Saturday, August 18, 2007

Last Week's Bride

Kendra and Brian got married at the Lake Temescal Boat House. To make a long story short, we had a good time, Brian and Kendra are very, very nice and sweet, and we got some great pictures.

If I hadn't been fighting with CS3 and Adobe Camera Raw for the past week I would have had the images online sooner. They went up last night (Friday) onto one of my online galleries.

Caution: Boring Techie Stuff

Let's suppose that you make really, really fast hard drives, but it turns out that older computers can't handle the speed at which the information travels to and from the drive. You could put a little switch "Slow/Fast" so that users could set it one way or the other before they install it.

But, there is no slow/fast switch on hard drives. Instead these potentially really fast drives have a jumper (see picture)

It's not that I have a huge penny - don't I wish - but that the jumper is small.

Here is the jumper in place on a hard drive (I know it's not a SATA drive, but it was the only drive that wasn't in an enclosure).

When the jumper is in position, the data moves at half speed. But, if you pull the jumper off (it ain't easy once the drive is in the computer) the data moves at full speed.

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I got a new computer. It has three SATA drives. I decided to put in a fourth. During this process I discovered that all three drives had been installed with the jumper in the SLOW position!

After I removed the jumpers the computer ran much faster. Actually, it sat on/under the desk at the same speed, sort of in one place all the time, but it functioned more quickly.

Imagine if services or products we purchased arrived only half functional, and we never even knew it?

"You mean, if I COOK this artichoke it will taste better?"

Yep, like artichokes and hamburger meat, some hard drives are not fully ready to use the moment you put it in your shopping cart.

It's more like you buy an ipod, and a year later you find out you are supposed to have TWO earbuds. Or, on your fortieth birthday you find out that all this time you could have been eating hot dogs IN A BUN, instead of holding the dog, mustard and catsup in your hands!

It's like you meet a really nice, totally in-style guy who makes photography really fun at your wedding, but after you have been married for six years you discover that the guy didn't know how to light, compose, or even get people to look good and natural.

The moral is, do your research, even down to the tiniest little piece: get me to photograph your wedding.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Give the Gift of Photos

One of the greatest gifts you can give your children, grandchildren, and your grandchildren's pets, is photos taken today that they can explore decades from now.

My dad's family, in Vienna, often went to portrait studios, and my father saved the pictures. He would have been 101 this week, and we still have this photo taken when he was seven:

It is my job is to please my clients, make "nice" or "dramatic" or "artsy" images.

The part of the job that you may never know about, or never think about, is that we are creating presents, a treasure chest of captured emotions and relationships, for ourselves and our descendends to view year after year.

A grand child whom you will never meet will be looking at the pictures you and I created.

That's one of the reasons that I am so careful with the quality of my work. These images will be treasures for your family, they are going to store them carefully, display them lovingly. They will be the window through which they will look into who you were, how you felt, today. What a shame if that picture is a snapshot, a poorly lit portrait, an image without feeling.

Allow me, help me, give a gift to your grand children and great grandchildren.

I Love You, Mom!

Dear Mom,

I love you. Thank you for supporting my photographic career, and, years ago, my dance-instruction career.

Here is the picture I took of you last week sitting at your kitchen table.

The cool thing was that we got to talk for an hour or two, and got to take candid shots.

I know, you don't like the way you look in photos, but we love you, and we like seeing in the photos aspects of you that touch us so much.

I know what you are going to ask, "Couldn't you find a nice one to put up?"
How's this one?
your youngest son,

Why I Photograph My Hand

I like my formal photos - families, couples, bridal portraits, groomal portraits - to be nicely lit. That means:
1: Main light comes from one side
2: Shadow areas are not too dark or too bright
3: Backlighting on the hair
4: Background not black, not absolutely white.

With flat or overly contrasty lighting, skin texture and color look bad in digital (and usually film) images. So, #1 (directional light) and #2 (good lighting ratio) make a huge difference.

To make sure that my light is perfect, I photograph my hand as if it were the subject - in the same spot in the room/studio/park/universe, with the same lighting. I then check the image for exposure: make sure that it is as light as it can be without losing details in the highlights, is directional and has about a 3:1 contrast ratio.
If I can have a subject as my test, then I don't have to talk to the hand (listen to the hand?).
The advantage of the hand is that it usually shows up on time, I can always count on it, and we doing, after all, digital photography.
The above image of my hand tells the viewer
1) Directional lighting is coming from the right direction and is not too bright or too dark
2) Shadows (dark areas) are not too dark.
3) The edge of the shadow is not so hard as to bring out blemishes, but not so soft as to be without character
4) The hairlight and sidelight are perfectly balanced with the main light
5) There is no unexpected color contamination from the floor or walls
6) Color: Perfect!
7) Background could be lighter or darker, but I can fix in in Photoshop
8) The line where the floor and wall meet will be very distracting, so I must position the camera and select a lens that keeps this line out of the photo.

Having created perfect lighting that will work for individual portraits as well as groups up to twenty or thirty, I can totally focus on the people

I am present to realate to the people I am photographing. I can totally work on the relationship aspect of the photos. I can move quickly from close-up to full-length to detail to groups.

With lighting and exposure perfect, my concerns are

  • Relaxing the subject
  • Keeping contact with the people I am photographing
  • Establishing contact with other people I will be photographing during the day
  • Moving quickly and effortlessly through all the images that need to be done
  • Being ready to capture the unexpected moment
  • Creating the unexpected moment!

Every picture is perfectly exposed and perfectly lit because all the technical thinking was done with a hand from my hand.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Wedding in Berkeley - Fish Eye Lens

The fish-eye lens?

You know, the curving lines that should be straight, the wide angle of view?

Some people love it, some hate it, but, ultimately, like a spice, used occasionally it makes the overall opus more interesting, more piquant.

I took these shots last Sunday at Beth El in Berkeley. Cantor Brian and Orly asked me to photograph their wedding, and I was honored to do so.

Ted Hilliard - Studio Portrait WOW IMAGES!

I met the nicest, just the greatest guy a few days ago: Ted Hilliard. He'll be big some day, so remember his name.

Like me, my siblings, and one of my kids, Ted Hillard attended Berkeley High School.

But, more importantly, more meaninfully, he had come to me, a veritable stranger, to create his portrait.

The purpose of the portrait was to put a face on the business-oriented company of which he is the founder and CEO, and which bears his name.

He purposely did not wear, or even bring, a tie. And, I noted, he wore a white T-shirt under his dress shirt. I felt that this fashion statement, the shirt showing underneath, at the collar, was an important part of his persona. It reflected his relationship to his times his age, his feelings about business.

Once the session is underway, the need to, in the end, present a photograph that is a public face is tempered by the relationship between the subject and myself. (or, vice versa - my desire to connect, to be honest, to let loose, is tempered by the result the client is seeking.)

As in every portrait session I do, How the subject (Ted) and I felt, how we related, how much he let me know who he was, and how comfortable I felt knowing him, became the subject of the portrait. All photographs of people, in my philosophy, are about relationship. The relationship that I have with the subject becomes part of the image. My ability to connect photographically (as opposed to personally, emotionally, or philosophically, for example) is what gives drive, meaning, presence and depth to the photograph.

I really know very little about Ted that I could verbalize. But photographically, we had a very solid yet limited relationship. That is why I feel connectd to these images and want to share them with you. We found a level at which we could connect honestly, where we felt comfortable, a place of mutual trust.

Compare this to the photo of Bill from Proclaim Promotions (whom I photographed standing next to his wide-format printer).

Clearly, in Bill's image, there is very little relationship between me and the subject. One reason is that Bill was not invested in the portrait. He had not hired me, he didn't know me from Adam, I was hired by and sent to him by another company. Under these circumstances, it is difficult for either of us to invest in the process of connecting.

Compare this to Ted, who knew of my reputation, had seen my website, and had been referred to a mutual friend. Even though we were strangers, we had permission to connect - he was invested in the image, in the process. And, it was my job, indeed, my pleasure, to form a connection, a relationship. I was hired to use my skill to relate to him in a visual, non-verbal way.

However, he hadn't come to me to have my photographic interpretation/impression/expression of who he was of how I felt about him.

Thus, this is a 110% successful image. It fulfils his needs, it's technically perfect, and it shows the maximum amount of connection that was appropriate for this type of commissioned work.

I woud love it if Ted would let me photograph his private side some day. If he does, I'll post the results.

Family Secret! Finally Revealed!

My dad was a musician, a Viennese musician. He played in the Kolisch Quartet, originally called "The Vienna Quartet." From 1926 to 1938 they concertized all over the world. Their most often played piece: Death and the Maiden by Schubert.

Even before I knew of their Schubertian bent, I had fallen in love with that Schubert quartet.

I have several recordings of Death and the Maiden - none by my father's quartet, as they recorded mainly Schoenberg and Mozart.
In our "studio" as we called the dance/music studio in our Berkeley home, my father's second quartet, which he founded in the 1950s, performed the Schubert C Major quintet, which Mr. Nielson, my brother's 5th grade teacher, recorded, giving us the reel-to-reel tape. Years later, when I was a teenager, I found the tape, and listened to it over and over and over.
Then I bought the LP - recorded by another quartet - and listened to that over and over.

To sum it up, in my teenage years, along with crushes on dozens of girls, I had a total love-affair with Schubert chamber music.

And, I even cohabited with Schubert music: string quartets in some form, either played by the family, played by students of my father, played by quartets my father was coaching, and even at our famous Khuner Musical New Years Party, which was full to overflowing year after year during the 1970s, even with no invitations ever being sent out.

I reflect on all the musical education that I couldn't help but learn as a youngster in the Khuner house: I knew from before I could talk that Mozart was a child prodidgy, Beethoven rebelled against the musical forms of his day, Wagner used Leitmotifs, and so on. In fact, I had always thought that the Shakespeare play was pronounced "Oh Tell Oh," [the Italian, operatic pronunciation] and that my friends who talked of "Othello" were dolts who didn't even know how to pronounce the play's title!

Our everyday vocabulary included scherzo, fortissimo, overture, aria, glissando, cadenza, recapitulation, nocturne, bagatelle, woodwinds, octet, sforzando, da capo, octave, bagpipe, and washboard.

It went without saying that Bach never composed a string quartet, that Debussy and Ravel wrote one each.

My family didn't say "Beethoven String Quartet." They said, "Opus 131." When my brothers heard a snippet of music on the radio, they competed to be the first to correctly guess year, composer, title.

But there was one fact that they - not my dad, not my mom, not brothers (and I am including my foster brother Gil, hence the plural) - never, ever told me.
For decades, as much as my family knew of my love of Schubert (and Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Mendelssohn...) they kept a huge secret from me.
And when did I finally learn this secret, this family secret, this piece of information that was so awful, so gross, so icky, so humiliating that they never told me? I just learned it yesterday , and NOT even from my family, but from Robert Greenberg, the professor whose musical lectures are playing whenever I am in my car.
What secret did I finally learn last night, on my way to the church

(Corpus Christi in Piedmont, California) to photograph Heather and Bill's wedding?

dramatic pause

Schubert (1797 - 1828) died of syphilis!!!

My god! When I heard Bob say it, the horror, the fact that I never even suspected it, hit me like a sizable load of building material, say, a ton of bricks, or maybe several sheets of drywall and a bucket of joint compound.
Schubert! Syphilis! Quartettsatz! The pain, the humiliation - my parents never told me! Now, at this age, to be told by a non-family member! I am humiliated!
I had to use my cell to call the couple that I would be taking the afternoon off - they could find another photographer - so that I could recuperate from the shock! (Schock?)
To think, in my family, the most horrible fate, the one we had to work hardest to avoid, was growing up without knowing how to play an instrument. Dying of VD at the age of 31? Either it was not as bad as being musically illiterate, or it was so much worse that it couldn't even be mentioned.
I have, as of yesterday, lost my innocence, and I am deeply and permanently scarred - at least for the next few days.
As for Heather and Bill? Actually, I had to swallow my emotions, and continue photographing the weddings as if the world had not just shifted a few degrees, as if nothing had changed, as if life were perfect, as if I were the innocent that I had been when the day started.