Glamorous Things

One of the areas of photography that has always interested me is glamour portrait work. Working with beautiful models seemed like it might be a fun way to spend an afternoon. This last week I decided to dip my toe in the water and I participated in a glamour shoot with volunteer models who were willing to pose in exchange for prints after the shoot (also known as a TF Shoot, or Trade For Shoot). I guess it is a leap of faith on their part that anything that might come from such a shoot would be worth trading their time!

I tried to do my homework and researched glamour photos, posing techniques, etc. with the goal of not appearing to be a complete moron in front of the ladies. On the morning of the shoot I had two confirmed models scheduled to meet me at the small studio space in the Los Angeles Arts/Warehouse district near the Little Tokyo part of the city.

Now I had been warned that models who book TF shoots are notorious for not showing up, so I booked two girls figuring that most likely one would have [car/boyfriend/work/hair/etc.] issues and flake out. Instead, both turned up right on time and I had two models to juggle over the next few hours of shooting.

I had decided to start by shooting close up portraits so that I could ease into working on poses with as few variables as possible. I also thought that this was when make-up and hair would probably look its best since there was not a dedicated make-up person on the shoot. After about 30 minutes of fussing with lights and gear, the shoot finally got underway. I decided to shoot these against a wall in the studio where there was some natural light coming in through the windows, though I also lit with the strobes.

This is Destiny…

And this is Crissy…

For the full body shots we moved to a white seamless. Destiny went first, changing into a rather daring red and black outfit!

Crissy was a bit more conservative, but still played up the sexy look..

I alternated between the two girls for about three hours, giving each a chance to change and rest after about 30 minutes of shooting. Giving them posing instructions was and interesting and educational exercise in communication! I can only imagine how they felt as I tried to verbalize twisting and turning them like pretzels! In the end, I found actually demonstrating what I wanted was much more successful than describing it, and provided some comic relief as well.

All together I shot about 500 photos, and narrowed it down to about 25 for them to choose their favorite five from. Since I spend about 15-30 minutes retouching the final photos, five images is about all I have time for..

It was a great learning experience and I have a couple more shoots in the works this week. Hey, there could be worse ways to spend some free time…

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Things that Flash

I have been working hard on learning how to light with off-camera strobe lights. A great resource for anyone interested in using flashes is the Strobist Blog. One thing that I’ve found out quickly is that once you head down the strobe path, there is a whole bunch of new things to learn.

I love to learn new things!

There is also an endless amount of money to be spent on equipment (strobes, radio triggers, cables, light modifiers, books, etc.), which can lead to a hefty credit card bill quickly if you lack self restraint and like shiny new electronic toys.

I love shiny new electronic toys!

Taking photos with strobes presents a unique challenge that involves a balance of creative and technical skill. It especially appeals to me because it means really considering the image you want to create, and shaping the light to serve the vision for that image.

Below is my first real attempt to use multiple light sources to shape an image. My son loves to read and can often be found oblivious to the world with his head tucked deep into the folds of a novel (especially a Harry Potter novel). I wanted an image that captured his love of reading and the sparkle in his eyes when he is caught reading one of his favorite books.

I took a layered approach to building this image. First I calculated an exposure that reduced most of the natural light in the room. The curtains were quite bright and I did not want them to overpower the bulb in the lamp. My exposure was:

ISO 200, 1/200 sec., f /5.0

This effectively took all the ambient light influence out of the photo, leaving just the strobes to light Ryan and the chair and table set piece.

I then added a fill light which was a flash shot through an Westcott shoot-through umbrella just to the left of my camera.

This guaranteed me that I would see detail in the left side of his face, the book and the furniture, and that the bulb in the light would be visible. The flash setting on this was:

Canon 580 EX II Flash at 1/16 + 1/3 power on Manual Mode

The last step was to add the key light, which I wanted to be warm and be far enough back that it felt like it could have been generated from the mica lamp. My first attempts had the flash too far back, which was not very flattering and spilled distracting light on the lamp.

I adjusted by moving the key light forward and attached some black cardboard to keep it from spilling on the lamp and background. The final set-up looked like this:

This gives you an idea how much light was actually coming through the windows, but with the fast shutter speed it was almost all canceled out so that the strobes would be the primary light sources in the shot. The key light strobe was shot through a Lastolite 24: McNally Ezybox with a full CTO gel for warmth. The flash setting on this was:

Canon 430 EX II Flash at 1/4 + 2/3 power on Manual Mode

The 580 EX II was connected to my camera using a long TTL cable. And both flashes had Pocket Wizard TT5 radio triggers to fire them, although I could have used Canon’s built-in flash triggering system if I wanted to.

Here is the lighting “diagram” from my note pad:

It was a fun little project, and the best part was that I ended up with a nice shot of my son!

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Things we ask of our Neighbors

We live in a small suburban community in Southern California. There are no walls surrounding our vast 1700 square foot estate to protect us from the prying eyes of the paparazzi. People walk the sidewalks in the evenings with their kids and pets, and neighbors routinely visit just to say hello. One of our neighbors is a lovely lady who has become our children’s adopted grandmother, since their actual grandparents live out of state. She is a sweet and generous woman who lives alone, but has become a part of our family. We regularly share holidays and homemade meals with her, which is delightful because she is an amazing cook!

I’ve been looking for willing subjects to photograph, since I’ve recently acquired some strobes and a small bit of other portrait gear. She seemed like the perfect victim volunteer. She thought the idea sounded fun (she obviously had never posed for an amateur photographer), so we set a date for the weekend to take some shots.

My goal with this self-assigned project was three-fold: 1) take some photos of my friend that wouldn’t embarrass her or myself, 2) learn a bit about running a shoot and working with models, and 3) figure out how to work the darn strobes and radio transmitters.

Helping me was a very capable none-year old, my son. He was given the task of holding a reflector, which, based on the volume of complaining must have been the heaviest reflector in the world. Good help is hard to find, especially at the rates I pay.

My model was an amateur photographer’s dream–patient and interested. Never once did she call her agent or need to be coaxed from her trailer.

We spent about two hours shooting in several spots around her home and garden, laughing as we tried different silly things, and ultimately capturing a few images that I think represent the kind spirit and good humor of this very special person in our lives.

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Asylum – Timelapse HDR Video

Found this video and thought it was a really cool thing to share. It is made up of almost 35,000 individual photos taken in an asylum that was opened in the early 1920s. It took 7 months to complete! Enjoy…

Asylum from Drew Geraci on Vimeo.

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Things that Rise – Part 1

A few years ago I had an extended amount of time off work, which would have been lovely had I actually wanted an extended period of unemployment. I like to keep busy. After about 3 weeks at home I begin to loose my mind and I start looking for things to keep me entertained. Since I am a naturally curious person the objects of my focus can be rather random.

This particular time it was bread.

Our bread machine had died and it occurred to me that it might actually be possible to make bread without a big plastic machine. My wife was skeptical. I was fairly sure it could be done, and if something can be done at all my theory is that it can be done by me given a decent set of instructions and enough practice.

I didn’t grow up with good bread. Bread was something to spread peanut butter and jelly on. At its best it could be used to contain a slice of lunch meat, cheese and artificial mayonnaise. My life view on bread changed dramatically after our trips to Europe.

Bread in France and Italy is an art form. Gluten free does not exist. Lines form at 7am to buy the best bread. At the bakery (boulangerie) in our village of Bedoin you have to sign up on a list the day before to be guaranteed a baguette the next morning.

I wanted to bake bread that people will line up for.

My initial research indicated that great bread is baked in a wood-fired bread oven, not a plastic machine. I bought plans to build one.

When I priced out the plans and estimated the construction time I calculated that I could build this oven for about $5,000 and that it would take the rest of my life to complete. Unless my wife killed me before I was done.

So I did some more research, which is when I found a critical piece of information:

Your home oven can be used to bake really good bread for the cost of a pizza stone and a water spray bottle! Wow, that’s SO much easier!

The next critical component to bread is the hungry little critter that makes it rise. Yeast. Sure, you can get little packets of super-fast-rising-instant-dry-yeast, but I don’t think the French bakers get their yeast that way. And I wanted to make crusty chewy bread that wouldn’t go stale after a day. I needed…

A sourdough starter.

There are processes to grow yeast au natural, but I was too much of a beginner and way too impatient to delve into that black magic. Instead, I found a local bakery that made yummy sourdough bread and asked if they would give me some starter (sure, I bought some bread before hitting them up for a freebie).

Did you know you have to feed sourdough starter every other day at least? Sourdough starter is a living organism and you feed it flour and water to keep it alive.

It was like having another child!

…. coming next, the continuing adventures of the unemployed baker.

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Learning Things

The original idea behind this blog was to inspire and help people find their passion. Sometimes I get sidetracked. I feel like I’ve been circling a little too broadly around the core concept: Find Your Thing.

In many ways this blog violates the blogospheric rule of specificity (a short rest was needed after writing that sentence). And honestly, I don’t have much interest in narrow focus. Sometimes I feel like writing about bees, or cooking, or Italy, or even my dog.

My Welsh Terrier

My hope is that passion is contagious. I had a little help from WordPress this weekend when my post Things That Grow made the Freshly Pressed page. Thank you to all of my new followers who took the time to read, comment and like and follow my ramblings. I am truly humbled and amazed.

Don’t hate me when you realize that I am making this all up as I go! I’m just learning.

But learning is good. Learning is perhaps the one most significant element of Finding Your Thing. There are scientific studies that tell us that constant learning is good for the brain. It fights off mental disease, aging, hair loss and decreases you chances of alien abduction.

I have no idea what studies these are, but I’ve heard about them. Google It.

This blog is our three-day-a-week brain-cell workout. Sometimes more, sometimes less. Like after we’ve had a few too many glasses of wine and don’t feel like going to the gym the next morning.

And with that as a premise it is my hope to not only inspire you to find your thing, but also to get you excited about learning. We will laugh, succeed and fail together (though not in that exact order).

I’ll try to keep focused, though I can’t promise I won’t digress and start thinking about muddy rain boots.

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Choses Françaises (French Things)

It seems cliche to say that I love to travel. Who doesn’t, right? I suppose there are people who are not inclined to venture far from home. Maybe they are afraid to fly, worried about how they will fare in a place where they can’t speak the language or don’t like the unusual food. And international travel by air is dang expensive. Hmmm…I don’t use the word dang very often. Dang.

I didn’t leave the United States until I was in my 30s. Well, not entirely true if you count the border crossings for cheap booze in Mexico during my college days. Buying tequila 5 minutes from San Diego doesn’t qualify as travel.  It’s not that I didn’t want to travel–I was just always broke. I also was not raised in a family where international travel was part of what we did. We went to Yosemite. Strangely, now that I am a family man myself, although we have been to half a dozen countries I never taken my kids to Yosemite.

My first real trip abroad was to Italy. My wife and I, and our daughter of 14 months spent 21 days lugging stroller, car seat, diaper bags and all manner of dang baby accessories through train stations and across cobble stone piazzas. We were no Rick Steves travelers, but it was a blast and we were hooked.

France came next, with a three week stay in Provence. This time we waited until our daughter was out of diapers to travel.

It was a magical trip and we fell in love with the French countryside. The people in Provence are gracious and down to earth. Forget the stereotypes about “the French.” These French bent over backwards to be warn, helpful and welcoming. We were invited into the homes of complete strangers for meals. One Frenchman spent an hour helping us get our car unstuck from a muddy field.

Don’t ask why I drove our rental car across a muddy field. I like to explore.

Count these Americans amongst those who love the French. Did I mention that the food in France is pretty dang good? Unbelievably good.  It’s no secret that the French love their meals, but you really have to experience it to understand how important the meal is in France. It is a passion.

Food is their Thing. Certainement.

And what food! Fresh, bought from daily markets and prepared with care. Slow food.

The other thing that strikes me about France is the history you find at every turn in the road. The French live inside their history. It surrounds them and becomes a part of their everyday life. And they value it. Old buildings are not torn down to make room for shiny glass offices. And in villages where the local population relies heavily on tourist dollars historical integrity is paramount. Special permits are required before any construction can be undertaken to insure that the results are aesthetically in tune with the surrounding architecture.

A year after our trip to France we bought a little house in a small village in Provence. We named it La Maison Rose for its rose colored walls. It is a tiny house, barely big enough to sleep our family. But it is on a quiet street steps from the village center and you can smell the bread baking from the village boulangerie in the morning.

It was a totally unrealistic purchase. Our busy schedules make it difficult to visit our house, and renting it out as a vacation rental pays for some of the costs, but not nearly enough. The logistics of managing a house in another country are also not for the feint of heart! French taxes mean French accountants, French bank accounts and lots of French paperwork.

I don’t regret it for one dang second.

Our little house waits patiently for us to visit when we can, and when we are not there she brings joy to guests who rent her as they discover la belle vie.

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Sit. Stay. Love.

We went many years before making the commitment to having a pet. Two kids seemed like enough responsibility, thank you very much. But as our kids got older it seemed like the family puzzle was missing a piece.

My wife was not raised with pets. To her, owning a pet is like caring for a child that will never grow up, never learn to clean up after itself, and requires constant care and attention. Basically, it is like having a perpetual two-year old.

Cats were never an option. Sorry, cat people–I won’t bore you with the reasons.

It was my daughter who turned the tide. One of the things that seems to come with the onslaught of puberty is the ability to pester relentlessly. We got daily facts about how dogs improve health, lifespan, emotional well-being, security. We also got regular doses of tears, pleading, negotiations, promises, threats and cautionary takes about the fate of pet-less children.

She chipped away at our resolve like drips of water on a boulder.

I am also partially to blame. I like dogs. Knowing that my wife couldn’t withstand the pressure forever I began hunting for the “perfect pet.”

I had just a few requirements:

  1. No shedding (our son has allergies).
  2. Not too big (has to fit in a car, not eat too much, and be lifted by one person)
  3. Not too small (nothing that resembles a rodent, or trembles for no reason)
  4. Not too yappy (which seems to be related to Item 3)
  5. Smart (meaning a dog that is at least somewhat trainable)
  6. Good looking (why not, right?)
  7. Healthy (we wanted a dog that would be around for awhile)
  8. Full grown (no puppy potty training, chewing furniture and midnight whining for  us)

Impossible, right? Wrong! Meet our Welsh Terrier, Deacon.

Welsh Terriers are bright, handsome, not too small or too big, non-shedding, lovable, playful and mellow (as the situation calls for), and Deacon came to us as a crate-trained 2 year old. He is a show dog whose temperament is just too mellow for the dog show lifestyle. He just wants to be loved, which is perfect for us.

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Things We Don’t Do

Whenever I drive past something I see that might make a good photo I always regret not stopping. I’ve passed this parking attendant several times, seeing his cowboy boots sticking out of his little office at the entrance to a parking lot on Cahuenga Blvd. Every time, I wish I had stopped.

Yesterday I pulled to the side and asked for permission to take a few photos. He graciously agreed. He is quite a character, and I hope I’ve managed to capture a bit of his spirit.

I think I’ve said this before, but it always seems to be the things I don’t do that I regret!

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Waiting for Things

In Los Angeles a day of rain is treated like the coming of the Great Flood. Networks go on Storm Watch, freeways are tangled messes and residents bar their doors and keep the kids home from school.

We don’t like water that falls from the sky.

But we love post-rain Los Angeles. The skies are bright blue with puffy white clouds, sidewalks are washed of dirt and wilting plants perk up and come back to life. The city takes on the appearance that I like to think it had 60 years ago when seeing the clear profile of the San Gabriel mountains jutting from the valley floor wasn’t a novelty.

The Los Angeles skyline also takes on a more photogenic appearance after a storm. There is a spot that I have been scouting with a nice view to the city, but the city skyline with a washed out featureless sky is not exactly my idea of a good photo so I’ve waited patiently for more interesting light. I don’t envy nature photographers who wait days and months for the perfect light–I’m not that patient! But Monday morning as I drove past my city view I was greeted with a skyline that seemed worth taking a small detour.

Downtown Los Angeles

Sometimes getting the things we want just takes a little patience.

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