Sunday, February 28, 2010

Surfs up!

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After the recent storms blew past SoCal, the local weatherman forecasted 8-10 foot waves for Sunday. I grabbed my camera gear and headed out to the beach with my brother. With his recent interest into dslr photography, I wanted to give him a taste of the exhilarating world of sports photography. We first checked out The Wedge. It is a world renowned local surf spot which body boarders and body surfers flock to. During winter storm seasons, that small little stretch of sand can produce monster waves up to 20 feet high. When I got there I was expecting huge crowds gathered to watch the body surfers. What I found was an empty beach with nonexistent waves. There was nothing going on at The Wedge.

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Disappointed, my brother and I got back into my car and drove up north towards Huntington Beach Pier. When we got out onto the beach, I did not see 8-10 foot waves. No. What I saw were 10-15 foot waves! They were massive. They pounded the beach with endless fury and white water. However as we made our way along the boardwalk towards the pier, I noticed that the water was deserted. Not one surfer was to be found. How odd!

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I would have thought that the surfers would be out in huge numbers for wave conditions like this. I wondered if the lifeguards had closed the beach because of the dangerous rip currents. We wandered onto the pier and as we walked towards the end, we finally spotted a few brave surfers bobbing out in the water.

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As I took out my camera, I immediately discovered some problems with today's photo shoot. The light was all wrong. The surfers were located on the south side of the pier. The sun was behind them creating back lighting. Most of the time the surfers were facing away from me and the few times that they actually looked towards the camera, their faces where always hidden in deep shadows. What made the exposure even more frustrating was that they were black colored subjects (due to their wet suits) surrounded by white wash. All the white wash around them threw off the camera's calculations for proper exposure which made the surfers even darker in the final image. I felt like it was such a waste (photographically) of some of the best surf conditions I have seen. The only other possible solution was to come back at sunset when the sun would be positioned north of the surfers and give me direct light on the subjects. However, I already agreed to family plans this afternoon. Ah well. I had to make due with what I was given.

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My Canon 7D held up very well under the tough shooting conditions. With its blazing 8 frames per second shooting speed, I ripped through 12 gigs of memory cards in less than 2 hours. I shot over 1500 frames. In the end, I have only these 15 shots to present to you guys. The vast majority were deleted because the lighting and exposure resulted in unusable images. For these 15 shots, I was able to play around in photoshop to adjust the exposure a bit and get some details out of it.

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I have posted some of my prior surfing shots on various internet sports photography forums. I have been given feedback that I need to show more of the wave in my shots to capture more of the surrounding scenery. Also shooting down from the pier can give an awkward angle on the subject. If I shot from the beach level (which is what others have suggested), I would not have been able to see the surfers due to the high waves which were rolling into the shore. Plus they were so far out that their images would have been quite small. I chose to shoot from the pier so that I can get in as tight as possible with the surfers. I want to see their faces and capture their expressions as they struggle with the physical effort of their sport. I want to see the water droplets flying off their faces as the moment is frozen in time. To me that is where the beauty of sports photography lies.

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Standing their watching these huge waves come rolling in, I can actually feel the pier vibrating a bit as the waves crashed into the piers' pylons. As an ex body surfer, I have tremendous respect and a healthy dose of fear of the ocean. I remember feeling it's incredible power as a wave picked me up, slammed me into the ocean floor, and tossed my body around like a rag doll in a washing machine. I cannot image what it must be like to eat it on waves this massive...this powerful. The surfers seemed to stay underwater for a long time after they crash before their heads eventually popped back up in the white water. Back on their boards they scrambled to wait for the next perfect wave to come in.

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Monday, February 22, 2010

NYMC Reunion

Back during my 2nd year of medical school, I became good friends with 3 other guys who also came from orange county, California. We decided to share an apartment together. Even though we worked really hard and studied our asses off, we still had a lot of fun together. We have kept in touch ever since graduating school and make it a point to meet up for a BBQ once or twice a year. Everyone is married now and has kids. It seems like every time we have a get together, there is a new addition to our extended family. Between the 4 families, we have 9 little kids running around. It seems like each get together gets louder and louder with all the kids running and playing together. It is quite cute to see them all bonding. Of course there were some fights over toys as some of the kids ( Ethan in particular ) is still working on learning how to share. Hahaha.

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Here is a shot of Sandy and Noah, our latest addition. People have asked me how come I have not taken many pictures of him. For awhile now, he has had pretty bad eczema on his face. He constantly itches and scratches at it. His face will turn red and he use to excoriate his face to the point where he bleeds. It was all quite a mess. Recently, we have been able to better control his eczema so I have been waiting for his face to improve before I started taking some pics.

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Here's Ethan and his buddy Mathew. Ethan is almost 1 year older than Mathew but because he is actually below the entire growth curve for his age; he is actually smaller than Mathew. Everybody thinks Ethan is so cute because he talks so much for such a little guy. I think the difference in size will be quite noticeable once he starts preschool. He has a lot of catching up to do. Here, I wanted to get a shot of them together. I hope their friendship continues to grow as they get bigger. I made this a B&W shot to give it a classic look. It would be so cool if in the future when they were older they can look back at this cute shot.

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A rare shot of yours truly. I'm usually the one behind the camera. Haha. I have to thank Kimmy for taking this shot actually.

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Here is Audrey and Megan playing with the tricycles. Megan had 2 little girls at the party to play with which was quite a treat for her. They immediately bonded and went off to play tea party follow by pajama party. She was quite upset when it was time for them to go home.

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This shot was taken with ambient light but it was heavily back lit. I played around with the shot in photoshop to improve the exposure on Megan. I like to take candid shots, but I'll tell ya. Taking candid shots of kids indoors with natural light is tough. They just don't sit still and look at the camera. Plus you often don't have enough light to freeze the motion. You can remedy this situation by using flash, but I'm just not a big fan of flash photography. Perhaps if I practice more on using flash properly, I could get better results.

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I know. I know. I take a lot of head shot portraits. I think it comes from my training as a wildlife photographer using telephoto lenses all the time. I always liked how it brings the viewer into the photo and creates an intimacy with the subject. However, I do need to work on backing off and getting more of the surroundings and interactions into the composition. Habits are hard to break. Btw this is the older Mathew who is Brian and Julie's eldest son. I can't believe how tall he is getting now.

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Good ole Tom. Our lives have changed quite a bit since sharing that apartment in medical school, but Tom will always be "Tom." Btw, I like your glasses. :P

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This is Audrey. She is Charles and Sandy's eldest daughter. She will be starting 1st grade in the fall which is quite a moment for her and her family. She came by to visit her daddy while we were playing a board game. This shot was taken under fluorescent lighting which gives it a harsh yellow color tone. There are ways around this. You can shoot in raw format and then white balance it in adobe bridge. You can calibrate your camera to automatically white balance all shots under this particular lighting. Or you can use flash. All of these options require forethought and preparation but I was too lazy to do any of them. I did my best in photoshop to minimize the yellows and reds.

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When we get together the 4 guys enjoy playing a strategy board game called Settlers of Catan. It is a game that we were randomly first exposed to during medical school. It is now a tradition for us. Much like old Chinese men playing majong, for us its Settlers of Catan. Here Tom the master strategist is carefully contemplating his next move. Again this shot was taken under yucky fluorescent lighting. There was a lot of red color in the skin tones so I added some cyan to help neutralize it a bit and cool off the picture. I went for a super close up shot on this one so that you can almost hearing him thinking.

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Here is Brian teaching his youngest child, Nathan how to play the game. Nathan showed surprising understanding of the game considering his age. To quote Yoda, "The force is strong in this one..."

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Mathew kept busy by playing this game on Tom's iphone. I forgot the name but it was one of the apps. You basically have to move these blocks and get the red one to exit the screen. It looks simple but is quite complicated actually. I couldn't even do one of the puzzles but I think Mathew got up to the high 20s.

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Last shot of Noah and Kimmy watching the fish tank. Noah loves watching the fish swim around. Whenever he is having a tantrum, I will take him over and sit him down in front of the fish tank. He is fascinated with the colorful fish swimming around and eventually calms down. Watching the fish also helps to bring my blood pressure down too. LOL. I wish I had more shots of the ladies and all the kids. It was just too hard trying to host the party and keep an eye out for all the kids running around. Noah was also cranky so Sandy and I had to take turns holding him. Hopefully when he is older and needs less hands on attention, I can focus more on my photography at special events like this.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Pimp my ride!

I did a photo shoot today for my brother. If anyone knows my brother Richard, then you know how obsessive he is about his car. He has spent many years tinkering with it and a lot of money to pimp out his little "rice-rocket." Consider the extremes of what some "rice-boys" go to in order to mod their car, I think my brother did a very nice job on his. I found his modifications tasteful and cohesive. Today, I wanted to give him photographs that capture the beauty of his work. After the recent rain storms had passed, we had some really beautiful light today too.

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My first car was actually a Corolla too, ironically. It was a hand me down from my mom which I used to putter around town when I went to college. I remember that it was bronze colored with skinny little wheels that skidded if I took a corner too fast. I actually had to turn off the air conditioning if I was trying to accelerate onto the freeway in order to conserve power. My brother's Corolla is nothing like that.

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Our photo shoot started at 7am in Upper Newport Backbay. There is a parking lot right by the water. In the morning, the sun lights up the water and surrounding hillside with golden hues.

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These are my brother's custom built lights. He actually took apart his own lights and sent them to some guy in NYC to modify. I believe they are Xenon lights.

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After shooting at Backbay, we explored a forgotten parking lot on the grounds of the Balboa Insurance Company. By that time the sun and fully come up and the light was way too strong. We took some test shots near a grassy knoll and also in a parking structure nearby. We later came back at sunset to finish the photo shoot.

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This shot was taken right after sunset. I pushed the contrast in post processing in order to give it this look. This helped to give the car surface it's shine. This pic below is my favorite from today. I used my Canon 70-200mm f4 IS lens for this shot. I had to back up way the heck across the parking lot in order to shoot fully zoomed out at the 200mm focal length. I love using telephoto lenses for this type of shooting because it helps to compress the view.

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This shot was taken with my Tamron 17-50mm f2.8 lens. I actually think my brother took this shot. We were trying to get some "cityscape" shots with sky rises in the background. I let him borrow my Canon 20D to play around with during the photo shoot. I gave him a few tips, dialed in the camera settings and then let him have at it. Judging by this shot, I think he's a natural. I really like the framing on this shot.

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I've seen a lot of car photographers take this "half a car shot" from the front. I tried to capture some of the luminance from his Xenon head lights.

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Here's another shot from my Tamron 17-50mm f2.8 lens. I tried to work the angles for this shot. Wide angle lenses are fun to play with because they distort and bend the viewing angle.

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We found an empty parking garage level to shoot in nearby. There was a glass building right next to the parking garage which acted like a big reflector. We got some nice side lighting from this location. This helped to highlight the cars' metallic rims.

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In the morning, I forgot to bring my step ladder to the photo shoot. Instead I had to make due with this wood stump that fenced in the parking lot. I climbed up on top of the wood stump in order to get a higher angle on this shot.

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More side lighting in the parking garage. It gave the sides of the car a metallic shininess.

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Daytime cityscape shot.

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I wasn't happy with this night time long exposure cityscape shot. This was a 10 second exposure. We had trouble finding an area with an unobstructed view of the sky rises. I either had a light post or tree in my shot that I didn't like. I also had a problem with differences in exposure for the sky rises and the car itself. The sky rises were dark and the car had a bit of light from the light posts in the parking lot. So when I did a long exposure to bring out the colors in the sky and buildings, I would also get an overexposed car. I need to work on this technique. Ah well, this was my 1st attempt at this type of photography. I think I got pretty decent results considering.

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