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Friday, December 23, 2011



According to some rumors floating on the internet we are on the eve of seeing a 5D Mark III and I’m only a few months into owning a Mark II. However, I still wanted to lay down some thoughts on spending over $2,000 on a camera body, because I know people will continue to ask me if it’s worth it. By the way, the price on B&H just dropped to $2,000 (from $2,500) so many people feel that is a strong indicator that something new is almost here.

So here’s what I think. For the kind of work I have been doing (magazine portraits, weddings, family portraits, headshots) the 5D has been a luxury more than a necessity. Before the 5D, I was primarily using a 40D, a very nice 10 megapixel camera. Before that was a 30D, and before that was a Rebel XT. I’ve shot magazine covers with the 30D and had a 24x36 inch print from the Rebel XT in an art gallery. I’m pretty sure that none of my clients have noticed a difference in photo quality or have needed a 21 megapixel image.

While my clients probably don’t see a difference, the 5D MkII does have some advantages that make my life a little easier. The most significant to me is being able to shoot at high ISO with much less noise. When shooting outdoors, this gives me about 10-15 minutes more time after sunset before it’s too dark to shoot without a flash. And it allows me to shoot wedding ceremonies in a dark church without a flash. Is that worth $2k? I guess it depends on how much work you do in dark settings without a flash! If you don’t already have fast lenses to work with, it’s really not worth it just for the ISO.

As a side note, I am very happy that I invested in fast, quality lenses before a 5D. The 24-70mm, 70-200mm, and 50mm prime had much more to do with the quality of images than which body I was using.

The other area that makes a difference to me is the full-frame sensor. My lenses are no longer magnified 1.6x and some seem more practical. The 24-70 never seemed wide enough—now it does. The 70-200 seemed like a lot of zoom for most situations—now it’s just right. I kind of liked the 50mm on the cropped sensor, which leads me to believe I should buy an 85mm as my next prime lens as that would be the similar length on the 5D. But the 50mm does work better in tight spaces now. And at wide open apertures the depth of field is more pronounced on all the lenses, so that’s nice.

A great reason to buy a 5D MkII is for the video features. I am not doing all that much filming with it so those features were not a good reason to buy for me. I’m hoping I can spend some time exploring the video functions and that will become a good reason to have spent the money.

If you’re a professional, you probably know whether a 5D is right for you. The majority of people who have read up to this point are probably not counting on their photos to put food on the table, and my advice is still this: any of the new Canon or Nikon SLRs are going to be good enough for whatever you are doing. Invest your money in several good lenses first because that will make the biggest difference in the quality of your images. If you can afford it, start with the 24-70mm f/2.8, 50mm f/1.4, or 35mm f/2. Then, after you have a few good lenses, invest in a full-frame body. By that time you’ll be ready for the Mark III!


Along with my favorite films of 2011, I decided on my five favorite albums for the year. I end up listening to a lot of music while I'm working so each of these got SIGNIFICANT airplay in my office. In no particular order:
Need to Breathe – The Reckoning
These boys took it up a notch—again. They have been working hard and it shows in how they craft the melodies, lyric and their dynamic stage show.  It’s just pure southern rock goodness but with enough polish to please the masses – including the Taylor Swift crowd while on her megatour.

Ryan Adams – Ashes and Fire
Ryan is a fantastic songwriter and this album is one of his finest. His collection of poems set to simple sturdy songs has no BS to it, no unnecessary notes or guest appearances.  Just a guy with his guitar. Listening to this album makes you feel as cool as Ryan Adams.

Cults – Cults
On first listen I thought this was just another retro guy/girl duo knockoff like I’d heard a bunch of times over the past few years. But then somehow I ended up listening to the album every day finding them to be a type of art-pop that wasn’t too arty for daily consumption. And I kind of liked that excessive reverb and cutesy vocals.

Bon Iver - Bon Iver
Like the first album, at first I was a little bored. But a friend sent me a leaked copy a few weeks early so I thought I would listen to it a few times just so I would have some frame of reference for all the reviews I knew would be coming on the music blogs. And in no time I was hooked. I would put it on when it was raining. I’d put it on late at night. I’d put it on when I was feeling introspective or tired. There is some serious mood behind those melodies and I think a great piece of art allows to you access those feelings.

The Naked and Famous – Passive Me, Aggressive You
Technically, this album came out last year but I’m not sure who heard it in the US. I first heard them at 930 Club, opening for Freelance Whales and was completely blown away by their energy and live sound. These little kids from New Zealand were the new Shiny Toy Guns—I could already hear them being used for car commercials and cell phone ads. Their sound is very 2011, with a mix of electronic drums and synths and youthful rock guitars. Plus I love the NZ accents.

Also, I go to a lot of shows and often get asked which are the best to see live. So here is a quick top 5 shows of the year.
1. Jimmy Eat World - this was definitely my favorite. They played old stuff, new stuff and everything in between.
2. Yelle - despite having some drunk kid throw up on my shoes I still had fun. That's how I know it was a good show. She has a ton of energy and awesome dance moves.
3. Death Cab for Cutie - kind of like Jimmy Eat World, I've been listening to them for something like 10 years and all of their songs are connected with memories, which makes for a more interesting experience. And they played all the good stuff.
4. Lisa Hannigan - this woman is adorable, just so likeable and talented. She is a true musical artist and definitely enjoys playing music.
5. Girl Talk - I feel a little bad about this one because the level of musicianship is a little low and Gregg didn't have great showmanship either - he could work on his dance moves. But there is talent there and the crowd was in to it, which made for a fun time. Sorry, Matt Nathanson - you put on a good show too. Maybe next year. Ha!

Monday, December 19, 2011



I recently read a quote by Walt Disney where he supposedly said, “We don’t make movies to make money. We make money to make more movies.” I liked it because it was a reminder why I started a photography business in the first place—because I enjoy it. I have acquired a lot of really cool equipment this year: a new 5D MkII body, 70-200mm f2.8 lens, 100mm macro lens, and a ton of Paul C. Buff lighting equipment, among other toys. At the time all of these purchases weren’t very exciting. They were for my business after all, and it was a lot of money I no longer had for vacations, eating out, hobbies or for important things like savings or investing.

Walt’s words helped me look at the big picture. I now have a collection of equipment that allows me to do so much more with photography than I could a year before. When I’m stuck in the day to day of bidding on jobs, meeting with clients, or sending out invoices it’s hard to see the progress I’m making on reaching my long term goals. But when I look back at the work I was doing a year ago and how I have progressed creatively (and in technical knowledge) everything comes into perspective. All these tools have helped me to practice my craft and ultimately to have the chance to keep making more great photographs.

It helps to use the gear for things other than work projects. Stephanie came to my office one day and sat while I tested some new lights. It ended up being a lot of fun and I learned a few things along the way without the pressure of having to deliver for a client. We even got some pretty decent photos.

Sunday, December 18, 2011


Awards season has begun and every year I am faced with the same disappointment in seeing talented people overlooked and average people being rewarded based on things other the merit of their work. So this year, I present to you my picks for the best in movies for 2011. I’m sure I missed some good stuff as I didn’t see every new movie—so let me know if you think I missed something big for 2011. My top 5 movies, in no particular order:

Super 8
It seems there are only a handful of people in Hollywood that really know the formula for making great films and Steven Spielberg and JJ Abrams are two of them.  Rolling together several genres of film made it unique but the story had transcending themes like many other great films, such as the value of childhood friends, the excitement of a first crush, and struggling to relate to parents. The setting of 1979 was close enough to my own childhood to resonate with me too. I felt like the story moved along pretty quickly—no boring parts—and was not at all predictable. The best part were the characters. The kids in particular all had very unique personalities and were great together. This movie was just fun and I would certainly watch it again.

Fast Five
First of all, I enjoyed the first four Fast and the Furious movies, even Tokyo Drift, which most people thing is the lamest. They have discovered the formula of hot cars + hot women = awesome—and with the fifth movie they just kicked it up a notch.  More hot cars + more hot women + the beach + exotic cultures + more action + even more clever (although really cheesy) humor = a place on my top 5. They brought back characters from the other films and tied all the stories (previously somewhat independent) together, Including Tyrese Gibson from #2, Sung Kang from #3, Don Omar from #4, and Jordana Brewster from the first film. Also another really fun film and maybe even my favorite of the series.

Midnight in Paris
I’m really interested in the theme of the Head vs. the Heart and I love when Woody Allen does it, like last year with Vicky Christina Barcelona. Add in the lovable Owen Wilson and you have yourself a movie. The dialogue between the historic artists and writers was clever and it was kind of fun to imagine what they would each be like in real life. I’m a sucker for a happy ending, and this does not disappoint, although with a few turns along the way.

The Help
It is difficult to make entertainment out of an epic struggle like the civil rights movement but this movie did it, and did it well, taking me on an emotional ride as I learned about each character’s unique point of view through a complex and engaging story. This film hit me similar to the way The Power of One did when I was a kid.  I liked Emma Stone before this movie but up until now I feel like I hadn’t seen her depth—becoming believably smart, strong and compassionate—not just quirky or the sassy adolescent. And the rest of the cast took this story to new levels and I hope that they all win awards, especially Jessica Chastain, Octavia Spencer, Bryce Dallas Howard, Viola Davis and Sissy Spacek.

This is the film that completely surprised me. I expect pretty much anything with Seth Rogan to be completely stoner stupid. He still managed to play the idiot friend, but by the end you found him strangely lovable. The script was fantastic and had me laughing out loud, even in the crudest of parts. I saw this movie with a friend who’s brother has battled cancer and we agreed that they captured a lot of the feelings that go along with facing death and spending a lot of time in hospitals and just reevaluating your life. My favorite part was seeing Anna Kendrick in a bigger supporting role with a character who had real personality. I never saw Up in the Air so I was surprised by how much I enjoyed her in this movie. JGL is a man of many talents and he hit another home run with this one after entertaining us me with 500 Days of Summer last year.

I'm going to give an Honorable Mention to Harry Potter for finishing strong and to Hugo for being really fun, especially in 3D. Up next... the top 5 albums of 2011. 

Monday, December 12, 2011



Before I get all technical on you I'm just going to say that this booth was the most fun one I've done yet. I knew it would be difficult to top the wall of presents from last year, so I scaled down the complexity of the background (although all the spray-mounting, x-acto cutting and lighting took longer than I thought it would) and focussed on making it a better user experience. Focus was faster, lighting was better and faster, and prints were provided. Surprisingly, last year's post was one of my most read and most googled so I'm going to talk a little about the set up because clearly people are interested.

The actual booth is not as much a booth as it is a background stand. It's made of wood and the backgrounds I make have to be fairly light to be hung on the frame. This year I used big sheets of foam core, mounted kraft paper to them and cut the shapes out. Some of the trees I drilled holes to poke mini lights through. I wish this was a totally original idea but I borrowed most of it from J Crew window displays.

The camera is set to manual at f/5.6 and 1/100 sec. The shutter has to be fast enough to catch people if they are moving and the aperture has to be wide enough that everyone in a group is in focus. I set the flash to make up for the smaller aperture and faster shutter speed. In previous versions of the booth I used two Canon Speedlights and umbrellas. This year I switched to one regular studio strobe (with a silver umbrella) centered above the camera. I did this because the strobe has more power and a faster recycle time. With one speedlight I would have to crank it up to 1/2 power or full power and the battery would drain quickly and it would need a few seconds to recycle between flashes. With two speedlights, each could use half the power and recycle would be faster but I would have to place them on the right and left of the camera. In that situation, I would get weird shadow areas sometimes depending on where the subjects were standing. With one light right above the camera the subject could move right or left or closer or further away and the light would be relatively even. It would be brighter when they are closer and dimmer farther away but I don't think there is much you can do about that without physically changing the flash setting for every shot. I was able to compensate for distance in Lightroom by changing the exposure up or down a stop.

Things that didn't change: I still have a remote control so that guests can take the photos themselves and I can walk away and enjoy the party. I use a cheap Cowboy Studio wireless remote. I bought some of those newish Yongnuo radio triggers as a backup system too. Guests can view each photo on a monitor as they are taking them. I use the A/V out to RCA cable to connect the camera and monitor. And like last year, guests who have had 2 or more cocktails are 58% more willing to do the Macarena or something else awesome in front of the camera. So I still encourage that.

This year the real game changer was printing photos as I went. I had looked into it before but always found that the real photo printers were in the $2000-3000 range. There was no way I could make my money back on that without booking the photo booth every weekend for the next year. But last week a photographer friend introduced me to Canon's mini photo printers which come in under $100 and made printing much more reasonable from a cost perspective. They aren't super fast—about 60 seconds for a 4x6—but waiting a minute for a photo seems fast when you aren't expecting an instant print.

So, that's how it works! Any questions?