Suomi Weirdness in North Texas

Long story short, the opportunity arose a few weeks ago to shoot a concert at The Bomb Factory in the Deep Ellum district of Dallas. I saw this as a fantastic opportunity to do some rural urban exploration before hitting the show.

Some background details: I recently took a trip to Arkansas with my kid's freshman class, and while gazing absentmindedly through the bus window somewhere northeast of Dallas, I saw a freaking UFO.

  Or something like one.

Or something like one.

This being the smartphone era, I quickly dropped a Google Maps pin. Google, being Google, offered a link to a bizarre website dedicated to The Futuro House. I read on with puzzled fascination. To quote from the Wikipedia article
 

The Futuro house was a product of post-war Finland, reflecting the period’s faith in technology, the conquering of space, unprecedented economic growth, and an increase in leisure time. It was designed by Matti Suuronen as a ski cabin that would be “quick to heat and easy to construct in rough terrain”. The end result was a universally transportable home that had the ability to be mass replicated and situated in almost any environment.
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The plastic construction also meant an untimely demise for the project; the oil bust of 1973 took place just five years after the prototype was constructed. It's estimated that fewer than one hundred were built, and that fewer than sixty remain. 

Texas has three. And two of them are just a few miles from each other. 

So when the editor of Sonic Perspectives asked me to photograph a concert  in Dallas (full disclosure: I pleaded with him), I took the opportunity to inspect the Royse City Futuro House more closely.

Needless to say, the thing has fallen into disrepair over the years. It's also met more than a few vandals; I personally don't mind graffiti on abandoned structures (tagging is what I hate), but I would absolutely love to see some actual muralists do some work on this weird thing.

Be warned. There is some grossness in this graffiti, but nothing terribly graphic. 

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  I love that this looks like a mandala. The middle of the house has had its floorboards yanked; I lay my camera directly on the crossbeams and delayed the shutter by twenty seconds so I could get out of the frame. I used my 8mm fisheye, but I unfortunately need a wider lens to get all the windows completely in the frame. Another time. 

I love that this looks like a mandala. The middle of the house has had its floorboards yanked; I lay my camera directly on the crossbeams and delayed the shutter by twenty seconds so I could get out of the frame. I used my 8mm fisheye, but I unfortunately need a wider lens to get all the windows completely in the frame. Another time. 

After photographing Finland's weirdest architectural import in the morning, I photographed Finland's most famous musical import in the evening. Meet Nightwish, the band responsible for finally making operatic symphonic heavy metal actually sound good.

 

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Hail to the King

This is the inimitable King Diamond, the Danish-born banshee of Mercyful Fate, photographed at Sunset Station in San Antonio, TX on 14 May 2005 while fronting his eponymous band. This was during Sunset Station's peak as a concert venue; they'd just begun an agreement with House of Blues that brought in a ton of awesome metal shows over the course of three years or so. The Sunset Station photopit was one of my adopted homes during that time. 

 

  The first concert photo I took that made me proud. 

The first concert photo I took that made me proud. 

Some background info: I got into photography by sneaking single-use, throwaway cameras into concerts and snapping away. I enjoyed it at the time, but by no means are any of those photos worth sharing. I eventually acquired a Minolta X7A film SLR with a 50mm f/1.7 lens, which I used to shoot this image. Film was Fuji's amazing Superia Press, ISO 1600; exposure was f/1.7 @ 1/60. 

With some string-pulling and guidance from one Roy DoronI was able to bring my Minolta into this very pit to shoot the industrial band Ministry in 2004. It wasn't my first time in the pit with an SLR, but it was the first time I had even a modicum of knowledge as to what I was doing. The photos I took that night bear this out; I won't share them. But I'd been stung. 

I then linked up with a local music program called The Scene, which became instrumental in my growth as a photographer; my affiliation with The Scene let me into more photopits than I care to recount. I acquainted myself pretty closely with the Sunset Station photopit over the next few months, shooting such lumanaries as Slayer, Killswitch Engage, The Haunted, and Damageplan just a few weeks before Dimebag Darrell was murdered. 

Shooting Kind Diamond was tough. Those blurs you see flanking him were actually prison bars; they were removed at the end of the third song, which is when photographers are escorted from the pit. It's almost like they didn't want us to get great shots. 

I shot two rolls of 36 exposures each; this is the only image that was worth a damn. I loved it for so many reasons, but these days I love it because this was the first concert image I ever took that made me think I might not be so terrible at this. 

Jet-Settin' Ninja

I may have mentioned this before, but I'm a pretty busy guy: self-employed, single dad, and serving my third term on the Board of Directors of a non-profit. I don't get a whole lot of "me time," so I jumped at the opportunity when a cousin invited me to his wedding. Not only did this afford me my first vacation in over five years, it also gave me a great excuse to visit my paternal homeland, Bolivia, for the first time in twenty years.

 

  Bolivia = green, home = pale blue dot. You'll note the distance. 

Bolivia = green, home = pale blue dot. You'll note the distance. 

I got some fantabulous shots during my week in Cochabamba, but I'll go easy on you for now. 

 

  The couple with the bride's lovely sisters and cousins. 

The couple with the bride's lovely sisters and cousins. 

I should note that this Meso-American jaunt nearly overlapped with an already-scheduled jaunt to Atlanta for a music festival. That's not the sort of thing I normally hit without muh toys.

 

  The divine Anneke van Giersbergen.

The divine Anneke van Giersbergen.

  Kjetil Nordhus of Green Carnation.

Kjetil Nordhus of Green Carnation.

  Devin Townsend may very well be the Frank Zappa of our generation. 

Devin Townsend may very well be the Frank Zappa of our generation. 

  A video of me taking this photo can be seen at  this location , at 10:51. Look just above the headstock of Devin's guitar. 

A video of me taking this photo can be seen at this location, at 10:51. Look just above the headstock of Devin's guitar. 

So yeah, I basically had a back-to-back, double-working vacation. But it's not like I could just fly directly from Cochabamba to Atlanta - some of my repeat offenders called me just a few hours before I booked my tickets to tell me they wanted me right in the middle of all this. And somehow, I managed to make that happen.

 

  Bolivia = green, pale blue dot = home, blue crescent = Atlanta, black dot Cochabamba, red dot = connecting flights. Viru Viru in Santa Cruz is the worst airport I've ever used. 

Bolivia = green, pale blue dot = home, blue crescent = Atlanta, black dot Cochabamba, red dot = connecting flights. Viru Viru in Santa Cruz is the worst airport I've ever used. 

You may recognize this young lady. I've been photographing her every September since she was born, and I'm more and more pleased with each set I take of her. If you've ever seen my office or portfolio, she's the little girl in the barn and on the hay bale. 

I may sound like I'm repeating myself here, but this is key to photographing children: if you're not getting dirty, you're doing it wrong. Between the ages of three and about eight, it's often best to just let them do their own thing. This, for example, is unposed - her parents just asked her to sit down:

  The way that fountain in the background blurs into cream and the way the light fully but delicately illuminates our young model are the reasons I pair prime lenses with off-camera flash. 

The way that fountain in the background blurs into cream and the way the light fully but delicately illuminates our young model are the reasons I pair prime lenses with off-camera flash. 

Exposing the background was ridiculously easy here: ISO 100 @ 1/160 on a wide-open 85mm f/1.4. I lit young Ms Diaz with an SB-700 speedlight with a dome diffuser on and shot that through a 14" softbox at about 1/8 power. My son wielded the light. 

That's it. No retouching or post trickery. What I saw in my viewfinder is what you see here. 

I admit I did make a slight edit for this next one. It was starting to get dark when we saw this, and we just barely missed the golden hour. The magic of the golden hour is something I badly wanted to replicate here; the shot demanded it. So I shifted my white balance accordingly and added a slight lens flare. 

  Is this not the very essence of childhood? 

Is this not the very essence of childhood? 

I also had to push this about a stop, as night was falling. Honestly, I'm thrilled with the result. This image looks fantastic on wood and presently hangs in my office. 

To recap, I did a wedding in South America, a kiddie sesh in San Antonio, and a concert in Atlanta within five days. 

If you think that's nuts, you ought to see my flight itinerary. See above map for a gist. 

Where has all the time gone?

What a year it's been so far. I've had some amazing opportunities and have made several images that make me very proud. The downside is that - gasp! - elBlogo feels a bit neglected. And for that, you have my humblest apologies.

My buddy Jeff at Arrested Development Photography recently coerced me into posting and yapping about some of my work via Facebook; I begrudgingly complied. If you ever meet Jeff, you'll understand why the operative word here is "grudge."

Anyhoo, doing that for seven consecutive days got me thinking that it might not be such an awful way to revive elBlogo. So here goes: What follows for the next several days will be those Facebook posts, copy/pasted verbatim. I may bleep out certain, um, inflections, but I'll leave the text otherwise unaltered. I may also add a few extra images, so just know that the photo I originally shared will be the first of the bunch in each elBlogo entry.

_____________________________

Today is day #2 of the 7 day art challenge. I blame Jeff Prutzman for nominating me to do this, but I accept sole responsibility for participating. For seven consecutive days, I am to share a piece of work, yap about it, and then nominate someone to participate in the challenge.

  Boom.

Boom.

This may be the best photo I've ever taken. It was taken at a downtown San Antonio hotel known for its moody ambiance. I knew the photo I wanted to make the moment I saw this fountain, and I knew the moment I met Venessa that she would be the bride in the photo.

Lighting was a breeze: I backlit the water with bare speedlights in two of the windows behind the fountain. I left the middle window alone because I didn't want to contaminate my lovely subject with unwanted light. Besides, I needed the third speedlight to light her.

I shot a dome-diffused SB700 through a 16" softbox (or is it 14"? I forget). White balance was on tungsten because the ambient light demanded it; all lights were gelled orange. This nailed Venessa's skin tones. In fact, you'll note that I made ZERO touchups on her. NONE.
 

   Here's a screengrab of the original RAW file. I've circled the key edited areas in red. Except for the c-stand and softbox, because duh.

Here's a screengrab of the original RAW file. I've circled the key edited areas in red. Except for the c-stand and softbox, because duh.

Editing was a b-tch. I loathe post-editing with a passion, and this image took almost two days to perfect. I am indebted to Beto Barbacoa for his guidance through this arduous process.

In retrospect, I wish Venessa had donned the elbow-length white gloves she wore during her wedding ceremony, but I didn't even know about them at this point. I also wish I'd asked her to cross her legs. But I'm still thrilled with this image.

I've got a 24"x36" canvas of this photo in my office, and I hear multiple times a day that it looks like an oil painting. Guess what, fuggers. It ain't.

 _____________________________

That's it for the OP. Here are a few more images from Venessa's bridal. 

  That's a chain curtain between us. I simply put my softbox on her side of the curtain and made sure my focus was on her eyes and not on the chains. No post-trickery here. 

That's a chain curtain between us. I simply put my softbox on her side of the curtain and made sure my focus was on her eyes and not on the chains. No post-trickery here. 



 

Strawberry Moons Forever

A solstice and a full moon rarely coincide (last time was in 1967), so I hit Woodlawn Lake on San Antonio's West Side recently to get some shots of what many call a Strawberry Moon. 

  Full moon madness.

Full moon madness.

This image was taken at precisely 21:31:38 on 20 June 2016. Exposure was f2.8 @ 30 seconds on the clock (and if you get the reference, we must drink together). ISO was set to 100 and I used a 17-35 f2.8D lens. 

My friend Mary of Silver Moon Photo (yes, we all know each other) and I shot a Harvest Moon from this same lake a coupla years back; the image in the "scenes" section was taken from the pier coming from the bottom left of this image. 

In my veins, the wildest river and every growing tree

I took this shot at Garner State Park, near Concan, Texas.  Garner is known for its fall colors and clear water. It was about 7:45 am and about 27°F a few days before thanksgiving 2014.

  This is where my dear old friend Adam Sagan would chime in with some goofy reference to the Despair of Winter. Miss ya, dude. 

This is where my dear old friend Adam Sagan would chime in with some goofy reference to the Despair of Winter. Miss ya, dude. 


I'm proud to say this was my first serious whack at landscape photography. I suppose I could wax poetic about the Zen of convening with nature with only a camera between you, but I'm too tired for that. Exposure was ISO 100, f/16 @ thirty seconds on an 8mm. Once again, this photo boasts no post editing, though I admit I had to get creative while processing. 

I showed this image to my mom over Thanksgiving dinner a few nights later, and she fell completely in love with it. So I had it printed on 42-inch canvas and gave it to her for Mother's Day. It's been on her living room wall ever since, and it looks great

Another shot from this particular morning can be seen in the "home" section. 

Xochil and Shannon

Sometimes I wonder how a nobody like me can end up with such an awesome client base. I'm guessing that my humorous outlook on life has a disarming effect on people, because not only am I constantly floored by how awesome the people who call me are, I'm also constantly floored by the intimacy of the images I deliver.

No, you deve. I don't mean "naughty NSFW stuff" intimate. I mean "reveal the inner person" intimate. It's something I've been saying for years, and it's something I'll always strive to improve upon:

I'm not interested in capturing a moment. I'm interested in capturing an essence

I recall my days as a music writer. I loathed the thought of an artist "sharing their feelings." Don't convey your emotions, I would think. Provoke that emotion within me. I didn't want to hear a singer whine about how anguished they were, I wanted their music to make me feel that anguish. 

This is a similar idea. Anyone can take a picture of a bride getting her face did. But I think I did a little more than just that with this shot.

I won't get into lighting techniques, composition, exposure, and all that technical mumbojumbo because the shooter is expected to have all that stuff under their skin. If it's not second nature, make it second nature. Your job is to capture the essence of the moment between your clients. You have no time to waste fudging with your settings. 

  This guy took a selfie while he waited for his bride at the altar. 

This guy took a selfie while he waited for his bride at the altar. 

Of course, it takes more than people skills and photographic know-how to get a good image. I was fortunate that the staff at the San Fernando cathedral in downtown San Antonio were as gracious and as accommodating as they were. "As long as you're not a distraction and you're not standing on the altar, you can do what you want."

Awesome. I wish all churches were this flexible. The client deserves the best image you can deliver; flexibility is so key to that. So if the staff and honchos at San Fernando are reading this: thanks for being great.  

  "You can't change your mind now!" 

"You can't change your mind now!" 

Another plus to getting to know your client is that you learn how to read them. 

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I do want to say a thing or two about the making of next image. You want to drag the shutter, but not too terribly much. You want that ambient light, but you're firing a remote speelight, and you have to fire it gently because it'll kill the mood. The secret recipe here is high ISO (2000), slowish shutter (about 1/40), wide aperture (f/2.8), and a pair of speedlights firing at about 1/16 a good twenty feet away. Then, keep your faceholes glued to that viewfinder, never stop focusing on their eyes, and wait for the moment to arrive.

  Mother! Do you want to bang heads with me? 

Mother! Do you want to bang heads with me? 

Styx and Stones

Few words today. There's commentary on the last image, but I prefer to let these photos speak for themselves. I would add that I managed to get these with the entire front row of the theater inviting themselves into the barricaded photo pit. No hard feelings or anything, but it added a challenge I'd never dealt with before, which makes me even happier with these images. 

  He doesn't want to hear about it anymore.

He doesn't want to hear about it anymore.

  The Garlic Trompet From Hell Strikes Back!!

The Garlic Trompet From Hell Strikes Back!!

  Would you believe this guy is old enough to retire? 

Would you believe this guy is old enough to retire? 

  Larry teaches Tommy a song Tommy wrote while James struggles to reinsert a contact lens.

Larry teaches Tommy a song Tommy wrote while James struggles to reinsert a contact lens.

  Me? A rock star?

Me? A rock star?

Any seasoned concert or performance photographer will instinctively avoid subjects lit in red or green. They're nice, dramatic colors and everything, but they are also great for removing detail from a subject. It's true that use of filters or creative RAW processing can help restore some of that lost detail, and I don't know any photographers that don't love the recent shift from tungsten lights to LEDs, but those wavelengths usually equal Death From the Rafters. It looks cool for the audience, but just try to take a decent shot. It's tough. 

A single white or yellow spot lighting a single performer on a stage awash in one of those cursed colors, though, can give you this:

  The spotlight saves this image. Really. 

The spotlight saves this image. Really. 

Whoa...

I realized today that my next bride's father is a former U.S. Congressman. Not only that, I also would have voted for him had I ever lived in his district. His good nature and charisma should have given it away. 

Up next, some photos from the Styx show last week. 

 

Summer Days and Autumn Nights

I've been shooting concerts for about fifteen years. I've shot some pretty big bands at some pretty big festivals and pretty big venues. It's been a fantastic learning experience, and I've had a blast photographing some of my heroes. But only now can I say with a straight face that I've photographed a cultural milestone.

  Maybe you've heard of them.

Maybe you've heard of them.

It was pretty funny seeing my mom get excited about me shooting a band she's actually heard of and enjoys. 

Iron Who? System of a What?
— My mom

I won't bore you with any of the band's insanely convoluted history other than to mention that lead vocalist Mike Love has been a Beach Boy since 1961, with current keyboardist/singer Bruce Johnston jumping in four years later. That's over fifty years, y'all.

  "The Beach Septuagenarians" just doesn't have the same ring.

"The Beach Septuagenarians" just doesn't have the same ring.

Okay, that's it. No more blah blah blahing or witty captions. 

 

  This is Mike Love, by the way.

This is Mike Love, by the way.

  And this is Bruce Johnston.

And this is Bruce Johnston.

  I have no idea who this guy is, but his performance suggests a background in heavy metal. That shirt tho. 

I have no idea who this guy is, but his performance suggests a background in heavy metal. That shirt tho. 

  Fun fact: there is no Caribbean island called "Kokomo."

Fun fact: there is no Caribbean island called "Kokomo."

  For that matter, there's no Caribbean island called "Bermuda" either. 

For that matter, there's no Caribbean island called "Bermuda" either. 

  It took me a while to figure out that "Mom Tea Go" was really "Montego." 

It took me a while to figure out that "Mom Tea Go" was really "Montego." 

 I lied about the captions, by the way. Sorry about that. 

Aerial Assault

Okay, so The Little Mermaid was a bust. No worries, though, because I still get to photograph tons of awesomeness at San Antonio's Majestic Theater. An aside: fans of film and the arts owe a huge debt to the Majestic not only for their noteworthy track record, but also for the fact that it was the first air-conditioned theater in Texas

Last night I had the opportunity to link up with Arts San Antonio  to shoot the National Acrobats and Circus of China. Though I suspected I wouldn't see any clowns, elephants, and lion tamers, I was wasn't expecting to see freaking aerialists and non-freaky contortionists. 

  If I sneeze, you're  all  screwed. 

If I sneeze, you're all screwed. 

I've always been a music and theater guy, and I shamefully admit I know little about dance, ballet, and those kind of performing arts. I have, however, photographed aerialists in the past, so I knew I could expect to be wowed. And wowed I was. 

  Is Human Jenga a thing?

Is Human Jenga a thing?

Unfortunately, I had more restrictions than I'd anticipated: the usual three-song limit, with the added stipulation that I shoot from the theater's veranda. You know, where the merch booth goes. Yeah. I had to shoot from way back there. 

Those first few shots I took sucked. I'm not even going to post them. Fortunately, I ran into one of the honchos of Arts San Antonio, and he was gracious enough to allow me to shoot from anywhere in the theater provided I got in no one's way. I won't mention him by name, but if he's reading this... you, sir, have my gratitude. Your gesture allowed me to get shots like this one:

  Cue that third Shadows Fall album.

Cue that third Shadows Fall album.

Rules is rules, and we gotta follow them; I put my cameras away after the third number only to be consistently stunned by the things timing, coordination, balance, and dedication can allow a human to do. Acute gamma (spelled "Γ" in case you're wondering) positions from a rotating twelve foot pole? Check. Gyrating fifteen steel hula hoops? Done. Hooping a giant slinky? Yawn. Eleven+ dancers in human pyramid formation on a single, moving bicycle? For amateurs. Honestly, I can't remember half the stuff I saw last night because I was too busy reaching for my jaw. I hadn't seen such grace and elegance on a stage in a while. I needed it. 

  Asleep at the wheel.

Asleep at the wheel.

But not as much as this young lady needs her coffee. 

Farm Fiddlin'

I like my repeat customers. I like them a lot. I like them enough to call them my "repeat offenders."

Two of my repeat offenders hit me up every year around the time of their daughter's birthday. I've photographed that nutty little girl in gardens, in Korean pagodas, in midair... and at the eleventh hour, Momma told me how cool it would be if we went to the family farm for this year's shoot. So after about three hours of sleep after four nonstop days of work, that's exactly what we did.

  Eye iz L  akshmi!! Fear and revere me!

Eye iz Lakshmi!! Fear and revere me!

The farm is still active, but no one has lived there in nearly thirty years. Consequently, the structures have fallen into a state of disrepair. Momma was understandably upset about the dilapidated state of her childhood home. But those pictures though...

  I'm flying!! I'm flying away!!!

I'm flying!! I'm flying away!!!

I don't know what it is about decaying rural structures that make for such great photos, but I think the results speak for themselves. 

Have you ever stepped into a new environs and just began glowing at the possibilities? That's exactly how I felt when I stepped into a barn littered with tools, shotgun shells and a broken-down Jeep on a trailer. Two carefully placed speedlights later, I got this:

  She's becoming one with the decoys. I just know it. 

She's becoming one with the decoys. I just know it. 

Lighting that was stupidly easy. The key light was a dome-diffused Nikon SB-700 shot through a 14" softbox mounted on a C-stand; the box is just out of the frame over the little girl's head and to her left. I also set a dome-diffused SB-600 under and behind the Jeep and pointed it straight at the camera. That's it. Both lights were triggered with my trusty Radiopopper JRXs. No retouching or elaborate processing were needed; this image is essentially SOOC, which is photogeekspeak for "straight out of camera." 

If that photo doesn't just scream "country livin," maybe putting the little girl on a fallen tree will. 

  No smartass caption for this one. It's just too friggin' cute. 

No smartass caption for this one. It's just too friggin' cute. 

My favorite photo of the morning was actually one of the first we took. We were greeted at the gates by about five towering bales of hay that weren't exactly stacked flush with one another. We sat the little girl on a one-foot ledge, handed her a freshly picked prop, waited for the clouds to diffuse the daylight for us, and took this:

  No words for this one either. This is easily one of the best portraits I've ever taken. 

No words for this one either. This is easily one of the best portraits I've ever taken. 

I love everything about this photo. The lines, the disheveled hay, the way you can almost hear the little girl squealing... in retrospect, I might have changed the direction the flower is facing, but it's not like this really detracts from the image. This photo looks beautiful on canvas, by the way. I used a single SB-700 through a shoot-through umbrella for fill light. 

This was a fantastic first foray into country shooting. Not only did I love everything (except the heat and humidity), it was a nice respite from all the urban shooting I've been doing with my buddies JeffPeriBobby, and Kevin. Definitely looking forward to doing more of this sort of thing. 

These Streets Glitter in the Dark

Anyone who's ever gone on a group photocrawl knows how difficult it can be a manage a group of street photographers.

  What 'don't walk' sign?

What 'don't walk' sign?

And yet we go anyway, because the streets are fascinating. The patterns non-shooters overlook because they're such an everyday sight make for some pretty cool compositions.

  Whoever can correctly identify what's going on here gets a gold star.....

Whoever can correctly identify what's going on here gets a gold star.....

I'm pretty new to street photography, and I've been enjoying it quite a bit. It was daunting at first, though. The different light sources, for example, are every portrait photographer's nightmare; ghastly fluorescent greens and jaundiced tungsten oranges pollute the cityscape, to say nothing of the aging neon fumes and unprediacable vehicle headlights. How is one to take a pleasing, balanced portrait with that entangled White Balance in the background?

Answer: who cares? There's plenty of time to work on color theory, but there is only one now, and that now is ever-changing in the Streets. The true question is, can I keep up with it?
 

  Or do I even  want  to?

Or do I even want to?

Like concerts, the streets have no time for your petty lighting techniques. Better to let the streets light themselves in their own gritty, shadowy way.

  And what better way to light gritty, shadowy characters than with   gritty, shadowy light?

And what better way to light gritty, shadowy characters than with gritty, shadowy light?

  This guy insists on being called "Afro" for the same reason I insist on being called "Babyface Baldy." He's also one of the best street shooters in San Antonio. 

This guy insists on being called "Afro" for the same reason I insist on being called "Babyface Baldy." He's also one of the best street shooters in San Antonio. 

This was my first time travelling light in the streets. I had my recently-acquired 85mm f/1.4 lens (a portrait lens, BTW) on my ungripped DSLR. The tripod and the 8mm never even left the bag, for the simple fact that I was shooting in concert mode: quick, quiet, and unnoticed. 

  Who knew San Antonio looked so much like Gotham City?

Who knew San Antonio looked so much like Gotham City?

  And the road goes on forever...

And the road goes on forever...

Portrait and event photographers frequently curse incandescent lighting and the sickly yellow light it bleeds. On the streets, though, the sleaze isn't such a bad thing. It does indeed add character. 

Of course, no contemporary scene is complete without a glimpse of this:

No one's immune, I guess.  Sigh...

Dragon Lady

A quickie entry after that epic tome about the Yes concert.

Be warned, gentlemen. It is always unwise to needlessly antagonize a lady. It is especially unwise if she spits fire. 

  Do ya feel lucky, punk? 

Do ya feel lucky, punk? 

I am obliged to withhold a few details regarding these photographs. If I don't, she might do this to me:

  Goodness gracious, great balls of... okay, I'll stop.

Goodness gracious, great balls of... okay, I'll stop.

I was actually surprised at what how flattering the light from a volatile, flaming orb can be. It's naturally a bit too warm for most purposes, but it's nothing that a skilled RAW processor can't handle. 

Check out the softness of the light on her face here. Not only that, it has the directional qualities of a softbox as well a touch of the wrapped look of an umbrella. So cool, though I don't think I'm going to convince many parents to let me light their newborns this way. 

  Though I suppose I could ask her and her friends to light a bottle of 151 in the studio, right?

Though I suppose I could ask her and her friends to light a bottle of 151 in the studio, right?

Yes, please

I have a confession to make: I am not a trained photographer.

I've never taken a photography class. My degree is in literature; my minors are in Spanish and Linguistics. I've never set foot in a dark room, I've never wound a roll of film, and I've never even processed a roll of film. 

I've also never taken any courses on lighting, compostition, posing, digital manipulation, or any of the other bajillion  variables that go into creating a memorable image. I'm learning all that stuff on my own. 

How? Lotsa ways. I read voraciously. I attend seminars and pro-shooter meetings as often as a working single dad can. I talk to and work with other shooters and learn from them. I shoot often. And one of the most important things I've learned along the way is that the first step to a powerful images starts with your own perspective. It's not about your toys; it's about how you see the world around you. 

A normal, non-photographically-minded individual - let's call her Cassie - will see her kid doing something cute and kiddly in the grass or something. Cassie will take out her phone, point it in the direction of her cute kiddly kid, and document what she, Cassie, saw. She, Cassie, will then post it to Facespace or Twitbook or Myfive or whatever the kids use these days, and it will collect about a bajillion - there's that number again!! - likes. She'll show the pic - it's always a "pic" - to her completely deranged lunatic (ie, pro photographer) husband Eddie (that's my middle name, so no libel lawsuits, please), who will scream "you call this a picture?" in enraged disbelief. 

Eddie, unhinged but mostly harmless to all apart from his photo gear, will stealthily drop to the grass, completely ruining his satin-white $300 Borrelli shirt that he somehow thought would go well with those torn, too-tight, and faded Girbaud jeans he picked up at Thrift Town twenty years ago. (I'm not basing this "Eddie" character on myself. I promise). Portrait lens already mounted on his cam, he opens that bad boy all the way and deliberately underexposes by about a stop to keep those colors nice and rich. "Cass!! Babe!!" he shouts, and pleads with her to take his softbox-mounted, dome-diffused speedlight and point it at a gentle 45-degree angle at their visibly bewildered daughter. Eddie composes his shot, exposing just as their precious, sweet child mouths "dafuq?" at her  wild-eyed freak of a father. 

Eddie takes just one shot. He gets up and shows Cassie his work. It is a perfectly composed photograph of their sweet itty bitty baybee. Focus is tight on her eyes, but the 1.4 aperture softens her entire face and renders the trees in the background into a creamy, bokeh-laden-impression. But those are just minor details. What makes the shot is her eyes. Why her eyes? Because it is her eyes that convey her perspective, and it is the camera's eye that conveys that conveyance. Cassie documented what she saw. Eddie captured their baybee seeing as the baybee sees. That is what gives the image impact. 

This installment of elBlogo will not feature any infant photography. It will, however, feature my return to the place where I learned to see like Eddie: a dark, dank, and often sticky precipice of wonder and magic that concert photographers call "The Photopit." 

That's right, ladies and gentlemen. I learned to see like Eddie by shooting a whole lot of death metal bands.

My bio makes mention of my dark past as a music writer. In my youth, I wrote for several fanzines and was the photographer and webmaster of a San Antonio-based music program called The Scene. One of the many perks was that I got to photograph nearly any rock concert that came through the area. Now, here's the thing about shooting concerts: you have three songs to get all your shots; you're sumarilly escorted away from The Pit once the third song concludes. You're not allowed to use flash of any sort. And unless you're willing to drive to the next town and the publicist is willing to work with you, you don't get a second chance. 

Many budding shooters get discouraged with the restrictions of The Pit. Others adapt and thrive. Still others, and I include myself here, take lessons learned in The Pit and apply them to weddings. The shooter who antcipates things before they happen, reacts quickly, and isn't afraid to get dirty will always have the advantage. No one is born with those skills. They must be learned, acquired, and cultivated in the face of sometimes overwhelming opposition. Thus, the shooter who adapts is the shooter who thrives. I call it Photographic Darwinism. 

Wednesday, 26 August 2015 marked my return to The Photopit. It had been nearly two years since I'd shot a concert, and I'd been itching to return to my roots. So I sprung into action when I learned that the legendary progenitors of progressive rock known as Yes were to hit the Majestic Theater. I'm proud to announce that I am now an official house photograher for the Majestic and Empire Theaters. I plan to make similar arrangements with other venues. Wish me luck!!!

Oh yeah, the photos.  We'll start off with the support band, Toto. Maybe you've heard of them. They seem to think that Rosanna holds the line in Africa. Toto is basically a bunch of incredible musicians playing pop songs. Pop music is just not my thing. But they smoke live. 

I learned the name "Steve Lukather" when I started playing guitar at about 13. His name was spoken in hushed tones in music shops and guitar magazines, because apparently he had both chops and finesse. The voices didn't lie; Luke is a musician's musician in every respect. 

I thoroughly enjoyed shooting keyboardist Steve Porcaro; if Rick Wakeman is the Merlin of the Keys, then Porcaro is Herr Doktor Frankenstein. He looks like a mad freaking scientist behind his keys, and I had  a blast watching him.

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Keyboardist/ singer David Paich was also an animated performer.

Fun fact: Toto vocalist Joe Williams is the son of film composer John Williams. Have you seen ET, Star Wars, or Jaws? You've heard John Williams then. 

You may have heard that Yes bassist Chris Squire (one of rock music's first virtuoso bassists) lost his battle against cancer a few months ago. Yes's set opened with a touching but not grossly sentimental video tribute to the man. I only caught a glimpse of it; my eyes were on Squire's instrument, which stood unaccompanied on an otherwise unlit stage. 

Then the beasts themselves hit the stage. The band's lineup has been famously volatile, but drummer Alan White has been on every Yes album since 1972. You've probably heard him play even if you've never heard Yes. Ever heard John Lennon's "Imagine" and "Instant Karma?" That's Alan White on drums. 

Billy Sherwood was the natural choice to fill Chris Squire's shoes; he'd been a longtime friend and collaborator of Squire's, and had previously been in Yes as keyboardist and second guitarist. He has said that Squire told him to "play the music, be yourself, and make me proud." Though Squire didn't live to see Yes's first-ever performance without himself on the bass, I have no doubt that he would be pleased with Sherwood's performance. He pretty much nailed it.

Few musicians wow like Howe. He's old enough to be my great-grandfather, and his chops smoke those of any of the incredible musicians I know. When Steve Howe plays, you shut up and listen. 

Geoff Downs is not Rick Wakeman. And you know what? He doesn't need to be. That Ed Hardy Jacket though...

Singer Jon Davison is just a few years older than I am. He isn't Jon Anderson. But you would never guess that by hearing him. 

Fun fact: original Yes singer Jon Anderson performed "Owner of a Lonely Heart" with the Youth Orchestra of San Antonio in 2011. 

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Yes played about a ten-song set, but this being prog rock, it took nearly two hours. Awesome musicians, awesome music, awesome lights, awesome attendees... I don't think I could have asked for a warmer welcome back to The Pit. 

Oh, and I get to shoot Broadway shows now. First on my plate: The Little Mermaid

Return to Hays Street

I love the Hays Street Bridge. Love it. But there's a slight problem with that. Everyone loves the Hays Street Bridge. 
 

  Ooohhh. Pretty.

Ooohhh. Pretty.

Now, hear me out. That bridge, situated between Dignowity Hill and Downtown San Antonio, is awesome. Such urban landscape. Very lines. So twilight. Wow. It is no surprise that the Hays Street Bridge is regularly plagued by cyclists, skaters, group yoga, and photographers.

Lots of photographers. Go ahead and do a Google image search. You know what? Nevermind - don't. I've done it for you: Google Image Search: Hays Street Bridge.

See? Lots of photos. Lots of good ones, too. Now, there's not a single thing wrong with photographing at popular locales, but you risk doing two things: 1. Over-saturating the market, and 2. Blending in with everyone else.

I admit I hesitated when some fellow shooters invited me photograph some models there recently. "Geez, it's so overdone, yada yada yada..." But I eventually came to my senses and rose to the challenge. What challenge?  The challenge to stand out, yo. 

I mean, c'mon. This bridge breathes inspiration. It's been a conduit for so many amazing images, including that one of Sifu Gabe in the "cool stuff" section. Even if inspiration wasn't striking me yet, surely something would click when I got there, right?

You know wasn't  inspiring? Hiking up that bridge with a backpack full of heavy camera gear; a golf bag with a tripod, a C-stand, two light stands, a softbox, and three umbrellas; and two heavyass sandbags. I have no idea where my muses were, but I'm pretty sure they were livid. 

"But Gonz," you're surely asking. "Why lug a whole movie set up there with you?" Because this: if you're gonna stand out, ya gotta do things differently. 

Can't do that with a smartphone.

I started off with a typical Hays Street  Bridge setup: wide shots, knee-deep depth of field, and off-camera flashes to create an outdoor studio look. I liked what I got. 
 

really liked what I got. Even those harsh shadows on Anna's left shoulder - harsh shadows are the bane of portrait photographers everywhere - work in this shot. The hard light doesn't look out of place either. We were, after all, shooting at the Golden Hour, when shadows are long and light is strong and warm. All I really had to do was make that harsh light flatter my lovely subject, and a bare speedlight took care of that beautifully. Added another speedlight at  2-o'clock to highlight her hair (and the wind, as it happens), and I was ready. All Anna had to do was look good, and that's not hard for her to do. 

But as much I enjoy doing this sort of thing, I was in the mood to do something a little different. Not radically different, but unexpected. So I did the one thing Hays Street Bridge shooters never, ever do. That's right, y'all.

I ignored the bridge. 

Instead, I decided to take what some people call "environmental portraits," which are essentially on-location headshots with subtle clues in the background. We weren't going for "HEY! I'M AT THE HAYS STREET BRIDGE!!" anymore. We were now going for "What a lovely portrait of a lovely girl. Wait, is that where I think it is?"
 

Working with Grace was a real treat. A bit on the reserved side, she exudes an elegant calm that delivers on the promise of her name. Grace and Anna both have that rare gift that enables them to do any mundane thing and look awesome doing it. 

Lighting was easypeasy: a single speedlight with dome diffuser shot through a 14" softbox, triggered by Nikon's native system. That's it. 

We left the bridge after dark and set up in front of some graffiti we found somewhere on San Antonio's East Side. Sadly, Grace needed to bow out, but I did get some nice shots of Anna before wrapping.
 

The lighting here was nearly identical to the enviro-shots above, but with one key difference: I'm lighting Anna from camera left. Hard camera left. Imagine that my speedlight were a firefighter's hose. That high-pressure  jetstream would be running at an absolute perpendicular angle relative to my lens barrel. The light was also a good foot or so over her head and it was pointing down at about a 40° angle; photographers work in three dimensions to deliver two-dimensional images. But I mention this because it reminds me of something one of my photo heroes has said repeatedly in his tutorial videos:

If you want something to look interesting, don’t light it completely.
— Lightmaster Joe McNally

Or something like that. 

If you want to see how I've put that advice to practice, check out that bridal I posted in the "sweet stuff" section. We took that on my living room couch. I've used similar techniques to photograph uniformed Army dudes, and lemme tell ya, it looks badass. Maybe I'll show you those in a future installation of elBlogo.

But for now, I'm looking forward to hitting another graffiti structure with Anna before she dons the uniform herself. I wish her the best!  

How cool is this?!

I had been working on a rather grand manifesto with which to launch elBlogo, but something kinda cool got in the way. And what kinda cool thing might that have been? The opportunity to photograph an incredible human being, that's what.

Behold:

That's none other than Henry Gabriel Cisneros. His storied career has included stints as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Chair of the Housing Commission at the Bipartisan Policy Center, and Chief Operating Officer at Univision. He became San Antonio's first Hispanic mayor in nearly 150 years at the ripe age of thirty-freaking-three. Like I said, pretty incredible. 

Mr Cisneros and his lovely wife Mary Alice - a former Council Representative in her own right - were addressing a fundraiser for a really cool non-profit called  Communities in Schools of San Antonio, which  does a fantastic job at helping disadvantaged youth complete their education and get into college. They awarded sizable scholarships to at least five kids that day; one of them literally wept. 
 

There was no shortage of city dignitaries at this function. One personal highlight for me was meeting my city councilman, Alan Warrick, and congratulating him on his recent election victory. "Thanks, sir!" he told me when  I mentioned I had voted for him. "I needed that vote!"

The keynote speaker that afternoon was CIS founder Bill Milliken, who spoke passionately about overcoming a misspent youth to create what became CIS in the late 70s. He robustly engaged Mr and Mrs Cisneros, fondly recalling their role in establishing CIS in San Antonio while Mr Cisneros was mayor. Ever loving and humble, Mr Milliken made absolutely zero mention that he had ever worked for not one, but three US presidents and a former State Secretary. By giants am I surrounded.  

It often seems that our legislators are going out of their way to further alienate the marginalized. I'm grateful that organizations like CIS exist to counteract such misguidance.