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The John Remus Photography 2013 Christmas Card

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Cookies and Milk.

This was definitely the most difficult Christmas card I’ve shot in the last four years.
Milk splash is something I’ve been wanting to do for over two years since I first saw the guys at Aurum Light Studios in the UK posting their splash photography work with models online and it making the rounds in the photo community. I’ve owned all the same lighting equipment for several years. And, honestly, it’s something I thought would not be very difficult with a bit of practice.

Finding models. That was the tricky part.
You’d be amazed at the flakiness of models. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that a test shoot where you’re getting splashed may not sound all too fun. But the results are far better than the same’ol “go to the beach and test in a bikini” type photos.

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So the original plan for this card involved four models – even if it was a lofty goal, I thought “fourth card. four models.” sounded like a great plan. But it didn’t work out that way.
Amber and Elizabeth returned to my card this year again after posing for last year’s Christmas card, which some of you will remember.
And lucky for me both Amber and Liz are incredibly attractive AND keep themselves in shape year ’round. So, mixing two gorgeous women was a fun contrast to my planned Ugly-sweater-vest idea as the Tacky Christmas Party Host.

Hair was done Tammy Nguyen and Make Up by Tina Luong. We shot at our apartment which was converted a bit to be able to handle the mess that milk splash would make.
I probably spent about 30-45 minutes with each model for the splash portion. Post work took me a while because I didn’t want to rush anything and I knew I had plenty of time. The plan of adding two more girls was dropped because as I started to hit up models and ask if they were interested, no one was in bikini-ready shape because it’s winter and they all said they’d been eating too much. Haha! Oh well.

The funniest part of this entire experience this year wasn’t even with the girls and the milk, though. It had to do with the cookies…

I used three bags of Chips Ahoy! cookies for this project, to create the cookie tower you see me holding. So, I posted on twitter apologizing to Chips Ahoy! for wasting three bags for my project. They promptly responded and it was all laughs from there. You can read below:

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Not only were they great sports about the whole thing, but they contacted me and said they’d love to see a copy of this card when it’s done! So, I sent one out to their offices in New York! haha! Can’t wait to see if hear anything back from them about it! LOL

Unfortunately just yesterday my phone had some sort of file error and I lost all the data on my memory card – I’m pretty annoyed. I lost several months of photos from my camera phone that I hadn’t yet backed up. Funny part is that the day before I told myself “Oh, I need to back up my phone this week… it’s been a while…”
The reason I mention this is that I use my phone for Behind the Scenes photos when I’m working on projects, and this means that I’ve lost those images that I was planning on sharing here. Bummer.

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We did take this photo right at the end purely to have one fun Behind the Scenes shot. This doesn’t exactly represent how the shot was created, but you get a bit of the idea. haha!

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Silly shot with Amber when she was done. And no, the irony wasn’t lost on her. She looked down, laughed, and just said “…haa…. jugs.”

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And of course a shot with Liz when she was done, too.

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Love her, she’s always down for any crazy idea I want to try with photos.

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After picking up my massive order of cards when I was in the Bay Area, Stephanie came out over to help me stuff envelopes and fill out addresses.

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The following day TJ came over to help me apply nearly 100 more stamps to the pile and seal nearly 200 envelopes

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Once at the post office I took my usual “here’s the stack of cards THIS year” photo… damnnnnn!!!

So, again, we’ll see if I hear anything from Chips Ahoy! about what they thought.. but so far everyone else seems to like the card.

This year I sent out 225… That’s a 50 card increase over last year’s total. That’s nuts. Next year will be the fifth year of my annual card, and I’m looking forward to coming up with something awesome. I’ve also been keeping tabs on who signed up for which years so I might try and do something special for those who have all four. And this year’s milk splash is going to be very difficult to top.

But I already have one girl who has said she’ll shoot with me again for next year’s card… my other friend friend Amber, who you guys will likely remember:

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So, keep your fingers crossed that it works out that I’ll be shooting with Amber for next year, because she’s ridiculously gorgeous as well.

I have at least one more blog I’ll put together before the year is over next week. So stay tuned for that post if you’re interested. But above all, I hope you guys enjoyed my card for 2013 for those of you who signed up for it. And those who didn’t, there’s always 2014 just around the corner

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The Starr-Hauck Wedding, San Jose – Calif.

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Last Sunday was my last wedding of 2013. Michelle and Chris’ San Jose wedding up in the SF Bay Area.

I’ve went to high school Michelle years ago, but for some reason in my head I placed her behind me in graduation years rather than directly in front. It’s something that made sense to me, even though her circle of friends was the class ahead of me (so therefore I should have realized my mistake). Haha, but hey, plenty of people hung out with others outside their class. Right?
Though it was funny when Mrs. Starr, Michelle’s mom, found out I had the ages wrong for her daughters. One of Michelle’s younger sisters is Nicole, whose wedding I shot three years ago, was who I thought was the oldest for some reason. Mrs. Starr started laughing and pointed out my error to Nicole; Michelle laughed and said “Well, Nicole IS the mature one…”

It’s always a great feeling to be asked back by a family to come and shoot for another sibling. The Starr family is the third family I’ve done this for (after the DeLand’s and the Lordan’s). Plus it’s always nice to be able to catch up with everyone that I haven’t seen since the last wedding, too.
Michelle and Chris had been in touch with me throughout their planning and were on top of pretty much everything. They were having a pretty good sized reception with a lot of friends and family, but made sure to schedule plenty of time to greet everyone as well as get all the photos shot that they were hoping to do.

The rehearsal was a few days before the wedding due to the schedule of the venue, so I arrived in town early to attend and meet everyone. Since I’ve shot at this venue a couple times I wasn’t too concerned with “how things go” and was able to chat a bit more with some of the family and catch up on life. Plus I totally feel loved when parents like Mr. and Mrs. Starr walk up to give me a hug and ask how I’ve been right when they see me. And during dinner I ended up spending a ton of time chatting about photography with Chris’ father, Mr. Hauck, who also happens to be a photographer himself.

The wedding day was beautiful with great weather for a November afternoon. It was just warm enough without being too hot – or even too cold, and as far as light quality we could not have asked for a much better day. Winter and Fall days can always be hit or miss but this one was great. And with Chris and Michelle’s schedule planned out as well as it was, we had plenty of time and everything went really smoothly on my end.

I’m going to leave a lot more of the comments about the day for my captions. This being my second time shooting for the Starr family I had a hard time narrowing down the selection of images I wanted to share. I will say that I had a blast with everyone and spending the day with both families. The Starr and Hauck families are both wonderful. And it was cool to see a few old faces from high school again. Plus watching everyone party and break it down at the reception made me think I totally should have got to know all these people better in high school. They seemed like a pretty amazing group. Hahaha!

So click to read on past the break, and check out just over 300 images of the Starr-Hauck wedding weekend!
Like I said, there are a lot… but I got some great moments I want to share with everyone that was there, and of course those who couldn’t make it.

 

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Formula Drift, Round 7, Irwindale Speedway 2013

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Last weekend was the 2013 Formula Drift Finals in Irwindale.
I was out shooting for Falken Tire unexpectedly, which is always a great thing. They’re a fun to team to shoot for and work around. Unfortunately though we didn’t have a strong weekend. All three drivers qualified Top 32, however both Justin and Dai were knocked out before top 16.

Saturday was my only actual day there to shoot. However I showed up on Friday to get my media vest early. The biggest problem with the Drift Finals is that there are a TON of people that apply for media passes. And I’ll be completely honest, most of them have no business being there. They’re un-experienced and represent no major company, no team, nor driver. There are people that I’ve met at these events that simply have their own auto blog and were able to get credentialed in.
To be clear, I’m all for people learning and working hard to advance in a competitive industry. However these inexperienced people tend to be rude, don’t follow rules, and have no common curtesy nor professional respect I find when I shoot a series like American Le Mans.

So rather than deal with a ton of people in the media meeting on Saturday, I showed up on Friday to check in early and then spent most of the afternoon seeing a few friends on other teams and with various vendors.

Race day was busy, as is every Irwindale race.
So, read on, check out a bunch of the shots I’ve selected to upload, and maybe I’ll see you guys out during the 2014 season!

Click the break to read on:

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The Joe-Fischbach Wedding – Napa Valley, Calif.

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Stephanie FINALLY let me photograph her. But, really, she didn’t have much of a choice..

I’ve known Stephanie for 11 years. She’s one of my best friends and probably my closest female friend. And I’ve been bugging her for yearsss to let me photograph her and she pretty admittedly refuses. Hahaha. Clearly she loves me.
I’ve known Adam for nearly 7 years now, he’s been exceptionally kind to me during our friendship and has become someone I look forward to seeing with Steph on my trips back to the Bay Area. I mention this because it’s very rare that female-friend’s boyfriends get along with me. Adam and I get along great and he understands my friendship with Stephanie goes back many years. And in reality, he “wins” that game anyway. Stephanie and Adam have been friends since childhood… like 5 and 6 six Steph and Adam have pictures together. It’s one of those disgustingly cute things. Even though they’ll laugh and tell you there was never any sort of childhood crush or anything, it’s still cute that they have those kind of pictures from their past.

Also, Adam (unlike Steph, yep, calling you out again Stephanie) has let me photograph him! Hahaha. Adam owns several motorcycles and a couple years ago I wanted to test a new camera rig and remotes I had just bought. So Adam was happy to go out and let me practice with him.

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Stephanie will of course just say “Well Adam got to wear full gear so you couldn’t even see him!”

Either way, Stephanie and Adam got married just over a week ago in Napa Valley – and I was fortunate enough to be their photographer. While they were picking out dates for the ceremony a year ago they kept checking with me and my availability. I told them I would understand if, because of my busy Fall, they chose someone else if I couldn’t make it. Steph basically “John. We’re choosing a date you’re free. We want you there to shoot for us.”

Their wedding day in Napa Valley was gorgeous, too.
I think I was just as excited for them to be married as they were.

The ceremony was at a location in the hills called Aburge de Soleil, a restaurant and small vineyard in the hills. But, a lot of stuff there has a small vineyard, right? haha.
We started bright and early that morning since it would be a mid-morning ceremony. So that meant that I was up at 4 am to be ready and meet the girls at 5 am in Steph’s room as they did hair and makeup. Rebecca and I started the day at Starbucks – where she quickly pointed out that I was way too happy and awake for that time of day. In my defense I was stoked for Adam and Stephanie.

The wedding morning, ceremony went really smooth and very quickly. It seemed to be exactly what Steph kept telling me she wanted… something small with family and a few friends. And even though their small wedding was still bigger than they wanted, it was beautiful, and people had a great time.

I’m not going to write a bunch more because I’ll leave all that for captions.

Be warned, though, as there are a ton of photos to follow.
I love Stephanie and Adam and it was just too hard for me to narrow the photos down. So there are nearly 300 shots of their wedding weekend after the break.

Read on! …if you have time, and enjoy the shots!

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The Foyt-Hornshaw Wedding, Lake Orion, Mich.

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I just returned from the Foyt-Hornshaw wedding and their gorgeous weekend in Michigan!

I’ve known Caitlin and Phil since college at Central Michigan University. We all worked for CM Life, the school’s newspaper. I have a ton of great memories from my time at CM Life even though there are only a handful of friends that I still keep in touch with.
Caitlin and Phil are two of those people.
During college I knew Caitlin a bit better than Phil, I think mostly because her and I always seemed to be in the office at crazy hours. We also both put in long nights between her writing and my managing the photo department. I remember her always sitting at one of the computers writing something or working on her classwork while waiting on stories to appear (via the police scanner or otherwise). This is also why we ended up joking around or talking to pass the time.
It led to moments of the utmost productivity, like this gem:

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Clearly we were working very very hard that night.

Quite similar to how hard me, Phil, and the other editors were working this afternoon….

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We got some serious distance with that launcher. Don’t worry, no one was around. But that fruit cup…um… didn’t survive.

After graduation I returned home to California, and then about a year later I moved to LA. An about a year after that was when Phil and Caitlin decided to move west and head to LA themselves.
It was still quite a while before our schedules and lives slowed down enough to a point that we finally crossed paths, but that’s LA for you. Everyone is busy a lot of the time and really you just need to schedule time to have time… plus it’s fair to argue that I’m not around that often, either.

Well, fast forward a bit and Phil and Caitlin are engaged! And I’ve been asked not only about their wedding photography, but also engagement photos, too!
Sweet! And we’re going to the Color Run in San Diego for them! Even more awesome.

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You guys might remember seeing these. It was a pretty fun morning but these were definitely the highlight for me. Something totally different for their engagement shoot!

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Well, since that day in November (wow! it was a while ago now, wasn’t it?!) the wedding has come and went.

Michigan turned out to be a bit chilly (for my Californian blood anyway) and I found myself turning on the heater in the morning when it was 58 degrees out and I left the house to go get my iced chai tea… Yep, I’m that guy at the coffee shop – the one that doesn’t drink coffee.
But the wonderful thing about Michigan in the Fall is the light. Hell, most of the year there is such incredible light to shoot with. I don’t know if the people there realize how great they have it. Blue skies and white puffy clouds are totally normal. We have to photoshop things like that back in Los Angeles.

I’ll get to the pictures here shortly and let them do the rest of the talking with some captions here and there. Save to say that my weekend with the Foyt and Hornshaw families was pretty awesome. I had such a wonderful time getting to know everyone. I had met a small handful of Caitlin and Phil’s friends back in LA, and a couple of them were there at the wedding, too. But to have more time to hang out, talk, and laugh with everyone was a blast.

So, with that… I’ll shut up. Click past the break for the remaining images in this 250 photo blog post about the Foyt-Hornshaw wedding out at Lake Orion, Mich.

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The Flagg-Fasbinder Wedding – Half Moon Bay, CA

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Last weekend I had the pleasure of shooting the Flagg-Fasbinder wedding in Half Moon Bay!
It turned out be a gorgeous Sunday for a beach wedding after several hot days earlier that week. It was overcast most of the afternoon which kept things at a comfortable temperature, and also kept the lighting pretty diffused – which is never a bad thing as a photographer.

Now I had originally met Jenn three years ago at Amy and Michael’s wedding. Jenn was Amy’s Maid of Honor at her wedding, and last week when Evan proposed Jenn contacted me immediately to check on my availability to photograph her wedding, too. And a few months after that, once they had made their decision and I had a chance to meet Evan, it was clear that this was going to be a very easy weekend with both of them. Both seemed to very collected and very excited about the wedding weekend. “We’re having a hybrid wedding” Jenn said to me. It would be a half Catholic and half Jewish wedding. And despite the frustrations that they were describing trying to mix tradition from both into one ceremony, they seemed surprisingly calm about the whole thing.


-Jenn giving her speech at Amy and Michael’s wedding, April 2010-

Another thing that was great to hear from Evan was that he had spent some time researching and really looking at the different photographers that Jennifer had picked out as her final choices. This is really important in my opinion. And it’s a huge relief for me when the groom (or sometimes bride) hasn’t met me previously to know that they took a long look at my work and decided I was right for their wedding.

Well, when the wedding rolled around the weekend got started at a small rehearsal in San Jose. Jenn said she didn’t want everyone to have to drive all the way to Half Moon Bay just for the rehearsal since most people weren’t staying there and would have to drive back that night and then back out again the following day.
But it was a great warmup for people to get both an idea of how the ceremony would go, as well as time for everyone to socialize and catch up on life. This is always a perfect time for me to get know people too. Then the following wedding day they’ll see me, but mostly ignore me since I’m not quite a random a person walking around with my camera. Haha!

On Sunday the morning started out very relaxed at the salon with some of the girls. Lots of laughing and joking with the stylists as they asked me about photography and my career. I suppose sometimes my direct answers come across a little strong since I answer quickly when I’m shooting and am focused on things other than the conversation. haha. Whoops.

Later that afternoon we all made our way out to Half Moon Bay – where there was a ton of traffic because it was such a pleasant day at the coast.

The ceremony was held at La Costanera Restaurant on their patio overlooking the water. It was a pretty great location, and despite some initial concerns there wasn’t too many people walking by as people originally feared. And since there was a cloud cover that day it kept the temperature comfortable enough for people to not have to worry about overheating in sun, or needing sunglasses. There were several prayers mixed into the ceremony to be able to do things for Evan and the Jewish half of the wedding. What was great was that the Rabbi would explain some of the traditions to everyone so they understood the meaning behind things since he was aware many of the people there were not familiar with Jewish weddings. It was interesting for me, too, since I had never been to a Jewish ceremony.

The rest of the evening went great with some family photos down on the beach, lots of dancing and laughter at the reception, and even some time for me to chat with the family members a bit more during some of my down time that night.

I’ll save some of the rest for the captions. But please click the break and read on! I’ve uploaded just over 250 different photos from Jennifer and Evan’s wedding weekend!

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CAMERA TESTING WITH THE SONY A77 (4 OF 4)

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Part four of my four part write-up on testing the Sony a77 DSLR in various sports setting that I typically shoot  with my job. Please check out the previous post for details on the first test and a bit of an intro to this multi-part project: here

Surfing photography and the US Open.

My last test of the gear was at the US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach. This would also be a bigger test of the longest lens I had with me to use, the 70-400 zoom. Combined with the 1.5 sensor I would have an effective 600mm of reach at the longest end.
Overall the lens and camera seemed to perform pretty well. I still wasn’t exactly in the best position to shoot the competition, but that’s my fault and the beach was ridiculously crowded for the main event.
Focus and tracking seemed to work pretty well. I was using a monopod for stabilization. And while I’m sure using a 600mm monster lens from another company would have resulted in pictures that were a bit better, I certainly can’t complain about the quality of the shots from this lens and camera combo.
I’m leaving out a lot of small details that are similar to what I wrote last week in Part 3, from the Lucas Oil Off Road Race. You can click back to that one if you’re curious.

So, what were my overall thoughts on using the a77 as a sports camera:

Focusing – I think there are several things I would change if this were to be a dedicated sports camera (which it’s not designed to be, please keep that in mind). I personally didn’t like the cross shape of the focus points. I’m accustomed to a diamond shape that allows for some point selection in the corners. But this is just related to how I like to shoot. Biggest annoyance was the seemingly slow adjustment of point selection. Also, the selected point “glows” grey. I want it to glow red. It was very difficult to see the grey selected point when looking through the viewfinder or at the LCD, especially on a bright day.

Continuous focus seemed to work really well as long as your subject was in the center of the frame. And when shooting slower moving sports the tracking focus worked well enough to be used, too. For motorsports though the subjects moved too fast or were too erratic. Again, the tracking/registered point option is likely best for people in groups (like the bride at a wedding) or with slower moving sports subjects that are high contrast against the background.

The lenses – I thoroughly enjoyed the lenses themselves. They were sharp, quiet enough to where I didn’t notice much of a difference compared to my gear and seemed to focus fast. While they turn and lock clockwise like Canon glass, they zoom opposite, like Nikon glass. This only threw me off a few times after years of muscle memory. haha!
Price-wise they’re not far off from the other major brands like Canon/Nikon for their respective focal lengths, as well.
The rear lens caps need to be redesigned somehow. There is only one way to screw them on when swapping lenses. So I feel time was wasted at several points when I was trying to do a quick change and fumbled while trying to line up the cap on the lens just-so. Picture it this way… if the face of the lens cap is a clock and there is notch at 3’oclock, you HAVE to line up the cap/lens exactly at 3’oclock or you can’t put the cap back on. Compared to a Canon cap which would lock at, say, 3 AND 9… you are more likely to re-cap quickly. Does that make sense?

The Digital Viewfinder – this was a big adjustment for me, Sony was right. I liked the internal leveler, and things like the option to show you in-the-viewfinder what the exposure will look like. But on overcast days like two of the race days I shot, when it was “bright out without being bright out” the digital viewfinder was hard to see and seemed dim looking at it compared to outside. Think of when you’ve taken a photo with your phone on a cloudy day… you know how it looks muted/dim on the screen but through your eyes it’s bright out? It’s exactly like that. (Yes, I know what 14% grey is, I’m not going super technical in explaining it here though). Do note that the viewfinder was also at the brightest setting, too.
The flip out LCD was handy – which I didn’t think I would like. But it was a nice feature to have when standing there, camera on monopod, reviewing shots.

Body Design – The design of the body was what I had the hardest time with. This has everything to do with muscle memory and personal preference. So take what I’m about to say with a very big grain of salt.
I had a hard time getting used to using the camera body. I’m not a fan of the “power button by the shutter” design. Nikon does this too… I’ve always thought it seemed silly. I always leave my cameras powered on and in sleep mode. This way they can be started quick and I never have try to shoot and think “oh, I didn’t turn it on”. But with the LCD’s of the Sony I felt the need to turn off the camera more often than I normally do. Startup seemed a tad slow for my taste, especially when I was turning off/on to conserve battery.
I didn’t like the sensor placement for auto-switching the LCD to the viewfinder, but I don’t know if that’s really a design change that is even possible.
I’ve already mentioned to Sony that there should also be an option for “no quick preview on screen” after capturing the photo. Also, I think there needs to be an option to set “preview for 2 seconds on LCD ‘ONLY’”. This way you get your quick preview looking at the back of the screen and then can go back to shooting. Currently if you use the “Preview for xx Seconds” feature it will show up in the viewfinder, too, blocking what you’re trying to shoot until it times out or until you tap the shutter button to return to shooting mode.
I’m not a fan of front adjustment wheels. This is also person preference. I find them too easy to hit/roll between shots and mess up your settings. But I understand this is something other shooters would say “well just don’t do that!”
Another design issue I had an unexpected problem with was the Video button. There is a large Video button on the back that if you hit at any time it will start recording. Great for videographers, bad for photographers. I knocked this many times and unknowingly started recording and didn’t realize it til I lifted the camera to my eye to shoot. I also did this a lot when I went to flip out the screen since the button is right above the corner of the screen most right-handed people would pull on to release the screen. Note: This CAN be turned off in the menu, I simply didn’t look long enough trying to figure out how to disable the button, however Sony clarified that it is an option.

Battery life – overall it seemed pretty great. I was just doing long days and only had one battery. However it also charged very quick.
Size of weight of the camera is nice and light, certainly a comfortable camera for all around shooting day to day.

So what was my overall impression of the camera? I enjoyed my time with it, but it’s not perfect for heavy sports shooters.
This is pretty much what I went in expecting, and from my understanding this is also what Sony was looking to learn more about by loaning me the gear to try out. There is no way that a sub-$2,000 camera will do what a $7,000 sports body will… This includes Canon and Nikon cameras in the $1-2,000 range.
Who would I recommend this for? Wedding Photographers, Portrait guys, Hobbyists, Weekend Warriors, and Amateurs alike. If you shoot “a lot of everything” and occasionally might do some sports work, it’d be a great system. There are some awesome lens options (let’s be honest, plenty of Nikon and Canon shooters pay top dollar for Zeiss glass for their cameras, too). The camera is light, feature rich with things you didn’t even know you’d need (like facial programming for your kids school performance, or that wedding you’re shooting).
I don’t think that it’s ready for the big sporting events – not for action photography just yet. But what’s cool to see is that Sony is working on it and doing the research they can to create a better system for everyone.

Click the break for photos from the US Open of Surfing

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CAMERA TESTING WITH THE SONY A77 (3 OF 4)

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Part three of my four part write-up on testing the Sony a77 DSLR in various sports setting that I typically shoot  with my job. Please check out the previous post for details on the first test and a bit of an intro to this multi-part project: here

Taking the Sony a77 to the track

This is where I was most curious about the a77 and lenses… the racetrack.

The first chance I had at the track with the Sony system was with the Formula Drift race series. I was in Seattle for one of my larger clients, Falken Tire, who I handle a portion of their motorsports photography for. The first day I arrived earlier than I normally would for a race, which gave me a couple practice sessions to get out and test shoot a bit with the a77. I would be using the 300/2.8 that I brought out with me.

While I was, again, happy with how the lenses performed I was a little bummed with the speed of the focus tracking. I was getting a bit of motion blur even when using faster shutter speeds. But again, this could also have been human error, I won’t deny that either. The 300 & a77 combo gives and effective 450mm/2.8 reach – this is VERY far for Drift and Seattle was a smaller track (proximity of photogs to cars) compared to Atlanta or Jersey.
But more frustrating for me as a sport shooter were the delays of the camera itself. When bursting at 10fps (or just shooting anything in general) the Sony system puts a brief preview of the image you just shot up on the screen or viewfinder – whichever one you’re using at the time. There is no way to turn this off. In the menu you can turn off previews (or set them for 2, 4, etc, seconds). But even after turning my previews to Off, there is still a brief moment the image is on your display. I think this is the camera’s way of telling you “Hey man, I took a shot!” compared with a Canon or Nikon you’ll have that brief moment of black while the mirror and shutter are up to exposure the sensor. So, I am guessing Sony put this there as a way to reassure you the photo was captured.
Note: This is something that I’ve already talked to Sony about to try and clarify, with them, what I mean by the screen pausing. Now I wouldn’t compare the pause to the brief flash of black from a shutter on a Canon or Nikon – that’s too quick to affect your shot. The image pause on the Sony I found distracting enough to screw up my framing. This is something Sony also said they’ll ask about since it’s not a complaint they’ve heard previously.

But I want it turned off – or the ability to turn it off. That fraction of a second that there is an image in your viewfinder of something that JUST happened is long enough for your subject to move a bit and your framing to get messed up. So while it doesn’t affect the AF or anything like that, you might still not-get the shot due to accidentally cropping part of the subject out.
Now, I know that nothing will be as fast/accurate about what’s going on in front of your camera compared to a mirror, but if you’re looking at a screen you’re definitely going to want that screen as close to real-time as possible.

Another issue that I had with this camera in a race setting is the inability to “chimp” efficiently. As much as that term bugs me sometimes, it’s the perfect word to describe the action of “looking down right after a shot to see what it looks like” like a chimp inspecting something in front of them.
We ALL do this at the track CONSTANTLY. This can mean the difference between sorting through 500 photos when you download your card or 800 photos.

Now, I wasn’t using the most expensive SD card out there, so I’m sure there was some margin of error (read: slow) due to a cheaper card. But I don’t own SD cards since all my cameras use CF cards. So I’ll take some blame for the possible slow speed of writing to a less-expensive card I bought to save money.
However the camera seemed to write very very slow despite using a class 10 card as I was told to do. It was so slow, in fact, that I actually gave up trying to look at the photos I just shot because the camera was buffering them slowly. This won’t work for those of us who are used to quickly sorting through photos right after we shoot them, deleting (quickly) the bad/OOF shots, and being ready for when the next cars come by.
Note: After discussing this with Sony as well they pointed out the the horsepower of the a77 and it’s processor can’t compete at a level that’s near the power of the dual processors of the 1D lineup. It’s simply something that you will have to deal with at the price point of the a77. This was something I hadn’t put a lot of consideration to those days at the track because I don’t shoot with a 60D, ever.

Also another downside to the camera and the digital viewfinder setup was the sensor. On a bright and sunny day we all will put our hands around the LCD when reviewing shots. The light sensor on the back of the a77 always thought I was putting my face back up to the camera and would switch the view mode back to the camera’s viewfinder. This made it impossible at times for me to review photos without turning my entire body away from the sun (and action) to review photos in my own shadow rather than just use my hand.
Note: I discussed this with Sony, also. There are two options to handle this that were pointed out. First is to set the screen option to manual. So, using a button you can switch from viewfinder mode, to LCD, and back again. I personally would not like this option since it involves additional key presses and I’m sure that at some point I would put the viewfinder back to my eye quickly and forget to turn the viewfinder “on” by switching modes. The second option is to un-click the second the hinge of the LCD screen. This would lock the LCD into the “on” mode, however I have a feeling that there would be the same problem with not auto-switching back to the viewfinder when you try to use it again unless you click the LCD all the way back into position. Both of these simply would take practice and getting used to on the part of the photographer – they’re not something I would consider an end-all to using this system by any means.
My experiences with Off Road were similar to that of Formula Drift, so I won’t ramble on too much about it here.
However out at the off road track I tried the focus locking a bit more to see how well it would track a subject.
The way the focus lock works (put most simply) is that it would lock onto whatever was closest to the center and then track it as it moved around. Think of it as facial recognition tracking for large groups – that’s an easy way to describe it.
However when you have a bunch of trucks crossing paths and everything kinda blends together I think the system because overwhelmed. So, instead I stuck with Continuous focus and found that I got a bit better results as long as I kept my subject in the center of my viewfinder.

Overall thoughts on racing photography with the a77: Overall… it’s a very usable system. I think my initial experience shooting Drift with the a77 was hindered by the too-long lens combo on a track that was smaller than I expected. Below you will no photos from Drift, actually, because I’m just simply not happy with any of them.
I had much better luck at the Off Road track during the Lucas Oil Off Road race. The first day I was there was mostly practice which allowed me more time to shoot around and text. The system here, and longer glass worked very well, and with a larger track (both in size and distance) there was more time and flexibility when reviewing photos after shooting them.

Click the break for photos!

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CAMERA TESTING WITH THE SONY A77 (2 OF 4)

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Part two of my four part write-up on testing the Sony a77 DSLR in various sports setting that I typically shoot  with my job. Please check out the previous post for details on the first test and a bit of an intro to this multi-part project: here

BMX – faster moving subjects, first tests with longer glass.

The week following my first test with skateboarding at Black Flys I met up with one of my BMX friends, Michael Rodriguez. We headed out early on a Saturday morning to Chino Hills BMX park where he was going to get some riding practice in that day with his cousin who also rides.
We arrived at 8a since it was going to be triple digit temperatures that day and finishing before it got that hot was the goal.

The 12fps speed of the shutter was great, again. But this is was when I first started to find a bit of frustration with the video viewfinder. Sony had told me that one of the biggest things to get used to for people was using a view finder that was a video screen since there is no mirror in their camera.

For those that aren’t familiar with how a SLR/DSLR works… the image you see in the viewfinder is a reflection off the mirror inside the camera of what is coming through the lens. The Sony system doesn’t have a mirror, so you’re looking at a small LCD screen that is showing you what is hitting the sensor.

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Here’s a diagram I found online from “nobadphoto.com for a quick reference. The green line is the path of the light (the image). You can see where it reflected before it hits your eye. Well, Sony has illminated the mirror (item #2 in the diagram) so the image goes right to the sensor (#7). Does that make sense? I’m going to assume that it does so I don’t have to get too much more detailed since this writeup isn’t about how the system produces an image. haha.

One benefit of this is that there is an option to see the exposure of the image in the viewfinder – a preview of how the shot will actually look. Although I could see this being much less useful in dark settings. And it proved to be a bit frustrating when I photographed racing a week later – that’s in the next blog update.
The viewfinder also was constantly running a leveler on the screen while shooting. This was something I (surprisingly) was able to ignore while I shot but used a few times when I was framing a shot and noticed, “huh, I’m not level”

For the majority of the BMX shooting I was doing I shot with the 24-70/2.8. The lens itself was sharp, felt comfortable to use, and was smaller in size compared to my Canon lens. I also had much less OOF shots with a smaller lighter lens than with the telephotos this particular test because it’s much easier to move a smaller lens quickly and track people/subjects.
But shooting in a sport/servo tracking mode I still felt like the focus was a bit slower than I’d like and dropped focus to the background more often than I hoped. BUT the park we were shooting at was made up of bowls that Michael was riding in and out of, so there are plenty of things that were coming in/out of the shot as I was shooting. I also don’t know how well my DX would have exactly handled it since I didn’t have it that weekend to try.
After looking through the photos and thinking about why this may have occurred I realized that I was being a little loose on my shooting. What I mean by this is I’ve become very used to a wider “spill” area around the focus point that the Canon 1D systems allow for in their 61-pt auto-focus system. So, if a person/object drops out of your focus point for a second or two (depending on your sensitivity settings) the camera will not lose focus on the subject, nor will it quickly focus on the selected point again – which is now likely the background of the image.
So, while going through images I realized this is what was happening with my images. It’s not that the camera was doing something wrong, it’s that I was relying on a system that wasn’t part of this camera. However, I know that when I shoot with my Canon 5D2 I’m very aware I don’t have this option with that system either and need to remain locked on my subject at all times.
This was something I was more aware of during my next test and OOF shots proved much less of an issue because of it

Overall thoughts for BMX – Works well enough. The speed of 12fps (of course) is great. I will accept fault for some of the focus system issues – and I realized after I didn’t try out the subject lock feature. This would have possibly helped improve many of the shots, as a rider in a cement bowl is a higher contrast compared to something like a car on a track. Below are a ton of different photos of Michael, his cousin Victor, and a couple young kids throwing some tricks on their scooters, too

Click the break for photos!

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Camera Testing with the Sony a77 (1 of 4)

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Ready for some sports – but not all.

As many of you know I spent a part of July testing out the Sony a77 DSLR camera system and a variety of lenses in various sports environments that I would typically encounter on my job.

I was approached by Sony Digital Imaging about giving feedback on their system and how it handles “doing what I do” for work. Not many people would consider a Sony system for sports shooting when they’re shopping, and I was going to try and get an idea of how well their system worked in various sports environments.

The Events

The tricky part of this overall test was going to be time and access for me around my normal schedule of races. It also happened to be during a month that I would be relocating from San Diego back up toward LA.
However, I reached out to a couple friends around the industry for credentials and help with various events, and also several athletes I know to see when and who would be practicing.
As it worked out, I was able to test shoot a bit of skateboarding, the Formula Drift race in Seattle, the Lucas Oil Off Road Race in Glen Helen, the US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach, and also some BMX in Chino Hills.

Click the break for photos and thoughts after my first test shooting some skateboarding at Black Flys Sunglasses Headquarters.

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