Sunday, August 31, 2008

Insurance... it's good for you.

So... I'm in Washington now... Mt. Rainier National Park to be exact. Seattle and Olympic national park both treated us to wonderful weather and spectacular scenes... But it's been a tough trip so far. Half of the people I'm traveling with are sick... we are sleeping about 5 hours a night here... The other driver got a ticket for speeding (I swear the park ranger was BSing about how fast we were going... I fell... TWICE (while trying to step up onto a piece of log). The first time I fell I got lucky and just hurt my bottom a bit... my camera bag broke my fall (not sure if anything in there broke yet...). Then I stood up... and fell AGAIN but this time sprained my angle and slammed my back against another piece of log that had a round protruding part... I guess I got lucky because it would have been really bad if I hit my spine or head against it... or even rib cage... lucky enough I missed my spine by about 2 inches and it just hit the side of my lower back. I hit it pretty hard... really kept me down for a few minutes... To make it worse... I dropped my friend's lens that was borrowing today... I was changing lenses... it slipped... I bobbled it... it fell... It was new when he lent it to me... and now it is semi-broken. Oh btw, did I mention that the lens is the $1000 Canon EF 24-105 mm F/4 L lens?  yeah... so now I owe him a new L lens.... a nice pricey L lens.... I insure all my equipment... but he was new in SLR world so he doesn't... F**** This is why you buy insurance... cuz shit happens... This has just been a terrible week... First the 4 car chain collision that I caused... now a dropped lens... I think I should stay off the road and avoid touching expensive things....

Friday, August 29, 2008

Assignment 4: Taste

The 4th photo club assignment was taste... yes, taste. This included everything from food photos to people's emotion/reactions to food, basically anything that could represent taste. The shot I really wanted was to get someone (preferably a girl) to eat some ice cream. I wanted to compose the shot just showing the lower part of her face (chin/jaw) and have the spoon in her mouth, all against a blown out bright white background (well ok maybe some color, but I wanted strong back lighting). You know, the typical "hmmmm that was delicious" look to it where you hold spoon in your mouth, enjoying every second of that wonderful sweet flavor. Thats what I wanted... but I never got a chance to try to execute so I had to settle for plain food photos. Oh well.

I ended up settling for some hot dog shots from work...

Just a plain shot, I wanted to make sure I got the action of putting the mustard on the hot dog... hey this is TASTE after all :). It might have been better to get the whole hot dog in focus but at the same time I wanted some blurred background so I just settled for making sure the ketchup and mustard was in focus. I also really like the red + yellow contrast... overall the white balance is off by a little bit which kind of sucks (see the that yellowish tint?). Finally, for this shot, I had to make sure the hot dog wasn't centered... I felt that would have been too plain and boring; besides that paper is almost just as interesting as the hot dog!

During the course of the assignment, I was also lucky enough to fly up to the main campus up in Mountain View with all the great cafes... I happened to stay in Building 47 where Pintxo 47, one of the coolest cafes with small tapas styled plates, is located. These little dishes of delight made it the perfect food photography subject...

I haven't had a whole lot of experience shooting food... Not really good at food photography or really know what I'm talking about... but a few things that I personally watch out for are:
  • Make sure you have the correct white balance. There is nothing like a yellow (or pale blue) tint on your food photos to destroy your appetite. Make sure that white is actually white... if that fish is white, please don't make it look yellow or orange (yes, I'm guilty of making that mistake...), it just doesn't look right.
  • Don't under expose... I think it is almost always better to OVER expose than to under or expose just right. So error on the side of making things too bright... there is nothing more disgusting than a dark looking photo of red meat... it just makes it look dull, dry, heavy, greasy... But if you brighten it up, it will just look that much fresher, juicier... tastier.
  • Keep the background simple. As with everything else... simplify simplify simplify. The food is the main subject, avoid clutter from the table (i.e. clashing cups, bowls, utensils, etc). While these items could be used to set a context for the food (i.e. wine pairing), make sure you focus on the right things otherwise the viewer's eyes will simply wander around.
  • White plates help... I personally tend to find white plate settings best... white plates + slight over exposure just creates that light fresh feeling. White probably also brings out the colors of the food the best... but again, this is just a personal taste
  • Tilted angles... for some reason, I love my food shots tilted slightly. Angle (eye level? 45 degree looking down? completely top down?) and composition is very important and is something I need to work on, but I find that I always like these tilted photos the best... maybe because they remind of me magazine food photos :p
  • Use lights to bring out the texture... I tend to like a bit of back lighting on food photos (maybe even some rim light). But lighting is definitely something I need to master... when to use a strong directional light, when to use a soft light... I also tend to avoid using flashes directly as that will usually cast a pale blue light...
Anyways, those are just some quick thoughts about food pictures... also, make sure you take the picture while the food is fresh and freshly prepared... People have suggested using a spray bottle of water (or oil) to 'freshen' up the food like how you'd spray the flowers to make it look more lively. Finally... desserts are usually easier to photograph as chefs tend to make it look pretty no matter where you go... I had a lot of fun doing this assignment, but not nearly as much fun as I had enjoying all that food afterwards :)

Seattle... here I come

Tomorrow I'm starting on my labor day weekend photo trip to Seattle. We'll be spending Friday in Seattle, driving out to Port Angeles at night so we can hit up Olympic National Park on Saturday. We'll spend Sunday and Monday at Mt. Rainier hiking and taking in the vistas... I'm praying for good weather... but in Seattle that may be a little tough :). I'm hoping this will be interesting and inspiring photo trip. I've heard so many great things about Olympic National Park and Mt. Rainier... Too bad Canon didn't release anything interesting in time for me to buy... I did borrow my friend's EF 70-105 f/4 IS L lens... I wonder if I'll fall in love with that lens and buy it for myself as an upgrade to my 17-85 :).

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Nikon: 2 - Canon: 0

So uh.... as the title would suggest... Nikon is wiping the floor with Canon's non-creative asses. Sorry for the harsh language, but Nikon has not only surpassed Canon in just about every way possible, but made them look REALLY silly while doing it... as a friend put it... "man, nikon's totally slapping canon silly right now it's not even a fair fight... it's like michael phelps vs george lucas in 100m butterfly".

Keep in mind both my friend and I are Canon shooters... at least for now. Late August is usually a very exciting time for photographers as this is the pre-Photokina announcement season where all the big companies come out with some of their best stuff (the other hot season is around December for the PMA show). I've been waiting and waiting for a breakthrough by Canon. I wasn't just looking for a Canon 5D MK II (or whatever name it is given), but I was hoping for something revolutionary. Some signs of life to show that Canon's huge R&D department isn't just show... that they are good for something. Clearly, I was wrong.

This week Canon announced their newest camera... Canon 50D... yes folks, no full frame 5D replacement in sight yet... To give them credit, the 50D is a large upgrade from 40D (at least technically speaking). The key specs seems to be 15.1mp (up from 10.1), ISO 100-3200 (with 12800 as expansion) which is up from 1600 with 3200 as expansion. This alone is pretty impressive, a large increase in pixel density without increasing sensor size AND dramatically lowering the noise all at the same time? Sounds great! I can't wait to see some of the test shots. The 50D also includes a few interesting features like ability to adjust the focus for all lenses (or enter lens specific adjustments), improved live view, peripheral lighting adjustment, and a much better 3.0" LCD. Oh and of course this is the first camera with the brand new DIGIC IV image processor with new menu layout and stuff... all pretty cool stuff. Initial hands on impression available at Also announced is a new EF-S lens, 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens. I'm weary of the image quality of super zooms like these... especially at about 600 without USM... anyways, you can read more about it at

So... it's not THAT bad, it's just not ground breaking, nothing special, more or less natural progression from the previous generation. Typical safe move. Now Nikon on the other hand has really been tearing up a store in the DSLR world... first D300 and D3, then D700, and now the latest... D90 (replacement for the D80). Now I don't know a whole lot about Nikon and their cameras... but I don't need to know much to appreciate the D90. Apparently Nikon has managed to release the first ever DSLR with video mode... yes VIDEO MODE. The D90 is capable of recording HD video (1280x720) at 24 fps... I mean wasn't that the biggest reason people liked point and shoots? That they can take pictures AND videos at the same time? Well guess what... now you can do that with DSLRs and do it 10x better. Imagine recording a video with a fisheye lens... or a 50mm 1.4 with super shallow DOF, or a 80-200mm VR lens... my goodness. Nikon has really changed the market with this one I think... Hands on preview available at I don't see how Canon can catch up (in the near future at least), Nikon has just been revolutionizing the market one camera level at a time.... 

Olympics - fin

So the Olympics ended almost as spectacularly as it started. The closing ceremony was as beautiful as it was abstract and fantasy like. On top of that, it had some of my favorite Chinese singers... and that's really all I needed to make it the best ceremony EVER, yes EVER.

Here are some more photos from the Olympics from The Big Picture

I really enjoyed looking through the pictures, I thought it not really captured the grandeur of the show China put on... but it captured the very essence of the Olympics. Dreams realized, records shattered, missed opportunities, heart breaking defeat, physical perfection... it had it all. From Lolo Jone's stumble that dropped her only opportunity for gold to a mere 7th place finish, to Usain Bolt's super-human feat of finishing the 200m sprint in a mere 19.30 secs. Some of these images will stay with me (and perhaps, stay with everyone) for ever...

Friday, August 22, 2008

Olympics continued...

More interesting photos from the Olympics, this time from

Some really great moments are now captured forever by photographers. Also what is interesting is the shift from Canon to Nikon in sports photography. It use to be as you look down the line, all you seeis Canon pro bodies with the famous white L lenses. There is definitely a shift now as more and more photographers are switching to Nikon's D3 (and some to D700 I suppose)... like this photographer here. Nikon has really been kicking butt this past year and it'll be interesting to see how Canon responds...

Friday, August 15, 2008


So... I haven't written a post in about a week. It's not that I've been busy with work (which I have been) but more like I've been watching the Olympics till the wee hours of the night every day (yes, even the women's gymnastic events). There is just something captivating about watching Michael Phelps chase for his record setting 8 gold medals, or watching the US women's beach volleyball team (Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh) smash through all opposition. I never could imagine caring about the Olympic dreams of two little girl (Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin -- my goodness, I actually know their names!?). I cheered at every perfect jump or landing, and boo'ed at what seemed to be unfair or questionable scores... yeah... weird. Anyways, The Big Picture put up a few really amazing captures from the Olympics

Hope everyone else is enjoying the Olympics :)

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Photo Club assignment 3

So this week was when the 3rd assignment from the photo club was due. This time the assignment was all about exposure control. We had to take 9 shots:
  1. White white object (meaning make sure it comes out white, instead of some murky gray which the camera tries very hard to do)
  2. Black black object
  3. Back lit silhouette (don't you just love those silhouette sunset pictures?)
  4. Back lit properly exposed
  5. Camera motion (where the camera moves but subject more or less remains stationary)
  6. Subject motion
  7. Stop Action shot
  8. Bright object at night (yes, this is hard to meter for....)
  9. Moving lights
I've already shot roughly 4000 photos the past 2 months... so I decided to take it easy for this assignment and reuse shots I took from the Glow event and the picnic in Long Beach for stop action shots. However, I did take 4 shots specifically for this assignment, two of which I really liked.

From SMO Photo Club

This is my photo for black black object. I simply placed the flash on a white sheet of paper with white poster board as background. Simple desk lamp to light the flash from the side. I used a gray card for the white balance since it is important for the white background to actually look white :). For metering, I followed the basic rules, used partial metering (so it only looks at the center 9%) and since that's basically all black I dialed in -2 EV. This made the black look actually black and the white part actually white and overall exposed pretty close to correct I think. I wanted to go for a simple clean product shot and I hope I came close. The blue tint you see in the flash is actually natural light but shifted blue due to the white balance. That was a nice little unexpected bonus for me ;). I do wish I stopped the aperture down more so I can get the entire flash head in focus, but I was running out of light as is and could barely hand hold (tho I guess I could have gotten out a tripod). Again, overall I'm pretty happy with the way it turned out. Nice simple and clean, with a tad bit of wide angle distortions :).

From SMO Photo Club

This was my properly exposed shot for a back lit object. I simply put the flower bowl and candle down on the white poster board in front of my window with it's veil/blinds drawn. It was getting pretty late so I was worried that I wouldn't be able to blow it out completely but fortunately for me exposing for the object was just enough to blow the background out creating a sea of white everywhere. Again I just used partial metering and this time did about a +1/3 to 2/3 EV (mostly trial and error). This might be my favorite shot from all my recent photos. I just love the simple white feel to it... like its in a studio or clean room. The flower also went well with the candle which was a new house warming gift. The glass bowl around the flower really made it work since it created interesting reflections and lets the light through. The shadows casted was also cook so I made sure I included that in the composition. Overall, I just like the picture... keeping it simple. As a friend recently reminded me... "less is more." Trying to make every day simple objects look interesting is perhaps one of the best photography exercises available.

The rest of the photos didn't turn out as well as I had hoped. They are available here.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Event Photography

Last week I did two sessions of event photography... one was a coworker's baby shower in the office and the next day was the office picnic out in Long Beach. I didn't get many good photos (maybe not even one) but I figured I'd at least jot down some thoughts on both lens selection, shooting style and results. It's rare that I get to practice event photography, it's always a challenge for me so I always really look forward to it and hope to break through one of these days. Maybe the hardest part about event photography is striking the balance between being a participant and enjoying yourself vs. actually trying to capture all the fun moments which is always harder than it seems. There are no retakes, you miss a shot... that's it. Gone. Lost forever in the long list of regrets that I have as a photographer. You don't get much control over lighting (well maybe you can pop on a flash or set a remote trigger flash out in the corner), but for the most part, everything is out of my control and I just have to pray I click that little black button at the right time. First, quick list of the lenses I normally carry with me:
  • EF 50mm f/1.4 - Great fast prime. Pros: decently sharp and just lets in a ton of light for those low light situations. Cons: Slow to focus, razor thing DOF at larger apertures... you better hope you focus is spot on or else....
  • EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro - Super sharp macro lens. Pros: Super sharp, beautiful bokeh, nice portrait lens. Cons: Even slower to focus, hard to hand hold in low light, too long for indoor.
  • EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5 - 4.5 - One of my favorite lens. Super wides are just SO much fun to play with. Great for all sorts of things including portraits believe it or not... just be careful who you use it on :).
  • EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS - My general purpose walk around lens. Pros: Great zoom range, has IS which always helps... Cons: it is slow and not terribly sharp.
  • EF 70-200mm f/2.8 IS - The white cannon.... need I say more? I'm convinced it can double as a self defense weapon.... or was that it's primary function and the fact you can take pictures with it just a bonus feature....
So anyways, the first event was my friend's baby shower at work. I knew it was just going to be indoors with available light (well, again, I could bring my flash but in general I'd rather shoot available light). Since I haven't used my 50mm in a long time, I decided to put on the 50 and only the 50... left everything else back at home. This is probably the lightest I've ever traveled :). Shooting with the 50 only posed interesting challenges, I basically had to relearn to "zoom with your feet". The 50 was also a bit long for group shots so trying to fit more than 2 people together meant that they had to be on the other half of the room. Also, with the available light, I had to shoot at ISO 800, and keep the aperture at roughly 2.0 to even have a shot of hand holding it.... I wished for just that much more light but oh well. Since the album contains lots of photos of manly guys playing funny baby shower games, I've made the album private and only upload innocent photos ;). The first shot is a close up of the tiara my friend got... it demonstrates the razor thin DOF for the 50mm... at least I got the entire "mother" to be more or less in focus. The second shot is from another coworker holding his "baby" balloon. I figured the post and composition is similar to standard maternity shots and was fun to have a guy as the subject.

This might be my favorite shot from the day. I just like the passing off feel. I also love the cropped composition so you don't see any faces, you just see the hands handing off the cute bear and it's simple yet it works (at least for me).

The next day was the company picnic out in Long Beach... again, I wanted to travel light so I dropped my 2 primes (plenty of light, no need for a super fast lens). I also left the 17-85 at home... it's a nice focal range, but just too plain, nothing really interesting about it. I brought the 10-22 as backup for potentially interesting shots, but I really wanted to use the 70-200 all day (which I pretty much did). The 70-200 was the perfect zoom range for a day at the beach, it is wide enough for me to still get some "landscape" type photos (and actually works better than my wide angle) while it also allows me to zoom in to get some nice candid portraits from some distance away. The fact that it is an L lens and weather sealed was also a factor for me to bring it out to the beach. The shots I had in mind were kids and action shots (of volleyball). There was also a harbor cruise so I figured 70-200 would be perfect for any type of shots I might get from the middle of the harbor. Here are some resulting shots:
From Summer picnic...

Nice and simple stop action shots of two girls participating in the tug of war. I was lucky in capturing the moment just as the girl in front turns and starts to really tug on the rope. I just love the innocent smiles on kids' faces.

Something about this shot just worked for me. I like the fact that you don't see his full body and it just lets you focus in on his right shoulder and all the sand on his back.

One of the better shots from the harbor tour. If only the sky wasn't so smoggy.... Overall, I thought it was a poor photograph outing for me with limited stuff I can shoot and just limited creativity on my part. I might have had much better luck not going on the boat tour and instead staying at the beach area to photograph more volleyball action or kids running around with water guns :).