The best meal I’ve ever had in my entire life

To get to the best restaurant in Washington State, and one of the best restaurants in the country, you first need to drive two hours north of Seattle and take a 10-minute ferry ride to get to Lummi Island (population: about 600). On the far side of the island is Willows Inn, run by Chef Blaine Wetzel. Wetzel is barely 30 years old, but in 2014, the James Beard Foundation named him Rising Star Chef of the Year and in 2015, he was awarded Best Chef Northwest.

The Willows Inn restaurant only operates for 3-4 nights per week. At capacity, the restaurant seats 34 people. There is one seating per night at 6 PM. The meal lasts three hours. Each person’s meal cost $200 with a mandatory gratuity.

Accede to these conditions and you will possibly have the best meal of your entire life. The setting is homey and welcoming. The service is friendly and informative. The food is exquisite and unique. Many of the ingredients are caught from the surrounding water, or harvested from surrounding vegetation and gardens. It feels like you are eating straight from the earth — in a good way.

Several of our fellow diners were here from out of state. They made the pilgrimage and they were well-rewarded. So, my advice: if you’ve never been, add this to the bucket list!

I was able to take some photos of the meal below, using a Fuji X-T2. Here are the dishes that were photographed:

toasted kale leaves
clams and scallops
oysters and wilcress
black cod and currant leaves
dungeness crab soaked in pinenuts
herb tostada
smoked mussels
reefnet caught smoked sockeye
lightly cured rockfish in a broth of grilled bones
steamed bok choy

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There are no words

Yesterday was the Seattle Womxn’s March, an event intended to signal solidarity with all the people who might be marginalized under a Trump administration. An estimated 130K people (more than 2x the 50,000 that was estimated) marched the 3.5 miles from Judkins Park to the Seattle Center. I was part of that group.

According to the site’s press release, this was one of more than 200 events planned in 46 states and 30 countries (The New York Times has a rundown of all the events).

Seattle’s event was “a grassroots response to the 2016 election, according to Paula Goelzer, a Seattle-based birth doula, who started the Facebook event for the Womxn’s March on Seattle after she and her colleagues heard about the march in Washington D.C.” (FYI: This is one of the most Seattle sentences that has ever been written)

As I headed downtown to join the March from its 4th and Pike entrance, I noticed the city was eerily quiet – probably because most people were already at the March’s opening rallying point in Judkins.

This was supposed to be a silent march, and as I got into the crowd, I did notice things were much more quiet and less raucous than I would’ve expected. Occasional cheers did erupt throughout the marching line, but there was an eerie, magical feeling as we all headed down the street.

One thing the event definitely affirmed to me was the creativity and spirit of my fellow Seattle residents. Lots of creative signs were out in force.

I’m going to have a more detailed post with my favorite signs from the event later this week.

As the march reached its endpoint, we did notice a few crazies. A man standing off to the side of the street. One Chinese woman with a thick accent and a Pepe shirt started screaming “BUILD THAT WALL” at a lot of the marchers (don’t get me started on why this makes no sense). Fortunately, there was a woman following her around with a sign that said “Ignore the troll.”

Throughout the day, there were wonderful moments that confirmed, yes, we still live in a country (or at least a city) that values equality and goodness. And maybe together, we can figure out how to get through this.

The thing that hit me the most were kids. Sure there were some that were clearly dragged there by their parents and had no idea WTF was going on. But others were there to take a step into political activism, to affirm that values like peace, love, and kindness were still worth fighting for in this world. I was deeply moved by them.

The future belongs to these kids. We let them down in a big way with this election. But these children remind me, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

***

P.S. Also, why spell it the “Womxn’s March”? From the website:

The spelling of “Womxn’s March” has been adapted to highlight and promote intersectionality in the movement for civil right and equality. Intersectionality acknowledges that different forms of discrimination intersect, overlap, and reinforce each other, and recognizes the impact of discrimination based not only on gender, but also race, sexual orientation, gender identity, nationality, faith, class, disability, and other backgrounds.

Seattle Urban Craft Uprising 2014

I haven’t been shooting enough recently. 
Between my full-time job, the new cello videos, and finishing up work on the film, and all the podcasting, it’s been tough to find the time and will to get out there and do some photography. Thus, I decided to head to the Urban Craft Uprising today with my Canon 5D Mark III and a 50mm f/1.4 lens. I’ve been shooting a lot with the GH4 recently, but despite how convenient, portable, and fun that camera is to use, I occasionally crave the beauty of full-frame. 
It was pretty great seeing all the cool things that craftspeople from the Pacific Northwest came up with. Pro tip for these situations, by the way: Artists really appreciate it when you ask for permission to take photos. It’s their livelihood you’re dealing with, and they’re graciously giving you control of how it’s presented to the world. Tread carefully. 
Thanks to artists such as Clarissa Callesen and many others for allowing me to photograph their work today. You can find all the photos the photos from this set right here
[Side note: This photo set was made using VSCO’s new Film Pack 06, their Cross Process collection.]

On Trying to Fall in Love with the Fuji X100 Again

Portland

I recently traveled to Portland bringing only my aging Fuji X100 to shoot with. I’d kind of fallen out of love with this camera awhile ago, even though I never lost respect for the quality of images it’s capable of. It wasn’t that the pictures were bad. The problem is that a significant amount of the time (I’d peg it at 20-30%), getting the image you want is really kind of a crapshoot. The focusing on the X100 is still really lacking and the menu system is a pain to navigate.

Since I now own a Canon 5D Mark III with its easy-to-access dials and controls and monstrously good autofocus system, it just didn’t make sense to rely on the X100 when I could achieve a much higher consistency in my images. Combine that with the fact that Fuji recently released the X100’s successor, the X100S, which has been insanely well-reviewed, and I was thinking I should retire my X100 and save up for its more attractive, expensive younger sister.

But an impromptu trip to Portland was coming up and it was only going to be a few days, so I didn’t really need a heavy-duty camera. Plus, Fuji recently released a significant firmware update to the X100, improving startup time and autofocus. So I thought, why not? Let’s bring this camera to Portland and see if I can fall in love with this thing again. And while I still don’t think I’m going to be using this camera in my regular rotation, here are a few things I did really appreciate about it.

Caveat: Due to the recent firmware update, I discovered after the fact that all my settings had been reset and that the following images were all taken in JPEG mode. D’oh! 

Portland 15

Traveling is one use-case scenario where I do think the Fuji X100 still shines. I think that this will definitely still be my go-to travel camera in the future. The Fuji X100 is super light, nearly silent, and very inconspicuous compared to a DSLR. Plus, the retro design looks beautiful – many strangers comment on it when I take it around. I have a compact camera bag that I put this into and I can easily throw it in my backpack on the way out the door. Oftentimes I will literally leave this thing hanging around my neck all day and it feels totally fine, even though it definitely marks me as a tourist.

There’s a certain comfort to knowing that I can still achieve professional-quality images with the camera I’m carrying, even in low-light scenarios. This camera provides that comfort for me.

Portland 5

Here’s a reason why this camera is awesome for portrait photography: people behave differently around you when you’re holding a Fuji X100 than when you have a DSLR. I often ask people to let me take their picture, and if I have a DSLR, they’ll tense up or even refuse. Not so with the Fuji X100. The Fuji X100 is not intimidating. It looks like a rangefinder film camera. And it’s so silent, people often won’t even know that you’ve taken their picture (you have to tell them and thank them). This allows for a quality of candid shots that you just can’t achieve with DSLRs.

Portland 22

This thing is perfect for food photography, if you’re into/not incredibly annoyed by that kind of thing. With its F/2.0 max aperture, its spectacular low light performance, and its adequate “macro mode,” you can get some pretty appetizing results.

Portland 3

One last random thing: I used VSCO filters for a lot of these images and I find they work really well with Fuji X100 images for some reason. Not sure what it is but I think it’s the quality of the image combined with the focal length (35mm equivalent) that just creates a feeling that’s really vintage-looking and attractive. Here’s the full set of images I took.

So overall, this camera is still great. True, there were several shots I missed, and several that I had to try multiple times to capture. But I’m really happy with the ones I did get. The firmware update did improve things but I didn’t find that difference to be night and day- it was more of a subtle, evolutionary improvement.

Given the improvements and given that I only use the X100 occasionally, I’m probably not going to upgrade to the X100S quite yet. But once the latter drops in price, I’m all over that thing.

Vegas Through a Rokinon 8mm Fisheye


I recently traded in my Canon 5D Mark II (*sniff*) for a Canon 60D and a 5D Mark III (I wanted the 60D to do some cheap DSLR video on-the-go). One of the ancillary benefits of the 60D purchase was being able to finally use that 8mm Rokinon fisheye lens I had sitting in my closet. I had bought the Rokinon many months ago, not realizing that it was essentially useless on a full-frame camera. Stupid move, but one easily negated with the purchase of another camera!

I decided to take the Rokinon with me on a recent vacation to Vegas. How’d it fare in real-world use? In general, pretty well! Here are a few stray observations on this lens:

  • One of the big annoyances about this lens is the lack of aperture control from the camera itself. Instead, there’s an aperture ring you must physically turn. I’m used to this from using my finicky-but-awesome Fuji X100, but it was still a chore. Compounding this is that you get an aperture preview that is “always on” as you look through the lens.
  • Outdoors and in good lighting, the fisheye was amazing. Just setting the focus to somewhere between 3ft and infinity yields razor sharp pics. And of course, the look is quite unique.
  • In low light and using the 60D video function, I found the lens to produce images that were kind of a soupy mess. You can get a taste of that in one of the videos I made using the fisheye at night. Really not ideal, although the lack of sharpness here is probably a combination of a bunch of factors.
  • Because of the way the lens’s glass element is shaped, it’s a bit challenging to get the lens cap on and off. It will only fit in one orientation.
  • As is probably obvious, conventional photographic guidelines don’t really apply. It’s hard to adhere to the rule of thirds when your horizon is bending dramatically. After much experimentation, I found that photos I took that were mostly symmetrical ended up being the most striking and impressive. And of course, be as close to the subject as possible.
So would I recommend the fisheye lens? Depends. The fisheye produces a very specific type of image and you really have to get in close to create something visually striking (or alternatively, be really far away, as in a nature/landscape shot). I was definitely glad to have it in certain situations, but it is a lot harder to craft eye-catching images from it, since I believe the settings and situations you need to create those images occur more rarely when using this lens. Thus, if you are making one of your first, relatively-low-cost lens purchases, I’d definitely pick up the 50mm f/1.4 lens before you pick up anything else, as its versatility and sharpness are beyond compare. For the 8mm Rokinon, only niche hobbyists need apply. 

Dan and Priscilla’s Wedding

I just got back from a whirlwind trip to Los Angeles. While there, I worked with Stephen Tobolowsky to put the finishing touches on our upcoming live show. I also had the opportunity to photograph Dan Trachtenberg’s wedding.

Dan and I have been friends for a couple years now (he’s guested on the /Filmcast a few times, always to great effect). It was an honor to capture images from his big day with his bride Priscilla, who looked absolutely stunning in her wedding dress. The wedding took place at Marvimon in Los Angeles. Beautiful location, great food, amazing people. I could not have asked for a better wedding to shoot!

Here is a video I put together of the festivities. It is my first attempt at assembling a video slideshow out of my photos. Hope y’all enjoy it:

The Wedding of Dan Trachtenberg and Priscilla Hernandez from David Chen on Vimeo.

Moving

Sorry for the sparse updates recently. I’ve spent the last few days moving. It’s not a process I recommend; moving is incredibly disruptive, not just because it requires exceptional amounts of exertion, but because it upsets one’s routine. In a literal way, the world I woke up in yesterday is no longer the one I’ll wake up in today. It’ll take some getting used to. To commemorate the occasion, I tried my hand at some street photography last night in Harvard Square. (Again, I used my Canon 5D Mark 2 on ISO 3200.)

It’s a place that’s full of character. These photos are my brief love letter to it:

Testing Botero Background #023

After viewing the Strobist Lighting Seminar DVD Box Set, I was particularly intrigued by what photographer David Hobby was able to achieve using a cheap, simple collapsible muslin background created by Botero. I decided to buy Botero Background #023 (the same one in the DVD, apparently) and try to replicate the effects that Hobby created. So, I did a quick-and-dirty setup in my living room, got my roommate Matt to pose for 10 minutes, cranked up my f-stop to minimize ambient light, and fired away. Here are the photos that resulted.

In general, I’m extremely impressed that I was able to achieve this look in my living room, which, trust me, does not resemble a photo studio in the slightest. Here are a few of my notes:

  • I used two flashes: one flash aimed at Matt at a 45 degree angle to his left and above, fired through a Westcott 43″ umbrella on top of a light stand. The second flash is directly behind Matt, pointing at the wall, and was triggered via infared sensor.
  • The different colors were achieved by putting different colored gels on top of the background flash. It is amazing what a difference a $.50 piece of see-through plastic can create!
  • Unfortunately, the Botero background wrinkles extremely easily, exacerbated by the fact that it is collapsible. These wrinkles are also very, very obvious in photos where the background can clearly be seen. As a result, I had to shoot at high focal lengths (using my 70-200mm) in order to make depth-of-field more shallow to achieve the kind of bokeh that minimized these wrinkles. Unfortunately, I think I overshot it a little bit; there’s some image softness in a few of these photos and I think f4 would probably have been sufficient, given how close I was to Matt
  • On a related note, I bought the 5×7 Botero background for $65. Apparently they sell other, much larger sizes (a 10×12 and a collapsible 8×16). I think the 5×7 is a good combination of portability and big size, but I did find myself struggling on numerous occasions to crop out the edge of the background. In other words, this background is a bit small and will constrain your options, so if you are going to shoot with the 5×7 background, you need to use a 70-200mm lens (or higher).
  • It was surprisingly difficult to lean the background against anything that wasn’t a wall. Anything smaller would create an uneven shape, so just keep that in mind if you’re hoping to lean this thing on a chair or something.

Overall, I’m pleased with the purchase and am glad that with just a $65 item, I have another major asset I can add to my portfolio.

Testing the Canon 5D Mark II’s Low Light Capabilities

When the White House puts out a photo of President Obama, it’s frequently taken using a Canon 5D Mark II (Example: this iconic image). It’s the same camera that Jerry Ghionis uses. It’s one of the gold standards of DSLR cameras these days, in terms of image quality.

I recently acquired a Canon 5D Mark II after the unit went on sale at Best Buy. There are many reasons to own one, but the two primary ones for me were the fact that it sports a full-frame sensor (allowing me to take full advantage of my EF lenses), and the fact that it gets amazing low light performance.

Last night, I decided to put the latter to the test. I spent some time with my friend Rachell, during which I shot a few photos at ISOs 2500 and 3200:

Rachell Low Light

On the way home, I shot a local band, Cradle to the Grave, who were performing at the Plough & Stars bar in Central Square. All of these photos were shot using ISO 3200 or ISO 4000:

Cradle to the Grave

My thoughts? The low light performance is spectacular. It is, in fact, so good that I’m pretty irritated I have not been using this camera all along. With my Canon 7D, I top out at ISO 1600 before the images become unusable, noise-wise, for any professional context. Yet with the 5D Mark II, even the ISO 4000 images are theoretically possible to use (realistically I probably wouldn’t go higher than 3200, but it depends on the situation. We don’t always get to choose our optimal ISO levels). And as you hopefully can see above, this makes possible images that I could only dream of prior to this point.

How many images have I missed out on because I did not have this camera before now? I shudder to think on it. But I’m glad this camera and I are finally together.

[Thanks to Alex Billington for hooking me up with the 50mm f/1.4 lens used in all these images. Extremely handy for producing sharp images in very dark situations!]

Shooting San Francisco

I visited San Francisco this past weekend to see some old friends and see about a job opportunity. I was able to bring my Canon 7D with me, along with a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens. In addition, I brought along my trusty Fuji X100 as well. The Fuji is a phenomenal travel camera — small, unassuming, attractive, and likely to spark conversation with those who see you using it:

In addition, I did a brief photo shoot with my friend Sara. We took these photos after viewing the Picasso exhibit at the de Young museum, which, btw, was breathtaking:

Sara is one of those natural beauties, a person whose posing and expressions are so sublime that they rarely needs any direction from me. I hope these photos were able to bring out that beauty.

Shooting New Zealand

This is long overdue, but I thought I’d make a brief post about some of my experiences in New Zealand recently. I had the opportunity to visit Weta studios to see footage from Steven Spielberg’s latest film, The Adventures of Tintin. You can find my full write-up by clicking here, as well as a partial transcript of a conversation I participated in with Spielberg and Peter Jackson (part 1 and part 2).

After the set visit, I took the opportunity to drive along the South Island of New Zealand. The rental car cost me about $450 for three days (including gas, which costs about $8/gallon in New Zealand), and I had to drive all by myself for about 1,000 miles, but I saw sights that are so beautiful that they simply can’t be matched anywhere else on earth. For this trip, I used a combination of my Canon 50D with a 50mm f/1.8 lens, my Fuji X100, and my iPhone mostly using the Pano app:

I’ve done nature photography in the past, but in general, I find it to be a challenging enterprise. On a very basic level, the technology is limiting. The human eye’s dynamic range is vastly higher than that of even the most advanced dSLR on the market. Therefore, when you’re photographing images like this one…

Creek

…it can be challenging to determine the correct exposure level. And even if I got something usable, some post work would be required (as it was in this image). Fortunately, as I’ve pointed out in the past, the Fuji X100’s dynamic range is spectacular. Obviously HDR is a solution for some of these problems, but I’m still not sure I want my images to look so obviously manipulated.

New Zealand Day 5 7

When you’re photographing a human being, it’s pretty easy to figure out how to compose an image; maybe stick to the rule of thirds, and if you have interesting background elements, use them to frame your subject in a unique way. But with nature photography, you have to be more conscious of how different elements fill the frame, how the eye is drawn to them, and how the eye moves through the image. You also have a lot less flexibility in terms of which angle you are shooting from.

Sunrise in Christchurch

Despite the challenges, I’d like to think I was able to capture a small fraction of the beauty that’s present in New Zealand. Hopefully, you feel the same way.

[A special thanks to Sam and to Sid from New Zealand for their help in allowing me to capture these images!]

New Zealand: Day 1

Arrived in Wellington, NZ last night after 24 hours of brutalizing travel. Spent the day yesterday trying to stay awake, but I was able to wander around Wellington and try to capture the local flavor through my lens. The following were taken using my Canon 50D and my Fuji X100:

Big thanks to /Filmcast listener Sam for taking me around, and being incredibly patient with me as I got increasingly loopy.

One Week With Master Photographer Jerry Ghionis

Jerry Ghionis is a genius.

I mean that in every sense of the word. Not only is Ghionis one of the world’s best wedding photographers (as evidenced by his voluminous list of accolades and awards), he’s an amazing salesman and a phenomenal educator as well.

Readers of this blog will know that I’ve been investing heavily (both in time and resources) in my photography recently. When I learned that Ghionis would be in Boston for a five-day seminar, I was enticed until I saw the price: $2,200. I debated for quite awhile whether or not the seminar would be the best way for me to spend my money at this stage in my photography career. In fact, I agonized over this expenditure. But two separate people I spoke with (Evgenia and Tim Cook) described the seminar as “life-changing.” Plus, I heard that people frequently traveled here from out of the country to attend Ghionis’ seminars. Could I really turn down an opportunity to learn from the master in my own backyard? The answer was no.

In early June, I pulled the trigger. I was the last person to get a spot in the 20-person seminar. What follows is a description of the structure of the seminar, some reflections on what I learned, and my general impression as to whether Ghionis’ seminars are worth the cost.

The Schedule

Ghionis’ seminar lasted five days and four nights. On Day 1, all of the photographers arrived at the Boston Radisson, fresh and eager to have their minds filled. Many had traveled across state lines to be here, and one had flew here from Puerto Rico to take the seminar. It is not a stretch to say that I was the least experienced photographer in the entire room; many of the students had wedding photography businesses that were decades old (more on this later).

Day 1 consisted almost completely of critiques of images that people brought in (each photographer was instructed to bring in 15 images that were representative of their work). Many photographers, including myself, found these critiques to be fairly brutal. Ghionis’ is incredibly gracious, but it doesn’t change the fact that one’s work is being laid bare and objectively evaluated for all to see. It was during this critique that we learned many of Ghionis’ principles and “rules” governing his photography, rules such as:

  • Always shoot on the shadow side of the face
  • The leg closest to the camera should be the one that is bent
  • Females hands should always be relaxed and softened

And countless others. All in all, it was an educational experience that helped to set the stage for the rest of the workshop. It also gave each of us the tools to critique our own work in the future.

It was Day 2 that my mind really started to get blown. After completing the previous day’s critiques, Ghionis went more in depth into his posing and lighting techniques using real-life models. Then, everyone slung their cameras around their shoulders and we left the room to go out and shoot. First, though, Ghionis used some areas in the hotel to demonstrate some of his lighting principles. For instance, here’s an area just outside of the hotel bathroom that Ghionis thought had some cool light:

Here’s a resulting shot that I was able to get from this set-up:

It is pretty remarkable how Ghionis was able to take ordinary objects and situations and render them into extraordinary photographs.

As we departed the hotel and wandered around Boston, Ghionis only used one camera and one lens (a Nikon D3s with a 70-200mm, although prior to the workshop, Ghionis frequently sported the Canon 5D Mark II), but the images that he was able to obtain were amazing. Here are a few images of the class wandering around the streets of Boston, with Ghionis explaining his techniques:

As you can see, Ghionis will position himself in any way to get just the right shot, which was inspiring to witness. Here are some of the shots I was able to obtain from the day. [Please note that all of the following shots were not set up/posed by me, and thus, do not represent my work nor belong to my portfolio.]

Part of Day 2 also involved each student getting 10 minutes with two of the models. Each of us was instructed to produce a shot that demonstrated what we had learned. Here is mine (though again, the following was produced for workshop purposes only and does not belong to my portfolio):

It was a pretty nerve-racking 10 minutes, trying to remember all that Ghionis had taught us in the previous 24 hours, but I had learned so much that I found my own personal improvement to be dramatic.

One of the many revelations I had during the course of the week was the importance of getting things right “in-camera.” Unlike myself and many photographers I know, Ghionis doesn’t shoot very much during the course of a wedding day; rather than fixing things in Photoshop later, he opts to compose the image and get the exposure correct immediately. This is such a simple principle, but it saves so much time and forces a degree of creativity that wouldn’t really be necessary otherwise. It’s certainly something I now think about every single time I put a viewfinder to my face.

Day 2 began at 10 am in the morning, but did not conclude until about 11:30 pm that night (9 hours of which was spent walking around Boston). By that point, most of the members in class were tired and sweaty; our feet hurt and we wanted to go home. Not Ghionis, though, who was tireless and seemed intent on giving us our money’s worth. It was an extraordinary, revelatory day and I will count it as a formative one in the development of my photographic style.

Day 3 involved critiques of the images we’d obtained from the previous day, and continued with Ghionis discussing some of his techniques for getting emotion out of his subjects to achieve those perfect, how-in-the-heck-was-he-there-at-the-right-place-and-the-right-time shots. We then went out on the town again for some more improvisation with light and more shots with models. It concluded (relatively) early at 6 pm.

On Day 4, we put the cameras away and after a morning critique of the previous day’s images, we discussed album design, pricing, and branding. Ghionis is old school; he believes in the emotional power of a physical album. After you hear him describe it, you will believe too. One of Ghionis’ principles is to shoot the wedding with the intention of making the photographs tell a story through the album. A great beauty and a great economy of images is achieved in this fashion.

For many individuals, if their house were on fire, the first thing they would save is their wedding album. How, then, should we think of its value to clients? How valuable should it be to us as wedding photographers? Ghionis instilled this sense of value in all the students on the room. He does not believe “upselling” is a dirty word, and there’s good reason for it; spoiling people, or allowing them to spoil themselves shouldn’t be thought of in a negative fashion.

The evening concluded with in-depth critiques of students’ existing branding materials. This session was even more brutal than the initial critiques of people’s images, as Ghionis emphasized how important it was to make a good impression on people. Does your branding/logo scream elegance and luxury? Or does it reek of desperation and amateurishness? The difference between the former and the latter is thousands of dollars worth of sales. Many students made decisions this evening that would change the course of their businesses, and possibly their lives.

Finally, on Day 5, we discussed marketing ideas. Ghionis knows how to market the hell out of himself and his tips were extremely useful. Whatever Ghionis was selling, I was buying (literally! I walked out of the seminar having spent an additional $400 on his materials).

At the end of the day, Ghionis asked us to go around the room and discuss what we had learned that week. The breadth of people’s shared knowledge was staggering, but what surprised and impressed me were the emotional epiphanies that people had. People left the seminar feeling empowered to be the best photographers and businesspeople that they could be. Ultimately, that seemed to be worth more than any photography tips Ghionis could muster from his formidable background.

Ghionis’ Style

If you’ve seen any of Ghionis’ videos, you may already know that his personality is magnetic. He has loads of charisma, he’s incredibly knowledgeable, and he has a great (and sometimes crude, but hilariously so) sense of humor. He also has enormous amounts of patience, which helps when one is dealing with endless questions from a bunch of less experienced photographers.

The only shortcomings of the seminar didn’t actually come from Ghionis, but from some of the other photographers. Let me get this out of the way: the overwhelmingly vast majority of people in the seminar were totally awesome and great, and I feel like I have formed some lasting friendships with several of them. All that being said, I had a strong distaste for students’ who used the seminar as their own private therapy session, repeatedly going into detail (unprompted) about struggles with their own businesses. Equally vexing were those students who seemed to believe that they were also supposed to be teaching the seminar. When I’m taking a night class at a community college, this type of behavior is totally fine, but when I’m forking over $2200 for an intensive 5-day workshop, this takes away time from the master photographer I actually spent money and time to hear.

A lesser teacher would have gotten flustered and possibly allowed these people to derail the conversation. But Ghionis proved himself a master in more ways than one, always keeping things on track and never rebuking students, even when it was clear that others in the class wanted to do so. The man has endless depths of patience, and earned my respect many times over.

[I also must note that Ghionis’ wife, Melissa, helps him run his business/seminar, and she is possibly one of the nicest people I have ever met. She made me feel welcome and addressed many of my questions with warmth and grace. The two make for an unstoppable partnership.]

Conclusion

The ultimate goal of Ghionis’ seminar is to get people to the point where they can charge whatever they want to shoot weddings. And while he offers practical tips to get to this point, his seminar is just as much about self-empowerment as it is about wedding photography. There was something incredibly refreshing and animating about that. Ghionis provides struggling and aspiring entrepreneurs the tools with which to take control of their destiny. And as a result, I have nothing but admiration for the man.

So is the Jerry Ghionis seminar worth it?

In one week, Ghionis forever changed the way I look at lighting…and it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that he changed the way I look at life itself. I don’t agree with all aspects of Ghionis’ style but he’s given me the tools to create stunning photographs; now all I need to do is practice them. He also made me re-evaluate my values, and how I might position myself as a wedding photographer. He made me think about the incredible service that wedding photographers provide to couples, and taught us how to be proud of the work we do.

In other words, not only was the seminar worth every penny, I can’t wait to go to another one!

Epilogue

The day after the seminar was over, I asked my colleague Rachell if she would allow me to photograph her using the new techniques I had learned. I decided to challenge myself by shooting in direct sunlight, a lighting situation I absolutely hate. Here are the photos that resulted:

There are still a lot of things I would fix about these photos, but I think they represent a marked improvement over my photography prior to this point. I look forward to continuing my photographic journey and was grateful that Mr. Ghionis was a part of it.

More Shooting with the Fuji X100: Soccer Nights and Matt’s Graduation Party

I had the opportunity to shoot two events this past weekend: Soccer Nights, held by Vineyard’s Cambridge church, and my friend Matt’s graduation party in Western, MA. For Soccer Nights, I took my trusty old 70-200mm f/2.8 on my Canon 7D, but I also packed along my new Fuji X100.

Soccer Nights is such an awesome, inspiring program. Volunteers from all over the city come to give kids a place to have community with each other. I was blown away both by the organizers and all the people who donated time to make this event as fun as it was:

All the wide-angle shots in the above photo set are taken with the Fuji, while everything close-up is done using the Canon 7D.

Quality-wise, I think you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between the two cameras. And as I am fond of mentioning, the Fuji X100 even gets better low-light performance than the 7D in many instances.

Focusing on the Fuji stinks. The manual focus (via focusing ring) is essentially unusable, but using regular autofocus is also a pain in the neck because you need to manually select “Macro” mode to focus on anything close up. I leave it in manual focus but hit the “AFL” button, which makes the camera automatically determine whether or not to enter macro mode or not. In low-light situations, this can still be problematic.

The dynamic range on the Fuji X100 is incredible. Images like this provide detail in both the sky and on the ground, in a way that my DSLRs simply do not do:

Soccer Nights 86

The Fuji X100 requires a lot more careful composing than other cameras. Since auto focus is slow, you need to choose your shots and your moments carefully. It helps when people generally don’t mind you taking photos of them, as was the case this past weekend at Matt’s graduation party (at which I used the Fuji X100 exclusively):

Overall, I still love this camera and how tack sharp some of these images can be. I just wish the focusing would suck a little bit less, and that the controls were a little bit more responsive.

By the Docks

I recently had the opportunity to photograph a couple with my colleague, Evgenia (Eve). Eve has studied under the tutelage of the master photographer Jerry Ghionis, whose 5-day Boston seminar I will be attending next week. You can expect more thoughts on that after its over, but in the meantime, here are some photos from our shoot:

What was awesome about this shoot was that I shot using artificial light almost exclusively, while Eve shot using natural light. I’ll update this post with some of her photos when they’re ready, but they have an distinctly different feel to them.

Once again, I am indebted to the work of David Hobby, without whose blog these photos would simply not be possible.

Photo Shoots: Grace Van’t Hof and Amanda

It used to be that my goal in life was to become a good photographer with a solid journalistic style. That all changed when I started reading the work of David Hobby. Hobby has built an empire out of blogging about mostly one thing: off-camera flash. For the uninitiated, off-camera flash is the use of a flash unit that is not attached to the camera. This sounds like a small difference, but it can make for brilliant photos that were previously thought to be impossible. As netizens, we’ve often seen the results of a point-and-shoot aimed and flashed right at a person, who has that dear-in-the-headlights look and a white, washed out face. Off-camera flash allows you to mitigate those types of photos and create true art. I had used it before for weddings, but Hobby allowed me to see it in a different, more refined way, and I’m eternally grateful to him for it.

[FYI: I’m also a huge fan of the work of Neil Van Neikirk, whose detailed blog also provides a lot of help in the off-camera flash area]

I had the ability to use some off-camera flash extensively with a couple of shoots that I did recently. First up is local musician Grace Van’t Hof, who plays a pretty mean banjo. I went over to Grace’s very-interesting-looking house and we did a lot of profile-style shots as well as some more interesting poses.

In addition, I worked with a classmate recently, Amanda, to produce shots for use in her online portfolio and website. These are almost all exclusively done using off-camera flash and shoot-through umbrellas (Lumopro 160s fired through Westcott 43″ umbrellas).

Graduation 2011

Today I had the opportunity to witness many of my colleagues and classmates graduate from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Since I’m a part-time student, I won’t graduate for another six months. For those who aren’t familiar, Harvard holds several different ceremonies. At the beginning of the day, they do school-wide commencement exercises. Then each different school splits off to do its own, individual ceremony.

These are my photographs from both the Harvard school-wide commencement (which was impossible to get a seat for, and thus, which resulted in a fairly short, lackluster photo set), and the Harvard Graduate School of Education commencement. Note that unlike with most of my photo sets, I tried to emphasize people I knew, since they might find the photos valuable later.

Photographing The Cast of ‘The Wire’

I had the privilege of being the photographer of the Advanced Leadership Initiative’s “Revitalizing Cities” Think Tank, held this past weekend at Harvard Law School. One of the main events at this conference was a panel featuring many members from the cast of The Wire. Some of you may know that Harvard Law School actually offers a class based on the series (side note: I regard it as the best television show ever made). That class’s professor was able to wrangle the cast to join us for a moving panel about the need for change in urban areas all across the country.

All of these photos were shot using a Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS USM II lens on a Canon 7D. A few quick notes:

  • The Canon 7D’s low-light performance is pretty great. Even at ISO 1600, images are still quite usable (or at least, up to my standards). The same can’t be said of the Canon 50D, which I also shoot with.
  • Some people argue that shooting in JPG saves time. But in a situation where you are shooting a lot of different lighting set-ups in rapid succession, even the camera pre-set white-balance options may not encompass your white-balance needs. I am glad to shoot in RAW and edit the images afterwards at my leisure.
  • I’ve found that even with image stabilization activated, it is difficult for me to get a clear shot at a shutter speed of anything under 1/125th of a second. Hopefully, I will continue to improve this rate as time goes on.