Monday, December 28, 2009


I know, it's been a while since my last post. Fortunately for me, this is my blog and I do what I want! ;-)

In all seriousness, I had an awesome day yesterday.

It started with a plane ride at noon with my buddy Sean, who recently got his pilots license. When I say recently, I mean I was his first (non-instructor) passenger. Sweet!

I got a few fun pictures from the morning:

The plane we rented: a 2002 Cessna (thats all the detail I remember)

Inside of the plane

Sean - Pilot Extraordinaire (my favorite shot)

Pretty mountains (through ugly haze)

More pretty mountains and a wing

Sharp turns. (shutter speed of 1/6400 to catch the prop)

Me and Sean

Overall, it was decidedly awesome. The weather didn't quite cooperate - the haze we were flying over/through really got in the way of taking decent pictures. The ones I did manage have had some serious adjustments to them to make them presentable, and I think that might even be a stretch. I am really happy with the picture of Sean though.

No idea what's on tap for me as far as photography in the near future. Today I plan to read and relax.
Have a fantastic Monday!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Back to our regularly scheduled programming - that is to say - still photography.

Here are a few shots off my most recent roll of film. (Kodak T-MAX 3200 ISO B&W)

All were shot with available light on some seriously high speed film, most of them with a fixed 50mm lens. Contrast adjustments as well as some noise reduction in post-processing to make them a little more presentable.

I absolutely love shooting film. This particular roll was in my N80 camera for nearly a year, so getting it developed and looking through the scans was a real treat because I didn't remember most of what I photographed. Unfortunately, shooting film is also insanely expensive. The roll of film cost about $6, then another $22 for development, "archival" (4mb) scans to a CD and a set of 4x6 prints. I'll hopefully shoot another roll before the end of break.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


- There are no spoilers in this post -

We're going to take a journey away from still photography for a moment, and discuss the new movie Avatar.

It was released in a myriad of formats from the traditional movie, to 3-D to IMAX 3-D and it cost an obscene amount of money ($230 million) to make. I went in thinking: "if it cost that much, it better be pretty good!"

It is WAY more than good.

The Computer Generated Imaging is unlike anything ever done before. It puts Transformers 2 to shame, and that was pretty good CGI.

The acting, the characters, the emotional connections that I made with the characters were all head-and-shoulders above any other movie. I literally wanted to cry when it ended - not because the ending was sad, but because it raised the bar in every single way that no movie will be able to compete for a long time.

I measure movies not by the stories they tell (because let's face it, they've all been told) but by how well they tell it. How well they engage me and pull me in. My previous all-time-favorite movie was The Lion King. It's a classic story with themes you just can't beat. It tells the story well and the music always moves me like only like Lion King music can....

... But it tell you what. Avatar tops it in every way.

I'm going to get repetitive if I keep writing, so let me conclude by saying that it is hands down the best movie I have ever seen and I recommend that you see it regardless of your age or profession. Anyone can appreciate this movie.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Shooting Whiskey...

... with a camera!

I found a bottle of Maker's Mark Whiskey in my parent's liquor cabinet and decided it needed to be photographed.

Here was my first test shot, with some white foam core I have leftover from a project. I tried to use it to reflect light from the bottom, but it ended up being more distracting than helpful, so I nixed it.

I realized what I needed was some light shining through the bottle, so I grabbed one of my hotlights and tried a few angles to see how I could light the liquid. Aside from the failed exposure, I didn't like this shot because the light shone through on only part of the label. So I moved it to underneath the bottle as seen here:

I'm using 1 SB600 with my ghetto-dish (tupperware + paper) and a white foam core reflector.
I borrowed a few members from my mom's nativity scene to hold up the reflector:

They did a great job.

Moving floodlight to underneath the bottle gave me light that worked much better, without making weird highlights on the inside of the label. Then it was just a matter of mixing the ambient and the strobe to get something that worked alright.
I ended up at 1/13 second at f/4, ISO 200.

Here's the final product!

30 minutes to set up, shoot and tear down. Good thing too; I'm not sure my mom loved me having a studio set up in the living room.

Also, I downloaded the Strobox app free for iPhone/iPod Touch. Works like a charm

One of these days I'll get some gels for my flash... I would have liked to make it a bit warmer to complement the flood light... oh well.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Help Portrait - Behind the Scenes!

Got a bunch to share with you in the next couple days. I've been shooting and editing like a maniac - finally having fun with photography again!

Until I get that content ready for you, here's a quick behind-the-scenes look at the Boulder Help-Portrait event!

*Update* I just learned that the 2010 date is December 4th! Unfortunately, that means I probably won't be of much help for the Boulder event, as I'll still be in Flagstaff. However, it does mean that I can help with a Flagstaff group!

Photos from the St. Brigit Xmas Pageant


Well I finally got off my arse and shot a bit, this time at the St. Brigit Christmas Pageant.

A friend of mine, Judy Nieusma was there front and center with her Canon 5d MkII and a 24-70mm lens. She was rocking 4000 ISO and full color. Knowing that "angle" was covered, I decided to experiment (I know, such a surprise).

I put the camera in JPG, monochrome and I randomly picked a filter (this time, Orange). I put it at ISO 1600 which gave me shutter speeds from 1/50 to 1/320 at about f/2.2 with my fixed 50mm lens.

Then I did what I do best, and here are some of the results.

Not a whole bunch of post-processing to these either. Sharpening, cropping, contrast and exposure adjustments, vignette. Nothing really radical, but all very necessary.
These are just my top six, you can see the rest of my top 20 on my Flickr page.

I'll make a couple CDs for the church which I'm hoping the parents will just eat up. The pageant was an absolute blast. It was written by Susie Manica who goes to the church and directs music (and apparently writes musicals). She's a lot of fun, full of energy, and an absolute thrill to be around. I plan on doing her portrait one of these days, though she doesn't know that yet.

Coming up tomorrow: still life!

Have a great Thursday! Take a picture, at least one picture, today. You know you want to.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Figured it out - DUH

You ever encounter a solution to a problem that makes you stop and just say "Duh!"?

I did that this morning after I figured out what was wrong with my Google Reader issues.
Turns out I was "following" Ken Rockwell via, which has its own management system totally separate from Google Reader. As such, though I could delete the feeds from the reader, I wasn't deleting them from the list of blogs I was "following" via Blogger. So, every time Google Reader checked with Blogger, it re-added the feeds.

I went in, deleted the feeds from Blogger, and all is now well.

Also - bought a card reader yesterday from Target. Slowest damned thing EVER (8 minutes to download 2.4gb), but it gets the job done, and now lives on the back of my macbookpro just in case.

Yay for duct tape.

Tomorrow's post will actually contain photographs. I know. The day you've all been waiting for....
Here's a teaser.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

More on Google : Reader and Chrome

This post is all me b*tching and moaning about products that I get for free that don't work the way I think they should. If you're looking for anything other than my problems with Google Reader and Chrome, feel free to move along. I won't be offended.

First, my ongoing issues with finding an RSS reader I like.

Because my most recent RSS acquisition syncs with my Google reader account, it too shows me that I have 60+ unread posts by Ken Rockwell. As such, it is useless to me and I've taken to using the Google reader webpage mainly because I'm familiar with it.

Regardless of which method I use to unsubscribe from these feeds, I can't get out. I've done it like you see above a zillion times. I've gone into Settings | Subscriptions and tried to delete it from there. Invariably it goes away until I close the window. I don't even have to log out, I just close the window and re-open the page, at which point it assumes I've changed my mind and I really would like to read 62 posts from Ken Rockwell.

Several other people have had this issue as well, so my hope is that Google with get around to it eventually.

Now, onto Chrome. Google's browser is far-and-away the fastest I've ever used. I mean it. Its FAST. I admit though, I am less than pleased with a few aspects of its performance.
For instance: I hate tabs. I open everything in new windows and I go from window to window with Command + Tilda, or using a power corner dedicated to showing all windows. Chrome seems to be a tab-based browser, so it opens new windows in new TABS, which means I have to click and drag them to a new window (which is very easy, and just like how Photoshop CS4 works). Still, its another step that I don't like.

Another thing that I just don't understand: it doesn't open a home page. Ever. I have it set to hit my gmail account as my home page, but instead I get this

Which means I then have to click "google" and then "gmail" to get to my mail.

I know, its still in Beta. But the whole idea behind a beta is people test it and figure out what they would like to change. Now Google knows what I think should change.

I'm going to be out doing errands today. Finally going to drop off my 3200 ISO film, going to buy a new card reader, and might do a little christmas shopping.

Have a wonderful Tuesday!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Help Portrait - Done!

We had such a blast on Saturday making portraits for people!

Volunteers, photographers and subjects, many of whom had never met one-another, all came together to make a fantastic day!

Here's a video I put together of the images we compiled

We learned a LOT about how to put on an event like this, and we'll definitely do a whole bunch of things differently in the future. This year we got 50 families to come in. Next year, we'll have many more.

A bunch of news networks covered events around the country, including CNN (link 1) and (link 2)

We're still looking for a way to get 8x10 frames so we can frame one image for each family that came in... if you have any ideas about inexpensive frames, let me know by email or by adding a comment below!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

RSS readers

Man, I'm Sure Happy Its Thursday!

... anyway...

I've spent the last couple days messing around with various RSS readers, ever since Google failed me by refusing to let me unsubscribe from a couple feeds. I tried a few different readers, and so far the one I like the best is called NetNewsWire2. It's software, which means you can't just access it anywhere you want (like you can with all of Google's services). Instead, you have to download and install it on your computer.

I did that, and so far have been impressed. It even shows the number of unread posts (here, 13).

Above is a screenshot of what it all looks like (the feed shown is Joe McNally's blog).
On the left you have a list of blogs and an ad (cause the software is free). On the right you have a list of the windows open (the software has a built-in browser, so when you click a feed, it opens it in its own window). Middle-top is the list of recent posts, middle-bottom is the post you are currently viewing.

The best part: it syncs with Google reader, which syncs with Blogger. So, I didn't have to do anything to set it up. I gave it my Google access credentials, it loaded my blogroll. Piece of cake. Of course, there were still the two blogs that I've been trying to unsubscribe from on the original Google Reader. I unsubscribed from them in the software and haven't seen them since. Hallelujah!

Today is my last day in Flagstaff for a while. I'll be packing up and heading out mid-morning tomorrow, driving 12 hours to get home, and then waking up early to participate in the Help Portrait event in Boulder. We've got a bunch of volunteers and (hopefully) a whole lot of subjects to photograph. I'll probably be working Digital Asset Management with a full-time pro who specializes in it. I'm psyched.

I'll blog after the event to let you know how it went! Until then, Stay Happy Its Thursday!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Website update

Hello and welcome to a wonderful Wednesday!

I spent a couple hours yesterday updating my portfolios online at, adding new photos, getting rid of some of the old crappy ones, and doing some coding to make things a little prettier.

This first photo is my favorite portrait from 2009.

In preparing my site, I tried to keep in mind the things that Zack Arias has been spouting on his portfolio-reviews. Things like having a flow to the portfolio. For instance, my "people" portfolio starts with black and white, goes to images with oranges and yellows, then to greens, and then up to purple and red. The color transition makes it easy on the viewer and makes the images more cohesive as a series.

Things like having my portfolios easy to access, simple, and showing what I'm good at (which is why people come first) have been there all along, though I tried to keep them smaller this time around, with fewer images in each series. Editing is hard.

Oddly enough, in doing this twice-annual update, I became disenchanted with my browser of choice over the last year. For all of yesterday, Firefox refused to re-load the page I was working on. Oh sure, it would refresh every time I told it to, but it still showed the pictures and the wrong left-frame in my portrait series. I got annoyed and switched to Google Chrome, from which I am currently writing, where so far I have had no issues. (to be fair Safari also correctly displayed everything, though to be clear I still hate Safari).

With the switch to Google's browser, I have moved much of my computing to services provided (free!) by Google except my Operating System, which Apple has managed to keep relatively bug-free (the last update fixed my spaces-with-multiple-monitors issue). I am not loyal to any one brand just because of its name, and neither should you. If an alternative comes up with a good way to do something (especially if Google makes it :-) then give it a try!

So far, Chrome has been snappier than Firefox, and absolutely error free. My website displays like I tell it to and I like it that way. I'll stick with Chrome until it does something I don't like... which will hopefully be a while. Though, surprisingly enough, I don't have the search bar in the upper-right corner... curious.

I'm off. 1 final today, then helping my buddies move. Thursday is two photo finals (one of which is showing off my glorious website) and then an epic NERF battle.
Have a great day!

Monday, December 7, 2009

book: Underdog

Hello there!

Last night (well, technically early this morning) I finished up a 20-page book that I've been working on in my spare time.

It is a collaboration between myself and aspiring writer/poet Leah Markman, who writes really fun poetry in her spare time.

She wrote a poem that I ended up reading. I really liked it, so I asked her to write a few more so I could put them in a book with some of my photos. The photos are all landscapes that I've done in the last two years.

With any luck, this will become a yearly tradition. I made two books last year, one for a photo class and one for my parents anniversary gift, and I made one a couple years back just for fun. They're moderately expensive books, ($40 each) but it lets me keep a hardcopy of some of my best photos, and I can sit down and go through the evolution of my photography. And they make great gifts :-)

Aaaanyway, enough of my rambling.

Hit up
for the electronic version of the book. It's a BUNCH smaller than the original, so the big panoramic photos may be a bit blurry. I couldn't find a happy medium between the 35mb original file and the 350kb preview file.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Thursday Linkage + Ride Along with Flagstaff PD

(photo courtesy of

We interrupt your regularly scheduled broadcast for a special news update!
Last week I signed up to do a ride-along with the Flagstaff Police Department. I figured it might be fun and its definitely a life experience, so I filled out the necessary paperwork. As it turns out, it is super-easy to do ride alongs with the FPD, and the whole group that was on shift during my ride was a blast to be around. Here's how my ride went:

4:50pm I showed up early (as usual) and checked in with a person behind a desk (and bulletproof glass).
5:01 I was escorted from the lobby by officer Sandoval "Come on, we're late."
5:02 I enter the briefing room, where the cops starting their shifts are shooting the shit, making fun of each other and (of course) making fun of me. The Sergent talks about some stuff.
5:18 Meeting is over and officer Sandoval and I head out to our patrol car. He hooks me up with a flashlight. W0_0T. Where's my 9mm Glock?
--- Sandoval and I cruise through Flagstaff, looking for brakelights out, traffic violations, etc. I am just settling in for what I assume will be a terribly boring evening when we go Code 3 (emergent) on a little kid getting hit by a car.
Let me explain Code 3 with Officer Sandoval. In a word: awesome. He's driving a Flagstaff PD standard issue Ford Crown Victoria, but there is nothing standard about this car.

(photo courtesy of

Upgraded tires, suspension, transmission, and engine, in addition to the lights, sirens, gunracks, etc. In short, this car hauls ass. We blast through traffic, doing quadruple the speed limit on occasion, sliding around corners and finally stopping in front of Michaels, where there is a little boy (who looks and cries like a little girl) wrapped in blankets being comforted by family members. We are the first on scene by about 3 minutes, followed by Flagstaff Fire Department and then the ambulance.
5:52pm, I'm out of the car and staying out of the way (like I was told) while medical personnel deal with the screaming little kid. He's clearly not hurt that bad. He's breathing (and screaming), not in a neck brace, not on a backboard, not on oxygen. They put him in the ambulance and (still screaming) haul him off to the hospital. Broken leg. Considering the size of the Hyndai that hit him, and the size of the kid, it could have been a bunch worse.
6:10 I'm back in the car. It's getting chilly outside and a traffic unit has pulled up to take statements and issue tickets as necessary. Officer Sandoval and I are free to go, which we happily do.
6:12 Call comes in on an assault at an athletic club. We respond, looking for a car (which we find) and some lady in sweats who apparently punched somebody in the face (who we don't find). Another officer is already on scene.
6:16 Call comes on a possible burglary in progress, set off by a security alarm. We bail on the assault and head over to check it out. False alarm.
6:20ish Get a call for a inebriated male skipping out on his tabs at local bars. This was a fun one. Guy was drunk as could be, an alcoholic according to his mother, and was being detained by the management at Maloney's downtown. Turns out he skipped his tab at one bar, went to the bar next door and tried to skip on that one. It also happens that the staffs from the two bars are friendly with each other. He gets found out, cops get called, Sandoval and I are on scene. I'm in khaki pants and a black leather jacket. I'm wearing my cell phone holster, carrying a decent sized knife and a flashlight, and I walk like I know what I'm doing. People can't tell if I'm another officer or just some dumbass along for the ride. I very much enjoy this.
6:35 We're still trying to sort this guy out. He's got over $100 in cash in his wallet, but refuses to pay bills totalling $25. His mom is also on scene. She's quiet, sober as day, and trying to convince him to pay up.
6:40 Our drunken dilinquent agreed to settle one tab for cash ($5.50), and Sandoval takes him next door to settle the other tab ($11.04). He doesn't like this, and gets stupid. Makes moves at patrons at the bar, insults random people, and generally doesn't cooperate. His mom goes for his wallet to settle the tab and he starts getting violent. Sandoval puts him on the floor, handcuffs him and tells him he's under arrest for disorderly conduct. He gets more disorderly. I am amused.
7:30pm We are at the county jail, watching this guy epically fail at a breathalyzer test. I mean, they tell him to blow into the straw, so he bites it, sucks it, and blows past it, but he just can't figure out how to blow into it.
7:45 The county jail personnel are fed up. They take his blood pressure to make sure he won't die in his cell and book him. Sandoval writes his report. It takes forever.
8:00 Another possible burglary. This time a guy claiming somebody broke into his house (provided by catholic social services) and stole only his keys (not his laptop, xbox, 36" TV, sound system, etc). Neither Sandoval nor I buy his story, but he sticks to it. Sandoval and I discuss how to tell if someone is lying. (looking up/to the right, tight body movements, avoiding eye contact, forced smile, too friendly, etc)
8:xx Domestic Violence call: guy is locked out of his apartment yelling and "throwing stuff."We show up and whatever DV was happening is over, all is quiet.
8:35pm Some guy calls in from wal mart to report himself PI (publicly Intoxicated). He wants to go to jail. Turns out he isn't that drunk, he just doesn't have a place to sleep. We give him a ride to a local mission that's agreed to accept him for the night.
9:00 I bail out two hours early to go home and make dinner, having had enough excitement and (I'm told) much more than most ride-alongs get.

I'm going to write a letter to the chief of police, asking to do a photostory on "A Day in the Life of a Flagstaff Police Officer." This will involve several more ride alongs and lots of awesome pictures.

Whew. That was long.

Now, back to your regularly scheduled programming.

Once again, it's early on Thursday morning and I am perusing The Lumberjack via

Join me!

Black Friday shopping
Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra
Athletic Trainers and athlete injuries
Women's Basketball falls in Thanksgiving Classic

As I understand it, the Women's Basketball series actually ran a double-page spread in print. With any luck, I'll find myself with some decent $$$ out of this issue.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Complaining: GOOGLE!

It happens sometimes. A company provides a free service that doesn't quite work right.

In this case, Google Reader is ticking me off, and since I have a blog (generously provided by Google), I figure I might as well publish something about it!

The problem: I want to unsubscribe from a couple blogs that no longer interest me. It appears to work just fine, but upon logging back in, it turns out i was never unsubscribed and the posts I haven't read are still marked as such.

So. Here I click "OK", and it tells me I won't receive updates anymore... but when I log in again, I see that "Ken Rockwell's Updates" is still in my blogroll, and now there are even more posts that I haven't read!

Solution: I can either switch to a different RSS reader, which will make Google less money because I don't see their ads... or Google can get their stuff together and fix it!
Oh, and while Google is paying attention to me (ha, i know, its ludicrous), I'd like a spellchecker in the Blogger UI.

In the meantime, anyone know of a nice RSS reader that's free? Leave a comment below!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

December Backgrounds!

Did something a little different for December... you may recognize these photos :-)

I have two backgrounds for your enjoyment this month, each with and without the monthly calendar.
Since I have two monitors, I have to make two backgrounds and this month (mainly due to my lack of good photos) I made them from pictures I shot on my iPhone.



Each was around 800 pixels wide out-of-phone, so I used Photoshop for some resizing and some selective softening and sharpening to make them bearable on a big screen. I'm happy with each of them. One is soft and easy and comforting, the other is grainy and gives me my own personal window and winter-wonderland scene (since it hardly ever snows in Flagstaff).

Click to enlarge, then right click to either save, or set as your desktop background!