Photoshop World – Atlanta 2014

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I just returned Friday from my third Photoshop World. My first two were both in Las Vegas, but this time, I attended the conference in Atlanta. There are two conferences per year, one somewhere along the east coast and one in Vegas. I signed up for one of the in-depth workshops that most of us call pre-cons (for pre-convention). This was a class with Moose Peterson. If you’ve read much of my blog, you’ll know I’ve attended several workshops with Moose. He’s one of a few photography instructors from whom I always learn something. His vision and understanding of how we see photographs is awesome.

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Moose shoots wildlife and landscapes, but the past several years he’s been shooting vintage aircraft. His air-to-air work is pretty amazing. So our Photo Safari took us to a small airport south of Atlanta housing a chapter of the Commemorative Air Force, folks who buy, restore, and fly these old birds. I’ve seen many of them at airshows when I was regularly attending those (mostly at Dayton, OH). The plan (Plan A, as Moose called it), was to have models there in vintage uniforms as well as the aircraft. But the weather had other ideas, leading to Plans B, C, and D. Moose explained that their uniforms are the real thing, so standing in the rain is not going to happen.

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But the CAF folks were great and moved the aircraft out and shifted them around for us. As photographers, we need to still find a shot. I took plenty of photos of the aircraft and did some close-in, detail shots. But I also grabbed some shots of the people who were there. The fellow on the cart moving the airplanes made for a good subject with the planes behind him, and the shot above just said to me a vintage treatment was needed.

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Moose did a little lighting demo as he’s been shooting his pilot friends with their prized birds. So, he showed his approach to lighting them. Prior to the field trip, Moose showed some of those portraits and talked about the other half of the lighting – that provided by a setting sun.

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The pre-con was just one day, though. The real event started Tuesday and ran through Thursday. Each day was filled with events and classes and the Expo floor. I don’t have many photos from those days – mainly a few on my iPhone – but I did take the big camera to the opening event. As a PSW alum, I knew this would be a ton of fun with some cool photo opportunities. They usually begin with a video featuring Scott Kelby and instructors from his organization with some whacky theme which is then carried throughout the conference. This year, the theme was pirates, and the video was a take-off on Pirates of the Caribbean. Kelby’s video production staff is truly top notch; the videos are really well made and fun. At the end, the “stars” come out on stage live. And this time, they took a selfie!

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After the opening event, it’s down to business. I think my favorite part of PSW this year was the variety of classes and how many were really new and different from the last one I attended. Highlights for me were Frank Doorhof, a terrific portrait photographer with a vision that’s truly wild and unique, and Peter Hurley, a NYC headshot photographer. I’ve seen video training from both, and it was fun to meet and talk with them. And Peter is hugely entertaining while he imparts his approach to making his subjects look real and engaged. It was his first time speaking at PSW and his two sessions were packed.

There were also many other great instructors, and I was able to say hello again to Joe McNally. Joel Grimes always has great ideas, makes me really think. It’s not just work as there’s a party the first night and Midnight Madness the second. The second day – especially if you get up early for the Midnight Madness ticket handout – is packed with classes and for me, the longest toughest day. But if you pace yourself, it works.

The Expo seemed smaller to me than in Vegas, but I ended up leaving with a few purchases including Frank Doorhof’s book. Signed, of course.

Photography – I think like any art – is a lifelong learning experience. Techniques, ideas, vision, new or different ways to see light and place it on paper (or on a screen). Photoshop World is an exceptional way to immerse oneself in a learning experience. This will hopefully not be my last time attending!

Grease at RCT

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Last night was opening night for Rochester Civic Theatre’s production of the musical Grease. The cast and crew did a fantastic job and managed to keep their energy high throughout the performance. It was especially true of the dancing which was pretty amazing.

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I shot the show photos on Wednesday, the final dress rehearsal before their preview performance to an audience on Thursday. Lots of color, lots of costumes, gel’ed lights, and leather jackets to capture.

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The dancing and all that energy along with the lighting make for a challenging photography assignment, but I’m pleased with the results. Going into a photo shoot for a musical, you have some expectations for what will be happening. But there is quite a range. Consider a show like Les Misérables earlier this season at RCT which is almost entirely sung but which has practically no choreography. The lighting was often low, but the movement is more gradual, sort of a slow walk.

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Other shows have a mix of choreography that you might consider as something of flowing from here to there. Grease, on the other hand, is set in the late ’50s and early ’60s with early rock-n-roll setting the mood. The dancing is high energy and fast. You hit the shutter button trying to capture the midpoints in the action when things stop for a tiny instant. If you’re lucky, you nail it. I don’t worry about a little movement – sometimes that actually provides a feeling of the movement that’s good to have. But blurry faces are not usually a good thing!

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It was fun seeing the show as just an audience member last night. RCT is presenting the original stage version of the show which differs from the movie – as is usually the case – and apparently differs a bit from the revival that came later. Some of the songs were unfamiliar to me, and I haven’t seen the movie more than once or twice anyway. While shooting, I just don’t pay much attention to the dialog and lyrics unless I’ve gotten my shots for a part of a scene when visually things are not changing.

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There was also a little incident during the rehearsal I shot that involved a bit of blood. It was good to see that had been resolved, and the wounded actor was fine. Live theatre is like that.

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It was also great to see a packed house. Word is, the first two weekends are sold out and the final two weekends are selling well.

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So, you still have a chance to buy tickets if you haven’t already. Just don’t procrastinate. It’s a fun evening and you get to see some of the awesome talent we have here in and around Rochester.

The Drowsy Chaperone

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The other show I shot last week was Riverland Community College’s production of The Drowsy Chaperone. It’s a quirky play-within-a-play, or really, a musical-within-a-play as narrated by Man in Chair. The musical basically takes place in his living room as he discusses his love for musicals.

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It was a cool show to photograph – plenty of color and a cool set and many fun moments to capture. As I mentioned in my last post, the February weather was not great for the shows in rehearsal. It also wasn’t a lot of fun driving between Rochester and Austin. I90 wasn’t horrible, but it sure wasn’t all clear either. The shady spots under overpasses had a lot of ice, and there was the “ground blizzard,” as some called it – blizzard-like winds but without falling snow.

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But it turned out to be better than I expected, and it was helpful that sunset is much later now than in December, so the drive to Austin was in daylight. It was worth the drive, too – I was happy with the photos. It’s all about the art, right?

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The cast is terrific. I was happy to see our friend James on stage again as the Man in Chair. And the orchestra is top notch with several musicians I know who frequently perform at the Rochester Civic Theatre. Of course, I always miss much of the dialog as I’m focused on shooting. I look forward to seeing it as an ordinary audience member, so I can take it all in.

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The show has no intermission, but ironically, the imbedded musical does! During that intermission, Man in Chair continues his discussion. And has a snack.

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What follows is pretty hilarious, but I won’t spoil it too much – other than posting one photo from that scene!

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Like Loving Lorna Doone, there was plenty of action to photograph. There were also several moments when the actors struck a pose and held it for a time. It was convenient for grabbing a shot I would have missed, but I don’t think they did it for me!

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No, this shot wasn’t one of those. This was shot on the run, you might say. Or on the roll.

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The production continues this weekend. We’ll be attending tomorrow (Friday) night. And the weather has warmed considerably this week, so I’m expecting a less stressful drive to Austin! It was encouraging being out in the sunny-almost-up-to-freezing weather yesterday. Lots of people smiling and enjoying the (relative) warmth. And talk of shorts and sandals.

Loving Lorna Doone in Stewartville

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It sometimes happens that multiple shows are opening around the same time. This week, I shot two and I have another coming in a couple weeks. This was the first time I shot for Stewartville Community Theatre. I thought it was time to expand my reach a bit, and to offer my services to another community. We’re fortunate in southeastern Minnesota to have several theatres and many dedicated performers.

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Theatre-goers then have many opportunities to attend fun productions with a pretty wide variety of shows. And, being theatre, even two productions of the same show can be quite different.

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Stewartville is producing the locally created Loving Lorna Doone. The show was written and is being directed by Aaron Rocklyn. I think it’s the second time he’s produced the show – previously at the Rep. (Music was written by Jaymi Wilson and Anthony Knutson.)

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It’s a period piece – lots of fun costumes which make for some cool photos. There is also quite a bit of action which is a challenge to capture but rewarding when you make it work.

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SCT uses the local high school for their staging. It’s a pretty nice little theatre, and the stage is huge. They have a lot of room to block the show, and they used it pretty effectively. I didn’t wander backstage to see what they have for space there.

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This has been an incredibly difficult month for theatre rehearsals. Of the three shows I’ve shot or will be shooting soon, all are musicals. Musicals generally have larger casts and have musicians as well as the actors. They typically have larger crews. And they have longer rehearsals to cover the songs and the choreography as well as the acting and blocking.

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When the rehearsals are planned, there’s an assumption folks will attend the rehearsals. But, this past month has been particularly tough with snow storms coming with seeming regularity. Then, the most recent big storm left a layer of icy snow in its wake. Travel has been horrific. Since that storm, over a week ago, we’ve seen temperatures not even approaching the freezing mark.

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It’s been more often below zero F or thereabouts. Roads are only slowly improving. This means rehearsals have been canceled or have proceeded without some of the folks who need to be there. I was impressed when shooting both of the shows I photographed this week to see how well the people involved have coped with this challenge. Adversity is nothing new in theatre, but it’s still great to watch people overcome it.

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I’ll write up some words on the Riverland show, The Drowsy Chaperone, soon. For now, I hope you enjoy this selection of images from Lorna Doone. Hopefully, the cast and crew will enjoy the photos as well.

I’ve been considering offering my services to local school productions, so if you know of any who might benefit from what I provide, let me know! It’s certainly something I enjoy!

Film? Does that still exist?

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I’ve been shooting for a while. Actually, a long while. If you read my About page, I talk a bit about how I started seriously into photography. The first good camera I bought was a Canon AE-1 – back when they were first introduced. When Canon produced their New F1, I knew I had to have it.

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For one thing, it has a true match-needle metering system. I’ve talked about that before, but basically there are two needles in the viewfinder, one of which is a little circle. That one moves up and down as you turn the aperture ring and the other needle shows the meter reading. When they line up, the camera thinks the exposure is good. It’s nice because it conveys good information in one place that’s easy to interpret without staring at it. Other metering systems at the time were either a meter needle alone (you matched it to some point in the middle) or an electronic system similar to today as those were just beginning to appear.

 

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The F1 has been sitting on a shelf. I last used it for real over a decade ago before I bought my first digital SLR. At the time, I was having a problem with the film transport mechanism. It would become jammed and scrunch the film until the film advance lever would no longer move. I recently thought that it might be fun to play with a bit of film, just for something different. I loaded an old roll and ran it through with the back open. It seemed to be working – unexpectedly. I believe the issue is really that it’s just overly sensitive to having the film loaded exactly right.

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If I was going to experiment with film, I decided to make it black and white. There’s a character to black and white film which might be fun to play with. Brad and Lindsay agreed to model for me (with their son, Felix). We were going to try for some shots when it was actively snowing last Saturday, but it was coming down so hard and fast that I decided that was just too much on the roads. Instead, we met up Sunday downtown.

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I bought four types of film, two rolls each. My first set was the Kodak TMax 100. The idea is to compare the four films to see what look suits me best. Each film has it’s own character. I used to shoot a lot of Kodachrome slide film. It’s look is best explained by Paul Simon’s song.

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For this B&W experiment, I decided to also develop the film myself. Although I used to have a darkroom, I didn’t do a lot of film processing. (In fact, Kodachrome had to be processed by a lab.) But, I’ve done a bit of B&W and used to process Ektachrome slide film. I figure it’s probably been 30 years since I last developed a roll of film. It’s not that hard, though. You have a tank into which the film goes, and once it’s in there, everything is done in daylight – i.e. no darkroom needed.

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These are some of my shots. After developing and drying the film, I scanned them into the computer where I used Lightroom and Photoshop to finish them. I’m looking more at the film’s character, not trying to replicate the entire old workflow. I did have to remind myself there’s no autofocus – I had to do that manually. And I had to advance the film between shots. While I was very happy with exposures and such, there were some issues: dust, scratches, and water spots.

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I’ve cleaned the camera’s film chamber more thoroughly hoping that helps some. And I have a squeegee coming to wipe the film before setting it to dry. I likely scratched it using my fingers for that purpose. Fingers crossed for next time. Fortunately, Photoshop helps solve those problems, although it can be time consuming.

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What’s the verdict? For the moment, it’s still an ongoing experiment. I really do want to see how the different films compare. Looking at the images, especially zoomed at 100%, the grain in this “fine grain” film is substantial. More than I expected. But it’s okay, too. Digital photographs can be a bit cold in a sense. They are so good. In fact, we sometimes go to extremes to reduce away any hint of noise, of imperfection, that they become almost industrial. Film is different from that. B&W film, in particular, reacts to the color of the world in a way which isn’t obvious, each film reacting in its own way.

I’m never going to become a film snob for sure. I love digital. Love, love it. But, there’s something fun about setting your exposure, taking a photo, and knowing – but not really knowing – you got the shot. I always remember my mom’s words – “I hope it comes out.” It will be a learning process, too. What do I like and not like about the various looks? Then how can I imbed those characteristics in my digital photos?

Next up is Ilford PanF Plus 50. I burned a roll yesterday outside my house shooting the big heavy snow we were having. I also shot a couple night shots down the street with 30 second exposures. I haven’t shot at 50 ISO since, well, since I very rarely shot 25 ISO Kodachrome.

I hope they come out.

SocialICE

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It’s WinterFest time in Rochester. For the past several years, that means the Peace Plaza downtown is decorated for SocialICE.

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The all-pedestrian First Street is decorated with all sorts of ice sculptures, most with some added lighting.

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We were surprised to see this little minigolf setup this year. I’ve been downtown for SocialICE a couple times, but Lynne hadn’t seen it before. I think this is the first time I took a DSLR to grab some shots.

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The highlight of the event is the bars made of ice. These have varied over the years from one huge bar with ice mugs to the several separate bars they had this year. Each has a different theme.

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The fireplace sculpture wasn’t a bar, but it was pretty fun.

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The themes and looks were all quite different.

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The ice-encapsulated fruit was pretty cool. All the workmanship was amazing throughout the plaza.

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And the lighting was as varied with reds, greens, whites, blues.

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Some of my favorite shots were of the people behind the bars. Where else but Minnesota would folks do this in temps hovering around zero Fahrenheit?

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The Paris themed bar was probably the most elaborate. The Eiffel tower was probably close to five feet tall. I didn’t notice the Louvre’s pyramid right away.

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It seems appropriate that there was an Olympics theme. When we first saw this bar, there was maybe one person in front of it. By the time we noticed it and pulled up our cameras, a rush of maybe eight or ten people pushed by us up to the bar. It wasn’t going to be clear anytime soon, so we walked on. When we came back, it cleared to only a couple people. I waited and hoped and finally was able to grab a shot before more people walked in.

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That seemed to happen a lot – there would be no one until we started to take photos. Then, boom, a big rush. It became sort of the inside joke of the evening. Still, I had fun shooting the artwork and some of the faces. And it was nice to have the good camera this time. I took my little S90 to SocialICE a couple or three years ago. It did a decent job, but sometimes the gear does make a difference. Low light is one of those times.

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