Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Short Track Speed Skating

I have been interested in shooting speed skating for a while, and so last weekend I saw that an event was upcoming at the Olympic Oval. I called the Alberta Amateur Speed Skating Association (AASSA) and they were in need of a photographer for the event. I packed up my gear, and headed to the oval for the next two days of events.

Shooting short track speed skating is a difficult task as the skaters are moving quickly around a small oval at up to 60km/h. After a few laps, I started to get a feel for the sport, and on the second day I found a great spot to set up and spent most of my time there.

It was a really great experience of shooting a totally new sport. I hope to be back.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Photographing a newborn

On Friday I was invited to come over and take photos of my friend's newborn baby girl. All of seven days old, she was tiny and still had her umbilical cord attached. I have never taken photos of a baby at such a young age, and the parents showed me a sample photo that they wanted me to copy.

I had a nine foot wide background of dark material, and then put the chair about five feet away so that the light would drop off nicely. Their first child was in need of some attention too, so as we waited for the newborn to be prepped, we shot some photos. What a natural beauty. 

After that, my friend put on a black cape with holes for his hands, and then we started shooting. We cranked up the furnace and made the house nice and warm and the newborn was happy and content.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Zoo pass

Went to the zoo on Saturday and ended up buying a pass for the year. Now that I have one, I will be "that guy" who goes to the zoo on a regular basis with a huge lens and looks like a nob for doing so.

Here are a few random shots from that trip. I had a blast with the big 300mm 2.8. Such a nice lens and the results speak for themselves. I used a monopod but totally forgot to use IS for some reason, so some of the shots ended up blurry and in the recycle bin. Oh well. Next time.

Monday, September 26, 2011

In the land of the interwebs

This month I tried my luck at the border once again, this time getting into the USA to visit my friend in Silicon Valley. I flew down and took a tour of her husband's work at Google. It has to be said: he is working for one of the coolest companies out there. It's nerd heaven.

The campus has pretty much everything you would want. Tennis courts, basketball courts, swimming pools. Check. A huge T-Rex skeleton with pink flamingos stuck in it? Sure. Beach volleyball court? Yep. On-site hair cuts? Car washes? Oil changes? Yes. Ice cream vans that come by every once in a while as teams of computer programmers run outside. Indeed. They have kitchens fully stocked with food every 300 feet so you are never too far away from nourishment. It's amazing.

To create a fun way to get around, they have Google bikes for you to use to get from building to building. They used to have zip lines but sadly they had to be dismantled as there was a fear of safety. I can only imagine how many times a day you would have heard "Weeeeeeee!!!!" overhead with that transportation system.

I was also able to try out Google Earth on huge LCD TVs (9 or 10 of them) all lined up on edge as I zoomed around with a joystick. I can't explain how much fun this was for me. I love travel, and being able to lose myself in Google Earth was spell-binding.

On the way to Google, we dropped by Apple in Cupertino, CA and took a few photos of the main building. It's cool to see where all the products we use are developed, but the buildings are pretty boring and so we did a lap on the Infinite Loop road and then headed out.

ebay is also nearby, and so we saw their main entrance which was really impressive with a huge "ebay" sign to welcome you. They have the coolest security cars which are like little scooters to chase you down if you do something untoward to the company.

Finally we went to see facebook HQ near Stanford University. Their building looked like an old 1950's church that had been gutted to make way for computers and workers. Strange choice of building for one of the most well known computer companies out there. I expected something grand and really hi-tech.

Back home to San Jose, home of San Disk, and the massive Cisco. Building after building, all of them identical. I kept trying to figure out where we were, but trying to use Cisco as a route marker is useless. In Taiwan they have a lot of 7-11's, but I was still able to find my way around. Here, Cisco totally confused me. They used up all the letters of the alphabet and then used numbers on top of that.

A really neat part of the trip to California. I came home with a sick feeling I had made a huge mistake not becoming a computer engineer.

Friday, July 29, 2011

A lesson learned

A few months ago, a friend of mine (who I met in Mexico) asked me if I would shoot her wedding in Idaho. I said I would love to and was excited to see her again. I had it all planned out: Drive down early, shoot the wedding, party with her, and then drive out to the coast and up to Vancouver to visit my brother and his wife. I packed the car, booked a hotel for the night in Spokane, and then drove off to the border.

I arrived at the border at dusk and turned off my music in the car. I straightened up my shirt, put my hands on the steering wheel, rolled down my window and then shut off the engine as I reached the guard. I handed over my passport, and he asked me where I was coming from, going to, and how long I would be in the USA. Firearms? No. Alcohol? No. Any fruits or vegetables? No. So far, so good. Then he asked me why I was going to the USA. "A wedding" I replied. He asked "..and what will you do at the wedding?" I told him I was the photographer. "So this trip is business? or pleasure? Will you be getting paid?" I said "... I guess business, because I am getting paid." His reply was calm, but quick: "Are you aware you cannot work in the USA?" My stomach dropped.

He asked me to pull into a bay, and then come inside. I sat in a corner and waited for information. Was I going to jail? Was I here for the next 24 hours? Eventually a guard explained that they were going to have to turn me around and send me back to Canada. For 72 hours, I would not be allowed to enter the USA with any cameras. Again, my stomach dropped as I realized that with 36 hours to go to the wedding in Idaho, I was going to have to explain to my friend that I wasn't coming, and that she needed to find a new photographer.

Sadly... this was not the end of my night.

He asked me "how badly do you want to go to this wedding?" I said "very." He said he simply couldn't let me go into the USA with all my camera gear on my word that I wouldn't take money from my friend, but that he could give me two options. First, turn around and go back to Canada. This option would entail a mountain of paperwork, and a 7-A1 form would follow me around for the rest of my life. Basically, every time I enter the USA, I would be searched and my travel there would be highly scrutinized. The second option, was a little more complicated.

The guard told me that if I turned around and went back to Canada, found a place to drop my camera gear, and then came back to the border with a "camera-free" car I would be allowed into the USA and then I could attend the wedding. This option would also remove the 7-A1 form. I could enter the USA with camera gear next time, as long as I was not going there to work.

The time now was close to 11pm, and I asked him where could I find a storage unit at this time of night. He called Canadian customs, and they said I could put my gear there. I jumped in my car, drove to the border, and talked to the guard. Once he knew the cost of my gear, he quickly backed away from the offer. "Sorry, but there is no way that we can take that much liability." He suggested I drive to Creston, and find a hotel there to take my stuff. I mentioned that the USA guard was expecting me back in five minutes so he said to park my car, and run back to the border.

I parked my car, and tried to see where the road was back to the USA. There was construction at the Kingsgate border, and so by scrambling up a hill of loose gravel, and feeling like I was sneaking into America I emerged onto black asphalt. There is nothing like the feeling of being in darkness, walking towards a border guard with lights shining at you, waving a passport. All those old films of people escaping East Germany came flooding back, and I was sure I was about to be yelled at by a man with a gun drawn.

Eventually back inside the office of the USA border guard, I explained I was going to drive to Creston and come back in an hour to show I had no cameras in the car. I then walked back to my car, past the Canadian guard who simply waved me through as confused drivers watched me just saunter on by.

I drove to Creston as fast as I could. By now it's pitch black and I can see deer walking next to the road. I am sick with the knowledge I have to call my friend, and I am also watching my gas gauge as it slowly makes its way to empty. After 20 minutes, I arrived and pulled into the first motel I could see with lights on. I talked to the owner who was an ex-military and he took my camera gear and said I could still make the border before it closes if I hurried. I drove off, thinking I had just given away a substantial amount of money to a complete stranger. I didn't have his card, or a phone number, I just had the name of the motel.

Filled with panic, I drove south to the border arriving at 11:53pm. I explained my situation, and they opened my car up for inspection. I missed taking out my tripod and immediately they said that this was camera related and so I could not go into the USA. The guards started talking to me sternly, asking "Do you want us to confiscate this equipment?? Cuz, we will." "No sir, Yes sir, I misunderstood sir" were my only replies. Eventually another guard showed up and said "what do you want to do?" I said I was only trying to show I had no cameras in the car, so I wouldn't have a 7-A1 form follow me around, and that I wanted to go back to Canada. He looks at the time, 11:59pm, "Ok. Done." and with that he threw my passport back to me, and told me to hurry before the border closed.

If you have ever had to drive fast while under the watchful eye of law enforcement, it's really hard to do. I drove as fast as I could, while not driving fast at all, and made it to the Canadian side just as they turned off the lights. "Just in time" the friendly Canadian guard greeted me with a huge smile, and I almost broke down in tears. I was so relived to be back in Canada I can't even explain it.

I then drove back to Creston, woke up the manager of the hotel, grabbed my gear and drove to Cranbrook for gas. At this time it was 12:30am, and I just wanted to go home. I had wasted money on a hotel in Spokane, and I had wasted my time and gas to drive to the border only to be turned around. I got to Cranbrook on fumes, and filled up. I gulped down a Red Bull, and started to drive, figuring I would drive till I got tired. Deer were everywhere, and I had my eyes peeled for them as I passed by truckers doing the sensible thing, sleeping in their cabs on the side of the road.

I go to Fernie, 2am, Sparwood, 3am, Pincher Creek, 4am, by now the stars were starting to fade and the sky was becoming brighter in the East. I kept on driving. By the time I got to Nanton my brain was begging me to stop drinking Red Bull, and sent out pulses of pain to remind me to put the can down. At 5am, I was past High River and on my way home.

I walked into my house at 5:30am, and like an angry wife my cat was there to yell at me. For 10 minutes all I heard were "meows" before he calmed down and I fell into my bed. He lay down quickly with me and I was dead to the world.

A valuable lesson learned.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Elle Design

A few busy weeks of shooting business portraits, and other assignments. One of my jobs was to shoot for interior design company Elle Design at a house in SW Calgary. Luxury doesn't do the house justice. My mouth stood open for a few seconds when I entered the beautifully put-together home.

The formal dining room was first on our list to shoot. The sky was cloudy and rainy, giving me the perfect light. With the camera on a tripod, I chose to expose the room by about a +0.7 of a stop, and then feathered in the lights to fill in any shadow areas. This room was hard to shoot as the perfection I saw in real life didn't come through easily into the camera.

The kitchen was huge and I had a strobe set up on the far left of the scene to add light to the background that wasn't being lit by the window light coming in from the right. The color of the scene also needed a little bit of warming, so I gelled the flash with orange and that gave a warmer tone to the photos.

We headed into the living room and again, Elle Design had made a beautiful room. The colors, the fabrics, all came together in a wonderful living space. Here I set the camera up and over exposed the windows but didn't blow them totally out. I then set up lights to fill in the room and erase any shadows or dark areas.

The homeowner left the house to take the kids out to dinner and so the designer and photographer were left to pretend we lived in a place like this. Nice dream.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Soccer Stars

Tonight I spent a few hours and went out to shoot my friend's child at a local soccer game. It's early June in Calgary, so that means cloudy skies, jackets, blankets, and a toque. Most of the kids are around five years old, oblivious to the rules of soccer. They are just out there to have fun, and despite the coaches yelling at them to "pass to the middle!!" they just kick the ball and laugh about it.

I had a blast shooting the kids during the game, and used this game as an opportunity to hone my skills with a 300mm 2.8. I started at the sidelines, but as the kids play on a field the same size as a swimming pool, I had to move way back to fit them into the shot.

What was really cool was seeing the emotions that the players go through. One little girl was just running her heart out, but then fell near the ball and was kicked by accident. She was comforted by the opposing coach, and then carried off in the arms of her dad for the rest of the game.

I am really happy with the results of an hour of my time. Hopefully these photos will lead to other opportunities in the future.