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Cuba-Mark Return Post

Cuba-Mark Return Post, originally uploaded by @lifebypixels.

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Well I've now been back in the USA for a few hours after spending one week in Cuba. I can't begin to describe the experience and do it justice in a brief post so you can expect a wide, differing, series of posts to come via Flickr and my blog over the coming weeks and months. Many of you know I have traveled all over the world, and Cuba was very unique and special. In many ways it was like nothing I assumed and much like many places in Europe I've visited. In other ways, it was like no where I had ever been and nothing like anywhere I had ever seen. Part of that was because of the people there. Because both the local people in Cuba and the people I traveled with made a huge impression on me. I was honored to be invited to travel with such amazingly talented individuals. Once I'm back at my normal work space (currently sitting in a Holiday Inn at Miami beach) I will give the proper credits/links to each person. But attending with the brilliant minds of people from the tech industry, the journalism field, academia, and more opened my eyes to how so many of us see the world differently through our cameras. My skills matured in the past 7 days more so than it has in years. I was challenged and the end result was over 3000+ images, many miles walked, new friendships made, trusts grown, and a new respect for humanity that was fortified daily. I can't thank David "Strobist" Hobby enough for his advice and support throughout the trip, and especially the support of my friends from Google who really made this happen for me.

I look forward to sharing more of the stories and images over the future, but for now here is the north view from my hotel over Havana, Cuba and me visiting a local family home shooting my reflection in the mirror of their living room.

All the best everyone!


Sara Joyner VI (thought musing)

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So I here I am wide awake, and in only a few hours I'll be getting on a plane to go take photographs in a place I've dreamed of taking pictures my whole life, Cuba. And yet, I sit here knowing that I could squeeze in one more bit of processing. Some extra work in the digital darkroom. Plus, I'm excited as hell to go, and working always calms my nerves.

But I digress, if you saw the other shots of Sara, you'll realize she's a great subject. And for this shot, the credit should definitely go to her for the concept. We were about to leave this scene/setup when she said "ok, but we should come back to it because I think sitting down and getting in the dirt could look good too". If there is something I've learned over the years, it's to listen to your subject. If they have an idea you need to honor it. Good or bad. If it's great, then you've empowered them and boosted their confidence, if it's not then you've fortified why they are working with you in the first place. Either way, it's a win-win. In this case, Sara rocked it. It was a great idea, and she emoted so well when she got down into scene. Honestly I sort of wish we had turned the hose on and just got it a little muddy and her hair wet like she was out in a rainstorm. That would have looked spectacular. But we had some other set shots to be done, so we will in fact, come back to this one...one day.

Shot with a large parabolic using a Nikon SB800 triggered by my SU800 commander. A low power SB800 was snooted to camera right firing down towards her face and window to reduce shadows and create some luminance around her and the glass. Post processing in photoshop involved a technique I call "crushing the blacks". It's not new, it is just what I call it. But it's a process of reducing contrasts and in essence flattening the image in specific zones. Then, you can control how/where you put those bits of contrast back in more selectively This essentially paints in contrast in more dynamic ways and allows me to offset those controls with variance of saturation and tinting in shadows and highlighting.

Thanks Sara for the great idea, and I can't wait to share more from this shoot. Now I better finish packing for Cuba!


(Sara Joyner III (welcoming exit)

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On the property we were shooting was an old unused aviary/greenhouse. The cyan blue paint was so striking. Initially the problem was that the large parabolic umbrella was lighting her great from the front, but as a brunette the space inside the aviary was pitch black. I was losing her hair and other small details into the darkness. It didn't look right. So instead of trying to key her hair with a snoot, I decided we should light the inside of the aviary/greenhouse. Once I saw the separation from the background getting created, one of my crew suggested we gel the flash. I went with a CTO and we experimented with which part of the interior to bounce it off so it looked natural versus a forced keylight. Something I learned from a Gregory Heisler talk was thinking about staging light in assumable ways to the scene. It worked great for me here. Eventually we did away with the gel altogether to create a more creepy cold effect with the white balance turned down.

So outside is a large parabolic with an SB800, inside is a hand-held SB800 open and set wide. My friend Mike as the V.A.L. The interior light is gelled, the exterior is not. The shot is taken with my D7000 using a Sigma 70-200 f2.8 and the SU800 commander on top to fire wirelessly.

The real beauty was that there was a really good bottle of whiskey left on the grounds that we added to the shot to make it more story-centric visually.


Double Shot with Hops

Double Shot with Hops, originally uploaded by @lifebypixels.

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So mommy had her own photoshoot to go do the other day. We were going to go to the park with her, but things were running late. For any of you that don't have children you should learn early that schedules and staying on time are imperative to maintaining your sanity. Dinner time, nap time, reading time, all of it. Get it on lock, and stay on target. So, when mommy's session was going to start an hour late and well into dinner time we went on our own adventure to a nearby park. We had our picnic pack, some toys, and a sense of adventure in our bones. Fiona suddenly realized that she could pick up sticks, which meant pretending to be Bumblebee Boy's character from her favorite book series, Lady bug Girl. If you have children under 5, buy the books, they'll love them! In the book that introduces BB, he has a stick which he uses as his "stinger". Fiona saw sticks everywhere, and immediately made the connection. So, we explored the park finding monsters she could save us from.

This, led to a tree in the back of the park. A nice old tree with no real leaves yet since winter. Fiona said it was "a monster that wanted to grab us". But, she was going to protect us, because she had the stinger. My friend Sam brought his Canon MKII with a 24-70mm lens. I asked if I could use it, he agreed. I asked Fiona what she could do to save us and she said "I'm going to jump up and sting this tree monster!". I giggled inside, but played along. "Thank you Super Fiona, please don't let it get us". Then, as if she had ACTUALLY found a super power I watched my 3 year old daughter jump like she was in the NBA. It was unbelievable, and I swear to you there is no photoshop in her leap distance in this shot, it's all her! I was in awe, and she was so proud of herself when she realized that not only had she reached the tree, but she gave it a good whack.

Shortly after this we packed up the picnic basket, rattled off some pics of her brother playing around, and we all headed home a little dirty and tired. It was a great afternoon.


Luminaria Red

Luminaria Red, originally uploaded by @lifebypixels.

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Just recently my wife and I took our kids to a traveling exhibit here in Austin, Texas. I really didn't know what we were getting into but other parents told us that it was an amazing experience and children loved it. Ok, if enough people have that consensus I'll bite and go check it out. We were not disappointed.

From the Architects Of Air, The Luminaria is an art installation that explores light, color, shape, and form. It's inspired by stained glass, science, and experience design. It's a wonderful piece, and you live inside of it for the twenty minutes your permitted to be in there.

Recently I've mentioned that I picked up a small point and shoot camera. The Canon G15, and it's a great little unit. Because this place was so packed, and kids would be running around, especially my own, I wanted to be able to pay attention to what was going on. This means my photography itch takes a second fiddle to my parental priorities. The G15 has proven to be the perfect bridge for this.

This space was EXTREMELY dark, and had very little white light. Mostly colored sections within abstract forms. My daughter Fiona sat down in this one end-cap that was all red. The light searing through a small strip of fabric. She looked amazing in it, and she's so expressive that her expressions just popped when she sat next to the light source. So again I quickly pulled the G15 out of my pocket, and began shooting.

Afterward the shot came out capturing what I had hoped. Sure there could always be technical things you'd want to do more of, but then she wouldn't have been smiling like this, and gesturing the moment in this way. No, this was fun and perfect, just the way photography should be...when it can be.



Leaves, originally uploaded by @lifebypixels.

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From a hike on the coast of the big island, Hawaii. We were at Captain Cook's beach when I wandered off into the banyan trees. The leaves were everywhere, dropped for winter presumably, you couldn't feel the ground. It was more like walking on a home made trampoline that was crunchy in it's soundscape. The waves were crashing behind me in the distance, and I realized that this magnetic pull had drove me farther up into the growth than what was probably safe. I felt fleas eating my ankles and calves. This happens a lot when I am out exploring rather than out shooting with an intent or direction. I just feel something pulling in one direction or another, and I've learned to trust it...to a point. But then my inner safety guide stops me, and I start looking around for my options.

This time, I had gone too far, I turned around and realized that heading back the same way would most likely result in slipping on the dried leaves and falling down the hill. I decided to go laterally around the hill till I reached a point that was about 15' above the beach below. There were roots growing down that I could climb down. Maybe this would be a good spot? A safe place to get back on to the beach, then I'll walk back around from there. My lens-cap fell of my lens in that moment. It bounced down to the beach. I leaned over to look and try and see it. The eye-cup on my view-finder suddenly fell off next. "Ok, I got it. You want me to go this way". I found myself saying in my head.

As I turned around, surrounded by audible and visual noise of all this texture beneath me. I was carefully choosing which roots might support my mass, I saw something aesthetically pleasing. The light in this late afternoon causing all edges to be harshly contrasted, and aggressively defined. I saw a line of rocks breaking through the dead amber foliage. For no reason could I explain why this made me feel calm, but there was something about it that was peaceful, relaxing. I thought about Jay Maisel and his talks about texture, color, gesture. I saw it here. There was a gesture, the line of the rocks, the light fighting and forming the shadows. The colors and the texture, it just seemed to be in harmony with each other in that exact moment the light was hitting it. So without an eye-cup, nor a lens-cap on my camera. It suddenly dawned on me.

"I'm supposed to take this picture".

Now is this the best picture I've ever taken. "No". But even now when I look at it, there was a moment that all parts leading to the nice felt orchestrated and conducted. Even my lens was exposed and my camera ready to go. So I shot it, a healthy reminder that sometimes the world expresses itself to you versus you trying to express what you see in the world.


Canon G15 Test: Low-Light

Canon G15 Test: Low-Light, originally uploaded by @lifebypixels.

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Well I finally got my Canon G15 and I've been using it for about a month and a half now. I wanted a camera that was smaller than a DSLR that I could keep with me for spontaneous inspiration and street photography. I had shot with previous versions of the Canon G-series point and shoot bodies and was always a fan. This was a tough choice though, people were suggesting the Sony RX100 as it's price point was very similar and the quality is spectacular. So a few things drew me closer to the G15. Now sure, I own a smartphone, and it's true I could use that for spontaneous photography, and I do. But the shutter button response time, the resolution, the transferring of files. It's not quite there for me as a photographer, but I definitely use it for exploring and research. Mostly, my phone is for taking pics of my kids, my friends, and occasionally my meals. ;)

First, they had gone back to the original focusing system, it was much faster back in the G8 days and it had a much shorter distance for focusing. You can get this thing about 1" off of your subject, and in macro mode get unbelievable details. I love that! Trying to see the innerverse of our day to day lives is a great way to use a camera for inspiration. Textures, creatures, and more that you wouldn't normally see.

So another reason I wanted the camera was because I go to a lot of local shows. Music shows that is. I was a gigging musician for over fifteen years, and I have a lot of friends who are still in bands I like to go support. Taking my DSLR out when they want me to get shots of them is a given, but some nights the lighting looks cool, and I just want to capture that thing that I'm seeing. The G15 is a little too thick for your jeans pocket, but it fits great in my hoody or just to wear around my neck. This shot is just one example of those moments. My friends Kevin and Nate from Horseshoes & Hand Grenades were playing at an Ice House in New Braunfels, Texas. They can be found around Austin, Texas almost any night of the week and they are a great live duo. The lighting was minimal, and it was crazy dark. Needless to say, it wasn't an ideal photography setup. So I pulled out the G15 and man did it hold up. The focusing system was locking on really fast, and these shots were taking at a high ISO (ISO500) for such a small sensor. But, the focal range on this camera is great. 14-140mm with a aperture range of f1.8-f2.8. So I had plenty of room to shoot at 1/50s f1.8 ISO500 and still nail some of the drama and detail of this smoky dark bar. The guys were moving around, and still I managed to nail some key moments of their performance. It was a nice bonus being able to take some HD Video afterward with just the flip of a switch.

So all in all, I'm very happy with this little point and shoot camera. It's under $500, gives me a wide range of usage options/controls. It has video, high res photos, editing features, and manual like controls comparable to my DSLR. For anyone looking to have fun and not get too deep into a heavy investment, this is a great choice!


Kristina and the Cuddly Octopus

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Went for a dive off the coast of Kona, Hawaii. This is my second attempt at using underwater dive gear with off camera flash. This is my father in laws old Olympus evolt 500, in an ikelight housing. I shot this with two ikelite substrobes off camera about 18" either side. Left of camera is shot at full power and the strobe off camera right was set to half power. Color correction and post work done in Photoshop.


Superhero Lincoln

Superhero Lincoln, originally uploaded by @lifebypixels.

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Well I felt the need to upload something that makes me happy. Of late I have been inundated with too many projects, etc. Work, both professional and personal, has been kicking my butt. Long hours, lots of travel, decisions on the fly, etc. But it's true that I'm not unhappy about it, better busy than bored is my philosophy. Also, I'm extremely thankful to be in a position to have such "problems".

So with all that in mind, one recent little fun side project we did was a photoshoot with my son. This was for his first birthday invitation. We're doing a superhero themed party and my wife went all out. She bought material and looked up some things online which resulted in her making this cape and bracelets. It doesn't hurt that she married a guy who grew up reading LOTS of comics as well. We went to a local park in downtown Austin, found a great angle where you could see the city skyline in the background and proceeded to play in the grass. This was just prior to him starting to crawl so it was fairly easy to manage. :)

We shot this in mid afternoon, but thankfully there was a massive tree with very wide branches and lots of foliage that offered us a great shady spot. This gave me more opportunity to dial down the exposure to get the nice blue skies and use a single barebulb flash, my nikon SB800 wide left off camera. It was about 3' to my left and firing at a level around 6" above ground. I rested it on the diaper bag. Not pro, but it works. The flash was set to a wide value so I could get plenty of fill, but firing laterally versus down insured I didn't get harsh vertical shadows and casts on the grass. I've found this compliments the shadows produced by ambient light and gives me some more flexibility when mixing light sources together.

I was super happy with how it came out, and so was my wife. Now we just have to actually throw the party.

Twitter: @lifebypixels

My Own Self

My Own Self, originally uploaded by @lifebypixels.

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Last night I was invited by two amazing local photographers, Steve Wampler and Michael Connell, to go shoot with them at a tester event here in Austin, Texas. Bella Salon and Spa was having their stylists do some test shoots to prepare for an upcoming fashion event. It was a lot of fun, and a little crazy, with all the stylists prepping models' hair and makeup. The original area to shoot in was a little confined and restricting so I decided to wander around the salon until I found a space to setup some speed lights and do my thing. We were basically taking headshots for the stylists to review their work. Steve Wampler is the king of this, he does a great job and I knew that he would capture everything that the clients wanted. So this gave me a great deal of freedom to wander off and play.

So I setup in the backroom, had a great time shooting back there, but eventually decided to move things around the shop. There are lots of fun pics coming from this night, I look forward to sharing them.

This image however, was after the gear was put aside and my friend Michael Connell @txshooter was playing in the far back area. I saw he was shooting in this area full of mirrors. Inspired by what I saw him working with I asked if I could snap a few shots and shifted the model so that she was leaning against the mirror. The split face makeup made this ideal for the concept.

So this was shot with ambient light, high-iso, and a slowish shutter. But the concept really felt like it worked out so I think I'll try this again in future.

Thanks again to Mike, Steve, and all the crew at Bella Salon and Spa. You guys were all great. Look for Mike and Steve's shots from thsi event, they are sure to be stellar!

Twitter: @lifebypixels

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