Sunday, November 4, 2012

Seal Team Six; The Raid on Osama Bin Laden

Have I mentioned how much I am enjoying the New Media Photojournalsim program at the Corcoran College of Art and Design?  Of course I have...get used to it.  All my instructors are rock stars in their own right, and I am surrounded by an amazing group of motivated and fantastically talented classmates.  This week was another great example of the cool things that happen at Corcoran.  After hurricane Sandy delayed the world premier of "Seal Team Six; The Raid on Osama Bin Laden," Steve Elfers (Video Diretor at USA Today, and our advanced multimedia instructor) scored tickets for the class to attend the postponed premier on Thursday.

Going into the premier I knew two things - the movie's subject was the killing of Osama Bin Laden by Seal Team Six, and there was a swirl of controversy regarding the release date.  The list of things I didn't know far exceeded those I knew.  Was this a documentary?  Was it a mockumentary? Who produced it?  What message was the movie intended to convey?  These, and many other things became clear over the course of the evening.

Here is the easy stuff:  The movie is an action feature film that will be shown on the National Geographic Channel at 8pm on Sunday 4, November 2012.  The producer was Harvey Weinstein, and John Stockwell was the director.  The movie is a taut, face paced, fictionalized account of the Seal Team Six successful mission to kill Osama Bin Laden on May 2, 2011.  According to director John Stockwell, although the movie is a fictionalized account, it is factually based and reflects significant research as well as on-location consulting from former Navy Seals.

Our class was fortunate to spend 20 minutes "interrogating" Stockwell.  The highlight of the discussion was his regret that the film is being politicized.  Stockwell said his main goal was to get the details right.  His initial concept was not politically motivated, and included less stock footage that ultimately made it to final release - amplifying the political message.  The debate regarding political motivation in advance of the movie's release centers principally on the release date.  Just two days before election day, detractors claim "The timing of this film is absolutely ridiculous. For an Obama supporter to be releasing a ‘prObama’ film just before the election is a blatant attempt to sway voters. And liberals wonder why conservatives complain about Hollywood.”

This conservative commentator may have a point.  Maybe the Democrats should play by the Republican playbook and release a "tell-all, scandalizing, sex filled, you lied about your military record" propaganda piece about Governor Romney.  Personally, I prefer happy endings.  

I encourage you to watch the film this evening at 8pm on National Geographic...that is, of course, if you are sufficiently sentient and thereby capable of watching a movie and not being swayed to vote according to the whims of evil hollywood producers.  If you are incapable of independent thought, I'm sure there is an episode of "Biggest Loser" just a click away.

Thanks to Oliver Contreras for the photographs.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

1979 Kawasaki KZ750 Cafe Racer Project Update

It has been a while since I posted an update on my cafe racer project.  I have made great progress and am thoroughly enjoying the ride.  If you are just now landing on this page, follow this link to read about where this project started - 1979 Kawasaki KZ750 Cafe Racer Project - Before.  For a quick look, here is a photo of the starting point back in July.

An another from the first of September.

So far, the modifications have included:

  • Removal of front fender, rear fender, turn signals, mirrors, handlebars, seat, and airbox.
  • Added cafe racer seat and tail light
  • Added clubman handlebars
  • New muffler (sounds fantastic!)
  • Frame and fork painting
  • Removed Kawasaki logos and painted tank - add Coast Guard racing stripes
  • Adde low profile aluminum billet mirrors.
  • Exhaust wrap (needs to be redone)
  • Fabricated license plater frame
  • Added "bullet" turn signals
  • Added K&N air filters

The most invasive part of the project was installation of the new seat.  This required removal of nearly a foot long section of the original seat/fender frame.  When the saw touched metal, there was no turning back.

If the weather holds following Hurricane Sandy, I hope to take a ride to my Southern Maryland garage and continue with a few more modifications next weekend.  The work list includes:

  • Paint the tail white
  • Remove center stand
  • Install a crank case filter
  • Install and paint new exhaust wrap
  • Install muffler support
  • Cut off rear foot peg supports
  • And possibly remove the chain guard - I am still contemplating this move.

As I was walking through the neighborhood today, I met a guy who is embarked on a similar project with a Honda 650CB of the same era.  He is doing a fantastic job and has the distinct advantage of being a furniture designer and metal worker.  He already has a few pieces of nice custom metal on his project.  I think I just found a new friend.

I will be back with more updates.


Friday, September 21, 2012

Feedback on The Intersection of Subject and Circumstance from a Point of View

My last post featured my homework assignment for The Intersection of Subject and Circumstance From a Point of View.  As promised, I am back with the the class feedback.  Before I get into the details, I want to compliment my classmates who all completely rocked the assignment.  The images were stunning and everyone stepped up their game from the first assignment.  In my opinion, this was a matter of better understanding our instructor's definition of "the intersection of subject and circumstance."  All are talented photographers capable of exceptional execution - the improvement we witnessed as photographs were shared and critiqued, was a clear understanding of expectations and what makes a great photograph from the photojournalistic perspective.

I was pleased that I nailed most.  The image below received a "meh" because of the perspective from the back of the performers.  Several classmates received similar criticism - we all took note that shots of the backs of our subjects rarely work.  There are certainly exceptions, but mine was not one of them.  Shooting the backside of subjects eliminates the opportunity to see emotion, understand how they are interacting with their circumstance or environment from an emotional perspective, and generally are less interesting.

I did not take the opportunity to defend my "point of view" for this photograph.  In the end, if the meaning of the photograph is not immediately apparent when a viewer first sees it, the image is inferior - there is no point in a defense.  Toren Beasley persistently beats the drum of "subject, circumstance and point of view must leave no room for must be obvious."

We are not in the classroom now, so I will take a moment to describe my intent and purpose for shooting from behind the performers.  My intent was to capture the feeling of a performer playing to a crowd that doesn't much seem to care about the performance.   I saw performers playing to an indifferent audience.  As you look past the subject (performers) you see, from their perspective, a crowd of people milling about without a single face looking toward the stage.  I do not take exception to the critique and scribbled a note to self - "no shots of the backs of subjects."  Check.  In short, I was over thinking the "point of view" part of the assignment which led me to take this shot.

The great value of our class critiques is that you not only get the opinion of a seasoned professional like Toren Beasely, but you benefit from the comments of classmates along with viewing their hits and misses - all valuable information to improve our photography.  Here are a few of the other takeaways I noted during the critiques:

  • Great photos prompt an emotional response.  When shooting your subjects, have patience, move, and find the emotion in the subject and the composition.  Facial expressions tell everything about the emotion, meaning, and mood of the shot.
  • When done right, the photographers intent and the viewers experience are in lockstep (unlike my "performers" shot).
  • The edges of the composition should put pressure on the eye of the viewer toward the subject.  The edges should not present a visual escape route.
  • Although we are encouraged to burn distracting highlights and background elements that do not contribute to subject and circumstance, thus pushing the viewers eye to the subject, be careful of creating halos.  See my photo below and the halo above and below the artist's arm.  I should have caught this - no excuses - the photographer has to own the product.
  • Even when precisely capturing the intersection of subject and circumstance, there remains the question of "so what?" If there is no meaning, message, or emotion in the photograph, there is no purpose.
  • And finally (worth restating), don't shoot from the backside of the subject.  Ironically, while on break, a group of us went to get coffee and took saw the news stand topped with the front page photo of the NY Times.  The photo featured above the fold was dominated by the back of an interviewer talking with a Chicago student affected by the teacher's strike.  Tisk, tisk.

Have fun, and go make some great photography.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Intersection of Subject and Circumstance from a Point of View

 Our assignment for Story Narrative in Photo Journalism this week is to build on the first assignment (The Intersection of Subject and Circumstance) by producing photos taken from a specific point of view.  Although we talked about the assignment in class, I encountered a similar level of trepidation in completing this assignment.  Our professor, Toren Beasely, made the point that every photograph can tell a different story based on the point of view taken by the photographer...the concise summary of our discussion of the assignment.  I understand this conceptually, but was having some difficulty wrapping my head around it and understanding how I would execute.

When faced with ambiguity, I routinely try to imagine the extremes for the purposes of providing an envelope to frame the ambiguity and provide a more confined mental space for consideration.  In this case I imagined a tense and potentially violent protest with principal actors of protestors and police.  In this scenario a photographer could shoot from the perspective of the police attempting to manage an unruly crowd, or from the perspective of the protestors attempting to convey their message under the watchful eye of officials.  Either perspective would tell a different story.  The same scenario could be viewed in a conflict situation where the adage of one man's rebel is another's freedom fighter.

With a framework for understanding in hand, I was ready to go shoot.  But wait...I am not in a conflict zone, and there were no unruly crowds hanging around my neighborhood this weekend.  My task was no easier than before getting a grip on "point of view."  Normal life is not filled with the black and white contrasts I had conceived.  Without these contrasts, I was faced with looking for more subtle differences in point of view.

The photographs in this post are the product of my 5 shot assignment.  In my opinion, I have captured a point of view...some stronger, some less so.  However, I can hear Torens words already, "a great photograph is one where the subject, circumstance, and point of view are immediate and incontrovertible."  I will not reveal the point of view I was attempting to capture but leave that for your consideration.

I will followup this post with the assessment of my instructor and classmates.  Like the first assignment, there is likely to be some pain involved, but it is all for our benefit in becoming better photographers.

Have fun, and go make some great photography.


Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Intersection of Subject and Circumstance

Wow.  I just noticed it has been a month since my last post.  Appropriately, in my last entry I talked about the "back to school shopping list."  Appropriate because although I am enrolled at the Corcoran College of Art and Design in the New Media Photojournalism Masters degree program and have plenty of photography related topics to discuss, my life is no longer my own.

I went into the program with eyes wide open.  This is not my first rodeo.  So far, I am able to manage my handful of jobs, the class work, completing a cafe conversion to my hipster motorcycle, and putting our home in order to go on the market.  However, three of my favorite activities have suffered.  I have not played golf in a month, and I have not posted to the blog in over a month.  The time I enjoy dearly spending with close friends has also suffered.  On the bright side, I have a new group of very talented friends I see each day.  All are delightful and inspire me to pursue my craft with the greatest diligence.

I hope to find time to share my experiences as I proceed through the program.  However, life has a way of messing with the most well intentioned plans.  For today, I will share our first photography assignment in the course titled Story Narrative in Photo Journalism taught by Toren Beasley.  The assignment was to take three photographs in three distinct environments capturing the intersection of subject and circumstance.

Subject and circumstance?  Ok, subject...I get it.  Every photo has (or should have) a clear subject.  I, along with my classmates, had some difficulty understanding the "circumstance" part.  Most of our consternation was a result of over-thinking.  As we learned during the in-class critique, circumstance is not a big deal.  As a simple example, a photo of a child licking an ice cream cone includes the subject (child) in the circumstance of devouring the precious ice cream.  In the end, all of the shots presented in class met this criteria.  The real fun came during the class presentations when Toren, along with the rest of the class critiqued our work...and subject/circumstance was just the jumping off point.

The photographs you see here are a product of my homework.  I was fortunate enough (read sarcasm) to be the first to present.  This honor gave me the privilege of gaining an extra measure of feedback.  Rightfully, Toren dished up an full helping of criticism in order to set the stage and provide definition of his expectations for the rest of the class.  No worries, it has been a couple of weeks and the therapy has helped immensely.

Most of the criticism I received included:

  • Too many distracting elements that drew attention away from the subject.
  • Ineffective use of depth of field to provide separation in the photograph.
  • Not taking that step to the side to eliminate a distracting element.
  • Lack of absolute clarity regarding the circumstance.
 Here are some of my takeaways and revelations gratis Toren.

  • Tight shots make circumstance and subject most clear.
  • In photo journalism, cropping is not only admissible, but encouraged...and the shape of the crop does not matter.
  • Avoid bright areas that are not your subject.  The eye is naturally drawn to the brightest spot in the photo.
  • Eliminate distracting elements by moving, reframing, and otherwise keeping things out of the background that do not tell the story.
  • The photographer is solely responsible for everything in the frame.  Control your environment and beat your equipment into submission.
  • Use depth of field to separate your subject from the environment.
  • Dodging and burning in photo journalism is the norm - burn down highlights and background objects so they do not draw attention away from the subject.
  • Great shots are those where subject an circumstance are unquestionable.  If the viewer has to think, it is an inferior photograph.
  • The only things that are out of bounds in photo journalism are moving objects, removing objects, or inserting objects.  And even with these, there are exceptions.  If you happen to do any of these things, you simply have to own it, and call the image a "photo illustration."  In other words, cropping, burning, dodging, toning, color correction, and the balance of darkroom tools that have translated to the digital darkroom are all acceptable techniques.
I hope to return soon with the second assignment - the intersection of subject and circumstance from a perspective chosen by the photographer.  In concept this is not difficult.  Imagine a tension ridden protest involving police and a group of potentially violent protestors.  An image taken from the perspective of the protestors would look quite different than one taken from the perspective of the police.  Either way, the photograph might make a dramatic statement about the opposing group; a unique perspective based on which side you fall...the perspective of the photographer.

Have fun and go make some great photography.


Friday, August 10, 2012

Photojournalism Back to School Checklist

In recent months life has taken over and the blog has languished.  I apologize for not having regular posts, but things are about to change dramatically.  At the end of the month, I become a student once again and join the talented people at the Corcoran College of Art and Design in the New Media Photo Journalism masters program.  There is no doubt this experience will provide plenty of material to write about. Over the next two years I intend to share my experiences and photographic projects.

Later this morning, I will be trudging through the rain soaked streets of Washington DC to the Corcoran Gallery to get my student ID - that will make it official, and add yet another ID card to my already bulging wallet.  The last time I carried a student ID was 14 years ago as I was completing my doctoral program in Environmental and Energy Management at GWU.  However, this ID is much more valuable; I need to upgrade several software packages, and the student discounts are quite handy!

On the other hand, the "back to school shopping list" is a bit pricey:

  • Canon 5D MK III; $3500 (I will start with my 5D, but I can dream!)
  • Full lens kit; $3000+ (already set - whew!)
  • Flash kit; $1000 (got it!)
  • MacBook Pro; $2500 (already in the kit thanks to my lovely wife)
  • iPad; $500 (who takes notes on paper any more?)
  • Motorcycle; $3000 - parking in Georgetown really sucks, therefore a great excuse for a bike!
  • Software; $??? (still holding off to see what is required)
  • Lots of time; this could be a challenge - I'm already holding down 5 jobs, continue to work on my next food and wine pairing book, and still want to golf three times a week - I don't intend on giving up anything until it becomes painful.
As you might imagine, a degree in photojournalism is dominated with courses on writing and photography.  The schedule for this semester includes Story and Narrative, Photojournalism Seminar I, Advanced Multi-media, and Research, Writing and Reporting.  I am excited to get started!

The last time I was a student, I was excited not so much because of the work, but because it gave me a mid-career break from normal US Coast Guard duties and gave me dedicated time to focus on the course work.  It was fun, professionally enhancing, and rejuvenating.  This time I am gushing at the thought of enjoying a program that precisely fits my interests.  As I have told my friends, even if this program does not lead to a new career, I am anticipating the enjoyment of the experience.  I will be shooting, writing and sharing my time with talented like minded people - I love it!

For now, I am off to get my sparkling new student ID.  Have fun, and go make some great photography.


Sunday, August 5, 2012

John Deere Train at 2012 Saint Mary's County Crab Festival

The Saint Mary's Crab Festival held at the Saint Mary's County fairgrounds features a static display of John Deere toys.  The display is enormous and represents what must be years of collecting.  I am not a personal fan of collecting things - I am predisposed to simplifying my life by getting rid of things than collecting them.  However, this collection of John Deere toys is quite impressive.

Have fun and go make some great photography.


Sunday, July 8, 2012

1979 Kawasaki KZ750 Cafe Racer Project - Before

This weekend I began a project to convert a 1979 Kawasaki KZ750 twin into a cafe racer.  Here I will share the "before" photos.  As the project progresses, I will return with updates as particular milestones are accomplished.  I'm guessing the whole project could take up to a year, but I hope to have it on the road with a big part of the transformation complete by the end of August.

Some of you may be wondering "what is a cafe racer?'  Here are a couple of links to photos:

By way of explanation, the history of the cafe racer dates to the 1960s British Rocker subculture.  And yes there is a tie to cafes.  The rocker subculture stripped their bikes of anything extraneous in the pursuit of dropping unnecessary weight, and would race their bikes between cafes.  In addition to dropping weight, the rockers would regularly seek out other modifications to improve performance.

I am drawn to the cafe racer because of the minimalist approach - I like the aesthetic.  And bonus, customizing a bike into a cafe is largely a matter of taking stuff off, swapping out a few parts, and you end up with something fun and eye catching.

This weekend I began the process of transformation by shipping the bike off to a mechanic to rekey the ignition (keys were lost during the last two years in storage - unnecessary bummer), clean the carbs, and give the bike a once over for mechanical soundness.  I could have done this part, but I'm on a tight timeline to get the bike on the road (end of August) and have limited time available.

Before sending the bike off, I found a couple of YouTube videos describing how to pick a lock (isn't the internet amazing??).  After 10 minutes of lock picking tool fabrication, I was in business - and it worked!  A little jump to get the juice to the long dead battery, and my little project was rumbling.  A good start.  Once I get the bike back, I will beging stripping the incidentals like the fenders, and all the plastic.  Then comes the parts swapping phase to include;

  • clubman handlebars ($40)
  • bar end mirrors ($25)
  • Intake filters ($90)
  • miniature turn signals and tail light ($25)
  • cafe racer seat ($175)
  • Muffler ($35)
  • headlamp ($60)
  • mini gauges ($100)
  • and header wrap ($25) for a total of $575
The next phase will come over the winter when my motivation for freezing plummets.  This phase will include paint work, and a touch of custom metal work.

Check back soon for photos of the tear down.

Have fun and go make some great photography.


Sunday, July 1, 2012

Third Round at the ATT National

It is now Sunday morning and the final round of the AT&T national is underway with the early tee times on the course.  Going into the final round, the field is crowded at the top with Brandon de Jonge leading at 7 under par and only 4 strokes separating the top 11 players.  Today promises exciting golf as the leaders look to overtake de Jonge on a course that suffered significant damage as 70 mile per hour winds tore through the course Friday evening leaving many in the DC area without power.

It was an odd sight watching the third round with only a skeleton crew of marshals and a few Congressional Country Club members populated the vast expanse.  Being accustomed to seeing throngs and hearing cheers for great shots, the golfers offering polite applause and to their playing partners and tipping their hats to the squirrels was surreal.  Equally surreal were the downed trees, piles of dismembered limbs and empty grand stands.

Despite the absence of crowds and the storm ravaged course, several notable rounds were recorded including 4 under par by Tiger Woods (tied for second), Billy Hurley at 5 under par climbing to a fifth place tie, and Venezuelan Jhonattan Vegas at 2 under to put him in 7th place overall.  I have a soft spot for Vegas - having lived in Caracas for three years and played golf with many of the Venezuelan pros, I am pleased to see him in the hunt...and I'm sure my Venezuelan friends will be glued to the television today offering their support to Jhonattan.

Beau Hossler, the 17 year-old who recently made a splash at the U.S. Open joined Davis Love III on the MDF list (not cut, but yet not allowed to play in the final round due to the number of golfers in tied positions ahead of them).

Jim Furyk, a perennial crowd favorite on the tour enters the final round in 62nd at 7 over par.

Vijay Singh, another elder statesman on the tour remains in striking distance at 2 under par.

Enjoy the golf, and go make some great photography.


Friday, June 29, 2012

Vijay Singh at the 2012 ATT National

Vijay Singh, The Big Fijan, ended the first round of the 2012 AT&T National tied for second place at three under par.  When I think of Vijay Singh, the first thing that comes to mind is not only his remarkable success, but his longevity on the PGA tour.  At 49 years, he has amassed one of the greatest records in PGA history.  Here are just a few stats:

  • Overtook Tiger Woods in 2004 at the top of the World Golf Rankings which he held until March 2005.  He regained his #1 ranking just two weeks later after three consecutive wins.
  • In 2005 he became the youngest living player to be elected to the hall of fame.
  • In 2007 he won The Mercedes Benz Championship giving him 18 wins over the age of 40 - surpassing Sam Snead and making him the all time leader of wins over the age of 40.  His record now stands at 22.
  • In 2008 he won the FEDEX cup, topped the money winning list and became the leader in all time PGA wins for a non-American.
  • He is the second man to exceed all time tour earnings of $60 million behind Tiger Woods.
  • 540 weeks in the top 10 of the World Golf Rankings.
  • In 2011, he missed his tee-time at the U.S. open ending the longest streak of consecutive majors played by a professional golfer at 67.
This short list of accomplishments (far from complete) paints the picture of Vijay Singh as one of the greats.  And quite honestly, I love seeing the elder statesmen of the sport continue to perform at an exceptional level of play.  I play golf. I watch golf. I eat, breath, and sleep golf.  However, as I walked the lush fairways of Congressional Country Club, I saw herds of "kids" playing the game.  Names I did not recognize.  It made me wonder - will any of these kids come close to the longevity and success of Vijay Singh?

I wish Vijay the best through the rest of the tournament.  However, with only one round in the bag and only five strokes differentiating the top 29 players, anything could happen.

Have fun, and go make some great photography.


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Tiger Woods at 2012 AT&T National

It is always a great pleasure to combine my passion for photography with other passions.  I regularly have the opportunity to do this with my food photography (Craig's Grape Adventure) but rarely get the opportunity to do so with my other obsession - golf.  Yesterday, was one of those rare moments.  I had the opportunity to do some shooting during the practice round of the AT&T National at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda Maryland.

The practice round is the only time when cameras are allowed on the course.  Also, yesterday was a perfectly pleasant day - when play starts on Thursday, temperature are forecasted in the upper 90's with typical DC area oppressive humidity.  In other words, everything conspired in my favor yesterday.

in 2011, I did some shooting at the practice round of the U.S. Open (also held at Congressional).  If you did not see my posts from the US Open, here is your chance to go back and see some photography of select golfers you may enjoy.

While wandering the course yesterday, enjoying the weather and the opportunity to do some shooting, I came across a crowd - something not normal for most golfers during a practice round.  I walked over to see what was holding the interest of the gaggle of spectators.  Not surprisingly, the group was gathered to watch Tiger - so today's post focuses on several shots I was able to grab of Tiger.

Check back soon for more shotes from the 2012 AT&T National.

Have fun, and go make some great photography.