29 December, 2008

Dizzy Balloon Rocks

I first discovered Dizzy Balloon when Raffi, a friend from school and also a member of the band, sent a message asking me and a bunch of other folks to vote in a Bay Area local band competition being held by the Live105 (KITS) radio station. Grand prize for the competition was the opening slot at Not So Silent Night, featuring Bloc Party, Franz Ferdinand, Jack's Mannequin, Death Cab for Cutie, and The Killers.

I'm a big fan of helping friends, so I stopped by the Live105 website and listened to Dizzy Balloon's competition song, "Raise a Glass." And you know, it wasn't that bad. After listening a few more times, I got to like it, and resolved to "vote for it sometime."

A couple more days of listening to the song essentially on repeat (or cursing Live105's Flash-based music player when using machines without Flash) provided enough activation energy for me to escape the potential well and actually go vote. Given the registration hoops I had to jump through, this was a big step. Afterward, I went back to hitting the "play" button each time the song had finished.

Finally, on November 29th, I went to Dizzy Balloon's Thanksgiving Extravaganza at The Rickshaw Stop, and it was fantastic. In addition to Dizzy Balloon, Picture Atlantic and The Frail also played, and all three bands made it into the top 25 of the Live105 competition. Beyond music, the concert had black lights, lasers (❤), a bubble machine, a smoke machine, and a sing-along.

With that said, here's how I became a Dizzy Balloon fan.

The concert started off with a set by Picture Atlantic, who made it to the top 5 of the local talent competition. I enjoyed their music, but I wasn't really into it; and now, a month later, I can hardly remember what they sounded like.

I believe the guitarist was doing some sort of feedback trick when I shot this, but I'm not really sure. Whatever it was, the blue LED contrasted nicely with the red stage lighting, and also complemented the undershirt's hint of blue fluorescence from the black lights.

The Frail played next and they rocked. This was my first time seeing electronica played live, and it sounded great. I imagine this was in no small part due to massive woofers that the club employed for the evening: standing in front of one of the stacks, it felt like the speakers were trying to blow my clothes off. Excellent.

The singer for The Frail asked for the lights to be turned off, so all that were left were the black lights. It was pretty cool in person, but sort of frustrating from a photographic point of view. I kept shooting, though, and came up with this frame. The silhouette is pretty surreal.

Later that night, I bought one (well, really three) of their CDs. Unfortunately, it was fairly lackluster compared to the live performance, and that may have been one reason they didn't make it to the top 5 in Live105's competition — they were pretty awesome in concert. So awesome that I started to wonder if I shouldn't have blindly voted for Dizzy Balloon in Live105's competition.

Dizzy Balloon finally got on stage, however, and put my fears firmly to rest. I sent an email to a mutual friend of Raffi and myself when I got home, and I think it conveys my reaction to the performance pretty well:
Holy moly. I mean, good grief. That is by far the best live concert I've ever been to. By far. And I've been to a lot of concerts that I really enjoyed. Every time I thought "wow, this is pretty sweet," they'd step it up another notch. They had a guy on cello, a guy on violin, a trombone, and two trumpets who accompanied sometimes. The main players were on electric piano, bass (Raffi), guitar, drums, and the singer also played guitar once in a while.

They played an awesome rendition of the Beatles' "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" When they got to the guitar solo, my face melted off. When they got to Raffi's bass solos, my face melted off _again_. I mean, you need to understand. I'm using a braille keyboard right now, because my face is long gone, and my ears are still rocking out so hard that I can't hear anything that's going on around me.

One aspect of Dizzy Balloon's set that resonated so well with me was the quirkiness. This shot was during a nice violin solo relatively early on in the set. As the violinist played, a helper set off a fire extinguisher, and the translucent, gaseous contents (CO₂?) turned the narrow, red beam from the laser into a glowing backdrop.

Another fun characteristic of the concert was the audience participation. A lot of concerts have sing-alongs, but they're usually impromptu, and they often only last for a verse or so. Dizzy Balloon's sing-along lasted for an entire song, and all of the lyrics were projected on a screen behind the band. Not only that, but the mechanism that animated the lyrics in time with the singing was… well… it was a giant PowerPoint presentation with one slide per word in the song. A helper advanced the presentation in time with the singing. This was clearly engineering at its finest.

And most concerts have parts where a band implores the audience to clap along. For Dizzy Balloon's first encore, though, singer Petros instead asked us all to be quiet. When the noise in the club had dwindled to a whisper, he grinned widely and the band members started snapping their fingers; and we snapped along. Then they beat their chests, and we beat ours in turn. Finally, guitarist Jonny started playing, and they segued into a song which also won a great deal of applause.

The first half of the second encore was a song, and the second half was mostly jamming with all hands on deck, and Petros doing introductions. By the end of the night, I was all rocked out. Awesome.

As for the competition, Dizzy Balloon also made it into the top 5 (alongside Picture Atlantic). A couple days before the main event, each of the 5 bands played a quick set before judges at the Cafe du Nord. Clearly, I wasn't the only one who loved their music, as Dizzy Balloon came away with top honors.

For the curious among you, Dizzy Balloon will be playing what they call the East Bay Extravaganza on January 3rd at The New Oakland Metro. Also playing will be Judgment Day, Maldroid, The Frail, and Wendy Darling. To quote, "You provide the bodies, we'll provide the fog, lasers, music and yes... even the astro jump!"

And for Dizzy Balloon, my message is simple: Keep Rockin'

15 December, 2008

After the Rain

Rain always makes for interesting shooting conditions. Around here, it rained for most of yesterday and bits of today. And even though the rain's stopped now, it's clearly had an effect.

I finally got a new lens on Friday, the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8, and I had been looking for an opportunity to play around with it. On the way home, I noticed the cool-looking clouds that were drifting across the night sky, backlit by the moon. I set up my tripod when I got home, took some shots, and got this one.

As far as posts go, I'm trying to figure out how to do one that's been in the works for a week or two. Hopefully I'll finish it soon. But for now, I leave you with a famous quote from Irish playwright, author, and poet Oscar Wilde:
"We are all of us in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars."

23 November, 2008

Aaahh!!! Real Vaulters

Sometimes, photographers like to gloat. Or at least, I do. This post is certainly about pole vaulters, but beyond that, it's also about why we're awesome. It's not brimming with superlatives or anything, but I've done a lot of things that I'm proud of, and a lot of other vaulters have done things for which I'm proud of them. I find joy in displaying that pride.

So with out further ado, let's talk about the photo above. Of the O(100,000) photos I've taken, I think it's one of my favorites. I mean, it makes me giddy every time I look at it, and I certainly haven't seen any other pole vault photo like it.

Part of what I'm so proud of is undoubtedly the years of practice that went into being able to take this. Many people find it challenging to pan horizontally with a subject moving at a constant velocity, but I managed to smoothly track Old Man Ball as he followed a considerably more complex trajectory (think 1/x), and fired off this shot as the pole was unbending and accelerating him upward.

Given all that, there's a pretty cool juxtaposition between the blurry, moving pole and Ball's face, which is tack sharp. At full resolution, you can see the texture of his helmet straps.

I competed at the Div-III National Championships twice in the pole vault, both my senior year at MIT, and both times placing eighth. After I was out, I starting taking photos and got this awesome frame. It's not every day that a guy racks himself on the bar while trying to jump close to 17 feet at the national championships, and it's times like those when photographic practice and skill can really pay off.

As noted, I'm extremely proud of my own accomplishments. But I'm also proud of MIT's vault squad, and consider myself extremely fortunate to have been one of them (go blue team!). One not-quite-pastime of mine is demonstrating that people's initial conceptions are often misguided. And I think the vaulters at MIT exemplify a fun mish-mash of counterintuitive characteristics.

This is Sharpe (or, at least, it's his helmet. And possibly his feet. And it's pronounced "Sharpé", but possibly only if you're a vaulter.) You may remember him from an earlier post. He's a senior and one of the track captains this year, and holds the curious distinction of being the only MIT vaulter I know of who came in as a distance runner. He and his brother Jacob also happen to be among the best Diabolo teams in the world.

Vaulting at MIT is something of a tradition, and vaulters at MIT are a family. Patrick and I graduated this past year. Old Man Ballsky, in red, graduated in '05 (hence the name), after which he jumped for '06 indoor season as a Grad student, and coached us for the rest of '06, all of '07, and the majority of '08. He's now the host of Design Squad, a kids engineering show in a similar style to the venerable Bill Nye the Science Guy. He's also a co-founder of Atlas Devices, LLC, makers of the Atlas powered rope ascender (cue awesome 5-minute video). Sweet.

Patrick graduated with degrees in Mech-E (course 2) and EECS (course 6), two of the courses with the most requirements. In addition to finishing up where Ball left off at the end of '08, Patrick is the vault coach for '09, and is starting in the course 2 Ph.D. program. Rock.

Anyway, at some point, Patrick suggested that we get mohawks for our outdoor championship meet season. The guys figured that it was generally a good idea (the ladies not so much), and it's been a tradition ever since.

This is Tao. Here, he's checking out his 'hawk after all was said and done. In addition to the mohawks, we also got "T"s shaved into both sides of our heads. I mean, you can't get a track 'hawk without letting people know where you're from. Go Tech!

So, Tao is also course 2. In addition to kicking butt on the track, this past year he beat the other course 2 sophomores and placed first in the Mech-E design and manufacturing competition, 2.007.

Tao is also a chicken.

This is stage two of the haircut. After a few weeks, the 'hawks go away, and we get just "T"s. With a line. One side is embossed, the other side is inset, and it looks sweet.

And it's totally worth it. A week later, I woke up in a cold hotel room in New Hampshire, for the all-division, All-New England track meet. I checked my computer before we headed out to the track and we were on MIT's homepage. That feeling was incredible, and is mostly indescribable. Later that day, I placed second in the region in the vault.

So yes, it's possible to work hard while having fun. Yes, it's possible to be serious with a smile on your face. Yes, it's possible to go to one of the best Tech schools in the world for four years, worrying about vault technique as much as classes, and then graduate with two degrees and as a two-time All-American.

As opera singer Ernestine Schumann-Heink once said,
"This shall be my parting word: Know what you want to do — then do it."

14 November, 2008

It's Late

I stayed at work pretty late today. On the way home, I noticed that the sky was cloudless and clear, and the moon and stars shone brightly. So I took a photo.

"There is something to be said about not trying to be glamorous and popular and cool. Just be real — and life will be real."     — Joyce Sequichie Hifler, Sept 13, 2001.

12 November, 2008

A Knee-Slappin' Good Time

Three short days ago, a coworker announced that John Hodgman and Jonathan Coulton would be giving a presentation, or a talk, or something later that afternoon. As a fan of both Hodgman and Coulton, my mind was pretty much decided as soon as I heard about it — I had to go.

So, after some more poking about, I found that the event was actually a small stop on Hodgman's book tour for his new book, More Information Than You Require, which he bills as "A Further Compendium Of Complete World Knowledge In 'The Areas Of My Expertise'." Comically, the new book follows his prior publication, The Areas Of My Expertise, which he calls "An Almanac Of Complete World Knowledge Compiled With Instructive Annotation And Arranged In Useful Order By Me, John Hodgman."

Much to my surprise, when I arrived, there was little room left to stand, let alone sit. I walked up the aisle, managed to find an empty seat in the second row, and then just sat down at the front of the aisle instead.

The talk started off with a song by Coulton about the new book, and then progressed into an increasingly-comical dialog between Coulton and Hodgman. And that was just the start: the entire event was hilarious beyond my wildest expectations. It was sort of like a backwards rollercoaster — we didn't know when the pair were going to throw various twists and turns at us, but when they did, the audience would nearly-simultaneously burst out into fits of raucous laughter.

I'm getting ahead of myself, however, as there are photos aplenty. For those of you who were there, I hope you have a few chuckles remembering the parts of the performance that you enjoyed. And for those who weren't, hopefully you'll get a glimpse of what you missed. Enjoy

I think this is a nice snapshot of Jonathan Coulton, both as a performer and as a person. During the beginning of the talk, Hodgman introduced Coulton as his feral mountain-man accompanist from the wilderness of Connecticut, raised by animals and only years later introduced into human culture and taught to speak English and play the guitar. Coulton's reply was simply, "I'm not feral."

All in all, though, Coulton was an amusing mix of seemingly-incongruous attributes: smart water, but pretty simple shoes. A beat-up guitar case graced with a comparatively pristine Creative Commons sticker. And as John Hodgman pointed out during a serious moment near the end of the talk, despite Coulton's accompanying role during the book tour, Coulton was arguably the more successful of the two, having gained international renown by virtue of doing the vast majority of his business over the Internet. By contrast, Hodgman noted, his book is bound much more tightly to specific geographies by various copyright and licensing laws.

Hodgman spent the majority of the time talking about, reading from, and generally interacting with his book. For demonstrational purposes, he grabbed a copy from an audience-member who had purchased it before-hand. After reading through the copious amounts of text on the cover, Hodgman nonchalantly demonstrated that it was, indeed, a hard-cover:

After smacking the book on the lectern a couple times, the talk went on with Hodgman reading various comedic excerpts from the book. At some point, he started comparing his new book to its predecessor. Despite the claims that both were compendia of complete world knowledge, Hodgman explained, there were some faults of the first book which were fixed in More Information Than You Require.

You see, John Hodgman likes Page-A-Day calendars. He expressed his disappointment that his first book wasn't a Page-A-Day calendar, but noted with relief that this was one of the problems remedied in his new book. He selected a page and boasted that the single page served multiple functions. Yes, it was a page of prose, but furthermore, it was yet a single page in a Page-A-Day calendar contained in the new book. And much like a normal Page-A-Day calendar, he explained, when the day is done, you just

After ripping the page from the book, Hodgman slipped it back between the adjacent pages, and returned the book to its newly-chagrined owner. He succeeded to pull his own copy of the book from behind the lectern — a backup copy, he explained — and then launched into a diatribe on what it was like to be a famous minor television personality.

And now, a quick aside. I generally shoot without a neckstrap, and so I always keep my camera in my right hand, if not both. Over time, I've learned to use my left hand to make clapping noises when I want to clap. Needless to say, Hodgman did or said something funny, and I started slapping my knee in applause (while simultaneously laughing hysterically).

Hodgman noticed this, and saluted me: "Hey there, knee-slapper!" He noted that he had never seen someone actually slap their knee while laughing, and that he half-expected someone to shout "Guffaw!" from the back of the room, a statement which elicited another round of laughter from the room, followed by someone shouting "ROFL!"

After moving on, the talk was again interrupted; this time by a ringing cell phone. As the front-row perpetrator (and/or victim) tried to silence the phone, Hodgman simply said "Oh, I'll answer it," then walked over and did just that. He had a surprisingly long discussion with what was apparently the person's dad, explaining that his son wasn't available because "he's watching me give a talk."

A little later, the topic of the discussion shifted to Hodgman himself, at which point he coyly asked, "What, you mean you haven't heard of me?"

As the talk came to a close, Hodgman noted that, as a result of the aforementioned internationalization mismatch (haha, I know some of you were thinking "impedance"), he and Coulton likely wouldn't continue touring together after the end of this book tour.

As a result, he explained, he had learned to accompany himself until he could find another feral mountain-man to do the job. At this point, Hodgman procured a ukulele from behind the lectern, strummed it, and looked menacingly at Coulton, at which point they launched into a duet of a song I recognized, but without any clue as to where I recognize it from.

After the duet, Jon Coulton spent a few minutes telling us how to sing the chorus, and then played a much-applauded sing-along version of Re: Your Brains.

To finish, Hodgman held the funniest Question and Answer session I've witnessed. He generally paraded around, including a couple treks through the packed seating area, and alternated between hoarding the three question-microphones, tossing them at thankfully-coordinated audience members, and having people shuffle them around to waiting inquisitors.

But don't forget, ♫ All we wanna do is eat your brains ♬

09 November, 2008

Happy Googleween

Much like other places around the country, it was recently Halloween at Google. I dressed up as a photographer — I wore my two bodies as well as my Tech photo hat. But other Googlers who are less lame than I devised costumes which were, in many cases, pretty awesome.

A costume party supplanted the normal TGIF festivities, and given that I was pretending to be a photographer, I went ahead and pretended to take some photos. Fortunately, despite my pretense, I think I managed to capture the costumes and their wearers in a way that conveys why I enjoyed the costumes, and indeed the entire event, so much.

As there are more photos than usual, I'll be writing less text for each one. And since this post is more about the costumes, I'll be leaving off the exposure details. Have fun!

I have no idea if these three were together on purpose or not, but this is just a mind-blowing set of juxtapositions. When I look at this photo, I subconsciously think up dozens of stories about why this situation might be perfectly normal ("Oh, what if the clown were also a convict, but they let him keep his clothes because he made the guards laugh?"). Of course, all of the stories I make up are completely ridiculous, but that's part of the fun of it.

Google is a self-proclaimed dog company, but it's not until Halloween rolls around that you discover Googlers' affinity for lazy lions (left), tiny cows with oddly-placed horns (right), and other interesting animals (forthcoming).

While she didn't quite approach without moving, I was nonetheless surprised to discover the existence of ninjas who attire themselves in things which aren't cleverly-worn shirts.

This quick diversion is for my mom. You see, Mom is always concerned that I don't eat enough greens, and that I don't like salads. I've repeatedly tried to quell her concerns, but to no avail.

As they sometimes say though, a word is approximately equivalent to 1 millipicture. So here you go, Mom. Pictorial evidence that I eat both "Greens" and "Salad." If this doesn't convince you, I don't know what will.

Here's another glimpse at the creatures which emerge on the 31st of October. Now, I don't speak Japanese, but by closely studying the relevant materials, I think it's reasonable to assume that Domo-kun is watching this bee's technique in an eager attempt to learn to fly (see the aforementioned relevant materials, starting at 1:25). The folks walking by are just a distraction.

Unfortunately, what Domo-kun doesn't realize is that the bee landed, rather than falling and missing the ground completely, which is the proper technique to achieve true flight.

Clearly, I wasn't the only one who dressed up as a photographer. This guy did a better job of it than I did, however. I believe I managed to catch this right when he saw me, but before he had a chance to react.

The devil clearly loves his technology; who knew? Of course, my previous mental images of the devil came from Sinfest and The Far Side, so one might imagine those weren't based in reality, or something.

Awesome. And, of course, there's only one comment that's appropriate for a costume like this: "Maybe you haven't been keeping up on current events, but we just got our asses kicked, pal!" If you've never seen Alien or Aliens, you should. And in the meanwhile, here are some quotes.

A couple folks dressed up as Joe the Plumber. I especially like this incarnation, however, because of his plunger-holster and double-beer holster: like a boy scout, he's ready for anything. And the Dickies work pants add a nice touch.

I'm not really sure what to say about this one; it's just an awesome moment. I have no idea why they were excited to see each other, but the situation really matches that gingerbread man's expression (which is good because I doubt he can frown very easily).

Aah, piracy. I think it's fit to mention this clip from Italian Job. It's "likely" that the clip isn't online legally, so that fits the piracy bill. Also, the guy with the camera calls himself The Napster, holding that he wrote the software of the same name. Earlier in the movie, he claims "[Shawn Fanning] said he called it Napster because of his nappy hairstyle; it's not true. It's because he took it from me while I was napping!"

The "Will Code Review For Food" guy looks pretty convincing as well.

25 October, 2008


There was a lot of excitement at work this past week. On Tuesday, we had the Android open-source launch. On Wednesday, the G1 launched (there were lines at stores; that's all I was hoping for :o). Then on Thursday, Googlers were serenaded by one Jimmy Buffett, during a quick stop on his "The Year of Still Here" tour.

He talked some, played a short set with two Coral Reefers, and then spent the rest of the time answering Googlers' questions, both from the audience and from abroad. Here, Buffett chats with the audience after the band's final song. 1/80s at f/2.8 and ISO640.

I'm really proud of this photo. It's excellently-composed, and it sort of demonstrates that when you try to notice things, every once in a while, things will work out. Which is reassuring, since I try to notice things a lot, and sometimes things just don't seem to come together.

Regardless, this photo can certainly stand on its own (even without a caption), which is tough to do: you know what's going on (some guy is talking, and possibly performing, given the extra mic), you know who that guy is (Jimmy Buffett), and you know where Jimmy Buffett is doing all this (Google; not Google Santa Monica, though).

And it captures important aspects of the environment — there are palm shadows on the backdrop; there's sort of a fun atmosphere with the blow-up animals; and there are parrots. Anyway, yeah, I think this one turned out well.

The set was short, but enjoyable. Buffett played with Mac McAnally (to his right, on guitar) and Nadirah Shakoor (to his left, on vocals). As an interesting aside (thanks, Wikipedia), at one point Shakoor was apparently the lead female vocalist of Arrested Development, a group that certainly helped broaden my musical experiences as a child.

My dad had their album 3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life of…, which we would listen to frequently in the car. Their song "Mr. Wendal" was likely one of the first social commentaries I listened to and began to understand the lyrics of.

As far as Thursday's performance goes, though, I only remember the name of one song — You see, I'm only an apprentice in the ways of being a Parrothead. The song was "Margaritaville" and the performance included the Lost Verse. This was 1/100s at f/2.8 and ISO640.

Buffett talks a lot during his performances. This is a style that also carries over to his albums. For instance, I acquired Far Side of the World album sometime around April of 2002, and the beginning of "Autour du Rocher" consists of Buffett chatting about a hotel in St. Barts.

One difference I noticed is that on the albums, Buffett talks above a quiet musical background. At the concert, though, he'd pause every now and then to play a few quick chords before he kept talking. Cool. I shot this at 1/100s and f/2.8, at ISO640.

In response to a question about being a Dad as an old guy, Buffett handed the mic over to his daughter Savannah Jane, who related what her childhood was like with a traveling Dad. She noted that when he was home, he always made pancakes, and so she tended to think of him as "that guy who makes pancakes."

I like this photo. I specifically tried to get the guitars in the background, and I think it turned out well. I also think the expressions are pretty telling. This was 1/60s at f/2.8 and ISO640.

After the performance, Buffett came off the stage and had more personal interactions with members of the folks in attendance. It was sort of tricky to get a nice shot, since at first the lights were still down and I was still figuring out where to shoot from (oddly, I'd move around and somehow Buffett managed to keep his back to me :o).

After that, the folks sort of in the middle of the line wanted photos, but didn't seem all that interested in talking or interacting with him (or if they did, the actual interaction was very brief). As one of my interests is capturing people's emotions and interactions, I was specifically looking to grab the moment when Buffett and fan were displaying actual emotions, rather than fake smiles for a camera.

In short, I think this photo is exactly that. The woman is clearly giddy, and Buffett seems to be enjoying the interaction as well. I really like that they're sharp, but in motion. If I were to say "Here, Jimmy Buffett and an excited fan get together for a photo," it's blatantly obvious that that's exactly what they're doing. 1/40s at f/2.8 and ISO640.

Well, that's so-long to Mr. Buffett. I have accrued quite a few photos that I'd like to share over the past week or two, though, so expect another post soon (by tomorrow? who knows?). To conclude, the Arrested Development aside really goes well with this quote from George Bernard Shaw: "If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas."

08 October, 2008

Welcome to Love Fest

This past Saturday, some friends and I dropped by Love Fest, a festival… party… concert… thing. Regardless, it's the largest one I've been to in the US (trumped only by the few times I've been to Carnival in Trinidad). It was a blast. Love Fest is a travelling celebration, which parades from 2nd and Market streets to the Civic Center Plaza.

When we arrived at the Civic Center Plaza around 17:30, there were costumed folks everywhere. We took an approximate lap of the Plaza over the next 45 minutes, and as is my wont, I took photos. The light was pretty good, and the variety of costumes, of activities, and of people, was awesome. I shot the above at 1/1250s at f/3.5.

Despite the diversity, there were a number of similarly-themed costumes. For instance, here, a guy standing on something and sporting the national flag of New Zealand as a cape gives a fist-bump to a lady with a purple scepter, and all as another guy walks past with a crown on his head.

This is just a single example of a lot of friendly interaction that took place between people who didn't seem to know each other. But I guess that's a little bit of what Love Fest is all about — make friends with people just because they're there. This was at 1/640s and f/4.5.

There were a bunch of people with cameras. The guy on the left really stood out to me, though. It likely has at least something to do with his posture — this is a stance I've seen a lot of people assume when taking photos, and I'm not really sure where it comes from.

I also like his expression and body language. After holding the "Shh! Artist at work!" facial expression seen here, he subsequently smiled and gave the subjects a thumbs-up. 1/200s at f/3.5.

We were standing around a bit before departing when I spotted this guy. He was also standing around, having a smoke.

Now, I've always enjoyed trying to take photos of people smoking; likely because the situations can often offer a combination of smoke, fire, and interesting facial expressions and body language, all rolled up into one image. They're hard to nail, though, and the ones I've tried rarely turn out well. I guess that's why I like this one a lot.

Shooting smoke is always difficult because, usually, it's not dense enough to see unless you actually backlight or side-light it. Here, I was fortunate in that the smoke is rather dense, and I was getting what is effectively a bluish side-light from the sky, in front of the darker background of people in the shade. This was at 1/250s and f/4.5.

I met Alton on the way home on Caltrain. The train was jam-packed with homeward-bound Love Fest attendees, and consequently, the floor of the usually-spacious bike car was crammed with people. Alton was passing the time practicing his contact juggling and card flourishes, as well as messing around with his D90 and 50/1.4. Nice. (As an aside, Nikon fans, rejoice: the long awaited AF-S 50/1.4 is coming)

This photo of Alton performing a spring came out surprisingly well, given the slow shutter speed and given that the train was moving at the time. Exposure was 1/40s at f/3.5 and ISO1000.

This guy and his borrowed sign embody the atmosphere at Love Fest. The party started long before my friends and I arrived, and continued long after we departed. However, the weekend of dancing alone doesn't reveal the depth of Love Fest's purpose.

As Dr. Syd Gris put it, "In this time of economic and political turmoil, a celebration of love, peace, justice, and tolerance is just what our country needs… We do not dance in the streets to escape the reality of our times - we dance to face them as a community…"

21 September, 2008

Trying Things

I like trying things. Figuring out how to do something new, or finding that I'm ok at something I hadn't attempted before often fills me with glee. And curiously, a few of the things I've tried or noticed recently have accompanying photos that I like. Not that the images and text really have much to do with each other in every case.

When I shot the photo above, in a restaurant back in Virginia, I was just messing around. Exposure was 1/30s at f/4.5. I really like this image, though. I think it captures a couple different things that I consider a part of being me — photography, cycling, quirkiness, utility, pride, an almost obsessive attention to safety… And the photo looks good to boot!

I guess, when I look at most of the photos that I've taken, and that I really like, I think about the subject, and about the moment that I captured, and about how well the image suits that moment. When I look at this photo, I think the same things, but I'm thinking about myself — this is like a self-portrait without being a portrait in the first place.

Children try things. They often try things without fear for getting it wrong, without worrying about not having tried it before. They just get their hands dirty and go. I find them to be a great model for how I want to approach some things. (1/15s at f/5.6 and ISO640)

To borrow an often-partially-quoted statement from Helen Keller, "Security is only a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is not safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing!"

A last vignette. I spent most of today working on bike stuff on my patio. By tomorrow (Monday) morning, I will have fully prepped and installed my very first carbon fork. This is momentous because, unlike the steel forks I've prepped before, it's a lot easier to turn a carbon fork into an unwieldy paper weight — if you accidentally drop a steel fork off a balcony, you can go down, pick it up, bend it back into shape, and use it. But if you damage a carbon fork, you toss it in the trash.

So what does all this have to do with a squirrel lounging on a tree? (1/320s at f/3.2) Well, I spent today lounging on my balcony, doing bike stuff; it was a nice day out. And I was working only a few feet from the very tree which was hugged by the very squirrel which appears to be so very lazy in the image I chose to illustrate this vignette.

"be a real student and take chances. live on the edge. teeter on the brink… skip on the tightrope. and if you fall, enjoy the wind on your smiling face." —paul lester

16 September, 2008

Fly By Night

Unlike the Giro di S.F., I was hanging out with some other folks during the Twilight Criterium. This meant that I had to shuffle priorities, but I think I still came away with some solid photos. I pushed myself on some of the photos, trying to master what were, in all honesty, abysmal conditions for flash-less sports photography. That extra effort really shines through in a few of the photos, though, so I'll call it a good day with many lessons learned.

First thing: It was dark. The 4-corner racecourse had two level straights, a descent after the first corner, and a hill before the final corner. There were gangs of large floodlights set up at each corner, with an additional pair illuminating the start/finish. The bright, directional lights meant that the lit areas had very high contrast, with pretty rapid light falloff. And the areas between lights were still pretty dim. I spent the whole night at ISO1600.

Second thing: They were fast. Unfortunately, I only caught the elite men's race; but man was it a race. I won't spoil the details this early in the post, but the race really came down to the wire. And as an extra positive, most of the folks I was there with, many of whom had never seen a race before, really enjoyed it.

Last thing: Buy me a lens :o) Well, I'm working on this one myself, but I really could have used a shorter fast zoom. I spent the entire race on my 80-200mm f/2.8, but a 17-55mm f/2.8 or 24-70mm f/2.8 would have really fit the bill.

Ok. That's it for the complaining, so here are the goods. The photo above (1/100s at f/2.8 and ISO1600) was earlier on during the race. The race format was 90 mins+10 laps: regardless of how many laps they had finished up to then, at the 90-minute mark, they had 10 laps left. So the timer on the left told the race time, counting up to 90 minutes, and the timer on the right told the lap times (a group off the front had reset the lap clock 10 seconds prior). I like this photo because it's a nice overview of the race — dark, grungy, fast. Fly by night.

I really like silhouettes, and I think this one came out well. I was leaning over the railing about 20m past the start/finish, and this guy was doing the same thing. I had tried to shoot four-man break for a couple laps in a row, so I switched things up and focused on the guy. Boom. 1/125s at f/2.8.

I have no idea how this photo happened. Of course, this is exactly why I experiment, because luck is a big part of photography. In all of the photos I've ever taken (somewhere north of 100,000), I believe this is the third time I've gotten this effect. The first time was in late 2004 or early 2005, while shooting gymnastics. The second was at a track meet during January or February of this year. And now this. Cool. 1/40s at f/2.8.

I shot this photo just about halfway into the race. This guy attacked the field on the climb and was all over his machine as he rounded the turn, trying to milk every last drop of power out of it. Unfortunately, his advantage didn't last long. In this image, though, I really like how the chasers in the peloton seem to be stalking him from cover of darkness. This was 1/160s at f/2.8.

Well, that's that. Short and sweet. And the surprise ending? A guy that I don't think I managed to catch any good frames of made a move that stuck, and won by a 2-second margin. The guy in third photo (of the four in this post) placed third, just narrowly losing out to a rider with massive quads.

"I knew I was riding too much when one day in my car I was coming up to a pothole and tried to pull up on the steering wheel to hop over it." —ckleps