A weekend with the Leica M (Typ 240)

I've spent the last year owning a Leica M Monochrom and a Canon 5D mk III, and sadly it was a REALLY sparse year for photos. I probably took less photos in the past year than any year in the past 15, which includes my film days which ended around 2003. 

This weekend, however, I walked around Stockholm a little with my friend Shane Robinson, an amazing painter and photographer from Maui, and I brought the Leica M (Typ 240) and a 50mm 1.4 Summilux ASPH. Wow. Where the Monochrom is clunky, the M is smooth. Where the 5D draws attention, the M stays covert. It's an amazing camera and really brought a little joy back into my recently rather dead photographic life. 

I then posted the photos to Instagram, and after looking back at them I realize that while Instagram is a great community and and an amazing way to get lots of eyes on your photos, the low res, mobile viewing experience really does kill all the detail in them, and not all photos look good in a tiny format. So while I know that 25% of my blog viewers are doing it on mobile, at least there's the option to view the images on a large screen if I blog them. So here they are, click to view them largeish.

Birch trees at Tyresta National Park - I still prefer black and white images, and M files convert beautifully!

While I love black and white, some images want to be left alone. The fall leaves in the background had to stay.

After a visit to the photography museum in Stockholm, Fotografiska, we looked out over the water at this scene.

I almost never shoot vertically, but when you have one lens with you sometimes it makes sense!

And this last image I didn't share on Instagram because I realized it would look boring and terrible. I suppose it really is a little boring, but it captured the mood and weather of the day so perfectly that I like it.

Ars Lake in Tyresta National Park on a cold, misty autumn day.

I'll be shooting lots more with this camera, and have a good amount of travel soon. So should I blog the images? Or just Instagram them? Is that just how people like to consume photos these days?

Airplane Crashing Fears

I fly a lot, and luckily I'm not nervous or afraid of flying. But every single time my flight takes off, as it lifts off the ground I start picturing it crashing. Usually suddenly and with some sort of abrupt roll to the right, smashing to the ground upside down and with no hope of survivors.

And every time, after a short period of these thoughts which do strike a level of fear in me, my fears are taken to a new level. I wonder if my latent telekinetic powers are going to suddenly kick in and because I'm picturing the plane rolling suddenly to the right and coming down to the ground, ensuring my demise, it will actually happen. I wonder if it's possible, then become quite certain it is.

I'm then left with the much more difficult task, at least for me, of trying to picture the plane smoothly continuing its ascent. But I realize I'm not at all educated enough on flight to know what all must happen in order to ensure this smoothness. What if I make the plane go up too fast and the engines stall? What if my unexpected taking control of the plane freaks out the pilots and they do something rash and overcompensate a correction and cause a crash. Would I be able to correct their miscorrection? As anyone who's ever seen a coming of age superhero movie knows, that initial time period of superhuman powers coming to life can be confusing and scary at best, or completely out of control and dangerous at worst.

Then I quickly try to think about something else, something that if my mind powers suddenly made true wouldn't be disastrous for myself and fellow passengers. And usually once I start forcing myself to think of something unrelated to the flight I actually get distracted and my mind goes back to its regularly scheduled aimless wandering. Where it belongs.

So far I've yet to cause a crash, or even some light turbulence. But that doesn't stop me from worrying on every single flight.


Sometimes Quality is Worth the Money - OR - Why I Own a Titanium Spork

A while back when I was in semi-decent shape and was into adventuring (which was maybe more than just a while back) I was planning a trip with a friend to Big Pine Lakes in the California Sierras. It wasn't just any trip, it was an early-February snowshoe backpacking trip with over 5,000 feet of elevation gain in an area we weren't likely to come across any other travelers on paths that were buried in many feet of snow. Not your run-of-the mill camping trip. I wanted to be prepared.

I ventured to REI, the adult adventurer version of a candy shop for kids, and was looking at cookware. I picked up a fancy and slightly confusing multi-fuel stove, a steel pot, an aluminum bowl, and was now looking at cutlery. The idea was that I'd be mainly melting and boiling snow and making what looked like delicious freeze dried foods that came in big foil packages. I picked up an awesome looking titanium spork that was $20.

"That's a product made for idiots," said a voice from behind me. I turned to find that it surprisingly came from an REI employee. "This is $3 and is better in every way." He picked up a lexan plastic fork, knife and spoon kit.

"Those are for rich people," chimed in another REI employee. "People who don't know what to spend their money on."

"Yeah, at Taco Bell board meetings they sit and eat with titanium sporks!" Laughter ensued, seemingly, to me, disproportionate to the actual humor of the joke.

"Seems like it would last forever," I sheepishly offered, having nothing else to add to this conversation.

"There isn't a single thing that can do that the lexan ones can't, and they will probably even outlast it. They can't even get bent out of shape." 

Their point was made, and they walked away, leaving me feeling foolish with a titanium spork in one hand and the lexan option that was a mere 15% of the price in the other. I put the rich people monstrosity back on its hanger and walked away having saved $17.

Fast forward to a freezing cold day, 10,000 feet up in the Sierras. Josh and I had just finished digging 4 feet down into the snow, then stomping the remaining 2 feet down hard until we could set up our 4-season tent on it. We carved out a kitchen a little bit away and set up my stove. I took out the stainless steel pot, fumbling with it because my fingers were numb due to the inadequate gloves I had purchased, and used it to scoop up a fresh chunk of snow. I put the lid on the bot and lit the stove.

After a few minutes, during which I had been carving a snow bench for us to sit on and dine, I opened the pot to see if the water was ready. 


In my exhausted (from the 4 mile snowshoe hike), cold (from the 10 degree weather) and hungry (see previous reason for exhaustion) state I hadn't noticed that the lexan fork was still in the pot when I scooped up the snow. It was now melted to the bottom of the pot and burning. 

I dumped the water and tried to retrieve the fork, but it was too late. It was fused to the bottom of the pot. I took out my knife and started scraping it, but there was no way to get all of the plastic off, and it was charred and if we continued to cook with the pot the plastic remains would probably expel nasty stuff into our water as we heated it.

"Well it's a good thing we have a backup," said Josh, who had brought his own stove and cooking pot. He took care of the cooking for the rest of the three-day expedition.

Turns out there WAS something the titanium spork could do that the cheap lexan plastic versions couldn't. Resist heat. 

I learned a valuable lesson that day. You can't plan for every stupid thing you might do. And not every quality piece of gear is going to be idiot-proof. But don't believe people when they say you can do something just as well with something cheaper. Sometimes you can. But sometimes you're paying a premium because something really is better. Longer lasting, higher quality, more resistant to your own stupidity... there are lots of reasons better is sometimes BETTER. And often you have to pay for that. Or you might pay twice.

Always Be Capturing.

ABC. Always Be Capturing. A somewhat lame spinoff of the famous line from Glengarry Glen Ross. But I mean it. And DoSS, for Don't Stop Shooting, sounded even worse.

When I got started with my first "real" camera, a film SLR Canon Rebel G, I shot constantly. And with all the cameras I had from then until a few years ago... I did the same. At one point I never went anywhere with no less than a Canon 1vHS, 10 rolls of film, 3 lenses and a flash. 

Ok, so that was silly.

But it meant I was always capturing life around me. Friends, family, coworkers, skeptical strangers... no one was safe from my rabid enjoyment of the sound of my own shutter. And when you shoot constantly that way... when you look, to someone who knows you, like something's missing when you're not holding a camera... people just get used to it. I guess if they love you enough they just tolerate it. And then after a while they get truly used to it and enjoy the results. I have taken countless candid photos of people in the past 15 years where they stated, after seeing the results, that it was their favorite photo of them. I attribute that mostly to the fact that they just didn't like having their photo taken, so there wasn't much to choose from. But I got through that by being... well by being a guy who always had a camera.

Now it's a little easier. Our phones shoot wonderful photos, so you don't even need to be obtrusive and ostentatious to constantly take photos of the world around you. 

Sometime about 3 years ago... two things influenced me away from my previous habit. One was that I started buying into the argument that if you're always shooting your life, you aren't present enough to live it. I can say, from experience, that it isn't the case with me. Also I have a terrible memory, so having records of the things I do allows me to relive moments I'd otherwise forget entirely. The other big influence was that I started having access to "higher profile" people in my life, and I didn't want to look like I was taking advantage. I didn't want to be posting photos of famous and popular people and seem that I was just trying to look cooler than I was. 

Well I'm over that. I spent the past few years shooting only when around other photographers or when it was at a place where it was more acceptable (parties, events, etc.). And I have a huge chunk of life missing from the 100,000 or so photos I have in my personal library of snapshots. 

Last month I went to visit my grandmother, whom I hadn't seen for over 15 years. She was in a nursing home and had a 2-inch tumor in her brain. She wasn't the person she was 15 years ago, let alone a few months ago... she didn't remember me, she didn't really talk much, and the only thing that really linked her to the grandmother that I remember was her smile and laugh.

I had brought my Leica M Monochrom... but I hesitated. I thought maybe it was inappropriate. I thought maybe she wouldn't like it but not be able to articulate it to me. I thought I'd look like a douche. And after 30 minutes or so of being there, I remembered that I used to not actually care until someone ASKED me to stop (and I always would if asked) and I took out the camera and started shooting some photos. 

My grandmother passed away this weekend. I saw her only that one time in the final 15 years of her life, but I'm extremely grateful that I decided to shoot. In the photos she isn't the younger, loud laughing, constantly smiling grandmother I knew when I would come over for Christmas as a child... but you don't know that. The photos preserve what you want them to preserve. And for me these few photos preserve the person I knew before, and not the one I saw in the final month of her life.

And for that I am reminded to always be shooting.

iPhone Home Screen Organization | How Do You Do It?

I'm obsessed with certain types of organization... yet am actually not all that organized. So those few things that I can keep total control over, I do my best. You know, things like my wallet, my desktop and my iPhone. And sometimes my room. Sadly, that's about it. I don't think I want to admit, even to myself, how many hours I use my iPhone every day, I'm going to put the estimate at over 6, especially since I've usually run the battery down by 3pm. WHAT I'm doing during all that time... well yeah I'll just say BIG business.

So... here's how I have my apps organized... the games folders are new (I used to just have a bunch of folders all named "Games")... and I'm only sharing this because I'm curious how everyone else does it. Folders in iOS 4 changed my life. What about yours?

first screen has my most used apps (in theory)

iPhone screen

second screen is everything else, organized into folders

iPhone screen

third screen has all the games, though I haven't found a great folder system yet (hence this blog post)

iPhone screen

fourth screen is for my junk folder and where I keep new apps that I'm testing before being put info a folder

iPhone screen

So... how do you do it?

New Fitness Goals AGAIN

I've been trying to lose weight, with some temporary successes, but overall unsuccessfully, for years. Many many years. Well, then again I suppose it depends on your definition of trying. Trying, to some (and by some I mean lazy fatties like me) can sometimes mean wanting to lose weight... feeling guilty about eating too much... and wishing that I was thinner. There are times, however, that I've genuinely tried. I've actively set goals (and failed them) and have put programs and activities in place that, had I not been tempted by the devil (feel free to substitute "the devil" with any number of evil things, such as "the donut", "the couch", "the all-you-can-eat Vegas buffet") I would have eventually been successful with. Alas... the devil has always won. Or rather... I have always found the devil more enticing than having a Spartan body (yes, with painted abs a la 300). You see... having a Spartan body would be great for when I'm climbing in slow-motion from the pool at a party or when I'm competing in a flexing contest... but donuts taste good right now. And so I eat them. (actually I must confess I'm blaming a lot on donuts and I rarely eat them, but the word is admittedly funny so I type and type it!)

DISCLAIMER: yes, all these images are ridiculous

When I was a kid I was average sized: Kid Vu

When I became a teenager I was chubby: Farmer Vu

When I was 15 I was sent to Vietnam for 2 years to learn "my roots" (on my father's side) and got malaria and lost a ton of weight and became fairly thin: Lan and Vu in Vietnam

By the time I was 18 I was back to getting chubby: Uncool Vu

And once I hit 20 I surpassed 200 lbs... a weight I would not see again for many years: Finally Fat Vu

At the height of my fatdom I was 230 lbs. That's a lot for a 5'9" tall guy (I used to claim to be 5'10" but really it's like 5'9.5" and I've decided to be more humble in life). I thankfully don't actually have an image from that time... but I do have this one which was probably over 220 AND shows the dumb hair I had for a few months. Perhaps at the time I thought the blonde hair and giant black eyebrows would distract people from seeing my belly.


So... 2009 arrives. I'm fed up. I've always been on-and-off active... having played a heck of a lot of beach volleyball from 18 to 23 or so... then finding mountain biking and other outdoor activities... but I've never really stuck with anything. One thing I've ALWAYS hated was running. Ugh. Just thinking about running makes me angry. I'm angry that I've ever had to run in my life for any reason whatsoever, and I'm angry that I know that I will have to run in the future, for a variety of reasons (hopefully never for my life, but you never know... I DO live very dangerously).

Wait, where was I? I tend to get off topic pretty easily. Oh yeah, 2009. So in 2009 my dear friend Ryel bought me a pair of running shoes as a gift for some workflow and other help I've given her... and I buy a Nike+ sensor. It works perfectly with my iPhone 3GS (built in communication and app) and I now have no reason not to run. Ok, actually I have my bad knees which have bothered me since I was a teenager... but the honest truth (as opposed to the dishonest truth) was that they had seemed ok for the past couple years and I was determined to at least put them to the test. When I say I hate running though... I mean I HATE running. Every step I take while running is another step I hate. I literally think the ENTIRE time, each time I run, of all the excuses I can find to stop running. Almost every second. Sometimes I even think of ways I could allow my ankle to sprain or maybe just trip and fall and scrape my knee... something enough to give me a good excuse to stop. So when I run... and when anyone sees that I've run like 5 miles... they actually have no idea what an accomplishment that really is... because I REALLY HATE running!

But I ran. I ran a total of 38 miles. Over the course of 2 months (that's a LOT for me, probably the most ever). Along with that I also decided to cut my daily caloric intake down to 1,000 calories (plus any exercise I did that day... so if I ran off 400 calories I would eat 1,400 calories that day). Extreme? Yes. But I wanted results and I was tired of not getting them. I was 215 lbs when I started and I just wanted to look and feel good by November. In just over 2 months I lost 25 lbs. Yup, one morning I actually weighed in at 188 lbs. It was the lightest I had been since I was 19. Wow. Momentous, right?

Unfortunately I didn't think so. I felt like I had done a lot of work but I didn't realize how awesome an accomplishment I'd really achieved. I wanted to continue but I went on vacation and stopped the dieting and stopped the running all at once... and didn't start them up again. I regained 15 of the 25 lbs I lost over the course of 4 months... and that's where I am right now. 205 lbs. Hello again, fatso.

Ugh. 205 lbs. I look at images I took just months ago when I was under 190 and they make me SO regretful that I didn't just keep it up. Here's my favorite. Yup, that's me in a pose that normally would show wonderful curvy love handles with the way the wind is blowing my shirt in... but there are none! Ok they're there but they are manageable. They're close to being gone.

@VuBui showing @RoxanneDarling the shotimage of Roxanne Darling and myself by Shane Robinson

A New Beginning. Again.

So... I want that again. I want that and more. I want 175 lbs. That's not too thin for my height and age. That would actually not be that thin at all, just a hell of a lot more thin than I am right now. And it's not just about LOOKING thin (and wearing a Spartan Halloween costume). It's about FEELING good and healthy. I really enjoyed being lighter on my feet, I enjoyed being able to run up a flight of stairs with the slightest of effort. I just wish my insecurities about my body and weight had caught up with the rest of my good feelings... I might have realized how far I'd come and be less likely to keep it off. Unfortunately I still felt like a fatass... and so I let myself become one again.

I'm going back on the 1,100 a day calorie plan (plus exercise). I'm trying to run a consistent 15 miles a week plus calisthenic workouts in between runs. I'm also looking for someone to barter a headshot session for a road bike (blog post about this coming soon). I'm going to post some of my results to this blog. Probably at least my weekly calorie intake. My runs go to Twitter. My calisthenic workouts I think will show up on my calorie chart (it's all in the amazing Lose It iPhone app). And once I get that bike those results will be posted too.

Do you think I can do it? I sure could use people giving me a hard time about NOT keeping up with my goals. I'll come up with some actual dates soon, once I figure out exactly what I want to do... but I'm totally open to suggestions, criticisms, name-calling and encouragement (in no particular order). I have Lydia (who is surprisingly an AMAZING motivator) but no offense to her... I would love some more.

These are some of the stats from today's blog post on 750words.com, click the image to see all the stats:

750 words stats

Photography as Art... Again | 750 words day 2

I actually wrote 606 words this morning then deleted it all... I wasn't happy with where it was going and needed to start fresh... but after writing 606 words straight I needed some time before I started again. The writing this morning was all about workshops in the photo industry. But I really wasn't happy with what I was saying... because I ended up just talking about what Lan and I have done, and then about what I think that people actually want. I think it should have been a lot more about what I want to change in my own business... because honestly there is no better way to lead than by example. So... I'll save that talk for another day.

Instead, today I want to talk about something else that's really important to me right now. Art. When Carlos Baez first started truephototalk.com (where much of the talk of workshops and value and lies and truth and...) it had nothing to do with "truth" in the industry, and was actually more about bringing the art back to photography, or at least his desire to bring art back to the spotlight of what photographers are about.

Photography, especially in the wedding industry today has become much more of a commodity and less of an art, in general, than ever. The homogenization of photography can be blamed mostly on the amazing advances in technology that we've seen in the past 10 years, but also by what the consumers of this commodity want. They want the same thing they see on 100 blogs... and luckily there are 10,000 photographers shooting that same exact thing. I used to look blogs just like everyone else, especially when I was thinking I was going to become a wedding photographer... but then I realized that not only did each photographer's weddings look the same from client to client... but each different photographer looked the same as the ones around them. And all that looked pretty much the same as what I was doing.

Certainly some photographers are better and some worse from a technical perspective... but most photographers, once they reach a certain level of experience, all look pretty darn similar (NOTE I say most, because there are some who certainly stand out). THAT is why there is the huge movement in making your business about YOU and YOUR PERSONALITY. Lan and I have been lucky that our personalities lend themselves well to selling ourselves instead of just our photography. We've been hired more than once (actually MANY times) for gigs where the client only later realized that they were completely excited that we were their photographers yet had never seen any of our work.

Our wedding film on themotionboutique.com website was our first true wedding video. When Nicole, the awesome (and I mean she really was cool) came to meet with us we chatted for almost an hour, laughing and having a great time... before she asked if we had any work that we wanted her to see. We told her "no, actually nothing we've ever done before would be at all representative of what we are going to do for you, but we'd love it if you'd trust us enough to do a great job for no reason other than you've met us." We explained in words what we wanted to do for her... and she hired us right there... and said it was because she really liked us and wanted us there on her wedding day. It was a surprise but also felt great, and it was an amazing amazing wedding that we totally delivered for her (in our opinion, and in hers).

SO... we are living proof that there is credibility to the claims made by so many that a photographer's personality is as important (if not more in some cases) as their actual work. BUT... do I want that to be why my clients hire me? Do I want to be part of that 80% or so of photographers whose work is just about the same as everyone else... leaving only my personality to shine above and make me the right choice? Perhaps the capitalist in me is happy with that... but the artist in me is definitely saying NO.

What do I do about that, then? How do I improve my art and craft? How do I elevate above what I currently do? In the past couple years I've gotten to the point where I only pick up a camera if I have a gig. Holding an SLR makes me feel like I'm working, not enjoying photography like I used to. That's one of the reasons I'm absolutely in love with the Olympus E-P2 that I have on loaner (and have to give back in a week). It doesn't feel like work. It has brought the fun back into photography for me.

So maybe I just need a camera that doesn't feel like I have to do serious work with. I don't know. But I know I want to do something to get myself out of what I'm stuck in right now.

Yeah, if you're read this far you can probably see that I am a terrible writer when it comes to just laying down thoughts... because I can't stay on topic, not for more than a paragraph or two. Oh well. I'm not as keen on fixing that too soon.

These are some of the stats from 750words.com, click the image to see all the stats:

750 words stats