Monthly Archive: December 2008

train graffiti

train graffiti

Originally uploaded by kaiyen

I have been doing a lot of photography of graffiti lately. A lot of it is for my alleyways project, but sometimes there is just something about it that draws me in.

This 5×7 negative is so detailed you can see the texture of the metal on the side of the train freight car right on the negative. I increased the contrast quite a bit in an attempt to put some more punch to it, but hopefully it works out.

I also enjoy that this is a formal sign, saying that the car is leased to the Union train line, yet is also tagged with a particular graffiti artist’s work.

And suddenly I was a 14 year old fanboy

On Christmas Eve, while walking around San Francisco by the Westfield Center at Powell and Market, my wife suddenly pointed at someone who had just walked by us and said “Allan! That’s…the person…you know…the nurse from TV!”

Now, I watch a lot of TV. But there aren’t many medical shows that I watch, which meant ER. And if it was a nurse, that meant Linda Cardellini (wikipedia link, too), who plays Samantha Taggert (and was also great in Freaks and Geeks back in the day).

Suddenly, in a flash, I was 14 years old. I was jogging back to see if it really was her. As she and presumably her family struggled through one of the dumb “hinged in the middle” doors at the shopping center, I moved through another, conveniently turned to my right and verified that it was her.

Now, lest anyone think I turned 100% into a 14 year old and/or a crazed fan, I realized that she was doing some last minute shopping with people that I could only presume were her family (she’s originally from this area), so I just kept going, exited the building, and walked back towards my wife and in-laws.

I am not one to get caught up in seeing “famous” people.  I had a very calm and collected conversation with Dave Matthews while on the main floor of the Oakland Arena back in 1998 (Halloween show that year, approaching their peak performance level as a band).  I have hung out at the Fillmore Theater after shows with artists.  I also haven’t met that many people from TV, music, movies, etc, either, but am not usually one to go all gah-gah over such occasions.

But that was fun and kind of cool, I have to admit.  I really thought she was a great addition to the cast of ER (and I have watched every season of that so I am rather committed to the show).  And yes, I felt like a 14 year old fanboy.

The only saving grace was that I was wise enough to let it alone and not turn into a crazed fan when she was probably with her parents doing xmas shopping…

Possibly exciting new web creation tool

While listening to the podcast for This Week in Photography, the hosts mentioned a new flash-based product called ShowItSites.  This is a flash app, that builds flash web sites.  I have only done a very fast fly-by but it looks really exciting and I certainly am thinking about rebuilding my photography site with it.  But it’s pretty cool anyway…

train tracks

train tracks

Originally uploaded by kaiyen

I have finally been able to scan some of my large format – 5×7 – negatives of late, as whole, single-pass scans, rather than trying to merge two partials together. This is of course a crop, as there was a lot of useless dirt material in the foreground. And I went with a very heavy hand on contrast. But I really like the two lines converging together and the detail in the 100% image – which is 2GB, btw – is incredible. 5×7 truly is a great format, and I fully intend to put together a show at some point where it’s all contact prints of 5×7’s and/or straight slides. I just got a box of 5×7 slides and I intend to go out tomorrow for some shooting. I am very excited.

Photography has become fun for me again, and that means a lot.

Wedding photography is serious business

Let me qualify this post by saying that I am not bashing those that are trying to get started in wedding photography, I realize that many are “sucked in” by friends and family and get in over their heads, and that I know that wedding photography is hard.  

But, I was one of those “getting started” photographers not too long ago, and I think I went about it in a very serious manner.  I did not do anything until I had my lighting and techniques down, and took every opportunity to learn more and more so that the next wedding would be that much better.  But I didn’t let up on any of the first ones, either.  

Recently, I helped a coworker who got married back in June. She knows that I do wedding photography and asked if I could help with some of the photos.  I usually would not go editing someone else’s shots but she said that she and her husband were so upset by them that they have not given any to their parents and really wanted to give a frame or two of images.  

When I did even some rudimentary work on them in Adobe Lightroom, she started crying.  Just color correction and some exposure, but she was crying.  I’m just trying to give you an idea of the situation.

Now, you have to be, in my opinion, a good photographer with a good sense of timing and quick composition to be a good wedding photographer.  But you also need to know equipment and lighting.  The usual maxim in photography is that equipment does not matter.  Well, with wedding photography, it kind of does.  You must have backup cameras, a full spread of lenses, and you need to know how to use flash and artificial lights.  Perhaps not a full blown set of off-camera flashes, but you need to know how to use your stuff, period.

Well, some of these photos were taken at ISO 1600, which is not an ideal setting since you get a lot more noise.  It also wasn’t really appropriate since they were situations where artificial lighting seemed like it would have been okay (ie – not during the actual ceremony, etc).  Also, even at ISO 1600 the shutter speed wasn’t fast enough – there are blurred formal photos.  Of all photos, set-up formal ones should not be blurry.

And, as far as I can tell, almost no flash was used.  Flash is so critical unless you’re shooting with the very latest set of full-frame digitals which can get away with ridiculous ISO settings.  

I really mean no disrespect to this photographer – I don’t even know his or her name.  But the bride cried, in front of me, in my office here at my day job.  A wedding is an important day, an emotional day, and one which, as a photographer, you need to be ready for and must have nerves of steel.

Technology is everywhere, and nowhere

I just came out of a meeting where the various deans at the School of Law met with directors of some of our major centers (Global Law, High Tech, and Social Justice) to talk about how the centers and the school might work better together.   It was a lively discussion, with contributions from just about everyone.

I did not say a word.

Why?  Well…because, when it comes to technology, it is everywhere and nowhere at the same time.  Just about anything that anyone wants to do – connect with alumni, improve the learning experience, etc – can use technology.  And when I say technology, my job is to make sure that we’re doing technology the “right way.”  Not just throwing it out there, not just spend ing money on something that we think will work.  But putting a solution together that adds the most value.  That is compelling.  I define “technology” very broadly, from whiteboards to computers to smart boards to walls to…you get the idea.  Instructional technology, servers, e-mail, collaboration tools.  Technology, and my department’s area of jurisdiction, if you will, is very broad.

So, unless I am raising my hand for every sentence, I keep my mouth shut the whole time.  

Weird experience.  

ps – if I had felt technology was ignored or undervalued by any of the people in the room, that’s a different story.  But I think my colleagues all have a good understanding of what my department does, and where I do and do not fit in.  Just to be clear.

(Camera) Format Wars

One of the most popular and perhaps famous camera formats out there is 6×17. This is medium format film, which is 6cm tall that is shot in a really wide camera and a big lens, producing a 17cm wide image. Nor surprisingly, it’s very panoramic in appearance. Many famous photographers have used cameras that shoot specifically in this format. Thomas Mangelsen, whose photos adorn our walls at our apartment, is the first that comes to mind.

Most of these cameras come in at a minimum of $1500. And that’s for a chinese company (Fotoman) – the “name brands” are thousands more.

I wonder if there is something about shooting a camera that is a particular format that makes one compose differently.  Would I compose a specific way, looking through a viewfinder on a 6×17 camera than if I were looking through one with a much bigger frame and trying to imagine cropping?

Recently, I found a homemade 6×17 camera that looks very intriguing.

credit the guy who made this - image basically taken off ebay

In case you read this after the ebay link goes away, essentially it’s a 6×6 camera (common format) that has been cut in half and expanded, an enlarger bellows (the expanding part which allows the lens to move back and forth for focusing) and a large format lens.  It’s a real frankenstein’s monster of a camera, to say the least. And as of right now it’s a “steal” at $400 compared to those other ones, and the examples the seller gives indicates this camera can do some nice stuff.

Now comes the dilemma.


Review: Death Valley Nocturnes Workshop, November 2008

In November 2008, a little over a month ago, I attended a workshop held by The Nocturnes, a group of photographers that specialize essentially in night-time photography.  They generally go without any or very little truck by moonlightartificial light such as street lights, cars, etc, though a Nocturne will use flashlights and other tools to add to an image in some cases.  There are lots of examples of ultra-long exposure shots (4 hours is the longest I’ve seen, 1 hour is the longest I’ve done).  They have a flickr group as well, and a pretty useful discussion forum.  Nocturnes tend to be pretty intense – many shoot only this type of photography, and they have developed calculators for correcting for these long exposures, etc.  Many shoot enough to just know how long to expose for, just based on experience.

The workshop I attended was from November 8-10, when the moon was getting to full (76% when we arrived, 92% when we finished).  We were at the Furnace Creek Ranch, one of only two real places to stay in Death Valley, the whole time, they though we worked several locations, including the Furnace Creek Inn, Zabriskie Point, Badwater Basin, andthe abandoned town of Rhyolite just over the border in Nevada in addition to the ranch itself. The workshop was led by Tim Baskerville, a Nocturne veteran (one of the first) and a great guy.

Overall, I give this workshop an experience a very positive score.  It was a small group – 6 of us – and we shared some good tips and comraderie.  Not as much as I would hope among all 6, but, in addition to the one good friend and one acquaintance I already knew, I can think of at least one other person with whom I spoke and interacted quite a bit.  So that’s not bad.  And I did get a lot out of it.  Working with the light, understanding how working in just moonlight vs. a mixed lighting situation vs. daylight was very different, and I became more comfortable with the uncertainty of this type of photography.  But also the wonders of the results.

The full flickr set of my photos is online.  I will admit that I messed up a lot of the color exposures, though the black and white turned out better.

Read on for more comments


One never has enough resources, but that doesn’t hurt any less

I know that every manager faces the issue of not enough resources.  I can’t think of anyone I know that has enough or too much, certainly.  There’s always one project that one wishes can be done, but can’t due to budget, resources, etc.

But that doesn’t make it hurt any less.  We operate basically with one person-per-area, which means almost no redundancy.  It’s a small staff so once we try to build staff redundancy everyone is doing 3 jobs.  I’ve done what I can to reduce the issues – we’ve taken all of our servers virtual, we’ve been pushing the use of students to get more and more everyday work done, etc.  But some things require full timers, and when all hell breaks loose, like it did yesterday (and bleeding into today), that means someone stays for 40 straight hours getting servers back up and running.

I know this.  I know we could use more resources.  I know that there are not any additional resources to be had.  But that doesn’t mean I can sit here and not be immensely bothered by it.