful time enjoying this wonderful get-together, no one says anything about the photo shoot. I mean it was not etched in stone or anything, it was just me taking a few quick shots of these lovely Thai beauties.

But I was forgetting a few things here; first thing I was forgetting is that the whole point of this get together was because Kukik would soon be leaving to live in California and we would not be able to see her to often anymore. The second thing I was forgetting was the fact I had told two women I would take their photo. So, forget about the first part of Kukik moving away, the big tragedy here is that I told not one, but two women I would take their photo. As you can clearly see I need to find a way at 6:00pm on a cold dark windy winter night to take a nice photo of these to young ladies or I may never hear the end of this.

As we leave the restaurant no one has yet said anything about the photos, but I have this feeling building inside that “what if?” kind of feeling. What if they say “hey you said you would take our photo?” Of course, as a photographer I could justify not taking the photos for many reasons; There is not enough light, it is too cold or too windy… But then what kind of a friend would I be? The core part of my OCD is not letting people down, be it a client or a friend “if I told somebody I was going to do something I will do it at any cost or I just can’t live with myself.” They are very good friends and wonderful people and I know they would forgive me, sadly I would never forgive myself.

Nam 1/12 sec at f/3.2 ISO 2500 150mm

So again, as we walk out of the restaurant, I am scanning the area and I see this wonderful window light coming from this rather large thrift store. Most thrift stores are small and tucked away, but this store is large and has big windows just gushing with light.

We make our way to the vehicle and the moment of truth has arrived. The girls are talking Thai with my wife and I know very little Thai. But I do know enough to know when they are talking about me and more-so I can tell by the “heartbroken” tone of their voices that they are asking about the camera and the photos. As they’re all talking, I’m playing the scenario through my head of me telling them “it’s too dark or too cold” and then envisioning myself beaten, bruised and bloody in a snowbank at the end of the parking lot lol.

Needless to say, by looking at the photos that are posted here I used the window light and I feel it made some really nice lighting for a quick shoot. I pulled my vehicle right up in front of the store and stopped in the “No Parking” fire lane and we all got out and the girls were happy to say the least.

Three things came together (in my opinion) that made these images as good as they are. First was the full frame sensor. It doesn’t matter the brand of the camera, they’re all good, Sony, Canon, Nikon and all the rest. If you have a full-size sensor shooting in low light can yield amazing results. All though it seemed the window light was extremely bright, in reality it is not. It appears bright because everything else is dark, it is night time. Most of the images came in around 2500-6400 ISO and on a full frame sensor that is easily doable these days.

Kukik 1/125 sec at f/3.2 ISO 6400 115mm

Second thing that made the images as good as they are is that the lens was good and fast. I was using my (pry it from my cold dead hands) 70-200mm f/2.8. I had my camera set to manual, shutter at 1/125 sec, f/3.2 and auto ISO. If the ISO went above 3200, I would have the girls move closer to the window or zoom out a bit. If they were too close the shot didn’t look good because the glass would be in frame and it did not look pleasing. Also, most of the photos were shot at 115mm or higher which gave a good compression for the leading lines of the walkway in the background.

And the third thing that made the images as good as they could be on a cold windy winter night was the “even lighting” coming from the store. It was bright and soft. It was not the best lighting, but it was the soft enough and that was all I needed. I started shooting with Nam who has never been in front of my camera before. Next up was Kukik who has been in front of my camera and then of course there is going to be no stopping both girls getting shots together. It truly was one of those fun moments in life that we will always remember. One of the hardest parts of our lives is identifying those moments as they’re happening. As I was watching the girls I realized “this was one of those moments.”

Then the shoot was over in an instant… I seen the flashing lights of the parking security vehicle coming our way and I yelled for everybody to get back to the truck and we pulled away.

But as we pulled away my wife and the girls start commenting on the fact it was a thrift store and they hadn’t gone inside. Yep, I think you can see where this is going to lead. So, I quickly linked my tablet to the camera WiFi and asked each girl to “pick one good photo of themselves” and I would edit it while the were shopping. “one good photo each,” yeah, right, that is like asking a kid to take only one piece of candy. So as the girls headed off to the thrift shop, I stayed behind and using Lightroom CC Mobile I edited a few photos and posted them to Instagram and sent them copies as well.

Nam 1/12 sec at f/3.2 ISO 2500 150mm

Later the next day I did take a few of the images into Photoshop and put them to a better edit. However, the best part of this whole story is; we realized Kukik has a few more weeks here in New Jersey so why not plan another good day to get together and have fun and we did just that. Before I returned the girls home, we all sat looking at our calendars and set a date.

 

Hey thanks so much for stopping by and reading, have a great day.

 

My Extra Right Hand (I am looking for an individual who in very energetic, more energetic than me.)

 

Model: Kendall 2015

My Extra Right Hand

To I want to talk about working with an assistant and how much easier life can be.

I think anyone would agree that having an assistant would make life easier; So why then would I post about it? While it seems like a “no brainer” I still see many photographers working without an assistant. I seen wedding photographers hire a second shooter, but no assistant and I cannot understand why.

First let me say that I have another business aside from my photography and I realized a long time ago the power that having an assistant can give you and how much pressure is taken away when I have a really hectic job to do. My other business is catering and we mostly cook on-site. For me it is not high pressure anymore because I have been doing it for over 20 years. However, I didn’t hire an assistant until about 5 years in. Sure, I had people working for me as employees, but one day I realized that “maybe I need an assistant.”

So, you’re most likely thinking “well what’s the difference between the two?” Employees in my opinion are workers who have a more or less defined set of tasks that they perform on a regular basis, whereas an assistant is someone who is by your side working and interacting with you to help you accomplish your set task.

Okay, so I only use a photography assistant when I have a really important job to do. A job that requires me to stay focused (pardon the pun) and keep on a schedule. Jobs like weddings, large project shoots or maybe just a fast-paced event. Aside from these kinds of jobs most times I am a solo act and I do just fine.

Let me describe what it is that I am looking for in an assistant because I think most people are confused as to what they really need an assistant for. First and foremost, my assistant is paid and paid as well as I can they pay them. I work the cost for the assistant into every job. They are not a family member or a friend and most times they know very little about photography. Anything they need to know about photography I will teach them and most times that is just how-to setup and take down gear such as light stands and running power cords. However most of all I am looking for an individual who in very energetic, more energetic than me. I want someone who has their own means of transportation and is also comfortable driving my vehicle too. I want some one who knows how to use a smartphone/device, can do an adequate Google search in seconds, knows how to get to the nearest, store, coffee shop, deli and camera shop. I want someone who is great with people, they can not be shy at all, they must exude common sense thinking. They must be the kind of person I trust enough to hand them my credit card/s to go buy something and they won’t steal my money. I can also hand them cash money to

Tiny & Kendall

hold. Essentially, I want someone who is me, but better, faster and I can trust them with anything.

About now your saying “where the hell do, I find somebody like that.” I’ll agree it is not an easy thing and it doesn’t happen overnight, but once it does you need to find a way to hold on to that person. If they are a college age student it is inevitable that you will not have them forever and they’ll move on sooner or later. At this current time, I have a few different people I use. Because it is on an “as needed basis” if one is not available usually the other one is. One is a big strong guy we appropriately call “Tiny” and the other is a lady named Amy.

Tiny & Cynthia Ann

Tiny works a as a truck driver and appliance installer during the week, he also works for my catering business on the weekends. He meets all the criteria described above and he is an all-around good guy at heart.

Amy is a legal business administrator for a university and she too works for my catering business. I have known Amy for years and she is a very intelligent and motivated person.

Between the two of them they no nothing about camera exposure, aperture or ISO. However, they do know everything that I need them to know, things like how to change out batteries and lenses and help me stay organized. As any photographer knows the life of a photographer is “always forgetting something,” sure it may not be something critically important like a camera body (OMG could you imagine?). It is those other little things that could turn into big things, like running back to the parking lot to get something from my vehicle or maybe finding a cup of coffee on a cold day.

Amy

Each person I work with has their strong points. If it is a wedding Amy is very good at scouting the location for good spots to shoot. While Tiny on the other hand is great with lighting setups and adjusting. Tiny can also fly a drone and have it ready when I want to do an overhead shot.

So, to sum it up into one easy statement; having an assistant is like having an extra right hand or two or three.  To have that extra pair of hands to carry a camera bag, to have someone to bounce ideas off of and basically be there when things are not going as planned.

In conversation with other photographers I have found some who wholeheartedly agree with me about paying an assistant “as good as you can pay them.” However, I have had a few people disagree on the amount an assistant should be paid. Some people are cheap and don’t understand the value a good assistant can bring to your gameday.

One photographer I know who has a studio and does mostly portraiture work, she hires mostly teenagers from the community. She pays them the same as if they worked at the local grocery store. She doesn’t want to pay them more because they lack experience. I feel this is a different situation, this is more of an employee than it is an assistant. And yes, teenagers are very lacking in experience and life skills. Not to rag on teenagers and I know there are good ones and bad ones, however most American teenagers lack life skills that it takes to interact with people of all ages on a personal level. Life skills come with time and experience of dealing with people. Even when I myself was 20 years old I did not have the life skills of dealing with people as I do today.

I really feel there is a distinct difference between an assistant and a general employee or at least in my interpretation of “assistant.” And as stated earlier finding the right person is no easy task. But for me it just kind of happened, I found Amy many years ago when I placed an add on Craigslist looking for general weekend catering help. I found several people that fit the bill for what I needed. Amy however did not fit the bill, she was extremely overqualified, holding a masters degree among others and being an administrator at a university just didn’t jive with doing weekend catering work. She told me she just wanted to stay busy and make some extra money. So, I gave her a chance and she is still with me to this day. As my photography business increased and I needed and assistant to shoot a wedding I asked her if she would like to do it and it was all good.

Tiny came to by way of a friend of my wife. My wife is a Thai lady and she has many Thai lady friends living here in the USA. A few of her friend have worked with us over the years and they were all amazingly motivated people. Tiny who is Thai, moved to the USA as a young boy when his mother married and American man. I met him when he was in his mid-20s, he was looking for extra work on weekends so we brought him on board so to speak. Now he is part of the main fabric of our catering business. One day I needed an assistant to help me with a rather large project shoot. I asked Tiny if he would like to make some money for the day helping to setup lights and tear them down. He jumped at the chance. Little did he know he had to carry all the gear to the third-floor studio with no elevator. And “yes” it was not easy and yes, I paid him good.

Like anything in life and we have all heard it over and over “you only get what you pay for,” however in the realm of good photography assistants you must first find them and that is the hardest part.

Tiny & Francis

The last job Tiny and I did together was covering an event. It was a private premiere showing for a yet unreleased reality TV show about a family who is in the Monster Truck business. They needed a photographer to cover the event and we had a lot of fun, plus I got to meet the producer and director and a lot of other interesting people. Yes, it was a fun time and we both made money.

Now as I draw to a close on this post, I must say I know a few wedding photographers who take a different route when it comes to finding assistants. Some will actually use other photographers. They will use the photographer as both a second shooter and as an assistant. I have actually done this, I have worked as a second shooter/assistant for weddings and really it is not a bad deal at all. I help you and you help me… just as long as we both don’t have jobs the same day. Yeah and just my luck I was on the losing end of that deal a few times and that is why I just use people who are not photographers.

Thanks so much for stopping by and reading.

 

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Dare to Be Different (Apparently when it comes to photography websites, we are supposed to follow a format)

Dare to Be Different

“Dare to be different” we have all heard this statement before. I think the first time I heard it was when I was about 13 years old and there was this weird kid at school. He moved in from another district and he dressed differently, talked differently and was just a little weird until you got to know him. His name was “Taz,” or at least that’s what he wanted to be called. He was a good student, never started trouble, but he would sure end it if it came to him. He was only in our school for about a month and then he left, it was that parents going through divorce thing.

I remember when people troubled him about the way he dressed, talked or music he listened to, he would always smile and say “dare to be different.” He even said it to a teacher once and I think that was the day it really stuck in my head. Of course, since then I have heard the saying many times, but I always remember where I first heard it.

In terms of photography I have heard it over and over to the point it is more or less a giant cliché and I jokingly loathe photography clichés. I loathe them because most often they are coming from a photographer who is trying to sound so prolific. There are thousands of YouTube videos with photographers boasting about photography lighting and say things like “I see light in f/ stops” or I love this one “its all about the light.” And then every so often the “dare to be different” comes flying out (audience gasping and bowing to the higher power of this photographer). Somehow a when a cliché is released it is supposed to be akin to a wizard releasing a ball of fire, he just conjured up out of thin air.

Now with all that said; If we are told as photographers “Dare to Be Different” and the word coming from some great photographer who is greater than us… Why the hell do they want you to have your website look like the next guys website? Apparently when it comes to photography websites, we are supposed to follow a format and this great format will bring you all the fames & fortunes you desire. However, this whole bag of hogwash comes with a discount code followed by “just follow the link below and head on over to” Squarespace or whatever the latest flavor of hosting is that month.

Of course, I am being a little cynical here, but I am also being serious. If an artistic field where “dare to be different” is the mantra and I really whole heartedly think we should try to be different to some degree or another, why should all the websites have this formula-based rule for appearance?

I designed my own website from scratch and I have no formal education in web design. I did however sit down and spend some time reading and watching videos about the do’s & don’ts of creating a website. I also looked at many other photographers websites. I took notes on the things I liked and the things I didn’t like. I decided “I can do this” and the biggest reason I can do this is because I like to create… and it would be cheaper than having someone else design it lol. But the feeling of creating it myself I think is what had me most excited.

I didn’t follow a lot of website building rules, and unlike the rules of photography; website design rules are always changing. However, the very first rule I did follow was, to ask myself “what do I want my website to do or say?” “What is the core purpose of this website?” After thinking about that for a while I decided that my website would be just a simple place for me to convey that “yes I am a photographer and here is what I do.” That is all I really need, although the powers to be say differently.

I think a lot of it is common sense, things like, use a good easy to read font, use colors that are easy on the eye and don’t clutter up the space with unnecessary graphics and other distractions. Put up content that really describes who you are and what you do. Most important is: all the content should be you and nobody else’s unless it was a collaborative project, definitely no stock photography. Also, you should most certainly have your own photo on the site as well as links to your favorite flavors of social media.

I say you should have a photo of yourself and I think this is really only for anyone who wants to be hired as a photographer. If your photography is strictly a hobby then a photo of you is optional. This was one of the things that bothered me when I was looking at photography websites and it still bothers me, that many so called “working photographers” have a website and they have no photo of themselves. You are a photographer and you don’t have a photo of yourself? I think anyone who is a working professional in a service or craft that deals with people up close and personal should always have a headshot or photo that represents them. This advice goes for medical professionals, insurance agents, attorneys and yes, photographers.

Creating my website was a lot of fun because I turned it into a personal photography project. I have posted here in the past that I truly believe in the power of personal unpaid projects. As long as you treat them as if they are a real paying job. Put importance on the project and a deadline. After the layout for the site was completed, I now had to decide on content. Again, all I wanted this website to do was let people know who I am and what I do. But I also wanted decent content. I had some decent content, but I wanted more. So that then became an ongoing never-ending project in and of itself, to come up with new and fresh content.

This image of Nicole was my flagship photo when my site first loaded. I love this image, it is a little over processed, however that is the look I was going for. I started the website in 2014 and kept this image up for almost two years. Then came the day I realized that I cannot keep the photo up forever and I need to create something new. So now I try to create something new every six months or so.

My opening home page has a gallery of about 12-14 of my most favorite images that I feel is a great representation of what I do. For the most part I mostly photograph people and I do a fair amount of compositing in Photoshop, so the opening gallery is just that, people and only people. I also have it set so you can advance to the next photo by using left & right arrow keys and it will default to a slideshow on its own.

Recklesspixel

I have a direct link to my Instagram that is very visible in the upper right of the slideshow and no other social media icons on the home page. I want people to know IG is where I like to hangout. But I do have one whole page of the website dedicated to my all my social media accounts and it is simply titled “Social.”

My “about me” page was very hard to write because I didn’t want it to come off too corny, so I had a good friend write the page and I really feel this was the best way to go for me. Maybe not for everybody, but for me it works. I have a wonderful photo of my wife and I and I am holding my camera. The photo was actually shot by a friend using her mobile phone and I really loved the photo, it works.

I try to keep the site clean and to the point, if you land on the home page and you’re ready to advance, from left to right at the top of the page is “Portfolio.” This page is simple with a gallery that has 42 of my nicest images and just below is a small gallery of the most recent wedding I shot. I update the wedding gallery with every wedding I shoot. I do not advertise to shoot weddings; however, I do shoot three to four wedding every year. Not too bad for somebody who doesn’t advertise to photograph weddings lol.

Next is the “About” page, then the “Contact” page. I feel this would be the most logical order if someone came to my page to hire me or at least contact me.

I land on the home page and I see the gallery of images, it has captured my interest so I will now click on the portfolio. I scroll through the portfolio page and now I think it would be time to see who this guy is and I click on the about page. There is a photo of the photographer and there is a very short statement in my own words. Then there is a more detailed statement about me, but not too long. If I were a viewer of my site and I was still interested then next logical move would be the “contact” page and if I was just browsing and wanted to poke around, well, then I have all the other stuff like a link to this blog, another gallery page, video page ect…

I do have a page dedicated to my copyright policy, here again is something nobody ever really talks about. Posting your copyright policy in not required as far as I know, but it sure can’t hurt. I think it would be extremely helpful if your images are ripped of and you end up in court to recover damages that are certainly due to you. After all I have all my copyright data embedded in the meta data of my images. In that meta data there is a web address that leads to my website.

When I look at my website, I truly feel it has everything I need to convey about what it is I do. I test this every so often by asking a friend or an acquaintance to go to my site and see if it does what it is supposed to do. Most often I get great feedback and sometimes I get constructive criticism and that is ok too.

I think the most people who come to my site are people who have received my business card. I know when I receive a business card from someone I want to go to there website and see what they do. I find this very interesting because I come from a time before the internet. In the old days someone gave you a business card and all you could do was save it and call them later. However today I feel as a photographer your website should directly relate to your business card. I even use the flagship image of the home page on the back of my business cards. In this day of “everybody is a photographer” I want people to know I am a serious photographer and I have put thought into what I do and how I am perceived.

While your website is a place to find out who you are and what you do, it is also an important piece of the many pieces that make up your brand and for this reason you do want to put some thought into the overall message your website is saying to the viewer. Your website is your digital ambassador of sorts and as we know first impressions are lasting ones. Another thing you need to be mindful of is “how fast your website loads” because nobody like to type in a web address and then have to sit and wait for the site to load.

I keep a constant check of my website, but in a subtle way. I use Chrome for my browser and I have my website set to be one of the opening tabs when my browser first opens. Once I see it, I know everything is good and I move on. Also, every few months or so I will run through the site to make sure all pages and images are loading properly and I will check that there are no broken links.

I use a Google Voice number so I never worry about having my phone number on the web. I have used this number for years and have never had a problem.

So, in closing; again, I would like to “dare to be different” make your site yourself. Think about it, but don’t overthink it. Keep it simple and to the point.

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.