Category: A1Blog

TEDx Cardiff-By-The-Sea Photoshoot

On Friday May 12 I had the pleasure of fulfilling the role of photographer for the inaugural 2017 Cardiff-By-The-Sea TEDx event ( Like other TEDx events, this year’s meeting stressed great minds, great hearts, and great connection among the participants. The theme was on Community: “We’re All In This Together“.

TED sets a high standard for its speakers and their topics, and universally, every single one of them delivered a powerful talk with rave receptions from the sold-out audience. As the event photographer, my objective was to shoot photographs that would come as close as possible to matching the high caliber of their talks.

I faced a number of challenges in my efforts to achieve this goal. Since all tickets were sold, the room was packed. There were two aisles for moving to the front and back, but these were only about one foot wide, and many of the people with aisle seats liked to stretch out into the aisles. There were three video cameras in the back of the room taping the talks, and I had to avoid blocking their view. When the speakers were presenting, the room was dark and the speakers were lit with spotlights, making for a high-contrast situation.

I wanted to close-up photos of each speaker from the front of the room, and from the back of the room to show context. To minimize disturbance to the audience, I tried to limit my aisle traversals to once each talk.

Since the staff was almost all volunteer (me too), I also wanted to present them in a favorable light so they will have encouragement to return next year – while volunteers donate their time, they still like to be recognized and remembered for their contribution. And there’s a bit of a promotional desire too: people may say, “Why should I pay to attend this event when I can just watch it on youtube when it comes out?” So I also wanted to show some of the benefits of attending TEDx rather than just watching it on a computer screen.

Shooting the speakers were the first priority since without speakers, there’s no point in shooting anyone else. Fortunately, the lighting was consistent, so after the finding suitable settings for the first speaker, the rest could use the same formula:

Claire Wineland’s exuberant speech belies her near-fatal disease: cystic fibrosis. She’s outlived doctors’ expectations many times, perhaps buoyed by her irrepressible spirit so evident in this photo. (Canon 6D 70/2.8 1/250 ISO 1600)

The speaker photos benefited from post-processing to tame the high-contrast: the illuminated sign was far too bright for the camera’s JPG, but the reducing its exposure in the RAW image yielded reasonable color. The TEDx sign was important because it gives context to the photo.

Brandon Hawk no doubt made his parents justly proud delivering his talk “Heart Over Hustle”. But they may not have expected him to insist that the join him on the stage for the applause. (Canon 6D 70/2.8 1/80 ISO1600)

The event flowed flawlessly because of the able handling of the audio and lights, again by volunteers. When these people do their job well, no one notices. But when there’s a mishap, everyone notices – it’s almost a no-win situation. So here’s a photo to show them at work (it’s in near darkness, so sorry for the grainy image:

Mayli and Andrew controlled the lights and sound to perfection. (Canon 6D 67/2.8 1/40 ISO 3200)

The venue for this event was right next to a railroad crossing. The speaker schedule was choreographed so that no talk would be interrupted by train horns. So the people at the front control panel had a detail copy of the train schedule, and they also controlled the countdown clock seen by the speakers:

The speaker’s clock is controlled by a laptop. (Canon 6D 70/2.8 1/15 ISO 3200)

Lunchtime gave the audience a chance to chat with the speakers, an opportunity not available to youtube watchers. And the speakers were happy to meet their appreciative audience:

Brooking Gatewood gave a scintillating speech that made her poetry come alive. (Canon 6D 42/2.8 1/125 ISO 1600, Speedlite)

Shooting the TEDx event took the whole day, from 8 AM to 5 PM, but there was never a dull moment. Besides the powerful talks themselves, the energy of the speakers, the audience, and the volunteers was invigorating. Of course I could not meet all the people, but every single one of those I did meet were cheerful and “amped” over the experience.

After we had done most of the packing up, the remaining volunteers got together for a group portrait:

Some of the TEDx volunteers at the end of the day. There were many other volunteers who came on different days or in the morning. It was definitely a team effort, and it was a pleasure working with these people. (Canon 6D 24/2.8 1/60 ISO1600 with Speedlite)

Would I volunteer to be photographer again? Most certainly!

Trade-For (TF) Model Release

I often like to trade my services with models so that we help each other: they model for me, I shoot and post-process photos (note: post-processing can take a lot more time than shooting them: see for them, and we can both augment and enhance our portfolios. No money is exchanged. However, in the process, I want to make sure that I have the legal right to use the photographs for limited and specific purposes, and that the model does as well. For those reasons, I ask models to sign a model release. It looks like this:


So what are the provisions of this release?

Fortunately, it’s in plain English and not in legalese.

In a nutshell, it says that I can use the images for promotion of my services, but that I can’t use it for commercial purposes. It lets me use the images on my photo website, enter the images in photo contests, submit them for possible (unpaid) magazine articles and to display them as part of my portfolio. I cannot use the images for advertising or commercial purposes: basically, I can’t make any money by selling the image. If I were to do so, I’d certainly want models to earn their fair share. That’s how synergistic teams are formed: we each help each other, and both sides benefit.

Since I don’t want to sell the images without sharing with models, it’s only fair that models shouldn’t sell images without me getting a fair share. That’s why the images are by default protected by copyright. Even for non-commercial publication, I’d like to be acknowledged for my work – hence the request that my watermark not be elided.

But I do want models to have the liberty to use the images for their own promotion, hence the provision that models are free to share the images – that includes use in their portfolios.

As for the requested fill-in information at the bottom, the most important ones are the signature, printed name, and date. The email address is also necessary because my preferred way to distribute finished digital images is by Dropbox, and that requires an email address. The email address is also useful for any future contact.

That’s it!


Shoot: Fun in the Rain

This first week of the new year 2016, we in San Diego County are getting the first of what may be a memorable El Niño year: storms are stacked up off the coast just waiting to come in, just like airliners on approach to LAX. And they’re not just ordinary storms, either: some of them are BIG, forecast to deliver an inch or more of rain. And there’s barely a pause between them – maybe a few hours, but certainly not days.

It’s been a long time since San Diego has had a whole week of rain. This year may break our four-year stretch of drought.

Oh, this is a photo post, not a rain blog. How could I photograph the rain in a different way than the usual flooded streets and soggy people? (And hopefully without getting too wet either!) I loved the torrents of rain that came off my roof during the cloudbursts. How to photograph them?

During an earlier summer rain, I’d photographed rain falling onto a plate:


I rather liked the appearance of the raindrops in midair, especially when viewed up close:


But this was a big deluge, and how could I portray that aspect? It took some experimentation …

To create more splashes, I decided I needed a deeper container. In fact, I used two: a wine glass inside a glass pie plate. The pie plate was almost necessary because the wine glass was too small a target: the water stream coming off my roof didn’t always fall in the same stationary place because the flow shifted depending upon the volume of water. Besides, the wind blew it around. With the pie plate, even if the stream missed the wine glass, it had a better chance of hitting the plate and causing splashes there.

I set up the wine glass and pie plate on the concrete entryway to my front door, and my camera was on a tripod just inside the front door. Since the lens was just a few inches above the floor, it took me a few seconds to get down, lie on my stomach, and then to frame and focus the shot. If the water stream shifted, then I’d have to get up, move the wine glass and pie plate to the stream’s new landing spot, dry my hands off, get back to the camera, and frame and focus again. By which time the stream may have shifted positions again.

Of course, I could have just left the wine glass in one position and hoped that the conditions would revert so that it was on target again. But I really wanted to capture the stream when it was most intense, and that didn’t happen often, nor was it predictable. Furthermore, the cloudbursts often coincided with windy conditions (funny how that happens). The wind pushed the stream around quite a bit, so it was a moving target. Sometimes, it was frustrating …

To make a long story short(er), it took many tries to get the shot below. I still don’t think I captured the peak flow, but at least this photo certainly shows that there’s a lot of dynamic water coming down!


I’m surprised how the photo looks so different than how the scene looked visually. By eye, the stream of water coming down is obvious: it’ like water pouring out of a hose or faucet. But in the photo, the down-coming stream is not so evident, but its splashes certainly are. Visually, you also see a lot of splashes, but they don’t look like so many fine droplets – they’re more like big blobs of water in constant motion.

Let’s take a closer look:


The drops are like pieces of broken glass (or diamonds) thanks to the freeze action of flash photography.

Photo notes, for geeks: Canon 6D, 135/2, ISO 200, 1/4s, f/20, 2x 580EX-II flashes @ 1/16 and 1/32 power.


Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning

Dorothea Lange (1895-1965) was a truly inspirational and intrepid photographer. She started her own portrait studio in San Francisco at the age of 24. Not too many women had their own businesses in the early 20th century. But although that was unusual, that was far from remarkable.

She developed an ability to quickly relate to people, and to make them feel at ease. You can see it in her photographs. They are strangers, or of people she barely knew, yet she captures them with such frank emotion and expression that you could almost be a fly on the wall. But in the 1930’s, she was working with a 4×5 view camera, hardly a discrete instrument and certainly not suited to point-and-shoot, grab-and-go snapshots.

Her romance and marriage to Paul Taylor, a tireless advocate of the middle class, local farmers, and water rights, was certainly a catalyst to her activism. The two of them started working together on assignment: he wrote while she photographed. Their complementary skills were synergistic, and each energized the other.

This PBS film was directed by Dorothea Lange’s granddaughter Dyanna Taylor, and excellent artist in her own right: she’s won five Emmy awards.

Dorothea Lange: Grab A Hunk of Lightning


Who doesn’t know ROY G BIV? I thought that everyone learned about ROY in grade school. But when talking with stylists at the hair salon and describing our upcoming shoot, I was surprised to learn that some of them, people who work professionally in color, didn’t know this acronym.

This shoot was all about shooting a model in colors! Fun!


Why Do Photo Shoots Cost SO MUCH?

That shoot only took two hours. I can find photographers on craigslist for $20/hour. I can go to Sears and get a whole portrait session, prints and everything, for $100. Uncle Joe has a Nikon, and he’ll do it for free!

There are plenty of questions about the cost of photography, especially portraits. I try to answer some of them here:

Why Does A Shoot Cost So Much?

Shoot: Alena The Bad Girl

Alena is a sexy rebellious brat who knows what she wants. She probably gave her parents and teachers fits but that’s why she ran away from home. So she’s not a fashion whore but a wild child who dresses the way she likes … which happens to be a little grungy but incredibly sexy at the same time. She’s a heartbreaker to any guy who gets to know her but she’s untameable.

The Bad Girl doesn’t really care about love and romance and soupy stuff like that – she’s her own woman and doesn’t need a guy in her life. Or at least that’s what she thinks. Somehow, her disdain and her independence makes her all the more attractive to the guys that get to know her. She may or may not know how her allure twists men’s hearts but she doesn’t care. Maybe someday, the right guy will happen to cross her path but she’s not looking and doesn’t intend to either.

See the description of this shoot here: Alena The Bad Girl

See the resulting magazine article here: ModeEditorials: Alena the Bad Girl