Monday, October 30, 2006

Nikon D2H Shoot: Living Together, Separately


Chris (wearing glasses) said he couldn't speak English. Several coaches acknowledged his initial trepidation to talk with others as the pre-teen Korean boy took part in the BeMore basketball exercise at Park School.

The coordinators reached out to a number of churches and organizations to gather multi-ethnic representation together, compelling the adolescents to interact with each other. Asian-, African-, and Latin- heritage children formed a number of groups, like the Green Machine and Blue Lightning, playing a sport that finally brought them together, for a common goal.

They may have thought that the goal was scoring the most baskets. The true goal was bridging the separation of class and culture and belief.

Interestingly, the nation is a melting pot of diversity and customs. Yet many are taught to avoid anyone different than themselves. People are like fluid, able to travel and reshape. Yet one person acts like oil, avoiding another like they're water. The two will coexist if need be, but will never mingle.

Recall where people sit when there is open seating in a cafeteria, if you beg to disagree.

The only thing that children need is a fun game, and they tend to be in on the fun, allowing their hearts to soar with joy, no matter who plays with them. This was the case in the gymnasium, where total strangers were dropped onto a wooden floor, and unknowingly told to make fun out of playing with someone they never considered playing with before.

The first game had each team stand in line, facing a backboard. The first in line shot the ball until they scored a point. All they had to do was recover the ball and take it to the rear of their line and hand the ball to each person in front of them, so the next on in front could shoot. Christian handed the ball to Muslim. White handed the ball to Black. Boy handed the ball to girl. All the while, the smiles grew on all the faces.

Gathering the names of each of the Blue Lightning team, I gathered each name, until I asked Chris if I could take his picture. "No, no!" he resisted, extending his hand towards the lens while turning away, as if he were trying to avoid an auto accident. I became fond of his shyness, quietly rooting for him, every time he shot the basketball.

The next round of shooting was over, and the children gathered in a mass as they walked to the door of the main gym floor, waiting for the other group to finish their exercise. While I held my Nikon with the wide lens, Chris became curious about the camera, inching beside me and leaning in to take a peek into the front of the lens. *click-click-click* I fired off a couple of frames, startling the bespectacled child, startling him.

A smile crept on my face as I continued staring ahead, to signal that we could play a game. Chris grinned, knowing he was caught on camera, bouncing back a couple steps. I moved my hand to the trigger on the base and slowly turned the camera back towards him and Chris ducked. After a couple moments, I aimed and fired another few frames. At first, he seemed angry, but we both laughed, and I patted him on the shoulder as a gesture to say that he's cool, without saying a word.

I recalled befriending a classmate named Daniel, while riding to middle school on the bus. Being the last rider on the route, he found a seat hard to get with those who felt he wasn't cool enough to sit with them each morning. Noticing his plight, I started sitting on the aisle, refusing to let others sit with me until Daniel boarded, when I would move over to offer him a seat. We rarely spoke, but I didn't feel a need to press him to fight his shyness.

Who knows if the effort by BeMore will grow on any of the children, or even their parents. Watching them sit in the stands, it was difficult to see whether any of them reached out to each other. Wouldn't it be nice if one child's mind was enlightened to such vastly amazing ethnicities and cultures?

Saturday, October 28, 2006

HVX200 Accessories Ordered; Plus, Be an Editor for 2 Minutes (Lumix FZ30, Nikon D2H)

And I want more.

Okay, what if I'm a gadget freak? I want the new gear to shoot better, and I love working with it when it works. The equipment's on order, and I'm waiting to add them to the HVX200. As I use them, I plan on posting some reviews here, in future entries.

Meanwhile, after working on the Senate forum earlier in the week, I realized that tripodding isn't the way to shoot for me. Sure, I'll get a set of sticks, but they won't be top-of-line. My decision turned 180 degrees after not being mobile enough to shoot the candidates at the podium. I felt more like a local television camera operator, than a visualist.

I felt impeded.

Chatting with Andre sealed my decision, backing away from the threat to ask Duds for a $2,000 tripod (you NEED a well-built true fluid head tripod, I warned him, or it's junk). Dre opened a short piece he shot of farmers and boasted that much of what he shot was hand-held. The drawback with doing this at all with the HVX200 is how shaky the shot looks if you shoot it without any added equipment.

Seems kind-of weird, doesn't it? More equipment would make a camera more stable? Well, it depends. And I'm learning this as I continue working with the gear.

The HVX has the typical hand strap on the right side of the camera, where you slide your palm in to hand-hold the unit from the side and base:

Panasonic AG-HVX200 Handheld

Doing this with a palmcorder isn't a big deal for about 10 minutes. Add more time of use. Or another 5 pounds. You'll get the shakes with the HVX. Weighing over 6 pounds, try balancing that weight steadily at he base of your open hand while holding it close to your face. The weight will not only be top-heavy in your hand, but will also want to flop to the left side, pulling the strap against the outside of your hand.

Cavision has been developing gear that I only discovered a few days ago. Unfortunately, I had already asked for some other gear, which has been ordered, but it didn't cost way too much. The company has been adding some needed accessories for not only the HVX but other indie camcorders as well. The gear I hope I can get would make the camera look a little bulky:

MB4169H2 on the HVX200

Add all that weight, plus a wireless mic system and external drive, and you may have a much better balance at work. The completed harness should make the unit balanced, as the shoulder supports some of the weight while holding the handgrips stabilize the camera. In all, the gear may cost another $1,000 or somewhat more. But I'll remind Duds that it's 50 percent of what I first told him that he might need!

You're the Editor; Which Image Would You Publish?

Natural Gas Leak Wide.jpg......................Natural Gas Leak Telephoto.jpg

Before heading to the inner harbor, I had to swing by the site where the BGE work crew dug beneath the city street to repair a natural gas leak in their line, which caused an explosion in the manholes in the area. Boy, imagine working on the sewer line when THAT happened!

I shot images with both the wide and telephoto perspectives. Hop into my Flickr images and respond, or feel free to jot down comments here or in Flickr. Tell me what you like or don't like about each image. Critique me.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Nikon D2H Shoot: Who Feeds Pigeons? Here's One Sweet Person.

I had originally planned to cover a dance troupe that planned on performing at the amphitheater at Harborplace early in the afternoon. With the show cancelled due to the threat of inclement weather, I spotted Doris scattering bread crumbs for the birds. Glad to have herself in pictures, she shared some of her story. The pictures aren't at all award-winners. But a snippet of someone's life can make for an engaging little piece.

Greeting Doris

Doris visits Harborplace every day, she says, to enjoy the people and sights of downtown Baltimore.

There are too many bad things going on where she lives, and Doris yearns for an emotional oasis; a place where she can sit back, relax, and simply let her mind drift towards good moments and memories of her past 53 years.

"I like the water and the flowers and trees and the grounds are very pretty, and the grass is gorgeous. I can go shopping, I can go eat, you know. Meet people, talk to people; people that got respect for you. I like that."

For 30 minutes out of her afternoon, Doris enjoys life among her friends and family. Her friends are the strangers that walk by, or pause to take her picture. The tourists capture photos of her while feeding the dozens of pigeons and seagulls who keep her company. Doris calls them her children.

Her generosity even rubbed off on Kenneth of northwestern Baltimore, who sat ten feet from Doris at the amphitheater, after shopping in Fells Point. Running out of bread, Kenneth dug into his stash of handmade fudge that he had just purchased in the Light Street Pavilion.

"It costs too much money to give to the birds!" Doris calls out.

"It's all right," Kenneth responded, plucking small pieces off a slice chocolate fudge, flicking them down to the brick sidewalk. "I just realized I had some chocolate," Kenneth explains. "I didn't want all that they gave me - two of them free - so I kept two of them and just gave the other ones to the pigeons." The birds never perch on Kenneth's hands, yet they fight to rest on Doris's lap or hands. "They're like my children, my own children."

Her thoughts then turned to memories from her past.

Doris recalled meeting London, a World War II veteran, after running into him by chance at a shopping center in New York City. They married in 1976 and lived together until his death in 1984. Doris lost her residence and moved in with her sister in Arlington, Virginia, in 1994.

Eventually, Doris moved to Baltimore, but has no place to call her home. "I just live with some friends, until I can do better," she says, while brushing the last of a small stash of dried crumbs from the remains of a cupcake. "Every time I come out here, these birds will always come around me, and I always give them some bread, every day." With a heartfelt laugh, Doris's face beams with pride. "They notice me every day. Every day."

Thursday, October 26, 2006

HVX200 Low-Rezzes Senate Candidates

(The above shots were all captured with the Panasonic HVX200, set to low resolution.)

"You can remember the dumbest things from your childhood, but you can never recall what you did yesterday."

I sit in the photo department while Gene works on photos of John (TV's "Gomez Addams") Aston, who now works as a film instructor at Johns Hopkins University. Gene starts singing the lyrics to the "Addams Family," and it starts getting in my head:

"They're creepy and they're kooky;
"Mysterious and spooky.
"They're alltogether ooky;
the Addams Family."

Gene couldn't help but sing the song, and it starts to get to me.

"You're putting that song in my head!" I yell from the back room. ""It's been in mine all afternoon!" Gene yells from a workstation as he tones the pictures he shot.

I just got finished with burning 5 DVD's after shooting more footage of the US Senate candidates at the harbor Marriott, earlier in the day. This time we had the trifecta: Michael Steele (R), Ben Cardin (D), and Kevin Zeese of the Libertarian Party attended the forum. Fortunately for me (and the gear I had), the candidates all agreed to allow each one the floor so he could answer a series of questions posed by a moderator. As the media signed in, the volunteer at the door commented about how many people from our work were there. Little did she know that Andre would arrive soon after to shoot stills, while John came to capture audio.

Each candidate had around 15 minutes to answer the questions, plus 3 minutes for a closing statement.

My HVX200, when shooting NTSC standard def video, can shoot 16 minutes per 4gb card. I only have 2 cards. So I decided to try "hot-swapping," where I would grab each full card from the back of the camera and download the data onto my PowerBook. The speed of the video card was fine for standard 480p, but all I wanted to do was transfer the MXF files to clear the disk.

First was Michael Steele, who gave his answers and closing statement. As Steele began, Andre started banging off frames with his camera, just to the left of me. Wishing I had an on-camera wireless system like the guy to my right, I could only glare towards Andre (my first time being upset about a still photographer's camera noise) while hoping that John was getting some audio that we could use, since I knew mine would be too spoiled for use. As the first card filled, I watched as the green light blinked and time dropped to about 16 minutes remaining, which is the halfway point, and when the cards would swap over, since the first card would have filled with data. When the light changes to green, you can remove it, but not during recording, when it blinks amber.

After the first P2 card filled, I removed it and inserted it in the PCMCIA card on the side of the Powerbook. It was filled with 3.54gb of the camera's native "MXF" files (which can be converted to movie files through Final Cut Pro). Transferring the data takes around 10 minutes, so I was really cutting everything pretty close. I grabbed my Lumix DMC-FZ30 to get ready just in case I ran out of space on the HVX, so I started shooting some "B-roll" with the camcorder feature. But Steele finished with several minutes to spare, and the forum called for a short break, so I transferred the data from the second P2 card and returned them to the HVX200 and reformatted each card, just in time for Kevin Zeese to take center stage.

I started getting into a rhythm of streamlining by wiping the P2 card on the laptop as the HVX recorded nearby. I started moving throughout the audience, getting more B-roll and angles as Zeese finished and Cardin began, just in time for another full P2 transfer and drink of water. But as Cardin was in the heart of his responses, my PowerBook warned that the disk drive was almost full! And I had to return the P2 card to capture his closing remarks. As the card's files transferred, there were less than 60 megabytes of free space left on my laptop -- talk about squeezing the files in!

But then, the other foot began to step on mine: As Cardin answered the final question, I showed only 3 minutes remaining on the first card in the HVX. Quickly, I opened the second camera card and unlocked the text file so I could drag it into the trash and delete the files, giving me a free card again. Just in time, I returned the free card into the port of the camera, which began recording as Cardin gave his summary. As he shook hands and left the podium, I had about 4 minutes remaining, so I went outside and captured some "establishing shots" of the harbor, the skyline, and the hotel where the forum was held and headed back to the office.

Back at the photo department, my disk burning is finished. Gathering all the filing papers and DVD's together, I smile, realizing that I'm a few hours ahead of schedule, while Gene laments about the impending rainout of the Cardinals/Tigers World Series game. Calling his wife, he suggests they make print-outs of the fun jingles to some of the old television shows, like "The Jeffersons" and "Car 59," for a future road trip they're planning. Gene tries remembering the lyrics to "Gilligan's Island" and finds it tough to recall the words to "Mister Ed."

Googling "Mister Ed" and "lyrics," he gleams with excitement, and I suddenly break out with the tune, through my own childhood memory:

"A horse is a horse, of course, of course;
"And no one can talk to a horse, of course.
"That is of course unless the horse is the famous Mister Ed!"

Now, what was it that I was upset about, yesterday?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Nikon D2H Shoot: "Early to Bed"? I Didn't Think So...

I'm exhausted.

I couldn't sleep until 4am, but had to get up at 6am to capture more candidate video as Martin O'Malley pressed the flesh while greeting rushing commuters inside the New Carrollton metro station. Driving there in traffic (how can ANYONE be up before daybreak??), I made it there just in time. But the place brought back some bitter memories of the first time that someone had broken into my car after I had taken some gear out of the trunk years ago. I had taken the metro to cover a march on the district and figured that parking there would be safe.

Little did I know that someone watched me pulling some gear out of the back and hit my car when I left. I didn't even know until a day later, when I tried opening the trunk to pull out my 400mm f/ 3.5 Nikkor, that my lock had been forced open by a large screwdriver. The trunk was barren. My 400mm, my 300mm f/ 2.8... gone. Fortunately, my father's homeowner's insurance covered a good chunk of the loss. But it didn't cover my sense of vulnerability and feeling of being emotionally molested.

I recalled that thought, but the open lot had been replaced by a tall parking structure. I grabbed my camcorder and went to the entrance where Mayor O'Malley stood. Gone like a bad smell in the wind were my visions of capturing O'Malley with the warm morning sunlight in his face as he smiled, shaking hands of supporters heading for the subway.

No, that's too easy.

Instead, I couldn't find him. Only his supporters stood with the green, black and white signs outside, in the cold breeze. The candidate was in the tunnel, but I couldn't even pick him out. Another volunteer pointed to him as O'Malley stood in the darkness, just in front of an overhead light, shaking hands in the darkness.

This HVX200 is great. The widest open aperture to pick up light is f/ 1.4. You can drop the shutter down to 1/24th second and get some footage that resembles film. But even this gear couldn't set a white balance in the light that was in the tunnel, because it was too dark!

Dudley had asked me to shoot some audio of all the candidates, so I figured I'd do that, and perhaps we could find a place somewhere else. About 3 minutes into my shoot, and !B-R-R-R-R-R-R-R-! SSSSSSSSSSS! Yup, guess.

A work crew had just started using a jackhammer, breaking up part of the walkway beneath the tunnel! I gave up and headed home, hoping to catch an hour of sleep before rushing back up to northern Baltimore to shoot some video of Ben Cardin, who, along with O'Malley, were gathering endorsements at an AFSCME retirees' luncheon. On the way up the BW Parkway, I saw a bicyclist riding across a pedestrian bridge. Ooh! I though, but I didn't have enough time to stop. So I debated going back and finally took an exit a couple miles up the road, swung back south, and returned. Pulling well off the shoulder, I grabbed my D2H and waited. Another car pulled in front (I feel really uneasy when someone does that, these days) and started backing up. "Do you need any help?" the man asked. Come to think of it, I didn't check his license plate (but I was getting ready to photograph it), so I thanked him for the offer and saw a guy walking to school over the bridge.

Walk to School

Anyway, I'm only going to share this little entry as I bail out of here and make myself invisible. It's almost 6pm, and I'm bushwhacked. Twelve hours of work after 2 hours of sleep equals exhaustion.

But at least I fed the beast with a weather picture.

Feel free to thumb through my Flickr pictures and share any thoughts about what I've been shooting. I know it isn't all that exciting, and I haven't really been able to breathe some of my personal vision into my daily work. Ususally, I have a little time between shoots where I might find a creative moment. I hope I can do this more often.

Meanwhile, I'd better skedaddle... I heard that the editors are looking for a warm body to drive up York Road to re-shoot a picture of a building front, after someone on staff failed to drop the picture into the system, and didn't burn a disk with the pictures they shot.

Shhh! I'm gettin' outta here!

Monday, October 23, 2006

HVX200 Gear Update; D2H Shoot: Crumbling Apartments

Suddenly, everything shifts, like a stack of wood on the back of a speeding truck.

In reverse.

I was told to abandon getting the Nikon D200's, by Dudley. Get the D2Hs and the D2Xs (nevermind about the pain I started feeling in my back yesterday!) I had made a plan to stay away from the more expensive cameras in order to completely outfit the HVX200. I don't need 8 frames/second. Or the audio recording function (it IS a GREAT feature). Or the alleged more sturdy build others claim that the "pro" bodies have. Or the larger body size. Or the -- well, you get the picture.

I planned on shooting with the D200 and attached body grip to shoot anything from the homeless to the Ravens. Some are worried that the D200 doesn't carry the FPS speed (5/sec) as the D2Hs (8 fps), but I used to shoot with a durable Nikon FM. And a Nikon EM. And, in the "early days," a Sears 500MX with a 42mm screw-mount, plus a Soligor 90-230mm 2-touch manual-focus zoom lens (hey, folks, it was all I could afford at the time)! Ah, back in the day....

While the price of the D200 was reasonable, getting two instead of the D2Hs/D2Xs combination would have led to alot of professional pocket change, and enough to equip this HVX200 with:

An Azden 200ULT wireless mic system ($750);
Redrock Micro M2 system for Nikon "primes" (using a lens adapter with ground glass that allows the mounting of any lens for different perspectives, $1030);
Audio-Technica stereo shotgun mic ($599);
Varizoom PZFI controller and Spiderbrace shoulder harness ($365);


A MacBook Pro, for editing high def video ($2,000);
Firestore FS-100, 100gb recording drive ($1,800);

and other things like a fluid head tripod. I hadn't even though about a light, actually.

Add that together and you aren't talking about a small expense. I had hoped that the savings from the smaller Nikon cameras would help, but they want the bigger still digital bodies.

I think of it like it's my own money, and I don't mind "cutting corners" with proven gear. So I spent the day writing up the whole list (it feels like Christmas!) and gave it to Dave, who queried about some of the gear, like the 35mm lens adapter. My reasoning? Buying a 2X converter and a wide angle converter would cost about the same amount of money, but wouldn't give the most versatile results.

Woops. I just remembered that I hadn't requested an external 7" HD monitor. Oh, well...

I understand that the ordering will commence soon, but I'll see how long it will take for any of this gear to arrive. I do know that the wireless system and drive recorder may be top priority. Wow. I just realized that by the time all this is put together, I'd be carrying perhaps a 14-pound camera....
I'll live through the pain.

A Little Spot News

Just when I finished the print-outs, Chuck asked me to run to Pikesville and cover the evac of an apartment building. Most (but not all) of the people were gone, and workers got busy unloading several flatbed trucks with supplies to shore up part of the building. It seems that some of the metal support columns had corroded, and one may have buckled beneath the weight of the building, which stood above a drive-through.


One woman retrieving her belongings seemed more upset about waiting, she said, for several years for a green card when she moved locally from Iran. Her body language seemed just a little different than those of locals, I felt, as she gestured skyward while asking someone how long it would take to stabilize the structure. Capturing that moment made me feel that I had an image that said everything about the event, beyond any of the physical damage that could be seen and I returned to tone and submit the image.

Friday, October 20, 2006

A Loooong Week.

Ugh. This one's gonna be pretty short. I started early, I worked late, and I still have yet to drop the video from today's campaigning into the hopper. Total drive: about 150 miles, and I didn't get past Silver Spring. After shooting the luncheon there, I drove back to Baltimore, dropped the video into the external drive, then rolled out to cover the 4pm varsity soccer game at Archbishop Spalding.

But there were some shorties playing on the field at 3:30. "Where's the varsity game?"

"They won't start until 5:30."

Calling Chuck, the admission came that there were 2 requests dropped into the system. One job went to a freelance shooter. The other had my name on it.

And I laughed my head off. "At least you're taking it well," Chuck said, telling me to return to the office. Hanging up the phone, I said to myself, "That's because I don't want to shoot the game!" Traffic started getting rough, but I made it to Lombard Street when the phone rang.
"Can you shoot the game, after all?"
What happened?
"The freelancer has another shoot and can't make it to the game."
But I'm hungry, and I haven't eaten. And I'm starting to boil.
"We need it shot. It's the number one seed against the number 3 seed."

Needless to say, I dropped two images from the soccer game in, and now I've gotta feed myself. And take some time away for a little while.

Perhaps I'll drop some more words in here on Monday. And I hope I can have some shots from more exciting adventures! lol

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Nikon D2H Shoot: Preserving Sukkot (and the lighting scene, too)

As dusk fell, I made my way to Columbia to catch up with Rabbi Susan, who invited us to document the holiday of Sukkot. Feel free to check into Sukkot and what this Jewish holiday represents.

Sukkah on deck

Never hearing of the celebration myself, I thought the dinner would take place in the kitchen, with the smells of cooked food filling the home. But I was invited to the rear of the home, where a hut stood on the deck! Ooh, wee, I do love surprises, and one that strips the traditional approach from my mind is even better. Not only did this present a fresh type of photography, it also opened a challenge, which is lighting.

Walking inside the hut, I looked around to see where the source of light came from. A single lamp with a metal shade provided the main illumination, as it was hung from the bamboo ceiling, focusing light on the center of the table. The family and guests ate dinner, as light bounced back towards their faces.

The night was cool as dinner continued, and Yonatan kept jumping up for his family and guests, bringing them things to keep their comfort enjoyable. At one time, he asked his grandmother what kind of hot tea she wanted, which made an interesting frame.

One can shoot inside or outside, but one objective was capturing the relationship between inside and outside. A wide angle 10-20mm zoom (made my Sigma, a lens and camera manufacturer I do swear by, and it's currently highlighted on the splash page) revealed the inside of the hut while keeping the exterior in view, showing the sliding glass door of the home. Inverting the camera did the trick again while Rabbi Susan brought out the soup as the light essentially mimicked the style of light inside.

But don't stop there. Step back from where the subject is, to see whether you can capture an image that gives an even clearer view of the relationship of the subject to his / her / its environment, and you may be able to find a cool shot.

Sigma has some interesting lenses available, and they tend to be very well-crafted. I'm not certain of every one; they have some pretty wide-ranging zooms hat I can't imagine could have been attempted as far as design is concerned. But that 10-20mm definitely did the trick for me, this time.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Nikon D2H Shoot: Photographing the Cheetah Girls

Ambient Light in Audience.

I have no kids, so I had no idea who the Cheetah Girls were. So the day started with my indoctrination into the battle for the parking spot. I thought I had it down pat: Park my car at the DAR building, off the main street, and wait until "rush hour" traffic ended at around 6:30pm so I could park on the street. But the soccer mom convoy beat me, pulling up to the line of metered spots in the right lane, 15 minutes before. All along the sidewalk, bands of children emptied from SUV's and minivans, dressed to the gills in cheetah outfits and pink, ready to watch the Cheetah Girls concert at Constitution Hall.

Outsmarted in my quest to get a spot, I circled the block like a vulture, trying to swoop in for an open spot. But they always pop up two cars ahead of you; by the time you get there, the car right in front claims the spot. Fortunately, I found one on D Street, and I guess people had thought that all the spots were reserved for the crew.

After making my way inside, all I saw were girls. Where were the boys, I thought? Perhaps they liked boy bands better, but I couldn't imagine that. Maybe the boys simply don't have a fixation about singers and groups? Talking with a security member, I waited for the opening act to play out, so I could take my position at the stage. The overhead lights went black and the stage lights were kicked up to white hot, and a high-pitched shrill of adoring fans filled the seating bowl.

"Hmm," I said. Gone are the days of a family outing to the circus or zoo; kids now might be bored to watch some clown with a polka dot tie, bike horn, and floppy shoes. Elephants are out; Cheetah Girls are in. It's all about the style and status.

Cheetah Girls Purse Detail

I planned to shoot with my flash pointed down again in order to take photos of fans waiting for the group to make their entrance. With such a deep ceiling, there was no other option besides using direct flash (blech) and floor bounce. So I aimed it down towards my lap (I wore black pants) and used the TTL meter on my Nikon D2H.

Seven-year-old Nora, who lives in Virgina, struck up a conversation with me as I scanned the crowd for a good subject: "I'm so excited!" she said, her wide eyes staring at me with an innocent smile. So I moved back a little and started shooting photos as the crowd waited. A projection monitor threw video from the back of the hall, and I saw that there could be a nice moment to capture. After a short while, the overhead lights dimmed and the anticipation grew, as I fired off frames in the darkness. Compensating for the lack of light, I dropped down my shutter speed a little. But I didn't want to open the shutter too long, for fear of over-exposing the glow sticks.

My attention turned to the Cheetah Girls, since photographers are now generally granted only 2 songs to shoot before being kicked out. One person in the crowd, whom I needed to shoot, sat in the center of the section, making it impossible to get any clear images of her. So I turned my attention on the group, already finishing its first song.

Cranking out more images as they performed, I had to stop shooting as the second song was done. And I was happy with the results:

All the images taken were shot at ISO 500, using the Nikon D2H and the 17-35mm Nikkor lens at 17mm. The contrast setting is usually set on low, while the sharpness is set on high. I also usually set the camera to "CLOUDY."

The first image (at top of the blog post) was shot at 1/13th second at f 2.8. Notice how all the ambient light is all over the place? It looked nice, and I was going to use one of these images, but...

...suddenly, the lights went dark! I couldn't see anything, but I simply used the thumb dial and cranked open the shutter a few clicks. But my finger also hit the f-stop dial. This image was shot at 1/4 second at f/ 3.5. See how turning out the light switch made the glow sticks look like fireflies?

Cheetah Girls glowsticks

OMG, when I saw what happened, I just started banging frames off in the darkness, hoping to get a good frame. It's cool how the light from the stick hit the face of Nora's mom. And the late-comers walking through the far entrance added to the energy.

I just kind-of shoot things and watch for something better to happen. If you shoot something and you're happy with your first shots, just hold your camera ready (keeping your left hand below the body and lens while holding your right hand on the grip and with your finger on the trigger) and watch for something else to take place. Usually, things unfold even better than your first images, because people tend to go back to being spontaneous. They wind up ignoring the camera, especially if you simply tell then to ignore you.

As for the HVX-200, we got the same CitiDisk HD drive returned to us. I had plugged it into the Firewire port and turned the drive and camera on, but the same problem happened: the drive started blinking between red and green while the camera couldn't recognize it. So over I went to Dudley's office, explaining that we had a problem.

Calling Chris at Shining Technology, Duds put the phone on speaker, and I tried explaining what was happening. Chris then says that a future update needs to be developed to allow the drive to write in the MXF format. And that was the whole problem! The HVX only writes in MXF format. Since the drive doesn't write the file, we were sold a product we couldn't use. Chris finally acknowledged that we could return the $1,200 paperweight back for a full refund. The bone of contention? Shining's website claims that the drive writes the P2 format and can be mounted onto the HVX200. Well... not so. Not yet.

Nikon D2H Shoot: Rebuilding East Baltimore?

(This was actually shot the day before, but I wanted to add a little something about this.)

brewery 03

The planners and dreamers are back at work, trying to come up with a solution to the blight in eastern Baltimore. The neighborhoods along North Av south towards the American Brewery (along Gay Street) are in a state of absolute depression. More vacant dwellings stand than occupied ones. The grocery stores have left, while the corner liquor stores operate daily. The children that live there can only play in the street or inside.

But Johns Hopkins has been working at acquiring a bunch of acreage and wiping the rowhomes off the map in order to develop north of the hospital. Meanwhile, Baltimore City plans on trying to get at least 100 homes in order to spark redevelopment north and west of where Hopkins has been demolishing.

Eric and I returned to the old American Brewery building, and people were busy inside, pounding beams together to reinforce the structure. The rain beat down on us, making me too lazy to pull my flash out and get that wet, in addition to my D2H as we knocked on doors to ask people's opinions. Turning the corner from Gay Street, we were invited inside Tyrone's home. brewery 01

He loved to talk and told us how he had lived in the community since he was a child. But just up the street was Miss Ayda (not her real name). I love elderly women, especially when they have an attitude. Miss Ayda invited us in, but immediately covered her head with her hands, exclaiming, "But don't take no pictures!"

She told us how she stopped caring like she once did. "You get too old to worry about things," she said. "When it's not fun anymore, you just stop doing it." I was mesmerized by her stories, and wanted to absorb more of her 93 years. As she shared some thoughts about her parents ("...That's their names, but that's not my name," she said, forgetting that her mail was lying on the kitchen table), Eric started reflecting on his own deceased father and mother. For a moment, I forgot about photography, and simply absorbed the heart-felt thoughts that Eric revealed about wondering how many times he may have hurt his father or mother when they were alive. "I miss them," he finished, as Miss Ayda shared the pain of her adopted son turning mean on her. "Why do people get so mean?" she asked. With only the sights and words to gauge any kind of answer, I could only guess that his service in Korea may have changed him.

We then took to searching for any photos of Miss Ayda that may have been hanging or sitting in the living room. She had plenty of photos of cousins, children, grand children, and friends. "Can you even find one picture of me?" she challenged. "Go ahead; look around," Miss Ayda boasted, as I entered the living room. "Is this you?" I asked, knowing it couldn't be. It was her sister, but she told me to keep looking.

"Oh, I see you!" I said confidently, staring at the image of a woman's picture in the center of a cluster picture frame.

"What makes you think it's me?" Miss Ayda asked.
"Because you look like you're ready to kill the one taking your picture," I replied.

She burst out with laughter, her grey ponytails bouncing as she slapped her knees. The spontaneous words, "I love you!" jumped from my mouth as I reached for her hand, kissing the paper-thin skin. Even though she held firm, I so wanted to take her photo. Not for publication, but for myself. So many people see through their pictures. They want to capture a moment as a way to try preserving it forever.

Yet everything lives for but a moment in time.

PS: Check out Stars Of The Lid, if you like ambient music. I'm listening to some on iTunes, through SomaFm. It's spatial music, but it was nice to hear while writing this entry.

Friday, October 13, 2006

FZ30: Cancer Survivor; D2H: Weeping Tree; School Shooting


Here's a shot taken with this Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30. Like I said, it does well with both videos and stills, a great portable and adjustable multimedia camera. I have to save the image to a lower file size in order to save on my monthly allotment, but the file size is incredibly large for such a camera. Read through the earlier post a couple days ago, there's a posting that gives much more detail about the FZ30. Panasonic now has upgraded the camera as well, and I'll dig that out for you. No, it's not a main camera, it's a do-all camera, and one as a terrific back-up for emergencies when you're out of town.

So on the conclusion of another week of shooting, quite a a few interesting scenarios worked themselves out today. I had to cover a sports portrait, a photo of a weeping tree, and then a football game. Sports was kinda cool, having to capture a field hockey player before her practice. The first thing to look for is a good lighting setup and the second is looking for background. And if you can't find good light, make good light.

In front of the subject was an interesting pattern of shadows from the awning above the building, so I banged off a shot there. But I also wanted to shoot some portraits using the "floor bounce flash" technique. I simply love the effect it has on the subject. The light just comes from a direction not usually seen, yet it's not only pleasing, it's also in a strange way, natural-looking. I say "strange," because light normally comes from above.

I took the player to a walkway near the field and asked her to kneel down so I could place a flash just to the other side of her body and in front of her. The light was rested aiming towards her knees, set on the ground to allow the light to travel right along the walkway. Doing a couple tests, the light pattern looked good enough to finally make the portrait.

Taking a look at the detail, you can clearly look at the sharpness in the hair and eyelashes as well:


My next shoot was capturing a "weeping tree," reported by a resident near Patterson Park, who had posted a query about it on a website. It turned out to be a challenge to shoot, and I returned to shooting with the Nikon D2H. I actually had hoped that there wouldn't be such a thing, because I wouldn't know off hand how to shoot it. As we stood in front of his home on Baltimore St on the clear fall afternoon, I felt some droplets hit my face and hands, so I knew that the challenge was on. But he lived on the block facing north, which didn't get any sunlight.

Fortunately, he knew about a weeping tree on Lombard Street, where the sun shined on it in the afternoon, so we went over to the North side of Lombard at Madiera, where maple showers rained on the walk. I love shooting backlit, and this was the perfect op to let the sunlight catch the rain:

Maple Showers

Never one to be satisfied with just one image, I worked on getting a different view to give a more rounded perspective of what was happening. Okay, what's your opinion of this phenom? I'll give you my take at the end of this blog.

Heading back to my turtle, Chuck bounced me from the football game to head for Frederick Douglass High for a shooting, which might have made the victim of a student. The shooting happened a couple hours ago, I was told, but I figured that investigators would probably still be there.

Crime scene tape surrounded the grassy front lawn on the school grounds as investigators gathered evidence and tried to piece together what happened and who did it.

Another shooting at a school.

That's what played in my mind, along with the Amish school shooting. And the shooting in North Carolina. And the other recent events throughout the country. The only image I could picture that might be dfferent was a shot of crime scene tape literally blocking the front of the school. Some students leaving the grounds walked just where I had wanted to capture some images, and I banged off a frame as they headed home from a football game.

The reporter, Jonathan, told me about where the student might have ended, but against the suggestion of investigators ("Why would you go there? There's nothing there."), we headed south on Payson to where the student headed. An elderly woman sat on a picnic chair as he asked her if she had seen anything. I was interested in the cool tabby that moved about near my feet, and started petting it, ignoring my allergic reaction to felines. Kitty was cool, and looked like a young version of Nikolas, who passed away a few years ago. "Mister, can you grab him for me?" a voice said twice, to my left. Grabbing kitty by the scruff and beneath his belly, I returned Tigger to his thankful owner who stood on the steps of her home several doors down. She had been trying to get her cat back for a while.

Jonathan, coming up empty with his first subject, asked the lady with the cat if she knew anything about the shooting of the boy. "Yes," she said. "He ended up here, at my front doorstep," Sandra said. Troy made it to her home, injured by the shooting at the school. He was taken to Shock Trauma, where he is at this moment, she said. Only a short time later, Sandra watched TV to learn that the shooting on the news was about her nephew, who turns 14 tomorrow.

Perhaps thankful that I caught Tigger, Sandra gave us more information about what may have happened, and let me take some photos of her with Tigger. "Send it to me through the mail," she said as we returned to edit what we had.

HVX200 Sports: Volleyball; Nikon D2H: Floor Lighting


You know how hard it is to shoot volleyball with a video camera?

Not that hard.

Do you know how hard it is shooting video of volleyball in order to try getting a still frame?

Really hard.

Why? One BIG reason: The lack of proper lighting inside high school gyms. Your most important tool is light, and if you have something properly lit, it only depends on your skill and the right moment to get a good shot. Take that vital tool from your box, and you're bound to struggle.

My latest challenge was shooting HD video of a sporting event to get some still images for daily use. The game started at 5:30, and I only had 8 minutes of high def footage to shoot, since I'm still using the 2-4 gig P2 cards. So there's no way to shoot constantly; I had to shoot small clips, depending on my instinct to get some nice shots.

But, the light. Oh, the light. Direct overhead lights yielded only 1/120th second at f/ 1.7, and I had cranked up some gain to 6 decibles. A recipe for disaster? Only if you are clueless with how to use your equipment. But I sure pushed my luck, in any case. I had thought for cranking gain up to (I think it's) 12 db, but I figured that one frame per 30 fps would work. The problem is that you're shooting people who are moving all over the place. So many of what might have made good still shots with a 35mm camera couldn't work with a camcorder shooting at such a slow shutter speed.

I moved all about, shooting different angles, hoping I could find the right spot to capture some footage. Near the end of the shoot is when you wind up finding the "sweet spot," which was behind the last player sitting on the bench, aiming back at the net. I only saw the spot as I turned to watch the action after giving up, and I saw faces of players from both sides, trying to dink the ball on each other's side. Doh! I had less than 1 minute of space remaining, and less than an hour before my next shoot, so I pulled the plug and figured that I should have one image.

The editors back at the office had other plans: "We need one for color and one inside," Steve said, and I opened Quicktime and Final Cut Pro to check each file for a couple good shots. Fortunately, Photoshop and Final Cut are back in working order. There was no squeezing of images, like a couple weeks ago, and I didn't figure out what was done to remedy the situation. All I know is that the widescreen pasting was back.

I found nice "jubo" (the cool way of saying, "celebration," or "jubilation") but didn't have any deejay (my own term for dejection, but no one understands it) and a couple good frames that I copied and pasted onto the Photoshop file. All shot in 1920x1080.... but my camera shot the footage without the digital interlacing, and I was surprised to see no jaggies. I think my camera was set at 30p, and it helped me as well.

This weekend, we're shooting the Ravens at home against the Carolina Panthers, but I won't be able to shoot video, since they've banned those contraptions on-field at game time.

Here's also a shot of a coach. The size that Photoshop suggests for the original size of the Quicktime image is 1920x1080 @ 72dpi. I saved this at 200dpi, and it can be seen here, I hope in its original size. I optimized the size for web use, however. Just peruse the set in Flickr, with shots saved at 72dpi and 200dpi so you can see what they look like, opened in full size.

I also wanted to add some information about floor bounce lighting with the Nikon D2H (you can do this with any camera with a flash you can aim at the floor), from a shoot I did this day as well.

Take a lookie at the image of Dad and daughter, taken with my D2H at this Halloween shop on York Road in Timonium (made me excited about having fun this holiday, too!):


I simply used one flash, the SB-800, but even an undedicated flash will do, like a Vivitar 285. I simply turned the camera upside down so that the flash head will point onto the floor! If the head of yours can move about, just aim the puppy straight down at the ground, but make certain that the color of the floor is white or grey, or close to it. Otherwise you may get some weird color changes.... but don't scare from shooting anyway if you have an orange floor; that may yield some interesting colors as well! Since you're shooting digital, simply make color adjustments as you test the balance of the colors against whatever is in your subject field.

Notice, the lights behind the pair are the standard incandescent (tungsten) lights. If you're so particular that you want true white balance with all things, well, place a warming filter over the flash that will make the output similar to a tungsten light, and change your white balance on the camera to tungsten (the little lightbulb). I like the warmth behind the people, so I kept my flash output daylight balanced, while shooting with the overcast setting on the camera.

Bang out a frame of the light source to make sure that the lights don't over-expose in the frame. They should remain very saturated (another reason I stuck with the warm lamp glow, since a darkened light bulb won't show saturation, but grey if it's white-balanced). The image was shot at 1/60th @ f 4, so I switched the flash output to 1/8th power, since it would stay consistent. Using TTL or auto settings tend to give light outputs that are inconsistent, and with a dark background, I didn't want to waste time. Aiming the flash head slightly behind will keep the top of the flash from throwing any direct light onto the subjects, which make the lighting on their faces quite harsh. If your flash head can't rotate and turn backwards, grab a piece of cardboard and some rubber bands or something to hold it on your flash head and leave it pointing straight down.

If you and your subjects have time, play with the direction and zoom function on the flash head, so you can remember what settings please you (and your subject). I like my zoom feature placed about 50mm to 85mm, but you may like the wider setting. To me, the zoom will allow for more directional yet soft lighting.

HVX200 Tip: How To Extract Pics From Widescreen

Another layer of work was added in the office to extracting still images (jpegs) from high definition video, and I can't figure how that happened. Somewhere, someone must have changed some preferences, because the monitor sizes are all widescreen, and I had extracted wide images from HD clips a few weeks ago.

When I learned about jpeg extraction, the file was 1920x1080, and I could double the size of the movie in order to double the size to 3840x2160. Now, two things happen when extracting a jpeg at original HD size: The width becomes something like 1260, while the depth stays at 1080. Somewhere along the chain, the movie file is recognized as NTSC (television format, 4x3) instead of widescreen 16x9. So the image compresses from the sizes, making everything look like they've been squished against a concrete wall by a Mack truck. As I write this entry from my laptop, my PowerBook still is conformed to recognizing the HVX200 clips as widescreen. I'll try to recall what I did to stretch the NTSC image back to its intended size.

I asked Guru Dave what was going on, but he was clueless. It also didn't help that his mind was on getting out of work to start his 2-week New England vacation. But anyway, I had almost decided to shelve the camera until I could get this cured. But I'll keep using it. You won't learn anything if you've given up.

So, here's the recipe for extracting jpegs from HD movies.

Final Cut Pro (untested with Final Cut Express)
Adobe Photoshop (mine is PS8, Adobe CS)
Quicktime Pro
A video-capable computer (mine's a Macintosh G5)
A little patience.

1) Turn whatever HD movie clips you have into Quicktime.
2) Open the file to its original size.
3) Play your file until you find the optimum frame that you'd like to extract as a still image.
3a *Opt*) Double the size of the movie clip by hitting "Apple-2"
4) "Apple-C" (which is a key shortcut for copying). The frame is then copied.
5) Open Photoshop (or, something like TextEdit, which you can paste).
6) "Apple-N" (a keypad shortcut for opening a new file).
7) The file can be custom-created.

But what Photoshop does is recognize the copying you've done and makes a size that conforms exactly to what your image size is.
*HINT* at the top of the prompt, the document is named "Untitled-1." I like to rename the image as the same name of the movie file I'm using. Sometimes I extract more than one image, so I then add letters from A to Z. This is invaluable if you need to revisit the movie clip later.
8) Go to "Layer" in Photoshop and flatten the image (at the bottom).

Do what toning and resizing you want, and save your clip.

For those suffering the NTSC/Widescreen squeeze, read further.
If your computer is spitting out anamorphed images (another term for squeezed), uncheck the "constrain proportions" box after opening "Image Size." You MUST have the file's original pixel size handy in order to return your morphed image back to its unsqueezed proportions. Here are some as a cheat for you:

Double HD Squeezed: 2880x2160
1080 HD Squeezed: 1440x1080
Double 720 HD Squeezed: 1540x1152
720 HD Squeezed: 960x720

You want to return to the "Image Size" function to uncheck that "Constrained Proportions" box so you can return the file size to its original proportions. Replace the top number (which corresponds with the first set of numbers as shown above) with the first number of the widescreen size, listed below.

Double HD Wide: 3840x2160
1080 HD Wide: 1920x1080
Double 720 HD Wide: 2048x1152
720 HD Wide: 1280x720

So, if you've shot in 720p and have a file that's now 960x720, uncheck that box in Image Size, then replace 960 with a pixel size of 1280. Hit "Okay" and your wide format has returned.

For the 1920x1080 image of the beach, here's a Flickr post of the finished image. In the meantime, I'm gonna take my PowerBook into work and figure why my laptop recognizes the widescreen size when the G5 desktops don't.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Links Embedded in My Blogs; Adding Flickr & YouTube Files!

Perhaps my own computer is having problems, and that seems to be the case. I'm not sure whether the audio from the railroad clip that I uploaded actually plays. I've decided to start a YouTube page, so as I work up some clips, I'll share it with you. Right now, only the video from the railroad is posted. It's shot with that little Panasonic DMC-FZ30, a do-all camera that I will write my own review on.

I've added links to much of what I've posted over the past several months. And I'll try sharing some information about the gear I use as well.

HVX200 Shoot: My First Cinematography Assignment

I try to make any links some kind of informative and independent review.

Armed with a shotgun mic, Panasonic AG-HVX200 and Lumix DMC-FZ30 cameras, I drove 75 miles due east, heading for the town of Denton, MD, to shoot some footage of the 70 mile commute of a woman and her 2 children. The first stop was the local auto parts store, because I needed to get a portable light. At the Pep Boys store, only AC current lamps were for sale, so I picked a fluorescent lamp, which seemed daylight balanced and burned cool.

Stopped at a barbecue place beside U.S.50 to get some ribs (don't order the dry rub kind, they are dry inside as well!) and drove over the Bay Bridge, getting to Denton around 10pm. After grabbing some snacks at a grocery store, I hunkered down for the night at a local hotel.

But I couldn't sleep.

Almost all night, I was wound up, a bit nervous about my first shoot. Would the sound be okay? The color retention and quality work? The angles of the clips? I decided to go to the truck and pack all my video gear, so I grabbed the FZ-30 to shoot what's called "B-roll," which is cutaway footage with a different camera. After charging the batteries and checking online for the exact address of the subject, I packed my gear into my bag and fanny pack while watching some [adult swim] on Cartoon Network.

Finally, at 230am, I was exhausted enough. So I set the alarm for 445am and asked the front desk to give me a wakeup call for 430am (so I could have an alarm backup, in case I passed out).

Up & at 'em at 5, I started on MD-404, driving past a water tower with "Welcome to Denton" adorning the exterior. I chose to return after finding the family's home, which was nestled in a quiet part of town, just at the fringe of Denton's border. Twilight blue mixed with the tungsten lamps of the block, which were shot with the HVX200, which was apparently built on the platform of the AJ-HDC27 VariCam.

A couple joggers worked out on the other side of the main road, running along a snake rail fence, so I took my B-roll camera and mounted it on a monopod to shoot some quiet street scenes. As a car drove up the road, I squeezed against the wood fence, but the angle wasn't quite right. Lifting the monopod above the fence, I set it down just inside the fence.

Moving it close to the wood, I started framing a shot, but felt a light jolt in my fingers. After a moment, another jolt popped my hand. Doh! My monopod started rubbing against a charged cow fence! I abandoned shooting any more of the fence, and returned to capture a shot of the water tower to give placement of where things would start.

Returning to the home, I knocked on the door, and the husband welcomed me, inviting me to head upstairs as the mother got her daughter ready for the trek. After putting on clothes and brushing their teeth, they were all ready to go. I exited first, and framed a shot of the door knob, and shortly after, the family left their home and packed into 2 vehicles -- Mom belted the children in the back of her Expedition, while Dad got in his Honda "commuter vehicle" (a higher-gas mileage car). I stuck my B-roll beneath the Ford, starting the REC button, and moved aside so the Ford could back out, over the camera (I remember that from a scene in The Bodyguard).

Running to the end of the block to catch up to the Expedition, I rode with Mom and the kids, who watched a cartoon in the back seat. I tried shooting as much as I could, including a grab shot of the front wheel, the Bay Bridge (with the hood of the truck), and a quick grab of fisherman on the bay. As we got to her folks' home in Severn, I shot some of the goodbyes, but had only one minute left before my P2 cards maxxed out! Doh! Too little time to download, I grab the B-roll and shot a little goodbye kiss, and we left for her job in Annapolis.

I zoomed in tight on her odometer, which read 12,000 miles. "That's how much I've driven this year," she said, adding that the truck was newly bought just several months ago. Let's see, how many MPG's? About 16 or so, and at $3 per gallon? Asking her if she had considered a minivan, she scoffed: I'm too young to drive a minivan! I don't want to be a minivan mom!"

As we arrived, I clamped a head on the child seat and aimed my B-roll out the rear door window and ran up the small hill to frame the truck as Mom exited. I held shot, pulling out to the whole SUV as she walked into work.

The shoot was perhaps a little under-exposed. I still don't quite know Final Cut Pro, and I may have messed up a bit, because I shot everything in "480p 30," which is the lowest rez you can use on the HVX200. And I only did that because I could shoot 32 minutes with 8 gigs of P2 cards -- shooting high-rez would only give me 8 minutes or less to shoot with!

But the shots looked like friggin film! Not one frame resembled video, and Dudley watched some of the clips, completely amazed at the quality for something shot in a low-rez format. I hope I can yank some contrast while retaining color, without blowing too much out.

So I thumbed through Google, finding a tip on how to expose shots with the Panny. As I told Dudley, the only way you learn is sometimes by mistake. And you're only an idiot if you don't learn anything from a screw-up.

Monday, October 9, 2006

Lumix DMC-FZ30: Some Hangin' Out in Colorado

Sitting on the third floor of the Marriott in Denver, I'm getting everything ready for a photo shoot of a Denver Broncos fan who will start his tailgate party at 11am Monday, 7-1/2 hours before game time. The guy is playing hooky from work, and I wonder just how many people might be in the parking lot outside Mile High Stadium.

A day earlier, my colleague and best friend Ken and I made a day out of hitting the mountains, trying to drive to the highest open public road in North America (over 14,000 feet above sea level!). We first grabbed a couple tickets to ride the Georgetown Loop Railroad and act like tourists. Boy that does feel kinda weird, sitting inside a flat bed car filled with people, gawking over the edge as the steam engine chugged along its route.

Since our ride wouldn't start for another 3 hours, we stopped to grab a couple hot sammiches and took to the highway to swing off the beaten path and drive another beaten path up one part of the Rocky Mountains. Yup, I took a buncha buncha photos, because I can never seem to simply put my freakin' camera down and simply absorb the sights. But I did compromise, choosing to take my trusty little Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30, which shoots both still images and full motion VGA and QVGA video, which also records sound. I uploaded a clip that I just shot, and you can see the video here, but I compressed it from NTSC (640x480) to QVGA size (320x240) to save space and time; it'll download fast. This puppy is a really cool item to take as a do-all camera. I could shoot virtually any job with it in a pinch, since it zooms at 12X, a 35mm equivalent of 35mm f/2.8-420mm f/3.7.

The one road we really wanted to take, the Mount Evans Road, was closed (I guess the snow and ice had already made the drive dangerous enough), so we drove as high as we could, on Squaw Pass Rd, to a stop about a mile past Summit Lake. Breaking out the Lumix, we took a bunch of pictures, and also shot some shots of the scenery before returning to Georgetown, a really cool little cozy town off I-70. Driving there is simple, since I-70 starts in Baltimore. Just drive about 2000 miles and bear right at Colorado's exit 228; going under the highway and making a left, you bear right and drive along Loop Drive to the end. You can actually see the loop railroad if you search for the drive in Google Maps. Copy what's inside the quotes - "Loop Dr, Georgetown, Co" - then paste it in the box for the location, click on the "Satellite" or "Hybrid" option at the upper right side of the page, then zoom way in to see the satellite image of the railroad that circles around the parking lot. (You can see some cool sat images, like a full pro stadium in south San Francisco or a plane take off at Hartsfield International Airport near Atlanta!)

My batteries were almost depleted at the end of the train ride, and we then made a stop to check out the town, which looks like it would look really peaceful and postcard- like in a snowy setting. The battery indicator blinked that heart-stopping red as I squeezed every last frame I could as the sun set behind the mountain peaks, but I managed at least one more image of the Rockies as we returned to Denver.

Today, we checked in to the Marriott, where we learned that we shared the hotel with some really cool visitors. These people really suit up for Nan Desu Kan, where many actually dress like the characters they identify with. Plenty of knee-high socks, leather boots, fake swords and wigs at this event, plus NDK'ers apologizing for being "weird" or "ordinary," but I admire someone who embraces their passion through expression.

After grabbing some info for more sight-seeing, we started out at Sky Venture, a place where you can actually take part in indoor skydiving. Even a 3-year old could do it, and one actually did. I shot some video of her practicing skydiving, and when I get permission, I'll post it and give you a link-through in the process, but ya' gotta see her expression! She made some weird faces as she floated inside the chamber. We only stayed a short time (in other words, I was too scared) and then we drove to the Denver Museum of Art to check out the grand opening of the Frederic C. Hamilton Building. For such a cool-looking piece of architecture, I didn't even photograph the exterior, perhaps because I felt like I had shot enough while having some personal time.

Thursday, October 5, 2006

Everybody's Free (To Wear Buzz Away)

*with all due homage to the "Sunscreen" piece by Chicago Tribune's Mary Schmich*

Lady's and gentlemen of the Class of 2006. Wear "Buzz Away." If I could offer you only one tip for the future, "Buzz Away" would be it. The short-term benefits of "Buzz Away" have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the effectiveness of DEET. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the effectiveness of DEET until you're being chased by ten thousand mosquitos. But trust me, by the time you dive back in your car, you'll look out the window as dozens of them tap to get inside, and recall all the bumps you've suffered after walking unprotected, along any Maryland shore marsh. Don't worry about the future of your mosquito bites. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as howling at the moon. Once you are infected by West Nile, you can't run back to the convenience store and think an application of DEET will help.


Like I did, when I saw a host of super-sized Culicidae welcome me as their mid-day feast. Don't be reckless with your body, thinking that you'll be able to shoo those XXXL demons away. Don't put up with your own brainless reasoning that 5 miles is too far to return to civilization to purchase a simple can of insect repellent. And don't think that starving mosquitoes will hide in the dark and wait until nightfall when a golden opportunity (known as a body filled with sweet blood) stands in their midst.


Yourself in the face, like I should have, since my decision to stay was akin to a license to hit myself in the head, arms, legs... everywhere... as I tried in vain to keep those blood suckers off me while walking up a path surrounded by grassy marshes and still water - havens for humongous mosquitoes. Don't waste your time debating whether to run like hell, back to your car.

Sometimes you're ahead, sometimes those skeeters catch up. The race is long and, in the end, the mosquitoes always get you. I remember thinking I must be nuts as they surrounded me, within the first few steps of the path. I can't forget all the bumps I have all over my body. If you know how to stop all these bumps from itching (especially the ones I can't reach, and those in my most personal areas), tell me how. But keep any sly comments to yourself. Throw away any crude remarks, as well.


Don't feel too guilty about clawing at all those reddening mosquito bites when you're alone. But watch out when you're in public for who notices that you've been digging all over your body; they may think you have lice, or something even worse. Maybe they'll ask you, maybe they won't. Maybe you'll have West Nile, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll finally listen to your own advice in the future. Maybe you'll go to the pharmacy and purchase some hydrocortisone cream to help you now. Whatever you do, you won't congratulate yourself, but you should berate yourself since you KNEW THIS WOULD HAPPEN. Your choices were half chance. And you blew it.

Enjoy this advice. Use it every way you can. Don't be afraid to find humor in the most mundane things. Laughing at yourself is the greatest instrument you'll ever own.

Read the directions, especially if you don't follow them. You may find that hydrocortisone might really suck on some parts of your body. Accept certain inalienable truths. Running from blood suckers is funny only after you're safe. Don't expect anyone else to support your stupidity.

So trust me on the "Buzz Away."

Post script: This was the result after a host of mosquitoes harassed me when I invaded their space while attempting to make some images of the "Duck Inn Trail" at Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge. I knew that I should have gotten a can of bug repellent; Even when a blood-sucking fly landed on my driver's side window the moment I arrived, I was too lazy to simply hop back in my car and get some up the street. I got some nice images, but they chased me out. Or, maybe they banded together and carried me out. However the mode of exiting, I lost perhaps half a pint of blood in the process. If you ever decide to traverse a trail along a marshy area in warm climate, buy the can and have fun. If not, I wish you luck.

Thank you, Mary Schmich, for your kindness in allowing me the opportunity to borrow from your thoughtful piece, "Advice, Like Youth, Probably Just Wasted on the Young," published in the Chicago Tribune in 1997. For those who haven't read it, go to Mary's Sunscreen column.

There is also the timeless song, "Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)," by Baz Luhrmann.

Here are some images I shot at Terrapin Nature Park, too.

Monday, October 2, 2006

Has it Been That Long Since My Last Blog??

One week after our multimedia summit, and I'm still trying to figure everything out.

Dave returned the 120GB recordable drive today (it wouldn't record), and we're looking into getting a different hard drive to record on. I had hoped that I'd be shooting in large format by this time, but sadly, this setback is just another stumbling block as I try to manage shooting video, before I forget all that was discussed at the 3-day boot camp in Allentown.

My reaction now is to delay my attempt to shoot my dream project. There are so many things going on in Baltimore. The city center is expanding. The large vacant hotel building near the Basilica is being demolished. The city plans on vacating and razing hundreds of vacant and abandoned row homes and structures in order to extend the revitalization of the city so that what's been gained won't be for naught with good neighborhoods bordering decaying communities.

Yet I'm still trying to work this out and get shooting.

Oh well.... I'm stoked about what we learned in the Allentown boot camp. Brian Storm was an incredible speaker, and he chatted about merging multiple formats to create one seamless and new style of clip. Storm (his website is prefaced that newspapers are dinosaurs; they're on the endangered species list. People are getting their information on the web, and they don't believe what the media force-feeds them, for the most part. Even local TV is being shredded by lack of interest. The growth is in the web, and the interest is still in videos and images. Take a look at Myspace, or Youtube. Even the most quirky vids can generate millions of hits. So, how will journalists feed this appetite?

Storm says we should give 'em what they want. But shooting stills or standard video just won't cut it. Producing a story may. Feel free to shoot images, but enhance the experience by capturing good audio and video, and 1/10th of your work is done. The other 9/10ths is completed in post production, since he estimates that 10 minutes of work are needed for every minute of work recorded, whether it's video or audio. Wow. Just a hint, start being more economical, instead of thinking that "it's only disk space."

He suggests that we have a part of our sites to shed light on our creativity. We need someplace to sing. We must have one corner where we can do what we want, without getting an approving editor's blessing, in which we can let our creative juices flow. Only then can we grow and learn. We have to take ownership of our space and of our own projects. Having this in place will let us experiment and develop a style in this generally-uncharted environment.

With regards to the amount of working sites on the web, very few people have tapped into the new style. Hell, we don't even know what to call ourselves. Even the structure of news-gathering and contest submissions haven't caught up. So many traditional journalists are thinking old-school. It's going to be like NPR meets VH-1. Photography has been around for 150 years. Moving film has been captured since the turn of the century, to the 1900's. Newspapers have churned out editions for 200 years. And this is a nation on ADD (attention deficit). Makes sense to shake things up a bit, huh?