27 June, 2012

So Long, Smokey: An Explanation

Jerrit (left) and Andrew consider engine replacement plans after we dropped our unhealthy engine from the car.

So, we haven't had any luck getting our salvage engine to run right, and after swapping most bits with mostly-known-good parts, all signs pointed to issues within the engine block. We finally did a compression test and the results explained everything we've seen.

A bit of background. In a four-stroke engine, the air/fuel mixture is compressed prior to the spark plug firing. For the engine to run properly, each combustion chamber needs to maintain a certain amount of pressure during that "compression" stroke, and a compression test measures how much pressure is actually built up.

The manufacturer specifies some minimum level of pressure that the cylinder should hold. A healthy engine will be above that threshold. An unhealthy engine will be at or below the threshold. In our particular case, the minimum compression spec for our engine is 145 PSI. During the compression test, Jerrit measured a max of 120 PSI in each of the four cylinders. Suffice it to say that nearly 20% below the minimum isn't really ideal…

So if you've been reading along, you'll know that this engine smokes up a storm. Given the compression results, this makes perfect sense.

More background. The piston moves inside the cylinder, and metal piston rings form the seal between the piston and the cylinder walls. There are three rings per piston: the top two (closest to the combustion chamber) maintain compression, and the last one helps spread oil along the cylinder walls, for cooling and lubrication. In our engine, the compression rings clearly aren't doing their job. As a result, (1) we're losing compression, and (2) large quantities of oil are ending up in the combustion chamber.

Solution? Another new engine. In theory, we could do a rebuild and replace the piston rings, but this engine had a guarantee of some sort, so we're swapping it for another one. Earlier tonight, we dropped the engine out of the car, split it from the transmission, and started removing bits that we had put on it during the install. Within a week, we should have a third engine on our hands. Will it fix things? Hopefully, but only time will tell.

25 June, 2012

Woohoo! New cards!

I personally design and lay out all of my business cards. It's challenging, but it's also fun, and the process lets me inject a bit more of my personality and my aesthetics into what I do. Over the past few weeks, I've been working on a significant redesign of my cards; until this point, I've been using the same rear design that I came up with back in 2009. Man, how time flies…

This time, I wanted to focus more on the print-selling aspect of my business. As any frequent reader has undoubtedly realized, I take photos of whatever the heck piques my interest. I wanted the card to communicate that, and also to communicate the feeling that at least some of those subjects are worth hanging on a wall.

Yet the diversity of subjects makes it hard to define myself, and also makes it hard to define a target audience. So instead of defining the target as a group of people, I'm trying to think of them as individuals. They may not be "fans" of my work or anything like that, but I've shot this one picture that they love, and though they might not realize it yet, they want that print up on their wall. I mean, they've got to have it.

During this redesign, I've tried to keep that individual in mind. How do I reach that person? How do I let that person know I'm talking to him or to her, rather than just to Someone Else? Well, I went back to the basics. I know that he or she has an environment, and I know that he or she wants to be comfortable in that environment — you want to have a space that has your interests in mind, right?

So, who am I? What do I do? I sell prints of the things that people love.
Variation #1 for front: You're a kitty!
Variation #2: A blast from the past. This was the first good fire spinning photo I ever shot, from way back in 2004, and it's still one of my favorites.
Variation #3: I shot this at Ocean Beach on Christmas Day, 2009. Check out the awesome poem that I wrote!
Variation #4: I love self-portraits. I shot this one in the (blue) hood of my car. The sun was right behind my head, so that my reflection was outlined by my shadow. I've tried to reproduce this image, but haven't gotten any quite as nice as this one.

24 June, 2012

Portraits on Caturday

I was hanging out with some friends yesterday afternoon as they played boardgames prior to a night out. Of their two cats, this is the social one, Frida (after the painter).

What's true of humans also seems to hold true of cats: if you stick a camera in their face and wait awhile, they'll forget you're there. Either way, I think this is one of the best cat portraits I've ever taken, alongside "My Precious…".
Hey, it's Tina again! This time, she's playing a quick game of Innovation against our friend Brian right before a fancy dinner.
These shoes belong to Candice, and I really like them. They're a bright (but not dazzling) shade of pink, and were sitting next to a slightly darker pink bottle of nail polish.

I like how the monochrome conversion turned out — you can't really tell the color, but I think they still look pretty lustrous. There were two overriding colors of light in this shot, and I used the channel mixer to predominantly pick up the hard blue light coming from a large window at camera left. I really like how the shoes are tonally isolated from the background (which didn't pick up as much of the blue); the warmer overhead light was hitting everything pretty evenly, which made it hard to pull the shoes away from the background.

23 June, 2012


My friend Matt (the one with the huge torque wrench) had a birthday party a few weeks ago. To celebrate, he had a pool party cook-out, featuring chips, the most delicious salsa ever, burgers, and the same tiny potatoes that ended up on fire at the race garage barbecue.

Say hi to Randy and Mo. Randy has surprising quantities of patience and mechanical aptitude. And insofar as "eating things" is a skill, he's pretty good at that also. In this case, Mo tried to flick the tiny potato from Randy's abdomen into his mouth. It looked like a good shot, but ended up not being quite on target.
My only decent picture of the birthday boy was this one, where he used the salt grinder to make it rain. I ended up not shooting too much because I was far too busy convincing people to do handstands. In case y'all are wondering, handstands are the best thing ever!
This was a quiet moment between Ben and Sharon. Prior to this, Ben had shown me up in the handstand department, which was kind of awesome.

20 June, 2012

Storytime with Alex

Our race shop had a barbecue a few weeks ago, and I took some photos. This is my friend Alex. She was in the middle of telling a story about concerts in France, or maybe it was another story, but she's a really charismatic storyteller, and I managed to grab a shot while she had this great expression.
1/100s f/3.5 100ISO 24mm
Calista (right) is one of the drivers for the Miata. Her boyfriend was trying to re-assemble a multi-loop ring for her, which she was trying to grab back before it came to an untimely demise. In a feat worthy of at least a couple brownie points, a few moments later, he returned her ring fully reassembled.
1/100s f/3.5 100ISO 24mm
Matt doesn't drive for us, but he knows how to fix everything. He also makes me feel self-conscious about the size of my torque wrench.

Anyway, apparently his secret power is the ability to remove flaming potatoes from hot coals with nothing but a dinner fork. The aluminum foil is still kind of on fire…

18 June, 2012

New Project: A Month of Gray

A bunch of my photo buddies have been participating in personal-development photo projects over the past few months, the most common being some form of the 365 challenge (1 photo per day for a year). This past weekend, I finally decided to play along.

That said, the 365 project wouldn't be much of a challenge for me — I've already shot 15,000 frames this year, for instance.

But I love color. I love color. So I've decided to post predominantly black-and-white images for the next month (through 18 July or thereabouts). I think it'll be a fun challenge trying to figure out how to look at all of my favorite subjects in a different way, and it'll undoubtedly give me a bit more insight into which subjects work well in color, and which work well in grayscale.

The photo above is one I shot about a month ago at the Google+ Photographer's Conference: the evening before the conference actually began, Scott Kelby led one of a variety of groups of photographers on a walk through the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. It was while thinking about this photo, which already had very muted colors, that I came up with the idea of the Month of Gray project.
This was another shot from the photo walk, taken after we ventured inside the Japanese Tea Garden. I was watching the girl throw food for the fish in the pond, and at some point she looked up and noticed me. Click.

I've been slowly gathering a small collection of these "moment of recognition" photos over the last year or so. I think it's an interesting take on a candid portrait, since the eye contact draws you in, but the lack of reaction still manages to tell you something about the relaxed state of this person. It's a sincere portrait — this is what the person might look like when even their subconscious momentarily relinquishes control of their expression.

14 June, 2012

Tea Time

I went to the YakiniQ Cafe yesterday evening to hang out with a friend. Near closing time, they switched to "romantic lighting," which is to say that they turned the ambient lights off, so that the main sources of light were appliances, wall sconces, and candles.

I had previously noticed the light emanating from this refrigerator, but once the ceiling lights went out, it became pretty magical. Then these three ladies walked in and the scene was set. Click.

[Edit: Swapped images again 45 minutes after posting]

12 June, 2012

Construction is Awesome!

Two workers help to set up rows of vacuum-activated suction cups on a large truss device which will be used to lift large panes of glass into place.
A worker watches as others help to set a second 10'x15' pane of curved ceiling glass on the ground. A different worker had mentioned that there were likely a total of 6 such panes in the shipping container.

11 June, 2012

Amazing Feats of Bubblery

As weekends go, this past one had an uncanny number of bubbles. My friend Andrea found a surprisingly resilient bubble formulation which allowed her to create tiny structures made of bubbles. In the photo, she's just about to capture another one and stack her bubble tower one higher.
The evening prior was also packed with bubbles. Here, John blows a large bubble upward with hopes for it to catch some warm air and rise into the night sky. During prior attempts, John and our other cohorts discovered that if you blow hard enough, a single large bubble would often split into a pair of smaller bubbles.

10 June, 2012

Gangsta Tina

I went to watch my friend Tina perform in the Ghostlight Tango show by the Academy of Danse Libre on Friday. The show itself was pretty awesome, and with luck some of the photos from the auditorium will be good enough to post. After the show, though, I got a shot of Tina reverting to her natural tendencies*.

* This was not intended to be a factual statement ;o)

09 June, 2012

Awesome Things A-Brewin'

What's better than getting a beautiful print? How about getting that sucker custom-framed? This is a version of “Mondrian Salt Flats” that I just had done for the 2012 Kellicutt International Photo Show. I'm honored to have had that photo selected as one of the 45 finalists in the competition (from over 1000 submissions, I hear), and the last round of judging will be of the physical works, which will be hanging at the Coastal Arts League Gallery & Museum in Half Moon Bay.

I'm really excited about this print. It's on glossy paper, and my friends over at Bay Frames mounted it behind anti-reflective museum glass, which lets the vibrancy of the print really shine through. The moulding is the same as I used for the first framed version of the print; it's a nice, deep cherry color that fades to black as it reaches the mat. It complements the colors of the salt ponds perfectly. The image will certainly be up against some stiff competition, but I can't wait to hear what the judges think of it.
Some of you may recognize this as the same image that was selected for the Pictory Magazine's “Infrastructure” feature. Here's the story behind the image:
Viewed from “Eureka,” the largest airship in the world, the vibrantly-colored Cargill Salt Flats of Redwood City, California present a Mondrian-esque scene. After over a century of salt production, Cargill Salt announced plans in 2006 to decommission the flats. Now, six years later, debate continues to simmer over the future of the 1433-acre plot: many environmentalists want it to be restored as bay wetlands, while Cargill hopes to develop housing for 30,000 residents.

06 June, 2012

Saab Story Saabs Back to Life

After four months with no engine and two wheels, we made a big push last night and got Saab Story Saabing again. Not only does it roll, not only does it run, but it moves under its own power! And it idles nice and smooth, like someone falling down an interminable flight of stairs…

Of course, that's not all… It'll smoke up a room faster than you can say "Why'd y'all pick a Saab, again?" Also, it spits like a Cobra, drops fluids like a heroin junkie, and has more exhaust leaks than cylinders. (To be fair, if you look underneath the passenger compartment, it does look somewhat reminiscent of a top fuel dragster…)
This is what the ground looked like after we ran the car for awhile and then shut it down. As we ran it, things gradually improved, to the point where the ground no longer gets damp when we fire it up.

Also, if nothing else, you'll note that the front-left wheel exists in this photo, which is more than we could say for a very long time. We learned how to have nice things after graduating from The School of Slightly Softer Knocks.
That's all kind of an afterthought, though, because the car blows some pretty sweet smoke rings. Welcome back, Saab Story.

04 June, 2012

"Pride" is not a four-letter word

I wrote this a couple days ago to a friend of mine (also a photographer). I think it's applicable to all sorts of situations where one needs to represent him or herself, such as when writing entrance essays. Hopefully you find it interesting as well:

I think my own philosophy on modesty and pride is that all of us are on this path of learning. Some folks are farther along than others.
Modesty is knowing that I have a lot farther to go — a lot more to learn — and that there are people who are farther along the path than me.
Pride is knowing how far I've come to get to this point. It's knowing that there were compromises and hardships in making it to this point, and knowing that I am farther along this path than some other folks.

In my personal opinion, to sell my work, I don't have to pretend that I'm the best in the world; I'm not. But on the other hand, if the customer doesn't understand that I'm proud of where I'm at, regardless of how far I have yet to go, then I'm selling myself short. If the customer sees that I have potential, but doesn't also see that I have accomplishments, then I've got to change something to help them see the balanced picture.

My small suggestion in all of this is that if you're not excited about your portfolio, then keep practicing. But if you are excited about it, then you've got to let it out, at least a little bit. You have to realize that there are people who are better than you, but also that there are people who aren't quite as good. Clients have to know that you're excited about how far you've come, even if you're more excited about where you're going.

02 June, 2012

A Google Day at the Beach

Googler Tim Quirk (far right) interviews the five surviving original members of The Beach Boys at Google's Mountain View headquarters. The band members are (left to right) Bruce Johnston, David Marks, Brian Wilson, Mike Love, and Al Jardine. The band is on tour to support the release of its 50th anniversary album, "That's Why God Made The Radio."

It's pretty awesome to see and photograph a band that was so prolific, and that has become so firmly entrenched in our culture. I mean, 50 years, 29 albums, and (reportedly) 100 million albums sold; holy smokes. And clearly I wasn't the only one excited to be there, because the room was packed.
An audience-member listens as Mike Love answers her question during the closing Q&A. Love seemed to do the majority of the talking when questions weren't specifically directed to other members of the band.
Love glances at a member of the audience (lower-right) as the band-members sign autographs after the interview.