Thursday, January 28, 2010

Nothing to say...

I have nothing to say today - which I guess isn't all that unusual. I feel bad if I don't give you something to look at though, so here's some water I shot during the "Storm of the century" in Flagstaff.

Taken from inside my buddy Bryan's Jeep in the McDonalds drive thru.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The true value of art

A lot of people create art for one reason - for other people to see it. Perhaps they feel that if nobody else sees it, the art is worthless. Perhaps they feel that if nobody else sees it, they are worthless as an artist.
Quite frankly, I think that's a load of crap.

Regardless of what creative field you're in, you shouldn't be afraid to create something that will never see the light of day. You should make art, pictures, music, whatever just because you want to. You should do it because the value of the art is not in what other people give it, but what you as the artist give it. The value of my photography is high to me because I enjoy taking pictures! Sure, getting complements and/or cash is nice... but the reason I really like photography is because it provides me with a creative outlet - it is something I enjoy doing, not just something I enjoy selling.

In the spirit of messing around, I'll show you this. I pulled a mediocre picture into photoshop and just went nuts. I enjoyed doing it and it got my creative juices flowing again. I know I'll never sell a print of this. I also understand that even though I won't make a cent off this image, that doesn't make it worthless.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Did a couple portraits this week. Neither of them great, but i've done worse.

Azure in the business building
Shot this with all available light, inside a poorly lit building. As such I was at ISO 2000 or so. The color sucked because the whole place is a mixture of fluorescent and tungsten. I didn't even try for this picture - I only took three frames.

Dahlia in the business building
Shot this around ISO 400, with constantly-changing window light. As such, it took me a while (80 frames) to get something I liked.

Got a moderately big shoot coming up on Friday night - I'm excited to shoot and excited to show you!

Monday, January 25, 2010


I've managed to rack up a fair number of photos in the last few days. Many of them sit in the folder whose contents will eventually end up on this blog.
Over the last week, Flagstaff has had just over 55" of snow. I spent a fair amount of time lounging around the house in my PJs, but I got out to take some pictures as well.

Somewhere in the last week, the furnace and/or thermostat has decided it doesn't want to function properly anymore. As such, instead of a toasty 72, we're at 60 degrees F.
Also, due to all the snow NAU closed for two full days and had a delayed start on one day. That means a lot of makeup work in the coming week, which means I'm going to be even busier than usual. In comparison, FUSD - the local school district - has been closed pretty much all week and has a delayed start today.

Oh well. I'm off to start my homework! Have a great Monday!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The value of not paying attention

I love shooting Track and Field meets. There is always something going on - most of the time more than one thing - so I'm always running around. Once in a while though, during a 5 hour meet, I have to take my mind off the sports and let it wander.

Last Saturday during one of these times, I found myself focusing once again on the other photographers in the room. Once again, all the shots that turned out are of my boss on The Lumberjack, Jennifer Hilderbrand 

This last photo is my least-favorite, and the first time i've ever tried split toning. I like the idea, though maybe not the end result for this particular picture.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


After some deliberation, I've decided to buy myself a bigger light.

For less than what it costs me to get an SB900 speedlight, I can get an Alienbee Einstein.

I know, the whole world thinks Alienbee lights are the saddest, cheapest excuse for big lights out there. For the most part, I'd agree - except when it comes to the Einstein. It looks like Mr. Buff has really stepped up his game with this light.

I pre-ordered mine just moments ago. I'll get a Vagabond battery pack with it, and a reflector. Probably a 3' softbox as well. That will easily take care of the $750 check that should be heading my way from The Lumberjack.

Why not Profoto? I do get a pretty heavy discount on Profoto stuff as a student - I can get a D1 500 head for $739 - but I don't NEED profoto. I very rarely use strobes, and when I do it is even rarer that I need anything more than my SB-600. The Einstein unit will fill that requirement, will hold its value, and it will give me an inexpensive intro to the world of big lighting. Paying full price for the Einstein it is still $300 cheaper. That $300 buys me the battery pack so my new big light can go out into the world, because studios suck.

I'm going to carry around my big boy camera today and try to be creative. I'll probably rock the 28mm f/2.8, because I haven't used it in a while.

Have a great Hump Day!

Friday, January 15, 2010


My last post was about teachers.
Today is about the other piece of the equation. I'd say half, but I'm pretty sure the student makes up much more than half the equation.

Right off the bat there is one thing that can stop a student from learning anything. Ego.
The size of a person's ego and where it is stored can drastically effect how much that person can learn as a student. If you think you're the best, or even great, or if you even acknowledge you're pretty good - your ego is probably getting in the way of you learning.
How do I know this? From experience - I have a humongous ego. I generally think I am an awesome person. Sure, I have my flaws, but overall I like to think I make the world a better place just by existing.


I guess there are two things that can be said in my defense.
1) I KNOW I am overly egocentric - I admit it.
2) I can put my ego away when the time calls for it.

Most people don't know how to put their ego in a box while they try to learn something new. As such their ego grabs control of their brain, forces them to stand on desktops and proclaim for the world to hear: "I could teach this class," or "nobody in this program has something new to teach me," or perhaps "this class sucks."

What these egocentric airheads people fail to see is that even if their professors or colleagues or students had something to teach them, they wouldn't listen! They are too wrapped up in their own BS, their heads too full of their own awesomeness, to allow any new information to grab hold!

A true student comes with an open mind and a readiness to grab any new tidbit of information that comes his or her way. That willingness to strip down the ego, stuff it in a box, and be a student again is precisely what makes a person a good learner.

When a good student is entered into the education equation, I believe its about 50/50 or maybe 60/40 Student / Teacher in terms of work input.
Conversely, when a bad student is part of the same equation, that student expects it to be 10/90 or 5/95. In short, the student expects the instructor to do all the work - to prove that they have something new to teach, or that there is in fact, more than one way to skin a cat. This leads to the student learning nothing, which leads to proclamations from desktops, and the cycle repeats.

The lesson I've learned? Always be prepared to take your ego and hang it in the closet for a while. You can let it out on occasion, but the moment you think you're the best photographer, the best artist, the best writer, the best parent, the best teacher, the best student, the best at anything - you're ego will get in the way and the ride is all downhill from there. Downhill straight to the bottom of the industry.

Have a great weekend! Learn something new!

Thursday, January 14, 2010


This is Russ Gilbert - the lab supervisor at NAU's photo program.
He isn't a photo professor, but he teaches better than the people with fancy degrees.

For those of you who don't know, I'm enrolled in the Photography program at Northern Arizona University. I've been shooting for five years and as such I am mostly self-taught. Of course, by self-taught I mean I didn't go to school for the majority of my photo education. I have David duChemin, David Hobby, Joe McNally, Scott Kelby, Ken Rockwell, and the Internet at large to thank for the majority of my photo education.

That being said - I took a class last night from Jess Vogelsang. Jess is (so far) the only person in the photography program at NAU that has anything to teach me. It isn't that I think I'm above all the other classes - I go and I learn the odd tidbit - its just that the other professors are, well, professors. They aren't photographers anymore.

This is Jess with some of his work in a gallery on campus. 
I took this 1.5 years ago on my first portrait assignment for The Lumberjack.
Notice the crude Photoshop - that's why I'm taking his class.

Jess is a full time working photographer. The man lives and breathes photography and post production and his clients know it. The fact that he is NOT a full-time professor is what makes him a great teacher; he is still actively involved in the industry! The other professors I've had are all mid fifties or older. They were raised on film, which is mostly dead now. Sure, they can operate a digital camera, but they haven't worked their entire careers in the digital era and they haven't cared enough to really learn the digital side.

I am really looking forward to this Advanced Digital Workflow class - not only because of the Photoshop tips and tricks, but because we are going to focus heavily on using modern strobe lighting. No hotlights. No Alienbees. We're going to use profoto gear all the way through and we are going to learn it inside and out.

Light is the photographer's paint brush. Without light, even with the fanciest camera gear, you get nothing, so I am super excited.

Readers: have any of you had a particularly good photography teacher? Someone who was excited about photography and who really cared about you as a student? Someone who wanted you to succeed, even though he or she knew you would be competing with them?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


I was one of three Lumberjack photographers last night at a tiny event (12 participants) held in the makeshift rec center.

It was a climbing competition on a ghetto climbing wall/trailer that is usually pulled behind a truck to outdoor events. Because I was one of three photogs, I knew I could afford to focus a little on more artsy stuff, while the other two were focusing mainly on getting published.

I had to go for the classic silhouette... because the background in this place was just hideous.
This particular photo was taken during the endurance competition - climb up and down the wall as many times as possible. This guy did it 11 times - not bad - and certainly more than I would have managed.

I'm going to be focusing on some more interesting/non-team sports this semester - Hopefully I can find an excuse to cover the climbing gym in downtown Flagstaff.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


I'm not sure if I've ever written anything about my most recent workflow... but I think it is time.

For those of you non-photo people - feel free to skip this one. It won't be offended.

First - lets talk about my setup. I use a 15" MacbookPro as my main computer. It has a 500gb internal HDD. Next to it is a 22" LG monitor. I use an old Bamboo Fun tablet for mouse and pen work. Also essential to the editing process: headphones and music. I use Sennheiser HD 202 headphones. While I wait for files to upload I use an old computer running UBUNTU 9.10 to browse the internet. That's the 15" monitor on the far right.

So. I shoot RAW all the time these days. After I've captured all my images, I put my CF card into my LEXAR firewire 800 reader and I'm ready to rock.

1) Import into folders. - I keep my files organized in folders by year - month - day - file type. If there's a super special event, the day file will show it. For instance "january11_eventname"

Dead center in my desktop I have a folder called Pull Folders. In it is the list of filetype folders that I copy and paste every time I import.

2) After I've imported my NEF files, I go straight into the Adobe DNG Converter. I have no use for NEF files, but DNG's are useful and less cluttered (no sidecart xmp files). The machine copies all my NEF files to DNG's before I even launch Aperture or Bridge.

3) Once the files are in what I consider to be a usable format, I open the appropriate program. I use Aperture exclusively for personal work, whereas I use Bridge for all my work stuff (I shoot sports for Northern Arizona University).

4) We're going to assume I'm doing personal work - because that's what I like doing most. Once I'm in Aperture, I create a new project with the date of import. I then create albums by filetype - just like my folder organization. I import the DNGs into a DNG album.

5)  After Aperture is done making thumbnails and previews, I start my editing. I wait for Aperture to finish because my machine only has 2gb of RAM, and if I start to go through and make my selections, my computer can't keep up.

6) Selections are as follows:
 -1 star - every picture that doesn't hurt to look at and that I might possibly maybe want in the future. I make these selections based off the thumbnails with a one or two second glance at the preview.

- 2 star - To make these selections, I start at the beginning of the 1-star photos and I make them full screen. I take a lot more time deliberating whether a photo deserves a second star - all the 2-star images get edited and I don't have infinite amounts of time to edit. By the time I finish selecting 2 stars, I usually have 1/4 the photos I originally took.

- edits - I go through, pick the worthy 2-star photos and give them basic edits. Exposure, contrast, saturation, sharpening, etc. 90% of the time I can keep all of my edits in Aperture.

- 3 star - All the edited files are upgraded to 3 stars and unstacked from their parent image. The original remains at 2 stars. Aperture likes to rename files "300_5937 - Version 2" or some such thing. I really don't like that. I go through and rename the file to "300_5937-1" : A hyphen at the end of an image lets me know I edited it. The number following the hyphen tells me how much work I did. If the number is 1, I know I made basic adjustments and that the image is in color - perhaps just cropped. If the number is 2 I know the image is black and white. If the number is a 3, I know I did extensive editing to get it there.

- 4 or 5 star - Anything that could be portfolio-worthy gets 4 or 5 stars. Every few months I look through all the 4 and 5 star photos in my library and upgrade them to my portfolio if need be. Very few of my photos have 4 or 5 stars.

Once I'm done with selections and edits, I take the following steps:

- export - Everything that has a hyphen gets exported as a full resolution JPG, then likely as a 50% size JPG for use on this blog, Flickr or Facebook. This is a redundancy measure - If my Aperture library gets corrupted for any reason, it could lose track of the XMP changes it makes to the files. If I have them exported outside of the library, I can access them at any time without any need for Aperture.

- deletion - I delete all the NEF files. I already have them saved in a more usable format - the NEF's are just taking up space on my hard drive. I also delete all the DNG files that didn't make the 1 star cut. I now have between 1/3 and 1/4 the number of my original photos, and everything that I have left I can use.

- backup - Everything from the folder I now have goes immediately to three additional hard drives. One of them is a portable USB powered drive that lives with my computer. Another is a hard drive dedicated solely to photo backups. The third is an automatic time-machine backup. All of these hard drives are on site. In case the house burns down, I have a series of three hard drives at my parent's place in Colorado that get updated every time I go back. Next up on my plate is a fireproof, waterproof box that one of these backups can live in in case my house burns down.

That's it. After everything is backed up I take some time away from the computer.
I'm always looking for new and better ways to manage my stuff - so if you have any suggestions or questions, feel free to comment below!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Staying interested

On Saturday night I shot a basketball game at NAU. I shoot a lot of basketball games and this one wasn't really any more or less interesting than any other game. I've decided that my biggest problem is staying interested. I show up, shoot the first half, and by halftime I'm usually bored (especially when we're losing).
So to keep myself taking pictures and paying attention to the world around me, I occasionally photograph non-sports things at the game.

Saturday, my off-topic victim was my boss, the Photo Editor of The Lumberjack newspaper - Jenn Hilderbrand.

 The space on the court is such that we have a fair amount of room to sit down, get comfortable, and then get rammed by humongous basketball players as they slide across the floor. They can knock you right off the court with little difficulty. That aside, I was lying down on the floor trying to get a new angle when I noticed Jenn's boots. I snapped a few pictures (while she laughed at me) and then continued shooting the game. I didn't get any good photos of the basketball players from that angle, but I tried which is what counts for me.

It looks like its time to start the grind of classes again. My Mondays are miserable: classes from 9am to 10pm. Whew. I'll do my best to stay interested, even though today will be all syllabus talks.

Have a great monday!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Gear: Hard Drive Heaven

In photography there are essentially two camps. One is a bunch of engineer-ish, super-nerdy gear-heads who do essentially nothing but talk about cameras, lenses, computers, software and all the STUFF that is used to create photographs. On the other side there are the purist, artistic (holga-using) people who despise talking about gear and would rather talk about composition, texture, color, weight, and all the STUFF that actually applies to the image itself.

Either way, photographers are just a bunch of people talking about STUFF.

This post is about stuff.
Specifically - computer stuff.
Its also long.
You have been warned.

Most digital cameras these days are 8 megapixels and higher. Most people shoot either high quality JPEG or RAW, which means that though creating pictures with a digital camera is free, storing those pictures can be an entirely different matter.

Before we get into the nitty gritty - lets just look at size.

bytes are small
1 kilobyte is 1000 bytes
1 megabyte is 1000 kilobytes
1 gigabyte is 1000 megabytes
1 terabyte is 1000 gigabytes (I measure things in terabytes)
1 petabyte is 1000 terabytes
1 exabyte is 1000 petabytes
1 zettabye is 1000 exabytes
1 yottabyte is 1000 zettabytes

Each year I have to buy more hard drives. At the rate that I am currently consuming storage space, I estimate that by the end of my career as a photographer (assuming camera resolutions don't go any higher - Ha -) I will generate about 12.5 terabytes of photos that don't suck so horrifically that I delete them immediately. (I estimate I keep about 250gb of photos every year and that I'll be shooting in some capacity for about 50 years).

At today's market prices, I'd have to spend $1300 for enough hard drives to hold all those pictures. In the photography industry, where "pro" cameras seldom cost less than $5000 and similar quality lenses often cost even more, a mere 1300 clams doesn't seem too bad. As it turns out, over the next 50 years storage space will continually get cheaper and cheaper. In the end, I'll end up buying fewer and fewer hard drives, each one having larger and larger capacities until eventually 50TB drives will allow me to store an entire life's worth of photography on one hard drive.

Until then, however, I've managed to come up with a whole bunch of hard drives with smaller capacities. Specifically - 10 Terabytes worth of hard drives, each one 250gb.

Above: In the bottom right corner is a power strip. Next to it is a powered USB hub. Directly above that  is a 500gb drive I use as a Time Machine backup, and above that is a 750gb drive that backs up only my photos. On the far right is a box containing 10TB of hard drives. In the middle is a magic black box that allows me to hot-swap those 250 SATA drives.
Through a friend (who will go un-named lest my faithful readers bombard him with requests for hard drives) I managed to get these hard drives for FREE. As I understand it they are no longer compatible with new (much larger) server racks. Thus, they are mine. In addition to being quite heavy, they take up a lot of space. Enter: the ottoman thingy.

It comfortably holds all my hard drives, the USB hub and the power supply for all of the above. Don't worry - it remains open (while in use) and extremely well ventilated (courtesy of a fan) to ensure my precious hard drives remain cool.

Next up on my list is a fireproof, waterproof, idiotproof box that can hold backups of my stuff in case the house burns down.

Now I can comfortable store all the data I can create (and then some) for the next few years.
In addition, I expect having the magic black box (linked above) will allow me to spend less on each new hard drive I purchase - internal drives are generally cheaper than drives that come with external enclosures, cables and their own power source.

Photographers aren't the only people who should have external hard drives. If you own a computer (and presumably you do) then you should have at LEAST one external hard drive that you use to back up your data. Music, word documents, business spreadsheets, photos, movies... whatever. It isn't a question of IF your hard drive will fail, but WHEN. Having a backup will save you from the pain and suffering that usually comes with a dead hard drive.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Blogs I Read

I've finally amassed a decent sized blogroll, the contents of which I willingly share with the world. In my (oft complained about) RSS feeder I have approximately  45 blogs. Of those, very few are updated with much frequency, but between all of them I usually have 30 to 45 minutes worth of reading every morning. This ritual of reading keeps me up to date with what is happening in the photography world. Below is a list of my most-read blogs. These blogs all have great content with regularity. Many of them post daily.

To keep up with the best of photojournalism visit The Lens blog (by the NY Times)
Learn about events like Help Portrait and the Worldwide Photo Walk via Scott Kelby's blog.
Learn about off-camera flash technique on David Hobby's Strobist blog
Keep up with Joe McNally and his exploits on his blog
Watch Zack Arias' blog for his amazing Portfolio Critique's and for a great take on the creative struggle.
I religiously read Chase Jarvis' blog which has a refreshing variety of content
The tippy-top of my blogroll is Pixelated Image by David duChemin, whose writing and photography continue to help me along the path of a photographer seeking to continue to learn.

Believe it or not, I do read a couple non-famous-people blogs.
Laura Chernikoff writes a blog that includes great movie reviews - she tells you what she thought and then (much more importantly) WHY she thought that about a particular movie. Its a personal blog, so she writes a bunch of non-movie stuff too - but I go mainly for the movie reviews.
Meri Bergess writes a blog that contains her art and her struggles with it. I love her style of drawing and its great to see how other people deal with the creative life and the challenges it presents.
Simon Hucko has a great blog: [title of blog] showcasing his life as a "Lab tech by day, photographer by night."
Jay Stott posts on occasion about his adventures as a photographer, public school teacher, and all around awesome guy.

Basically, I add every decent blog that I come across to my morning blogroll. Then, if their content isn't relevant to me or I get sick of what they have to say, I delete them from the RSS reader.

Some blogs I've removed include Ken Rockwell's. In addition to a PITA RSS feed that refused to cooperate with me (to be fair, this was probably my fault), Ken has been talking a lot about shooting film and a lot about the new LEICA cameras. I'm not interested in film or Leica, so he got kicked off my list. Once upon a time a lot of his content was super relevant to me - and I still search his site for fair reviews of all equipment, Nikon and Canon.

David Ziser also got kicked off my blogroll. His site has some great business ideas (every Thursday) and wonderful photography... but all of it pertains to weddings and his wedding photography business. I don't do weddings so I don't care.

The list above contains (obviously) not all the blogs I read - but definitely some of the best. If you haven't tried any of the blogs above, I suggest you add them to your RSS reader. If you don't like them, delete them.

Don't have an RSS reader? Despite all my complaining (all due to user error) I highly recommend Google Reader. Its free and it keeps your blogroll on Google's (huge and reliable) servers - which means you can access your blogs wherever you have an internet connection. It saves a lot of clicking too - instead of keeping all the blogs you read in your browser bookmarks, just go to one site and see them all.

Along the left are the blogs I keep track of - in the center is a preview of one post (shown is PixelatedImage)

If you have any blogs you think I might enjoy, please leave a comment on this post with a link! I love learning new things and discovering new people with similar interests.
In fact, whenever you read a blog post you like, on my blog or anywhere else - please comment! Authors love comments!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Artsy fartsy

I did it. I took pictures with no people in them.
What's more, I actually like these pictures.

I've been feeling really uninspired recently. I took a chance yesterday and experimented with no real goal in mind. I hit up the local thrift store (Savers) and purchased some totally random stuff to make pictures with. Props, if you will. I could just as easily have used stuff sitting around the house, but I was pretty sure I was going to destroy whatever I played with. I've been like that since I was a little kid - I like destroying stuff!

Here you are - my take on "Fine Art"... whatever that means. (as usual click to enlarge)

These are my top picks, but I posted a few more on Flickr

My main weapons were water and used motor oil. I purchased a couple vases, a platter and a bowl/pan. For a subject I chose fake flowers. Basically my theory was: mix - photograph - repeat.
Because I knew I was going to be making a mess, I decided to do these outside. Luckily for me Boulder still has plenty of snow hanging around and yesterday was wonderfully overcast, so my lighting was coming from every direction. If I had been in a studio I couldn't have gotten more perfect light.

I shot everything at F/8 on my fixed 50mm lens. I ended up at ISO 400 and about 1/250 sec. I could have gone faster... used an aperture like F/5.6 which probably would have worked great... but I didn't.

The inspiration came mainly from two sources.
1) On the TV show NCIS - a character called Abby displays art in her lab made from really abstract photos of molucules, blood spatter, whatever. I tried to find a few examples via Google - but didn't come up with anything.
2) Dixon Hamby [link] who posted this picture on Twitter the other day which is what motivated me to use oil.

Anyway. That's that. Have a great Monday (I know, its hard).

Saturday, January 2, 2010

New Year - Welcome to 2010

Here I sit, listening to the AVATAR soundtrack, pondering about what the coming year will hold for me. My guess is it will be a bunch more of pretty much the same stuff as the last year. College, photography, learning, playing and experimenting.

I've never been one for new years resolutions... though I am quite proud of all the companies that are gearing their advertisements towards those who do. I watched commercials by Honey Nut Cheerios and Slim Fast last night that were aimed solely at people who are making new years resolutions to lose weight.

If I were to make new years resolutions, they would all be photography-related. What I really want to do is focus on keeping photography fun. When I left Flagstaff at the end of the fall semester, I was seriously burned out because I wasn't having fun with photography any more. I think I need to loosen up and spend a quarter of every sporting event messing around, experimenting and having fun. If I can do that, I'll be happier, my photographs will be better and life will generally be better.

At least, I hope so.

Anyway, I spent some time yesterday looking through all my photos fro the last year. I put together a compilation of my favorite 101 photographs from 2009. They can be found (just like every decent picture i've taken since 2005) on

May you never waiver in your resolutions and may your photographs be awesome!

Friday, January 1, 2010

New month - New background

It looks again as though another month has passed by.

As such, I humbly offer you the image that will be my desktop background during January, taken in my front yard in Boulder, CO.

No calendar this month. I got a bit bored with that. Instead, I point the mac-using crowd to an application called Dateline, a program that displays a calendar on your desktop and links to iCal. I find it extremely useful.

I'll spend some time today going through my photos from 2009 and picking my best images. I'll make sure to post a link here when I've uploaded them somewhere.

Whatever thoughts I have (if any) on the end of 2009 and the beginning of a whole new decade will come later.