Monthly Archives: August 2008

CEA Carcinoembryonic Antigen

So my dad called today to give me some good news. He said his CEA levels are down baby. I guess when my dad’s cancer was first detected, he had a level of 6. After 5th chemo treatment, it’s down to 2. Which I think is a good sign. My dad was saying some people have levels up to 40 or more, which is all bad.
Still going to plan a trip to sequoia national park sometime soon with him. Replete with cameras and videos. Gotta get all the stuff in for my children. Just in case.


UCI scouting trip eeep

So I went to UCI today during lunch time to scout out the area that I’m about to shoot a wedding for this Sunday. Eeeep and double eep. Well aside from the fact that I felt super duper old walking through a University campus, I had a mission today. And that was to do a location scout for the wedding this Sunday. It’s a Lovely building, but to sum it up. The area is green….the trees around it are green…and the buildings are mostly gray cement walls. There aren’t going to be much in terms of flowers or color diversity. Normally I rely on details or colors to make the shots. This time around, I’m going to mayhaps rely on good ole fashioned hunting and pecking for good candid expressions. And there’s some really cool architecture inside. I think I can make use of the stairs, and some of the insides, but I must admit I didn’t see anything off hand. Then again, I never do. Most of my stuff just happens on the fly during the moment.


You can try to plan for ‘some things’ but realistically weddings and events in general are such fluid dynamic beasts, that planning for things is virtually impossible. I remember back in my early days I used to get the event schedule, then visualize i my head what shots I wanted for that particular moment. Then I’d try to sketch out in a pen and paper the angle that I wanted (haha yes I was crazy at the time). It was a total rookie thing to do. The pretense of ‘planning or seemingly think you know what to expect that day’. I gave up on that practice loong ago. Like for instance there was an assistant that recommend position X to take shots. I smiled, and then zoned out into my own little world. Who knows if position X will be good for that day. Maybe a great big flower thing will be in the way of your shot during that moment when everything’s in place. So if you sit there and plan to be at position X, and somehow your whole world gets turned into crap when position X is no longer viable, then where will you be?

I’ll have to dig really really deep into my creative side to come up with some good angles. If anything this next gig will shift my way of thinking and it’ll be just completely new and different from a traditional wedding. I think this is fantastic experience for me. I am looking for an assistant though. Not in terms of shooting, but in terms of lugging stuff around. Grant will only be helping out for 1hr that day as per the contract/budget. Therefore I’m going to try something most interesting. The three camera setup. But I’ll need a human body to walk around with that third camera in the event I need it hehe. Any volunteers?


I was permitted to go up on the roof of the building. Though it may be cool, In hindsight, I’m thinking it will be a bad idea. I’ll ‘maybe’ get a few shots from it. Either with a wide or a 35mm lens. Most likely I’ll send Grant my 2nd shooter/assistant up there. But thinking about it some more, logistically, it may not be feasible. Heck it would be downright suicidal come to think of it. It takes a good 6-minutes or so to head up there. and figure the same amount of time to get back down. Usually ceremonies start and finish in a flash. And it’s just not a good use of resources to place him up there to ‘maybe’ get a shot. I’m better off keeping him on the ground at a different angle.

Below, I can possibly make use of the benches. Time doesn’t permit an off location shoot, but there are some great parks around the area. So I’ll have to make due with what I have. Boy…this one will be interesting. But I’m up to the challenge!

I’ve got the ShotGun Blues

How I love bugs bunny and those cartoons of yesteryear. I was watching a bunch of them, last night while fighting off an evil cold that I blame a co-worker for giving me. And I laughed my ass off, not because they’re funny. Just because, heck you no longer see that stuff nowadays in the politically correct world. I mean, hey it’s Duck Season! Lets take a shotgun and shoot Daffy’s head off!
Again and again! How fantastic is that?! And Le’ Peppe Le Peu! Oh there was an episode where they just blatantly made fun of the French. It was fantastico.

In other news. Canon announced another camera. Hah. the 50D Foool me once…is what I always say. I upgraded lets see, 10D, 20D, 30D..(skipped the 40D) and now the 50D. What in tarnations can they possibly do? They crammed 15.1 Megapixels onto the ‘SAME’ surface area APS-C sensor (1.6x crop). Now, maybe it’s just magic pixie dust. The marketing speak of Canon claim that they’ve ‘reduced’ the space between pixes to virtually zero. Here’s a quote.

“…manufacturing processes, plus redesigned photo diodes and microlenses, extend the light gathering capabilities of the sensor – allowing more pixels to be fitted on the CMOS sensor without compromising image quality”. *cough* *cough*
So from a professional point of view, what exactly do these extra pixels buy you? Tada! Yet another hole in your small wallet. Why? Because if you take crappy pictures before, the 15.1 megapixels goodness won’t make them any better. However, now you have to buy even more memory cards to store those pictures in. An ideal camera for me? between 8-12 megapixels.

5 drinks lead to bad autofcus? Or autofocus leads to 5 drinks

The wedding was pretty fun. Had me 4 drinks..yum, let me tell you, things are a bit more fun when you’re tipsy. At any rate, kids pictures are always a winner. Since I really didn’t want to piss of the paid photographers, I took a vast majority of the pics in my seat. Which kinda was cool because since I was shooting with all primes, all I did was leave my backpack open and switch lenses back and forth all night. No running around! I barely broke a sweat! It was fantastico. But yeah, some of the shots that I actually relied on, were out of focus. and I’m not quite sure if it was user error (primarily me being tardmo), or equipment error. Since there are many reported problems on the net regarding the MKIII, I’m hoping towards the latter. Which kind of bums me out. You figured paying that much for a camera body, they’d try to get autofocus down pat. At any rate, unfortunately since the entire day was shot at ISO 1000-6400 and no flash whatsover. I’m not sure if it was an accurate assessment, since focusing in near dark and asking it to nail 100% of the shots would be asking too much.



I like it because it looks like her dad seems to be thanking a higher power that he’s here at his daughter’s wedding. Kinda a random moment shot.

all in all I was pathetic. As a guest I really should be hitting on the spanish chicks that were from Spain. Actually, a funny story about them. I think they thought I was the paid photographer, so they pulled me over and asked me to take pics. I spoke absolutely ZERO spanish, but when 4 ladies ask you me to take their pictures…Who am I to say no?
They must of thought I sucked as the paid photographer because after I took the shot, I wandered back to my corner and didn’t pay attention to them anymore. I’m shy!! What can Is say?!
But I’ve decided Spanish girls sure can dance, and my next vacation shall be in Spain.
I joked with my wife telling her I’ve kept a few shots for my “personal collection” =) Or was I joking? hmmmmm…..

But anyways, back to me being lame. I think I feel most comfortable just working. I delivered approx 500 pictures to the bride as a wedding present of sorts. Took with me 18gigs. and let me tell you, I used up every single meg. (so around 1200 shots) I Even had to start deleting so I could fit stuff towards the end. Made me wonder how sucky it was for film photographers who have to change after ever 24 exposures. Though hey, maybe it’s for the best. They make those 24 shots count!
Next time, I think I’ll leave the camera at home and just drink. Things are easier that way.

Wedding Crashers

Well tomorrow I’m going to my wife’s best friend’s wedding. Normally weddings are really rather boring affairs unless you can drink, or take pictures. Seeing as I’m fully capable of both, I’m thinking it will be a blast. Chrissie will be part of the bridal party, so I’m going solo pretty much. I was going to bring my little camera (the MKIII, and a single lens) to not attract attention. Chrissie hates it when I lug around this hugemo honking thing around (I’m talking about my camera…sheesh you guys have dirty minds), anyways, I digress. So…as I’m busting out a 200mm prime, I ask her permission –yes, when you married you have to sometimes ask for permission *sigh* — to see if this lens is not as obnoxious for her. Since she won’t really be around me anyways, she says and I quote, ” I don’t care if you bring your backpack, do whatever you want.”

I was hoping she wasn’t looking at the floor because right at that exact moment, I think I just wet myself. Holy cow, I feel as if I’d just won the lotto. I quickly ran downstairs to the bat-cave (aka the floor where I keep my camera gear), whipped out my mini backpack and packed 3 other primes to bring with me on this fun booze filled ceremony. A Glorious day it shall be! I think It may be a tad overkill. Sorta like using a nuclear bomb to squash a fly, but what the heck. Nukes are fun. I did think about the real paid photographer though. I don’t want to tick anyone off, so I’m just gonna sit back and kinda act like the retardmo relative that doesn’t quite know any better. I’d have a $h!t fit if some guest came to a wedding with a ton of gear and following me around while I do my work. So following the golden rule of ‘do onto others as others would do to you’, I’ve decided to go easy on the guy by just walking around taking pictures of cute guests…um..for archival purposes. yes, that’s it.

Anyways, tomorrow will be fun.

back to me being crazy..and the purpose of this post. So I purchased a new used lens. A 300mm F4.0 prime. (Not the bigger brother who costs about 4 grand) the younger cheaper version (he’s only 1/4th the cost). But I wasn’t quite sure if I wanted the IS (Image Stabilization) version, or the one without. Rumors were abound that the lens sans IS was much better wide open at 4.0. So what was a crazy guy to do you ask? Simple….get both!

The far left is the one without IS, the one next to it is the one with IS. And the black one to the far right is the 200mm prime I ‘asked for ‘permission’ to bring to the wedding. In my next dorky post I’ll do a review of them all to see what all the hullabaloo is all about.

nature = 1 Antonio( Nghia by proxy) = 1 TIED baby!

So today in the morning, Antonio came by and fixed my PVC pipes. He silently laughed at my feeble attempt at patching it up. Really, what needed to be done (and I was too lazy to do so) was cut the pipe from both ends, and get a new joining pipe and cap and vuela. All done. Though In theory, I swear the ‘POS that didn’t work’ should of worked (at least according to their advertising ). At any rate, I am happy now, minus 100 bux for labor (not to mention the previous days losses), but it didn’t matter because I got back at nature! And my pipes are now fixed. I can’t wait to find out what else is broken in my house. yaay!

Nature =1 Nghia = 0

Today, nature kicked my ass, and took my gas to boot. I have this backyard that is now just dirt. But a for a few weeks, I noticed my dirt had 2 huge mud spots, which could only mean one thing. The PCV pipes to my sprinkler system (that I’ve used zero times) has burst, or sprung a leak. And if I leave it as is, my backyard will be a nice mud pit. Since I don’t intend to have hot bikini clad mud wrestlers in my backyard fighting for my affections anytime soon, I decided to do something about it. How hard could it be right? So I went to get a shovel, and some fairly toxic PVC fixer upper thingyamagig at the local hardware store. I dug my hole, and realized that roots from the big fat tree poked holes in the PVC, causing some leakage. Psssh…not a big deal.

I donned my trusty gloves (that came with the toxic PVC fixer upper thingyamagig (heretofore known as POS that didn’t work). And wrapped up the area…held it and nursed it for 30 grueling, hot minutes underneath the sweltering sun. Finally, vuela! I now have…a PVC pipe that is noo longer leaking in 5 places, it’s leaking in 1. I laughed…I cried…I cursed the $10.99 I spent on the ‘POS that didn’t work’ and the shovel, and the gas it took to get the aforementioned items. And then I couldn’t help but be reminded of those old cartoons where the guy would fix a leak..then another one would take its place. So…I decided to throw in the towel. I took my shovel and smashed the roots around me, only to find that rock + shovel = Nghia losing. Yes ladies and gentleman, when shovel strikes rock, it clangs and hurts like you wouldn’t believe.

So I waved my white flag…and have decided I needed to bring in a professional PVC/fixer upper-person-a-mabob. a.k.a. Antonio, my landscaper guy. Surely, if anyone can fix this mess, it would be him. Really…since I have used my sprinklers ZERO times since I’ve moved in there 5-6 years ago, I just want to disable the water all together. Is that too hard to ask? Alas…I went to the sprinkler source to try to shut off the valves…but seeing as i have oh…ZERO knowledge in such things, I figured I’d do more harm than good. So I have retreated for the day, and my backyard now looks like I’m ready to bury something in it, because I have mounds of dirt just piled high and a leaking exposed PVC pipe just laughing at me. Muhahahahahahahh……
Bruhahahahah…….ohh..I can still hear it now.

here’s a pic of the mess I made..Note the grass and weeds that grew because of the water from the mud. And You can’t see it, but there’s a tree behind there just laughing at me.

There’s that grey nub there…that’s the ‘POS that didn’t work’.. water eventually just leaked from the bottom.

pretty successful shoot

I drove up to Laguna this morning to get to know the couple I’m shooting a little better. I think for the first time in a long while I got nervous about a photoshoot. I felt like it was my first one! I hoped I was going to do well. When I got there, first of all, in the morning, the Laguna Beach area near the 133FWY, that whole shopping area when there’s no people around is ABSOLUTELY gorgeous. So if I ever do another engagement shoot, it’s going to be there. I drove by with all these cool shots and ideas in my head. The textures where just fabulous.

So I finally get to their home. Wow…Finally I met someone who has a house that’s harder to get to than mine. I thought my hill was awful to traverse. Their hill has a ton of cars parked on the side! But over coffee, contracts and conversation (woo an onomatopoeia) I got started with the photoshoot. Ted, their teddy bear was clearly the star of the shoot. I left feeling very comfortable about the wedding.

This shot here I had dancing in my head. I figured…ok, top level professor, I can envision a very academic setting and shoot, and I had like a shot that I wanted to try involving the tip of the glasses. Sure enough, Michael had the perfect pair of glasses. I think in execution, I really needed a wider lens, and the backdrop wasn’t what was in my head but the proof of concept seems feasible.



I packed 2 bodies. a 5D and a 1DMKIII
I figured if I was going to do this photo session, I was going to do it right.
CZ 28mm 2.8
35L 1.4
85L 1.2

All I can say is holy moly macoroni. Thank goodness for RAW, as it once again…saved my butt.
The day before I was playing around with my white balance settings and setting all sorts of strange custom settings. Well, since this is a small shoot, I didn’t go through the ritual of resetting all my cameras. So I forgot to reset to the White balance. Sure enough, towards, the end. I realized I was shooting waay too cold with a custom tungsten setting. Needless to say, I was a professional, and was very calm about it. I just reset my WB and laughed in my head, knowing full well that I call always alter the temperature after wards because I shot in that format. Phewww…
with 3 lenses. All primes.

different way of thinking

Well I recently stumbled upon a gig….well actually I really wanted to do it so I made a few concessions because it intrigued me, so I did some more work chasing after it. It would be my first same sex Jewish + Asian wedding. I was interested because I think it can be a great opportunity to shoot those events as I’ve never done one before. However, I don’t know the first thing about Jewish wedding ceremonies. Except for the fact that there’s a bottle that’s thrown on the ground and it gets smashed to itty bitty pieces. Though I think there’s a towel or something over the bottle so it’s not like I can get really cool glass smashing action shots. To be honest the prospect of failure does come to mind. That’s probably why I was so interested in doing it. Because it’s new and I think I really need something to stretch me creatively. I haven’t the slightest idea how to portray same sex couples. All I’ve done are hm…how do I put it. Opposite sex couples?

But really, I think my game plan will be the same. If I get to know the subjects, and if I could just bring it down to the emotions and capture what it is that they feel for each other, I’ll pretty much nail the wedding. If I try to think about it too much, I may very well screw it up. What’s also a bit scary is I’ll be doing most of it solo. In trying to cut costs I’ve offered to shoot without an 2nd shooter/assistant. Though, maybe I may just offer my niece 50 bucks to help carry cameras around.
I have Grant there for an hour for the ceremony. I did make it clear that I don’t like doing the actual ceremony alone because I can’t be in 2 places at once, and if I get trapped in a bad location, I’m done for. But for the rest of the time, I’ll be pretty much alone, so I’m considering using 3 camera bodies and that way I won’t have to switch lenses much at all.

But I mean, it’s just different in a sense. Normally the bride gets my attention as she’s the more important person to take the picture of in a given event. Now that it’s split 50% 50%, it’s a completely new way I have to think. Oh it’s all so fascinating. Tomorrow I’m gong to do a quick engagement shoot just to warm them up to me and the camera. Usually what I do anyways as ice breakers. Nothing more fun than meeting your photographer with big fat lenses for the first time on your wedding day. Lets just say, the ‘deer in headlights’ look isn’t very good for me, nor the couple.

Afterwards I’m off to my parents place. I haven’t seen them all week and miss them. My mom has the flu so she didn’t want me to come over and get me sick. “My dad was so sweet, my mom told me he said, just have him come over! he doesn’t have to see you =) Otherwise during the weekend he may be busy and can’t make it so we’ll never get to see him”

My Scarlet Letter

This series of shots here was really the low point that day. If there was a single blunder that I wish I could roll back time this would be it. So the front courtyard was beautiful, as I walked through it I’m envisioning shots that could be done using the main fountain as a centerpiece with umbrellas to boot. Or some of just the couple using the benches surrounding the fountain. Well, that was in a perfect world under perfect lighting that danced around in my head.

As we all know, the real world is not as forgiving. It was still early and the light that was shining in the front at the fountain area was unforgiving. The picture posted below was to prove a point. So positioning 9 bridesmaids and a group of people up front was just plain wrong on my part. But I was stubborn because I wanted to use the fountain the backdrop. Little did I know it would just go downhill from there. Positioning 9 bridesmaids was difficult enough, let alone the sun that was glaring down. After about 3 frames, shuffling people around, I decided it was time to throw in the towel and move out back where the shade from the houses made for much much less harsh conditions.

Something, I should of just done in the first place instead of losing precious 10 minutes or so out front. The bride/groom were on a schedule and we had to keep it. If I had to do it again, I’d tell myself to abort the front. The schedule doesnt’ permit it to go out here when conditions are better, just move on. I think there were a lot of good shots that day, but it doesn’t hurt to beat yourself over the few mishaps so you know what not to do the next time!

The sun was so bad, and the umbrellas took up so much space that the bridesmaids had to be spaced further apart to keep the umbrellas from hitting eachother. Again, in hindsight. I should of got rid of all the umbrellas except for the one, which goes to the bride. Normally the umbrella shot would work if there were 3-4 bridesmaids….not 9. Unless I had a crane, in which case I can rise up about 9 feet to take a cool shot, alas no crane was available.

So in post production, I looked at this and cringed….then hit myself. then repeat. So instead of just throwing it away like I really should have, I decided to put it in there just as a reminder to myself that To err is human….just don’t errr twice =) So as it stands this shot made the cut and will be delivered to the client. Which I guess is the complete opposite of what one should do. There’s an old saying, “Every photographer takes crappy shots. A good photographer, just never shows his crappy shots”. With that being said, I should only show my best, not sneak in my worst shot of the day. But I felt the need to do so, simply so that I can shame myself into doing better next time.

But I couldn’t leave well enough alone. The shadows on the faces plus the really bright sun ( aka super worse nightmare mixed lighting conditions) just made me decide to take a different approach to the image. Enter the LOMO
or LC-A camera. A poorly designed Russian camera that
that was a knock off of another camera. It is a bad picture taker as well. However, this along with the Holga camera surprisingly are the two most used post process effects I think to date. Yes, spending 4 thousand dollars on a camera, and putting a 1.8k lens in front of it, only to try to achieve the same effect as a 50 dollar toy camera. Yippeee for technology! =)

To make myself feel better, and make up for the awful awful shot, here’s a shot that I was lucky to have taken. And that was just a candid of a mother cuddling with her baby.

For those interested this is how to sorta get the LOMO effect I was going after.
Photoshop Tutorial