The passage of time and the growth of a photographer.

During the last week of November, I had the great honor of photographer the En Pointe School of Dance/Praise in Motion  dance company’s presentation of “The Gift”. I have been taking photographs of this wonderfully talented group of dancers since 2012 when I first asked if they would mind if I crashed their tech and dress rehearsals to take photographs.  Kathy and Rhonda were both very gracious and with their permission I am allowed back stage and given the run of the theater during these times. All of the edited photographs are then given to them to use how they wish.  It is a very beneficial arrangement as I am allowed to do what I love and this wonderful organization is given material to use for their promotions and other events.

Of course, now that I have been shooting photographs as a hobby for almost 20 years, I have a fairly large library of images I have shot over the years and while doing a catalog cleanup I came across this image taken in 2003.

PIM 2003

 

This was taken while I was in the audience with my first Digital SLR that was brand new (A Canon 10D for those interested).  This was a 6 megapixel camera (smaller than most phones now days) that was a whopping $2,000 new. Since I could not afford any lenses at that time, I was using my lenses from my old film camera and these were both Sigma lenses.

It is amazing to me that this photo is a clear as it is and that the emotion is still there.  Of course, dance photography didn’t really get into my soul at that point. It was just something else to do as I was learning my new camera.

 

Fast forward to 2012 and now I am getting more interested in photographing dance. Much of this was due to starting to follow an immensely talented photographer Richard Calmes (http://www.richardcalmes.com) and then being able to see him work behind the scenes with dancers in down town Atlanta and then again in his studio at Gwinnett Ballet). This showed me the beauty, agility and strength that these dancers have that proved to me that they were not just artists but athletes as well.  This is when I approached a friend who worked backstage with Praise in Motion and asked if it would be possible for me to shoot the upcoming Christmas performance that they had coming in a couple of weeks.  He gave me the contact information to the two wonderful ladies that run the company and they both agreed to allow me to do this. Below are two images I captured from this event.

PIM 2012 the gift 1PIM 2012 the gift

This was my first real foray into this genre of image making.  I learned a lot and found that it is much harder than it looks. This began a period of intense learning on my part. How do I improve these images? What did I do wrong? Is this an equipment limitation or a personal limitation?  This is also the time I found Scott Nilsson (https://www.facebook.com/ScottNilssonPhotographer) who was shooting the same event and starting to see how it was that he saw the dance. Scott has a huge advantage as he and his wife are both dancers and this allows him the opportunity to know what is coming next based upon how the dancer is preparing.

So at this point, there is a lot of looking at the photos of folks that do this professionally. Richard and Scott both were huge inspirations to me and I started to look at websites for dance to see how the photos were captured.

So this learning led to the 2013 spring presentation by the group and THOUGHT I had it all figured out.  Wow, did this performance show that I had a lot to learn .

PIM 2013 (3 of 3)

PIM 2013 (2 of 3)

PIM 2013 (1 of 3)

While I am happy with these images, there were so many more that had motion blur, camera shake, poor composition.  I took nearly 3,000 photos over those two days and wound up with fewer than 200 that were worth looking at.  So, back to learning cycle.  What did I do wrong? Is it equipment or me? Maybe dance photography is not for me!  So, Instead of just looking at the photographers I admired, I started to read on ballet and watch YouTube videos of performances.  Start to learn the various dance moves and what they are called (and I still don’t understand all of it). And on and on and on.  Leading to the 2013 performance of “The Gift”.

PIM 2013 the gift (4 of 4)

PIM 2013 the gift (2 of 4)

PIM 2013 the gift (1 of 4)

Ok, so NOW I am starting to get somewhere. I am able to almost predict when  move is going to occur. My camera settings are starting to solidify and the dances no longer feel self conscious that I am sticking a camera in their face. I am starting to get the KEY moments of the dances. I still took over 3,000 photos but I have a solid 10% of the images that are solid (not really a bad ratio).  Most of the images that are rejected are because my timing was just off or that the ISO I had to shoot at introduced way too much noise into the image.  Some images are removed because they are not flattering to the dancer or because I had a brief technical error (if you want that story, you have to take me to dinner).  So, back to the questions, What did I do wrong? Is it equipment or me? Is there something I can do different? Why did I want to take photographs of dance again? Well, back to the learning!

Now we come to the Spring performance of 2014. This is always a fun dance to shoot because there is always a new act that is introduced and this year it was an adaptation of Snow White.  Wonderful costumes and color and I am really excited to see this. The girls are excited, the choreographers are excited and there is a lot of energy in the theater.

PIM 2014 Sping cross (1 of 1)

PIM 2014 Sping (6 of 6)

PIM 2014 Sping (5 of 6)

PIM 2014 Sping (4 of 6)

PIM 2014 Sping (3 of 6)

PIM 2014 Sping (2 of 6)

PIM 2014 Sping (1 of 6)

This dance proves to me that the photos should be more than just the dance. You also need to capture the personality of the dancers. These girls do this for the love of it and it shows. I also learned that you have to be ready to GRAB an image that you see starting to come together. You cannot take a break and your eyes always have to be aware. The tunnel shot above of the girls on point happened for a brief second and there is really no clue it is coming. I saw it as it happened and went click.  This dance also showed that it seems that I grab one or two “IT” images in each of these sessions. Images that just say it all. For me the first and last image in this sequence were those images.  I am starting to get better with my captures and I am starting to get better with my post processing.  I still have a ways to go to get “THE” images I am looking for.  How do I time them? How do I prepare when I am not a dancer? are they other things that I can learn through books and videos? Or is it going to be one of continuing practice?  And of course, the standard questions What did I do wrong? Is it me or my equipment? Have I lost my mind wanting to shoot dance?

Now for the last group of images from the 2014 presentation of the gift. I have migrated to a new camera body just prior to this dance. I am not really sure how wise that was, but there it is. I have spent the last few weeks learning the camera and learning some additional lessons on dance photography, does it make a difference? This is a rather large set of images and I apologize, buy maybe I am starting to get this down..

 

The first set is the behind the scenes type shots. The dancers are warming up or relaxing. I also took the time to shoot some of the tech crew as well (that’s my buddy Paul in the first image and the guys responsible for me being allowed to shoot these!)

 

 

PIM 2014 The GIft (1 of 14)PIM 2014 The GIft (8 of 14)PIM 2014 The GIft (7 of 14)

PIM 2014 The GIft (3 of 14)PIM 2014 The GIft (2 of 14)PIM 2014 The GIft (6 of 14)PIM 2014 The GIft (4 of 14)PIM 2014 The GIft (5 of 14)

 

The next set are the performance shots and were taken during the tech and dress rehearsals.

PIM 2014 The GIft (11 of 14)PIM 2014 The GIft (14 of 14)PIM 2014 The GIft (9 of 14)

PIM 2014 The GIft (10 of 14)PIM 2014 The GIft (12 of 14)

 

And this last image is starting to show that maybe I am getting this.  I saw this during tech rehearsal and knew when in the dance it was coming. Just prior to the appearance I made a mad dash to the location to prepare for the shot. I am rather proud of this one.

PIM 2014 The GIft (13 of 14)

 

So, with all of this, do I stop asking the questions. No, I get the feeling that dance photography is going to be a life time obsession and that after every performance I will continue to ask the same questions. What did I do wrong? Is it me or the equipment that failed? What else can I do to improve the quality of the images that I am taking?  I am really looking forward to continuing to grow as a photographer and maybe someday I can reach the standards that Richard Calmes and Scott Nilsson have set!

 

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Comparison of shutter speeds

In my last post, I showed a couple of photos of different shutter speeds. Here is a side by side compare;

Near the covered bridge in Conyers Georgia. A 25 second exposure on a cold November morning.

The one on the left is 15 seconds and the one on the right is 25 seconds.  You can see the difference as little as 10 seconds makes. It is amazing to me that most photography is done at a fraction of a second, but there is beauty in the long exposure as well.

 

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Early Morning in Conyers

Ruth and I have a tradition on Saturday mornings. We get up early and head to a local diner for breakfast. After we are finished, she heads to a friends house for prayer time and I typically head back to the house to do a few chores or just goof off.  Today, I had a different scenario in mind. I was going to go to Conyers and shoot a covered bridge that is there.  As the sun was just starting to rise, I was hoping for good color on the bridge and to have some fall colors in the scene. Unfortunately, the bridge is in the wrong orientation to get any color from the sun as it points North and South and the leaf color really hasn’t been that great this year.   So, no real joy on shooting the bridge. The photo below is from a couple of years ago when I was able to shoot just prior to a thunderstorm coming in.

Rockdale Bridge

 

Well, since my primary reason to be there had gone away, it was time to be flexible and find something else to shoot. As there is a really nice lake in the area, I thought why not shoot the sunrise over the lake?

IMG_4215

It’s an okay shot, but nothing spectacular. This was shot from the bridge looking back over the lake that the bridge crosses.  Oh well, another idea shot down by the weather and the situation. But as I have said before, you have to be flexible when shooting landscapes.  So what next? Well, there is a little path that runs along the lake, lets go see what there is down there? 

IMG_4228

Now this is starting to be something.. I like the view, the clouds and the little bit of color, but there is still something missing. This was shot at F22 and 1/5 of a second. But it is still not quite right.  What can I do?  Hmmm… (insert several minutes of thinking here). I know!  I have a set of neutral density filters in the truck that will allow me to slow the shutter speed way down!  Let’s hike back up and get those. Now the hard decision, do I leave the camera on the tripod and hope that no one walks away with it or do I take it with me?  (I’ll leave you to guess which one I did.  But as I am generally lazy…. Smile)

This all leads us to this photo;

Near the covered bridge in Conyers Georgia. A 25 second exposure on a cold November morning.

This is basically the same scene from above but the settings this time are f14 and a shutter speed of 15 seconds. This softened the water out and also gave a kind of movement to the sky. (also, if you look at the pine trees on the right, you will see some movement because of the wind).

 

I really like this photo, but it doesn’t really describe the conditions of the cold wind off the lake, the freezing hands and the shivering body while trying to keep everything steady.  I do wish there had been more fall color, but again, in landscape photography, you get what you get and you have to work with it.  It would have been very easy to see that the bridge was not going to be what I wanted and just gone home.  But instead, by working the scene, I got something I am proud of.

 

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Being surprised by customer service.

I know that I primarily run this blog to showcase my photography and this post is really no different. However, where it is going to differ is in the content.  During the weekend of October 17th, Ruth and I had the opportunity to travel to Rome Georgia to attend the Wings Over North Georgia airshow.  I have attended this event for the last three years and was really looking forward to taking photos while there.  Early Friday morning we headed to the airfield to take some sunrise photos over the static display of aircraft. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate so we ran and had a quick breakfast and returned when the fog lifted.

 

During this time I was using my trusty Canon 7D and my even more trusty Canon 24-105L to take the ramp shots. During one shot, the lens on the camera threw an error code and quit working. I suspected it was because of the high humidity and took the lens off and cleaned it to no avail.  My primary walking around lens was DRT!  (DRT – Dead Right There)  Well, just dang!

 

DSC_4609-24-105-flaccid

 

So, after much weeping and gnashing of teeth, I mounted my Sigma 50-150 and continued on with the day (albeit a bit farther back from the subjects I was shooting). While shooting the airshow proper, one of the many photographers I had contact with mentioned that I probably qualified for the Canon Professional Services (CPS) because of the gear I owned and should look into that when I returned home.

 

Canon-Professional-Services

This is where the great customer service comes in. On Monday, I went to the web site and followed the on screen prompts and was able to join at a Gold level. As it takes 7-10 days to receive the membership package and I already had a dead lens, I contacted them through the web live chat feature and they walked me through how to send this to their service center. This was all done on Monday and on Wednesday they had received my lens.  Today I get notified that the repair is complete and the lens is being shipped over night!  This is better than expected service and the lens will be back in my hands less than a week after I sent it in.  WOW.

 

This is even more exciting to me as I have a couple of other shoots coming up that require this lens.  Having to be without it for even a little while was going to cause me to have to rent a replacement and now I don’t have to!

 

Well done Canon, Well done!

Facebook Rights Grab

I am an avid photographer and love nothing more than to share my images with my friends and family. I am also, however, a photographer that sells fine art prints. As such, I do not want the images that I am expected to help fund my hobby to be used or sold without receiving compensation for their usage. (to the point where I have retained a copyright lawyer to file for un-licensed usage in several different cases).

So you can imagine my disappointment that Facebook is on another rights grab from digital media. According to the American Society for Media Photographers (ASMP), a recent change to the Facebook terms of service allows the social network to “exploit your name, likeness, content, images, private information and personal brand by using it in advertising and in commercial and sponsored content – without any compensation”.  Popular Photography explains it better here.

This is too far reaching for me to ignore and until Facebook retracts from this precipice, I will no longer be posting my photos on Facebook and will instead use them on my long forgotten blog.  (ie. Here)

So, with that in mind, here is todays photo.  I took this the other evening at the dog park while watching Chance play with other dogs. I looked up just in time to catch this with a single click.  I have titled this “Into the Fire” and it reminded me very much of the movie Independence Day.

 

IMG_9143-Edit-Edit

And so it begins (Again)

How time flies when you’re not paying attention. It has been almost a year since my last entry on this blog. that is way, way too long.  A couple of things are going change with my starting to re-blog.

1) the posts are going to be primarily about my photography and what I learn or what I’ve done.

2) they are not going to be whiny. (Unless I’ve done something really stupid that I want to share with the world…)

3) I don’t intend to blog everyday…. I expect once a week or so is going to be about it.  Some old dogs take a little longer to figure things out enough to post about it.

So, with that in mind, I expect that my first real blog will be on Saturday when I post about my adventure in Praise in Motion land on Friday night!

Veterans Day

In Flanders fields the poppies blowflanders fields
      Between the crosses, row on row,
   That mark our place; and in the sky
   The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
   Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
         In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
   The torch; be yours to hold it high.
   If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
         In Flanders fields.

Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae

 

During a conversation with a young friend of mine today he remarked that it was amazing that in his lifetime he cannot remember Americans wearing poppies like they do throughout the British empire. I was rather amazed at this because I remember every year my grandfather ensuring that the family had a poppy flower on their clothing. And then later, when it was found that the poppy was the primary source of hashish, an artificial flower. I still look for them every year to make sure I wear one in remembrance of those who had gone before and given their all.

You see, in 1919, after the end of the “Great War” President Woodrow Wilson declared November 11th as a federal holiday to commemorate the armistice that was signed on 11 November 1918 and the peace that followed. The poem above comes from that war as a Canadian surgeon, upon seeing a friend dies from the fighting, penned the words.

Later, as more an more conflicts arose, the meaning of armistice day (or remembrance day) became less understood, the 11th of November became veterans day (which we still celebrate today).However, I cannot get over the words that were penned for Flanders Fields and choose to remember all of the fallen in conflicts around the world and hope that the blood red flower represents the last of the fallen instead of the future.

So, if you see me (or anyone) wearing a poppy on Friday, you will know that we remember!

Calling Out Your Name

“And the single hawk bursts into flight

And in the east the whole horizon is in flames

I feel thunder in the sky

I see the sky about to rain

And I hear the prairies calling out Your name “

Rich Mullins – Calling out Your Name

 

A good morning 1

Do you ever have a moment in time when a song jumps in your heart and wont let go? That happened to me this morning. As I stepped out of my front door this morning to make a run for my morning fix I noticed the sky in the east.  The glorious oranges and the golden light that was covering all of the ground just made me stop and take notice.  The second thing it did is make me do an immediate u-turn to go and grab my camera..

On the drive I kept singing the above song. Rich Mullins was an inspired performer and I still miss him and wonder what he would have produced if he had not been taken so soon.

The unsinkable house at Brookhill Way

It was a dark night and the full moon shone brightly on the residents of the ill-fated house. Far below them a cauldron boiled and the red Georgia clay turned to mush. Gallon upon gallons of water were gathering together to unleash it’s fury without warning. Yet the residents slept peacefully on.

As morning gathered in the east, the sleepy occupants arose in their abode. Stretching taught muscles, showers were taken. Clothes were placed in the washing machine and then suddenly a scream was heard in the quiet….. “WHERE IS ALL OF THIS WATER COMING FROM???”

It seems as if the peace was broken as the residents realized they were no longer in a house, but in a leaky house boat!

Ok, enough of the story telling. What happened is that our cold water line feeding the downstairs broke. Normally this is not a big deal. However in our case the line was below the concrete slab that the house sits upon. Yes, we had evidence that we had a leak somewhere through our water bills that were significantly higher than the same time last year.  I thought that this was caused by the new shower heads I had installed. It wasn’t until we had water bubble up from around the downstairs commode that we realized the problem was much larger.

Fortunately, Mr. Plumber came to the rescue and dug up the area of the leak and fixed it. I won’t bore you with the details other than to say that how the detected where the leak was was fun to watch. (Imagine an older guy with headphones on and a long tube that he stuck onto the slab.)

Fortunately, all is well that ends well (even if it is $2,000 later to have it fixed)

 

Leak 1Leak 2

What do you see?

What do you see 1

Every one has their morning rituals. Mine include the normal absolutions like showering, brushing my teeth and getting dressed. One of my quirks is the morning run to QuikTrip to start the day with a large diet Coke. While some people start their day with a cup of coffee, I just cannot stand the taste (much to my wife’s amusement).

So, this morning is like all others and as I head out the door, I notice that the rains from last evening have left a little gift on the shrubs around our front door. The spider webs that cross through these shrubs are coated with these tiny rain drops. With the morning light hitting them, it is as if some one had draped them with jewels.

Contemplating this on my drive, I realize that what I have just seen is a microcosm of the world around us. There is much beauty to behold if we will just take the time to look. Our creator has blessed us with many things, from the jewels on a spider web to the spectacular sunrise, do we take the time to see?