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.

Japan Nite at The Viper Room | iPhone Photography

When Joe Philipson asked me to accompany him to Japan Nite at The Viper Room over the phone from Austin while he was hanging out at the SXSW Music Festival I just said yes. I didn't really even know what the heck he was talking about. Seriously... it sounded cool... but I still had no idea. It wasn't, in fact, until we actually got to The Viper Room on the night of ??the concert that I even found out exactly what was going on. A bunch of Japanese bands playing one after the other at a really cool LA venue. There was Chatmonchy, JinnyOops, Red Bacteria Vacuum, Omodaka and OKAMOTO'S. Ok, this I could dig... if I like the music.

I did.

My favorite band was JinnyOops, although the version I loved was not the full band... as they were missing their horn players... but I do still enjoy their recorded music very much!

I brought my iPhone and the Olympus E-P2 that I have on loan from Olympus... and was amazingly impressed with both cameras. I haven't really used the iPhone for much, but recently downloaded Hipstamatic app and have been shooting some fun shots with it... and I used it on the crazily lit stage with some pretty cool results.

OKAMOTO'S via iPhone regular camera app: Okamoto's at Japan Nite at The Viper Room

OKAMOTO'S via iPhone Hipstamatic app: Okamoto's at Japan Nite at The Viper Room

chatmonchy via iPhone Hipstamatic app: Chatmonchy at Japan Nite at The Viper Room

OKAMOTO'S via Olympus E-P2 : Okamoto's at Japan Nite at The Viper Room

JinnyOops via Olympus E-P2 : JinnyOops at Japan Nite at The Viper Room

You can see the entire set HERE.

I'm looking forward to shooting more with the iPhone and a LOT more with Hipstamatic. I didn't do much with the Olympus this night... but it's been amazing otherwise... so some great images should be forthcoming.

TiltShift iPhone App First Look | Mini Review

Click to download TiltShift in iTunes

(see update at bottom of post, 11/24/2010)

I heard about this iPhone app called TiltShift this morning (though it's been out for some time now)... and had to try it out for myself. From what I've seen there are a few of them out there... but this one looked to me to be the most interesting one. It's $1.99 on the Apple app store... so you can see my first impressions here before taking the plunge. ;)

Tilt shift movements in photography were originally provided on large-format view cameras... then Nikon introduced a lens for 35mm cameras in the 60's and Canon in the 70's. It was originally used to correct perspective shifts in photography such as in architecture... but most recently tilt shift used much more often for creative effect. When used properly you can make real-life scenes look like miniatures or toys... which is fun.

Unfortunately tilt-shift lenses aren't cheap. Canon's tilt shift lenses are both over $1k and I'm sure Nikon's are around the same. So... people usually resort to Photoshop. You usually can't get the same effect out of your images... but if they are shot perfectly and Photoshopped perfectly... you can get the tilt shift look without having to actually buy the lens (and learn to use it properly).

Enter the iPhone and the billion apps for it. Now you can do tilt shift photography right on your phone... and it actually looks pretty neat. Not perfect, not professional... and certainly not like a real tilt-shift lens. It is, however, very cool for something that can take less than a minute from capture to Tweeting your latest faux tilt shift masterpiece... and all from your beloved iPhone.

Check out the TiltShift app on iTunes. For $1.99 it's pretty darn cool.

These are images I shot today at Disneyland and edited directly in the TiltShift app.

TiltShift iPhone app review

TiltShift iPhone app review

TiltShift iPhone app review

TiltShift iPhone app review

TiltShift iPhone app review

Click to download TiltShift in iTunes

UPDATE

Michael Krause, author of Tiltshift app, emailed me to explain some things and let me know about the recent update!

"To clarify the erratic behavior of the save function and the missing want-half-size-dialog:

The dialog appears only for photos that take a long time to process (more that 20 seconds) for example. This only happens with high-resolution photos and lens blur. What probably happened to you was that you saved a high-resolution photo in half-size and you got the dialog. Later you loaded this saved half-sized photo and saved it again. Because the source was no longer high-resolution it was automatically saved as is without asking for resolution reduction again.

Regarding the Bokeh possibility this is not well documented but the three main points are: 1) Lens blur must be on. 2) Bokeh is best with night time images with isolated light points 3 )The blur level and blooming factor must be high enough that blooming kicks in.

A third issue you mentioned was that the parameters are not reset when loading a new image. You can reset all parameters at once with a tap-and-hold gesture on the button to the left of the slider."

Version 2.1 was released on Oct 21, 2010.

Thanks for the answers and for the new software update, Michael!

DIY flash grid | Straws + Glue + Time = Cheapo Perfect Grids!

In keeping with the low-budget nature of the Hawaii Trip, I decided to actually make some of my own gear. I didn't get to do everything I had hoped (time has a way of slipping by quickly when you're planning something big) but the flash grid project I was able to do the night before we left.

The grid actually worked out PERFECTLY. I was amazed at how great it was. I am making two more, one with longer straw pieces for a tighter beam, and one that's a little wider as well. The one I made was right in the middle... and ended up being perfect for a general flash grid that lasted me the trip.

What you'll need:

  • black drinking straws (I got mine from Panera Bread)
  • Quick Grip glue (I got it at Michael's)
  • black duct tape (I bought black Duck Tape from Michael's)
  • cardboard (I used thin product packaging cardboard
  • scissors
  • a ruler is good, but I didn't use one
  • black marker (I was going to use it to black out the edges of the cardboard, but didn't show that in the video)

The Quick Grip Glue was very key to the success. I've read a number of posts (the one I used to make mine was HERE) and a lot seem to have trouble with durability. The glue I used made this thing nearly indestructible, it's holding up perfectly by being completely strong without being brittle... and using the duct tape around it makes the cardboard somewhat tear-proof.

This first example showed me that if you truly value your time and don't have a lot to spare... this probably isn't the most cost saving project. If you have a little time on your hands, however, you're easily able to make 3 of these in less than a couple hours... saving about $70. To most amateurs and even quite a few professionals this is TOTALLY worth it.

You might also be worried that the final product will look too unprofessional... but if so... you're likely worried about the wrong things. Cover it with black and it's good enough, no one will look closely enough to see that it's homemade... and if they do you tell them that you make your own because no one out there makes exactly what you need. If YOU are professional... and you deliver professional results... that's truly all you need to worry about. Pros jimmy-rig things all the time, it's a constant necessity.

Here is the glue I used (I get 4% of purchases if you buy):

Quick Grip Glue 2 Ounce

If you prefer purchasing grids and want the same results, I recommend HONL Photo's grids. You can purchase them below through Amazon:

HonlPhoto Speed Strap for Shoe Mount Flashes - you need this to attach the grids to your flash HonlPhoto 1/8 grid HonlPhoto 1/4 grid

Stay tuned for actual results from the grid in Hawaii!

This post is part of the Hawaii Fusion Trip 2009.

This video is brought to you by:

Smug Mug LogoThe Bui Brothers Logo

Special thanks to Know How Cafe for providing accommodations and tech for the trip.

Ewa-marine Underwater Housing First Test | Mini Review

Tracie and I took the Ewa-marine underwater housing out for a first test in the swimming pool in my apartment complex. The video above should show you everything you need to know to get started with it... and know if it will work for what you want it to do. We will have more examples of photos and videos in future posts, but this is a quick review to show you all the features and our first use of the bag.

We needed an affordable underwater housing for the Hawaii Fusion Trip, and although I considered purchasing a point-and-shoot underwater camera to accomplish this goal I wanted better quality video and more control over the photos I'd be taking. Shooting underwater will degrade the quality of what you are doing already... first of all because of debris and light-loss... but also because it is mainly blue light that is allowed to travel through water... blocking out the rest of the visible spectrum quickly as you get further from your subject. We wanted to have the highest quality capture possible, so we went with the full housing. The Ewa-marine is actually the most affordable by far, yet it still performs very well within its own limitations.

One of the biggest benefits of the Ewa-marine housing over others, besides the price tag (just $269!), is the fact that you can use it on multiple cameras. Especially if you don't use it much... the housing will likely outlast the camera model you have... and all the hard plastic housings ($1,000 and up) are made with specific buttons to fit each individual camera model. The Ewa-marine is essentially a plastic bag, so as long as your new camera fits in it... you have full use of all the functions.

Pressing the buttons inside the bag proved to be a bit difficult, but with practice it ended up being just slightly slower than usual. Practice definitely improves your performance with this thing... and quickly. Underwater photography is difficult for a host of reasons, which I found out later during a snorkeling trip, but results can be amazing, especially when you have a fantastic video DSLR.

We made a few mistakes our first time out, and there are a few things to note:

  • You need googles if you plan on seeing the screen AT ALL. This might seem obvious... but I totally forgot to buy a pair.
  • Water magnifies everything... so if you have a plan to use a certain focal length, keep in mind that it will be "zoomed in" about 30%.
  • Keep the lens as CLOSE to the front glass of the housing as possible, or you can get reflections in your images of the lettering on the lens. Blacking this out with tape can definitely help.
  • If you have sunscreen on your face and chest... it's going to get on the bag, and will make it really hard to see through it, because it won't wipe off easily.
  • Light bends all over in water... mainly when coming through the surface of it, so direct sunlight will turn into lots of streamy bands of light all over.
  • Focusing isn't easy to do, and isn't easy to verify... but with practice autofocus still does a pretty good job if you can stay still long enough to lock
  • People like to breathe, and breathing causes bubbles, so coach your model in not exhaling while shooting, because bubbles coming out of their nose isn't attractive, unless you're going for that.
  • All-in-all I was extremely pleased with the initial results of the housing, and have a great full shoot to share with you soon!

    Shortly after tweeting about the housing, where I actually mentioned the full name "ewa-marine underwater housing", I got a reply message from a gentleman from Germany (I think) with the Twitter name @ewa_marine. It was a small exchange but very welcome and it shows that the company is looking at what people are doing and saying about their product, which is awesome. He even asked for me to send over a link to examples when I have them. How 'bout that?

    NOTE: in the video I mentioned that I didn't find the manual... it was actually in the front pocket of the case. I forgot to mention that I had found it!

    You can purchase an Ewa-marine housing through the following links, the first is for smaller SLRs (fits Canon Rebel series or Nikon D40 or D90) and the second is for larger bodies (up to the 5DmkII size). If you buy it through this link I get a nice little 4%, and will love you for it.

    Ewa-marine U-A Housing f/ small AF SLR Cameras w/ a built in Flash

    Ewa-Marine Underwater Housing for Large DSLR Bodies like EOS 5DmkII, 7D; Nikon D1, D2X, D300

    This post is part of the Hawaii Fusion Trip 2009.

    This video is brought to you by:

    Smug Mug LogoThe Bui Brothers Logo

    Special thanks to Know How Cafe for providing accommodations and tech for the trip.

Hawaii Photo Fusion Gear Bag

This video shows and explains all the gear I brought on the Hawaii Photo Fusion trip.

Everything was selected specifically for low-budget shooting. I was confident that even with the entry-level gear I was bringing that I'd be able to do everything I wanted to do as a professional.

Below is a list of all the items I describe in the video... with links where they can be purchased. The ones through Amazon will use my affiliate link and if you purchase I get like 4% (that's my disclaimer).

Gear List

This post is part of the Hawaii Fusion Trip 2009.

This video is brought to you by:

Smug Mug LogoThe Bui Brothers Logo

Special thanks to Know How Cafe for providing accommodations and tech for the trip.

Sailing Lanikai | Photo Fusion Workshop Live Demo

This video was edited (using iMovie), scored (using Magic Garageband) and uploaded (to SmugMug) during the Hawaii Photo Fusion Workshop in Honolulu in less than an hour!

The video and photos were shot with the Canon T1i and kit lens (18-55mm f/3.5-5.6IS) in an Ewa-marine underwater housing. It was my first attempt at shooting with the ewa-marine underwater housing, and it performed very well. I still need work in using it efficiently, but overall it was perfect for what I was trying to do.

More great video tutorials and fusion work coming in the following days!

This post is part of the Hawaii Fusion Trip 2009.

This video is brought to you by:

Smug Mug LogoThe Bui Brothers Logo

Special thanks to Know How Cafe for providing accommodations and tech for the trip.

DIY Dress Alteration | Wedding Dress for Hawaii Photo Fusion Shoot

Tracie shot a nice, simple and quick tutorial on how she altered the wedding dress that we will be shooting during the Hawaii Photo Fusion trip. This is the first of almost 2 weeks worth of daily videos we'll be posting. Enjoy!

Coming next, a first test of the Ewa-marine underwater housing in a regular pool.

This post is part of the Hawaii Fusion Trip 2009.

This video is brought to you by:

Smug Mug LogoThe Bui Brothers Logo

Fashion Photography | Tracie Cotta Photo Shoot One - part 2

Video by Tracie Cotta


In part 1 of Shoot One we shot in Tracie's front yard, her bedroom, downtown Fullerton, Disneyland and at a local park. That left 2 days... which took us to San Diego and back up to the OC Fair for part 2.

San Diego "secret" location

Years ago I saw some photos on flickr that were really cool... they had very dynamic lighting... and the location was outstanding. I'm not usually a big fan of girls in bikinis just for the sake of showing skin... but these were really good shots otherwise. I was about to do our first photo shoot of Paul Dateh and I wanted a really cool place to shoot... so I contacted the photographer and asked about the location.

"It's a secret."

Oh. Well that sucked. I sorta understood because if you have a cool location that you use often you may not want it to be swarming with every kid with a DSLR and a cute girl at his disposal... sooner or later that will cause problems with the owners/tenants/neighbors... someone. But I couldn't just give up... so I plead my case a little harder... and he finally relented... but only after I promised not to share the locale with any other photographers. And I haven't. So... don't ask where these were done. I made a promise and I like to keep those. When I can.

We got to the location about an hour before sunset... we planned on getting through two outfits... I hadn't even seen the first one, but LOVED it. Tracie knows how to put together an interesting ensemble, that's for sure.

And she knows how to look fierce.

Tracie Cotta

Tracie Cotta

Tracie Cotta

Tracie Cotta

Tracie Cotta

Tracie Cotta

For the final shot, just after the sun dropped below the horizon, Tracie quickly changed and we took this final photograph... and then, like teeny tiny vampires... a flock (or is it swarm?) of blood-thirsty mosquitoes chased us back to the car.

Tracie Cotta

The OC Fair

In the 16 or so years I've lived in Orange County... I think I've only actually been to the fair like 3 times. Once to shoot a Noodle Scar episode and twice just for fun.

This year Tracie and I decided to go on the last day it was open... and we ended up having a lot of fun and not shooting very many photos... but two stood out as ones I loved. The fair really is a good place to capture color and lights... kinda like Vegas. But with barn animals and carnies.

Tracie Cotta

Tracie Cotta