Construction of Hyatt Place Arlington

Thanks to Schupp Companies, which is developing the new Hyatt Place Arlington at Courthouse in Arlington, VA, I was able to tour the construction site and take some interesting photos. As an ex-electrical engineer, I love to look "under the hood" when given the opportunity.

"The best camera ...

... is the one you have with you."

You can't take a photo without a camera. Phones have cameras. Is there anything more convenient than a phone? You always have one with you, so in theory it is the best camera.

But I've not been quite satisfied with my iPhone camera. It's there, but I always wish I had something sharper, something with better color, something that handles like a proper camera. So lately I've been carrying this little number around:

Now don't dismiss it because it looks like something Ashton Kutcher would tote around. It's really quite a fine instrument.

MAGFest snaps

MAGFest - Music and Gaming Festival, formerly known as the Mid-Atlantic Gaming Festival - runs through this weekend. Twenty years ago I might have hung out and played a lot of video games. Now I'm just here for the photo ops. Here are some characters I snapped last night.

Just press the shutter? Hardly ...

The human eye is remarkably forgiving. Walk into a typical building and your vision (1) automatically adjusts from the bright outdoors to a much dimmer interior and (2) compensates for the vastly different color and quality of light.

A camera isn't quite so smart, so we photographers have to work to make it mimic what we see.

In my assignment to photograph the Arlington Mill Residences for Washington Workplace, I knew that the lobby area would be especially challenging. Here's what my Nikon saw when I first walked into the lobby.

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The overhead lights are warmer than daylight. Luckily they're reasonably consistent with each other. But their brightness is a problem. If I set the proper exposure for the furniture, the overheads are totally blown out and have no detail.

Turning 180 degrees, here's the view towards the entrance. As you can see, it's glass, and lets in daylight. Fortunately the daylight wasn't too strong, and even though it was a different color temperature than the room lights, it would be relatively weak.

I set up 2 strobes behind the camera, facing into the little corners formed by the foyer. I needed a broad swath of light, as diffuse as possible; ideally I would have liked to have an entire wall, instead of just the little corners, so I spent quite a bit of time varying the height, distance, and angle of the strobes. Here's a photo where I got it wrong:

Eventually, it all worked out. Nice, even light across the lobby. Balance camera exposure and strobe brightness so that the overhead lights look like they're on, and you can still see detail in the lighting fixtures. Here's the final photo:

Not bad. Given more time and budget, I would have cleaned up the reflections in the glass doors by shooting more images with the lights in different positions, then compositing in Photoshop. But the client was happy, and so was I.

Covering a technology conference

Photographing a conference is a lot like street photography: you have to be unobtrusive, and you're constantly hunting for interesting expressions. Even with 400 people intently focused on a single speaker, there's plenty of subject matter to capture. My main challenge was lighting - a messy mix of fluorescent, video, and LED - and darkness (as conferences tend to be). Despite the funky colors thrown off by the projection screens, I shot the available light, with not too unpleasing results.

See more of my photos from the Gasification Technologies Council's annual conference on their site.

Always make time for play

After taking headshots for the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, we did some group photos outside. Near the end of the session, I just happened to peer around the corner of the building where I came across a not-very-clean brick wall. Instantly, I thought "90's grunge band!" Hey, it was the end of the day and the Chamber staff was up for a little fun!

Technical notes: this side of the building was in the shade, so the lighting was very flat. I augmented the natural light with a couple of speedlights and shoot-through umbrellas, just to add a little definition and pop to their faces. I held the camera fairly low, at the subjects' waist level, and positioned people to take full advantage of the parking lot stripes.

Though this obviously isn't appropriate for official use, I still love the image. Thanks to the Chamber staff for being so game!

Vienna and Prague

Just returned from a 2-week trip to Vienna and Prague. Decided to be brave and daring and took only this camera ---

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The Olympus XA is a film camera from the 1980's. It's small, obviously, and can easily fit in a pants pocket, as long as you're not wearing tight jeans. It has very few of the "creature comforts" of modern cameras: you have to focus by yourself, decide what aperture to use (the camera then chooses the shutter speed), and - most shocking of all - you can't instantly review the shot you've just taken.

It's also tough. I accidentally dropped it on the floor of a shop (a camera store, of all ironies). The back popped open and I lost a few frames of film. I just shut the back and kept on shooting.

I shot 6 rolls of Kodak Portra 400 (plus half a roll of Fujicolor 200 that was already in the camera). I love how Portra renders skin tones and browns and yellows, and its color and grain were a really good match for the Olympus. True, I mis-focused a few shots and had some problems with a sticky shutter release, but I'm very happy with the results. (Click on each images to enlarge.)

Relax!

The greatest challenge in portraiture is getting the subject to relax. Some kids don't seem to have this problem. We can all take lessons from this little guy.

The true tools of the trade

Many photographers love to geek out about the best lens or the latest camera, but working photographers depend on less-glamorous tools to get the job done. Like lipstick in a woman's purse, I always carry these in my camera bag:

  X-Rite ColorChecker Passport.  Absolutely essential for ensuring correct and consistent color. You can't just wing it by eye nor with the camera's "Auto White Balance." 

X-Rite ColorChecker Passport. Absolutely essential for ensuring correct and consistent color. You can't just wing it by eye nor with the camera's "Auto White Balance." 

  Reflector disk.  This is one of those foldable gizmos that opens up into a 3' reflector. With a double-sided removable cover, I get white, silver, black, and gold. Take the cover off and the disk becomes a translucent light softener.

Reflector disk. This is one of those foldable gizmos that opens up into a 3' reflector. With a double-sided removable cover, I get white, silver, black, and gold. Take the cover off and the disk becomes a translucent light softener.

  Gossen Luna-Star exposure meter.  Yes, it's ancient. Yes, it's less important now that digital cameras let you instantly review the shot. But it does read ambient and flash exposure, and it's really useful for setting up multiple lights. 

Gossen Luna-Star exposure meter. Yes, it's ancient. Yes, it's less important now that digital cameras let you instantly review the shot. But it does read ambient and flash exposure, and it's really useful for setting up multiple lights. 

  Rogue Strobe Gels.  These are colored gels that you place over your flash. Ever see a photo shot in nice warm afternoon sun that's been spoiled by the cold blue light from a strobe? Colored gels fix that problem. 

Rogue Strobe Gels. These are colored gels that you place over your flash. Ever see a photo shot in nice warm afternoon sun that's been spoiled by the cold blue light from a strobe? Colored gels fix that problem. 

Assignment: Arlington Free Clinic

I'm thrilled to be shooting photos for the Arlington Free Clinic's annual report, gala, and 20th anniversary. I have many friends at the Clinic and they provide an indispensable service: free medical care to Arlington's low-income and uninsured. They rely on generous donations and countless hours volunteered by doctors, therapists, nurses, and translators. The need is great: every month, several hundred people apply through a lottery for only a dozen or so new-patient spots.

It's always a challenge to photograph in an environment where people are busy and their work is far more important than yours. Luckily, the Clinic has pretty good lighting. A typical office's fluorescent lights cast an appalling green color; the Clinic has daylight-balanced lights, which actually photographed a little bit warm. I only had to use a 1/4 CTO gel on my speedlight for an occasional fill. Otherwise, most of the photos were shot with available light.

It's doubly difficult when you're working with patients. You have to be sensitive to their situation. The best strategy is to be quiet and blend into the background; you cannot be the "big-time" photographer, setting up lights and directing people. In this instance, the subject matter trumps all technical considerations. I'm grateful to the people who allowed me to photograph them during their medical consultations.

Elliott Erwitt, a master

I've always admired the work of Elliott Erwitt. Mostly known for his black-and-white photos, he has just released a huge, new collection of color images. See photos and read an interview with the New York Times here.

A hike through Manassas Battlefield

In more than a decade of living in the Washington, DC area, I've never visited a major Civil War battlefield. I finally decided to do so, and yesterday took a 3-hour hike through Manassas Battlefield.

Manassas was the scene of the First Battle of Bull Run (also known as "First Manassas"), the first major land battle of the American Civil War. It was a one-day battle, fought in July 1861. It was where Gen. Thomas Jackson earned the nickname, "Stonewall." Incredibly, there would be another battle a year later, in August 1862. About 12,000 men died between the two battles.

There's little that remains in the site that alludes to the battle: a few cannons scattered about, some monuments here and there, a modest Confederate cemetery. Mostly it's just miles of grass, trees, hills, and the unrelenting open sky. Unfortunately, it's hard to imagine being a soldier here 150 years ago. Lee Highway cuts right through the park ("Arlington VA - 24 miles!") and I can't help being reminded of the strip malls and car dealerships just a couple of miles away.

So, just a few pictures. Black and white, to emphasize the starkness of the scenery. Red filter, to bring out the clouds. No people, in contrast to the tens of thousands who marched and fought here more than a century ago. 

Now THAT's an annual report!

Pernod Ricard, the French wine and liquor company (they own Absolut, Glenlivet, Chivas, Kahlua, and Perrier , among other brands), have elevated the annual report to an art form.

Starting the 1970s, the company asked contemporary artists to liven their reports with a single painting of a brand bottle on the cover. When Olivier Cavil took over as vice president of communications in 2009 he wanted to create a new look that matched the ideals of the brand.  “We are creators of conviviality. We have great people,” Cavil said to his team. “Why not put our employees at the heart of these art works?” 

During the last 3 years they have featured fine-art photography, often using their own employees as models. Read the back story here: 

http://www.forbes.com/sites/samanthasharf/2013/04/16/the-new-corporate-art-collection-the-annual-report-2/ 

And do check out their annual reports. The 2011-2012 edition is at this link, and it's gorgeous.

http://ricard-rapport2012.immanens.com/document.php?d=Pernod-Ricard_rapport_2012_uk#1_1 

 

Scouting locations

For these photos of Richard and his beloved Bianchi bicycle, I considered several locations: a forested path, a parking garage, and a brick-lined alley.  Luckily, we're both near the Dark Star Park - Arlington's first major commissioned art project - in Rosslyn. The strange, planet-like sculptures were perfect for this photoshoot.

Next was the question of when. There is a very tall building to the west of the park, so the only chance of direct sunlight was in the morning. A week before our shoot, I scouted the park from just before sunrise to an hour after. The quality of the light, especially around the spheres, changed rapidly. I would only have 10-15 minutes of suitable light. I also knew that I needed to pack reflectors, flashes, and umbrellas to fill-in the deep shadows.

The actual shoot went very quickly, and I have to admit to being stressed by the shifting light. However, it would have been much worse had I not been able to pre-visualize the lighting, determine the sequence of shots I needed to take, and prepare accordingly.