Friday, July 31, 2009

Picture of the Day

Just driving down Highway 1 and noticed the irrigation and Johnson House in harmonic convergence. Click the picture for a larger view.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

About Flickr

Our last photography workshop discussed the online photo hosting site, Flickr and here are the notes I prepared:

In addition to hosting pictures from photographers around the world, Flickr also functions as an online community and a social networking site and can be used to meet other photographers that share your interests. Keep in mind that Flickr’s primary function is to display your pictures and you can choose what others see or how much you interact with anyone else. In short, it is nothing like Facebook, no one is bugging you to be their friend and there are no ads when viewing your pictures, even for the free accounts. There is one ad on the free account when you go to your Flickr home page, but it is small.

According to Wikipedia, as of June, 2009, Flickr hosts 3.6 billion pictures. It was started by Ludicor in Canada in 2004 and bought by Yahoo in 2005. At that time, all content was moved to the United States and is now subject to US laws. It is currently the most popular photo hosting site.

There are both free and Pro accounts available. The free account limits your picture upload to 100 megabytes a month. The Pro account cost $25 for a year and allows you unlimited uploads. You can upload video, all accounts are limited to 90 seconds for each movie and pro accounts may upload High Definition video.

A note on the upload limit – if you have a free account, do not directly download pictures from your 10 megapixel camera into Flickr. Learn to use software to reduce your image files to a much smaller size while retaining picture quality. This will allow you to upload many more pictures taking full advantage of your free account. And select only your best pictures to upload. Leave the blurred and duplicate pictures out. You wouldn’t put those blurred pictures in your photo album.

A Yahoo ID is required to join. If you do not have a Yahoo ID, Flickr makes it easy for you to complete the form to get one.

Flickr is used by amateur and professional photographers as a quick and easy way to share their work with friends, family and clients. Bloggers use it as an easy place to store photos to use on their blogs and to allow others to use for web content or printing.

I find Flickr very easy to use and configure to my specifications. You control all privacy settings for photos, whether the general public can see them or just friends and family who are members. You can send guest passes to non members to see pictures you listed as private. You have some control over how your gallery appears to others. You can organize your photos into sets and collections. And there is plenty of assistance provided by Flickr to help you get the most out of your page.

Censorship (what you see) defaults to the strictest level, suitable for minors. You can adjust what you allow yourself to view from there.

There are few restrictions to what people can post. This is regulated only by the country from which you are viewing. Germany and China have very strict restrictions on what their citizens may view on Flickr.

Beyond publishing my photos, I find real value viewing the work of others. If you seek to improve your photography, looking at and analyzing other photos is an excellent way to learn. Some people follow their own course and prefer not to be influenced by other work. More power to them. I find other work very interesting, educational and inspiring and find Flickr is an excellent source for help and ideas.

Groups – Search out groups within Flickr, there are thousands of them, each with a specific theme in mind and thousands of people contribute to these groups everyday. If you need inspiration or want to learn a new technique, visit a group with a theme that interests you. You can view the photos by selecting from thumbnails or run a slideshow of the entire pool. Again, looking at and evaluating other’s work is a great way to further your abilities.

Some great groups to visit are “The Commons” and “Explore”. The Commons hosts photos with no known copyright restrictions and is filled with pictures from the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institute and many international libraries, museums and colleges. Explore hosts “most linked to” and “most viewed pictures” and represents an amazing collection of random work from around the world. I also enjoy a group called “Light Junkies”, a collection of light drawing and long exposure photography. Use the search engine at the top of the page to locate your interests.

The Commons is here:
Explore is here:
Light Junkies is here:
Here is one for the Golden Gate Bridge:

Interact - You can comment or add overlay notes on any picture which the owner allows comments. You can join groups, add your photos, join in on discussions in each group’s forums and receive feedback on your pictures. Tag your photos with key words to help you sort through your photos and to help others discover you too. Commenting and receiving feedback can enhance everyone’s experience and provide valuable insight.

Protect Yourself – You knew it sounded too good to be true, but actually, it’s not so bad. There are a few things you should consider when you post pictures online. Posted pictures can be copied. Every digital picture contains data such as when the picture was taken and the camera settings. It can hold your name and contact information to protect your copyright privileges. You should make sure that your contact information is embedded in each photo you post. This gives you some form of copyright protection and gives others the ability to contact you if needed. The only way to completely be sure your work is never copied is to never post it. So, you need a level of trust to participate in the fun.

Obey the rules – Be aware that Flickr maintains the right to delete your account and all the pictures at any time for any reason. There have been a few complaints and disputes but there are usually facts missing from what I have read. These problems are rare. The rules are not unreasonable. Stay in the boundaries and keep copies of your pictures on your own computer.

Spend time setting up your Flickr profile. There are some copyright settings there too. That is where you determine who can see your pictures and if they can comment on them.

Flickr makes it easy to view various sizes of your picture, embed them into web pages and share them via email. It goes on and on and new features are instituted all the time. I use Flickr everyday, enjoy the interaction, learn from others and (until I find something grossly wrong) recommend it to everyone. Have Fun!

Reference: Derek Story produced a podcast (#175) on the Digitalstory website entitled “Top 10 Flickr tips”. Check it out.

Monday, July 27, 2009

SF Bay Bird Observatory Photo Contest

Red-winged Blackbirds - PHOTO BY GARRETT LAU

The San Francisco Bay Bird Obsevatory holds a photo contest as part of their fund raising activities and the submissions period starts today with a deadline of October 9.

"The San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory is dedicated to the conservation of birds and their habitats through science and outreach, and to contributing to informed resource management decisions in the San Francisco Bay Area."
Prizes include bird photography workshops with Oliver Klinkworth or Bruce Finacchio and gift certificates from Borrowlenses.

Read all the details on their web site:

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Surfers and Rodeos

It was a busy 3 days and a good chance to practice sport action shooting. Huge swells hit the bay area and the surfers hit the water. I caught some shots at Steamer Lane on Thursday, Half Moon Bay on Friday and then went to the Driscoll Ranch Rodeo on Saturday.

Bronco Ridin'

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Web Cam Roundup - San Francisco Bay Area

There are a wide variety of photogenic sites around the San Francisco bay area, each with their own micro climate and access challenges. The fog may be in or out, it may be cloudy in one area and sunny just a mile away, the surf may be up or flat, the traffic to that site may be insurmountable. Before I drive or hike somewhere to take pictures, I often check the conditions via the many web cams located around the bay area. Here is a list of active web cams I find useful. Some cameras allow you to take control to pan and zoom the scene. has the most complete collection I have found to-date.

SFGate and have their own similar collections.

But there are more:

Controlable "Alcatraz" cam which is actually from Sausalito. links to all available cameras pointed at the ocean in addition to listing surf conditions. Explore this site to find reports and surf cams from around the world. this link takes you to Central California.

Hi-Def San Francisco (pictured above) monitors the bay and skyline from Sausalito, tracking ships and offering time lapse movies of interesting days.

SamCam at Sam's Chowder House in Princeton Harbor will give you an idea of the weather conditions in Half Moon Bay.

For traffic conditions, I check SFGate's traffic page and for a live map of drive time and highway speeds.

I also monitor the Bay Area Air Quality Management District looking for clues to air clarity.

That's a start. I'll list more as I find them and l'll link this post for easy access on the side of this blog.

Happy viewing!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Worldwide Photo Walk 2009

I participated in Scott Kelby's Worldwide Photo Walk this past weekend. Over 30,000 people participated around the world.

A photo walk is a group of photographers getting together in one place, ambling through a town, and photographing anything that moves or doesn't, basically terrorizing the natives. You discuss equipment, techniques, composition or anything you can get them to talk about. Just watching what they photograph is a learning experience. I wholeheartedly endorse this annual event.

View images from the walk that I posted on Flickr here.
View the San Francisco North Beach Walk group photos here.
And view walk photos from around the world here.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Photo Op - Bay Area Fog

I've been searching for clues on getting those spectacular shots of buildings, bridges and sunsets peeking through the San Francisco bay area fog. Here is an article by Tom Steinstra from DateBook's Fog Week on the SFGate web site that discusses opportunities for catching those views. In addition to their mountain top suggestions, read the comments for a few more. (Warning: some colorful and angry commentary.)

"For the totally lazy, or if you're traveling, you can often get above the fog shots, up to the minute, from the camera at Lawrence hall of Science above Berkeley."

And 2 other useful webcams I picked up from fellow photogs at the World Wide Web Photo Walk:

Hi-Def San Francisco - is a cam located in Sausalito pointed at San Francisco displaying up to 1080 resolution and provided by CloudView Photography. This is the best SF cam I have found to date. provides many traffic and bay area site cam links from Ocean Beach to Heavenly Valley Ski Resort.

Friday, July 17, 2009

InStep Quartet Photo Shoot - Part3

What can possiblie go wrong?

There were a few mishaps but not too much went wrong on this photo shoot. Let's include the things that could have gone wrong in this list.

- Be on time, actually be early. I was on time but I should have gotten to the site much earlier (or gone days before) to scout locations. Why not become familiar with appropriate photogenic locations in your area as well as sun direction at various times of the day. Spending time scouting locations saves time for your clients. In this field, I would rather wait for my clients then have them wait for me.

- Equipment can break unexpectedly. I was prepared for shooting outside with a stand and umbrella reflector by bringing weights to stabilize the stand. An umbrella can take off like a kite in a moderate wind, taking your expensive lighting with it. What I didn't expect is for some parts to fall out of the center part of the stand allowing it to spin freely like a weather vane. We used a business card stuck in the gap to finish the shoot. Do not let unexpected problems put you off your game. Fix it or have spares and move on.

- Get permission. Having permission from property owners is a plus. If not, expect security to make no allowances for trespassing. If confronted, be polite and move along. We were setting up for a great shot on these blue metal stairs when the man happened along. We did not get the shot.

- Pay attention to what is in the frame. This takes practice when time is limited. You are trying to quickly get as many shots from as many angles as you can. Taking time to analyze the background will save you time in post. We settled on a location with cool looking doors but there were also many windows around. Reviewing the pictures, I find the windows fairly busy with distractions reflected in the glass, such as cars, picnic tables, the back of the model's heads and worst of all, the flash setup. I might be able to remove that rodent trap in Photoshop but glass panes are not so easy to reconstruct. Pay attention and avoid unwanted objects when you shoot. Shooting tighter can help or move to sharper angles but if it is not working, say so, take charge and move to another location. It is also important for you to pay attention to the models. They cannot see themselves as well as you can. Is their clothing or their hair out of place? Are the props blocking anything important? Pay attention to these things, move items and comment when needed. I personally do not touch the models.

- Flash needs to recharge. Of course the flash needs to recharge. I knew that. And the higher power you shoot, the longer the recharge time. This is a timing issue that takes practice and experience. The flash did not fire for some of my best shots. Bright sun and bracketed settings did save the day for some.

Conclusion - Look at everything I learned. This was a successful shoot for me and most importantly, I hope the quartet like the pictures. It is really for and about the client. Just make sure what you can provide is fully understood by all concerned ahead of time. Then go a have fun!

The InStep Quartet is a professional, high quality and multi-genre San Francisco bay area based string quartet. Read more about them on their web site.

Part 1 - Part 2

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

InStep Quartet Photo Shoot - Part 2

The Flash Rig

I want to say that the InStep Quartet are lovely people, patient, fun and appreciative. We had a great time shooting these pictures to our mutual benefit.

We decided to shoot the pictures at the now closed Alameda Navy Base for some rustic (and rusty) atmosphere. I expected bright sun and figured on shooting in whatever shade we could find at high noon. The flash would help even out the lighting. I was also hoping for some clouds and wanted to use the flash to control the ambient sky light in an artsy and dramatic way. There was not a single cloud in the sky, just bright, hot sun. The rig did work but was a challenge get everything right. More on that later.

I am in the market for flash equipment for studio and location work. Renting is a great way to get experience and field test expensive equipment before you buy. Fortunately, the San Francisco bay area hosts the photography rental company "Borrow Lenses". They are not far from my home and I was able to rent the lighting equipment I needed for this shoot on Friday, practice with it over the weekend, shoot the quartet on Monday morning and return it before 6pm.

The company is easy to work with and I appreciate that they were able to adapt to my needs. Nikon equipment is currently very popular so it is a good idea to reserve your equipment ahead of time, easily done on their web site. You also have the option of buying damage insurance.

I rented a Nikon SB900 Speedlight flash (ask for the manual and the color filters), 2 Pocket Wizards, a 13' light stand (the only size they rent at that time), a 48" reflective umbrella (again, the only size they rent) and a Gary Fong Lightsphere (which I never used). Batteries are your responsibility. There were none in the Pocket Wizards and the SB900 ran out after a few uses. There was no indication that an umbrella adapter was included or available. I called to talk about this and they noticed it before I was able to ask. So they ran out and bought a few (complete with brass monkey and cold shoe) and included one at no cost.

I had the weekend to experiment, scaring the bird and the wife with umbrellas and flashing lights in the house, referring back to Zack Aria's One Light Workshop video several times (mentioned in Part 1).

If the equipment is new to you, practice opening and closing everything. Take things apart and put them back together. Ask for the manual for everything you rent and read through it. Practice going through the menus on the flash. The idea is that you do not want to take time learning how to setup the stand or configuring the flash during the shoot. I discovered ahead of time that the flash does not lock into the cold shoe and the set screw can come loose with the flash falling out. I secured it with a velcro strap before the shoot and had no problems.

I totally neglected to take a picture of the setup for posterity, so dumb.

I did take the opportunity to try utilizing the flash for my Backyard Bird Photography project. Results? Well, let's just say you learn more from failure. The goal was to stop the action of birds in flight. I need more research for the proper setup to accomplish this. I did observe that, for the record, birds are not concerned with the flash and this was setup (without the umbrella) very close to the bird feeder. But that project is a subject for another post.

The InStep Quartet is a professional, high quality and multi-genre San Francisco bay area string quartet. Read more about them on their web site.

Next: Part 3 - What Could Possiblie Go Wrong?
Part 1 - Part 3

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

InStep Quartet Photo Shoot - Part 1

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to shoot publicity photos for some friends and gained valuable experience and knowledge. This is a new chapter in my photography adventure which I jump into, whole heartedly with both feet. But it takes a bit of practice...

Let me first say that I shoot live musicians whenever and wherever I have the opportunity. And I play jazz myself, so I have some experience at the challenge of getting good angles. But a scheduled photo shoot requires a more deliberate approach. This post will document my thought process and lessons learned.

To prepare, I spent the time required to thoroughly watch the Zack Arias DVD, One Light Workshop. Keeping the instructional simple by using only one flash unit for all examples, Zack clearly demonstrates how to master the light in any setting using manual control over shutter speed, aperture, ISO and flash power. If you are confused at all about flash photography, I highly recommend this 4 hour DVD set. Check out a short trailer from the video and a review by photo blogger David Cross on Zack's web site for much more detail:

Next, understanding how the client will use the pictures and what type of setting they desire will help determine the equipment you will need. The clients chose the defunct Alameda Navy base as a backdrop with all it's industrial and decaying atmosphere. I thought it best to shoot in the shade wherever possible to minimize stark shadows and squinting and decided on a simple Nikon SB 900 speed flash, a reflective umbrella, a light stand and a pair of pocket wizards for remote control might help even out the light and be easy to deal with. A larger flash and a larger light box would have provided a better light source for a 4 person shoot but since I do not own this equipment and need to rent it, I considered the following in my choice:

- we had a short 2.5 hours, beginning to end for the shoot, including location scouting, discussion, and picture review
- I do not have an assistant and so wanted to keep the rig as portable as possible
- I wanted to keep the price down
- I am considering buying these items and wanted to test their limits in the field

The InStep Quartet is a professional, high quality and multi-genre San Francisco bay area based string quartet. Read more about them on their web site.

Next - Part 2: Renting and Testing the Flash Rig

Part 2 - Part 3

Monday, July 13, 2009

Nikon Rumors

As a Nikon user, I find the Nikon Rumors web site of interest. They search the world advertisements for hints about new and discontinued products. If you are in the market for new equipment, check out the Price Watch page for known best prices and suggestions for whether to buy or wait on evidence that new products are about to be introduced.

Friday, July 10, 2009

SmugMug User Groups

SmugMug is a photo hosting company based out of Mountain View, California. I post my some of my photos there. They recently decided to sponser SmugMug User Groups which have been forming all over the United States and Canada.

The idea is to gather photography minded amateurs and professionals together for a monthly meeting where they can "learn, teach and meet other photographers that share your passion". They use the meetings to gather feedback for their company and even giveaway swag.

3 groups have formed in the San Francisco bay area alone and I attend the group at SmugMug headquarters in Mountain View. There is no fee or even a requirement to sign up, and you can bring friends. I have signed up for all 3 but so far they meet on the same nights.

To date we have had presentations by wedding photographers Gene Higa and Dane Sanders and Gary Levenberg, Chief Business Guy of QiGo. BayPhoto of Santa Cruz attends the meetings with many samples of their printing process and experts to answer questions.

So far, it has been a useful and rewarding experience for me, keeping my mind on photography, meeting other photogs and helping me get the most out of what SmugMug and BayPhoto have to offer. Check it out.

Direct Link to find a User Group in your area:

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Mitch Tobias - San Francisco Photographer / Musician

I found this interesting interview, written in November of 2000, with San Francisco based photographer and musician, Mitch Tobias.

View his web site and portfolio here:

Model Release

I am about to shoot a musical group for their publicity photos and must finally address the issue of model releases. When do you need a release? What about minors? How are the models protected?

There are many articles and opinions that cover model releases along with forms and templates on the net. As I find them, I'll list articles with clear explainations and templates for generic forms here.

Understanding the Model Release Form

This "eHow" post describes some basics such as what a release is, what is does and when to use it. There are links to templates at the end of the article.

There are also a few tips on using the forms here and here.

Do you need a model release when selling pictures of yourself? Here is an intelligent discussion on the the subject:

More to come...

Monday, July 6, 2009

Testing Flickr embedding practices

This is a test from our Flickr workshop. Flickr prefers that you use this option (1) when embedding photos in web sites. Clicking the photo takes you to the photographer's photostream.

Light Painted Phalenopsis Orchid

This is option 2 using the straight URL which does not link back to Flickr.