Monthly Archives: June 2009

Documenting Life’s Moments

Thus far, I’ve covered, straight and gay weddings, babies (no births yet), kids, sports, still life, landscapes, portraits… but one area that I get nervous about, are funerals. I am starting to get much more comfortable doing them, and I guess it’s normal for Asian cultures to document them. The two that I’ve been to, thus far had a lot of photographers there. This time since it was a close aunt of mine, I volunteered to document it. Aside from weddings, funerals are the only event where family from far away really get together. I’ve always thought that the photographer at the funeral would be the most hated man present. It’s kinda of like having the paparazzi there during moments of grief, why on earth would you want to have your picture taken?! But I guess it’s not so bad if you do it right.

I went with a very non traditional approach. I hung out in the back like a fly int he wall, used no flash, and just scanned the room for important people (eldest sons, the widow, close family members), and took candids to basically document the event as I saw it. No walking down the aisle at the church, flashing all over the place, interrupting people. I thought that would be very rude, so I did end up getting a lot of the backs of people’s heads or the side. There were some moments that were just too sad, and I felt it would dishonor everyone if I was just snapping away. In hindsight, looking back, I was thinking man, they would of been some fantastic emotional shots, but there comes a point where there’s a trade-off between what you actually want, and what think should be morally correct.

But as I look back at these photos, I really just can’t be impartial. With my parents getting older, I do feel that within the next 10yrs, I’m going to be in the exact same shoes as the people in the funeral party, so it’s generally an emotional and taxing undertaking to document these events. One thing I did learn from this though. Always, always have a wide angle lens handy! You never know when you’ll need that one shot. The problem is unlike weddings, where you have the luxury to some extent of bringing more year, you’re limited to what you have on your person. Switching or going back and forth, and like with most ‘events’, you’re liable to miss an important shot. So for beginners, I’d suggest one very good zoom that’s relatively fast. (an aperature of 2.8, or something with IS (or VR in Nikon-speak). However, remember image stabilization ONLY attempts to mitigate your own shaking and movement. Not other people’s shaking and movement. A common misconception is you can take low light pics with a lens and use IS/VR as a crutch, but remember other people, mainly your subject, will be moving as well, so it doesn’t matter how much shake you can stave, the outcome most likely will be blurring of the photo. My general technique for that is to tuck my arms in and lock them, hold my breath, compose, and shoot.














“The Funeral Party”

Two pale figures
Ache in silence
In the quiet ground
Side by side
In age and sadness

I watched
And acted wordlessly
As piece by piece
You performed your story
Moving through an unknown past
Dancing at the funeral party

Memories of childrens dreams
Lie lifeless
Hand in hand with fear and shadows
Crying at the funeral party”
  -The Cure

baptism pics

A few of the shots that I liked from the baptism. Anyone out there in Southern California who has kids or relatives that are getting baptized and wants to dish out some dough for pics, let me know! =)
Basically a 2 camera setup. A 1DMKIII and a 1DMKII, fitted with an 85L 1.2, 35L1.2, and switched off between the 200L 2.8. I really should of brought the 70-200, but wanted to travel light and not draw too much attention to myself.

The entirety of the set can be seen here on my flickr.









I’m a sucker for kids hands, I always try to keep an eye out for shots like these. Sometimes you get them, some times you miss them. The trick is to always have the camera ready so you literally just aim, compose, and shoot when they occur.

No wide angle lens available? 1D + photoshop to the rescue!

For this past weekend’s shooting extravaganza, I went with a slightly modified version of the holy trinity set of primes (35L, 85L, 200L) –as opposed to the 135L.
During the shoot, since I didn’t have a 14mm handy, I performed a little experiment with stitching and at the time, I had no clue if it was going to work. I usually stitch panoramas for nature scenes, but wondered if the same can be applicable to people shots. I was very surprised and impressed with the results. This actually illustrates the point that the 1DII is still a very dangerous and versatile camera and I’m very glad I didn’t sell it after I upgraded to a 1DMKIII. Though I did try to sell it, but to friends/family as I knew they’d take good care of it. I almost had a buyer, but it didn’t get pass the ‘wife approval’ so luckily the camera is still in my possession!

My only reservation with the 1DMKII is the battery life, and high ISO performance, but after this weekend, I no longer really worry about it’s ISO capabilities. The body still performs like a a champ at ISO1250. Since the 1D series is capable of 8FPS, I took a bunch of photos in series, and panned it, in hopes that Photoshop is capable of stitching it together. The results were quite good. Instead of dealing with some fringe distortion on wider rectilinear primes, this technique will work in a pinch. However, it’s not 100% guaranteed because your outcome is dependent on the stitching algorithm and what data it is provided from your shots. But this is where the 1D series shines, and I’m glad I brought this over the 5D as a second body.

Here’s why: In order to pull this off, you need a very fast burst. Due to people’s random movements, you need the series as ‘close to each other’ as possible, and to do this, you need to machine gun the trigger. However, due to the low to a low light environment that makes most auto focusing systems cry, you need to find focus very quickly. If it has to hunt to find focus, then you’re toast. The 1DII allegedly has a superior autofocusing chip than it’s newer brother the 1DMKIII. However I have yet shot anything that confirms that claim. Overall, the decent ISO performance mitigates the need for a flash (which will never in a million years recycle fast enough to achieve the burst shots).

Once you have your shots, sync them up so every photo is color matched, and then go to photoshot. Select File –> Automate –> Photomerge. Then select the series of photos you want to stitch, and there you have it (I used to do this by hand before this amazing technology came about).

Click to view the shot. And if you’re my contact in Flickr, you can see the shots in it’s original size.


Overall, I think I’ll continue to do 1DMKII + 1DMKIII combos from now on. The 5D, though a great camera, and has the added width needed when shooting nature or in tight conditions. I think the robustness of the 1D series will keep me from going back to my tried and true 5D + 1DIII combo. That and the fact that it drizzled and rained that morning. Since they’re both weather sealed I wouldn’t really have to worry about shooting in the rain. The only drawback is, this combo is stupid heavy. To the point where I may have to get in shape again to last all day with them!

Funerals, Baptisms, Relatives I didn’t know, Oh My!

Today was was a day full of contradictions. It was a sad day, then ended up being a joyous day. Today was the day we buried my aunt. I attended the services, and brought along a few cameras to document the event. At first I was really nervous about documenting funerals, but the last funeral of my uncle in law made me feel at ease. I think the key is to be as unobtrusive as possible, and when people are mourning, give them space. As a journalist sort of speak, I felt like I did need to document the day, but if it meant that I make someone uncomfortable, I’d rather not take the shot and move on. So far it’s worked for me thus far throughout my photography career.

I went for a simple no mess no fuss setup. 1DIII and 1DII for focus in low light, as well as 3 primes, a 35L, 85L, and 200L. I think I did well considering I was the only person in the room shooting without obnoxious flash. Of course, this ended up screwing me in the long run. At the end they wanted a huge family photo. With no light, I had to break my #1 rule of shooting large groups. With people lined up on > 3 separate planes, shoot F5.6 or greater. It’s a must. Turns out, all I had was 1.8, and pray that it doesn’t suck. I ended up looking at the pictures after wards, and I was pleasantly surprised. It didn’t look as awful as I imagined it to be!

But what was intriguing was when I saw my aunt’s kids. Man did they all grow up. Since my dad was (and still is) anti social, we don’t get to go to many family functions, so seeing them all again for the first time in many many years, I wonder to myself why I ended up being a stranger, and maybe perhaps I should make an attempt to bind the family ties. Well, at the funeral I noticed someone that looked very familiar. She looked exactly like the controller/finance person at my company! I convinced myself “All asians look a like, it can’t possibly be her. The person that works with me is Japanese, her last name is clearly Japanese’. So as I’m taking pictures, I even try to sneak a few of this person, to try to analyze it later. I even texted my friend Danny to tell him, I think this person at work is related to me!
Sure enough, I just had to walk up and introduce myself, haha. Yup… A cousin. Such a small small world. Turns out the last name was her husbands, and she actually speaks Vietnamese!

That aside, I think the most heart wrenching part was when my uncle broke down during the portion where we threw the flowers into the grave and said our goodbyes. He said he’d meet her again, and just sobbed. Oye, that was very rough. There was a shot that I wanted to get of the flowers all in the grave, but I just couldn’t get myself to do it. It was one of those, …”may not be in good taste, especially with everyone so sad”. Yet…now I kinda regret not doing it. I told Chrissie later that I’m gonna have to die first, because if she goes then I’d be too sad. Since I claimed first dibs, I guess the spot is mine!

After the funeral, I went to lunch with my parents, and then headed off to the baptism of my friend Hung’s baby Kiera. I think the change of venue was good. Jumping from a sad occasion to a joyous one was a welcome change. So I documented that, and it went pretty smoothly. I think the only snag I ran into were a bunch of family and friends all got in front of me while taking the shot. But hah, the good thing about attending 3 funerals within the past month+ is you gain a whole lot of perspective. “No worries” is now my motto. Life is too short to get upset over trivial things. If I don’t get the shot, oh well. =)

inspiration has struck

W00t. I think I’ve finally come out of my creative Rut. Chrissie mentioned she wanted to watch that new Johnny Depp Movie “Public Enemies”. I was rather pensive about it, but after re-watching the trailer, I thought it cold be interesting. After a bit of research on Dillinger, (The character that Depp portrays), I started branching out subjects like prohibition, and the flappers!

So the creative light bulb plopped up. I’ve decided that I want to do a roaring 20’s themed photoshoot. Here’s an interesting article on the origins of the term ‘flapper’, and a fantastic Time Life magazine cover dated Feb 2, 1922.

It makes me want to go back and re-read Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” again, which has one of my all time favorite book quotes. “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past”.

I recently put up a casting call on model mayhem, looking for a makeup-artist that can recreate the makeup, and will work on (in the background of course, there’s a ton of other stuff going on in my life right now that requires more immediate attention).
But the goal is to get a full fledged shoot with makeup/model all TFCD of course. Which means I volunteer my time, they volunteer theirs, everyone leaves happy.

Good Bye

Wanted in my own little way to say good bye to my Aunt. She is the 5th daughter of my grandfather, and is basically laying in her death bead. Which should be coming very soon. She’s been in a coma for the past few days without food or water and is 91 years old. She was born pretty much when the “Great War” ended. Imagine that, nearly living for nearly a century, and seeing all the innovations of the modern age. I want to thank her and her husband for sponsoring us to go to this country. All my pictures of me when I was a kid was visiting their house. Since we were pretty much dirt poor, it was the first time I’ve seen a Christmas tree, and everything that came along with it. I used to envy and marveled at the presents underneath their tree, and stare in endless fascination at the colorful lights that adorned the outside of their home. It’s kind of sad. My mom and dad went to visit them. I think if I have time I would like to go as well. Maybe tomorrow (if she is still with us).
My mom said my uncle, when he gets sad, just lays there next to his wife. Even though she can’t hear/see him, he finds comfort in laying next to her while he still can, and I thought that was so sad and sweet. He’s about 79 years old himself. It’s just going to be an unfun year. Everyone of my relatives that I knew growing up are all in their late 70’s. Oye Vie. Well, If I don’t get to see her tomorrow, I do hope that the goes peacefully. She did state prior to being in this condition, that her wishes were to not continue on if she’s in a vegetative state and can’t function, so the family is respecting her wishes.

Pictured below is a 7yr old version me, and my aunt and uncle, and their nephew Sean. I was the one with the fashionable red pants looking cool against the railing.
You know, I never really knew her name. I always referred to her as Aunt #5 and Uncle #5. I do know their last names were Pham though =)

Life Magazine – Hugo Jaeger

Saw an really interesting article on Life regarding the release of photos from Hugo Jaeger, Adolf Hitler’s personal photographer.
link to article What makes it interesting, is the fact that he used color photos, which for their day was quite groundbreaking. Hugo Jaeger was an early adopter of the new color photograph technique (by Eastman Kodak), and when the allies won the war, Jaeger who was caught, he had all the photos in a suitcase with a fancy bottle of cognac. When the soldiers discovered Jaeger, and the transparencies, hah…all they did was cared about the posh bottle of cognac! So the rest was history. Jaeger hid the photographs, later put them in a bank vault, and during the 50’s sold them to time Life magazine for about 50k? (not sure of the exact amount). Since then time has pretty much kept the photos in their vault, and has begun to release them. They were afraid that releasing them would be misconstrued as glorifying or aggrandizing ye ole Adolf so they were fearful.

Aside from being one of the most heinous/vile villains throughout the course of human history, I just think the photos are fascinating. How the pictures were taken in dark halls, I wonder if flash was used? On some of the of the darker photos of his apartment, did Hugo use a tripod? What kind of lenses or camera was used? Did he use Carl Zeiss glass? It’s just really cool to see photos of that era. Speaking of which, I was over my parents place to celebrate my birthday on (yesterday) June 6th, and he was telling stories of how the Japanese went to Vietnam back in the day to purchase pure white sand to make glass (for cameras), so we discussed how Nikon, Minolta, and Canon all sort of came about. My dad said he got a chance to see and play with one of the first zoom lenses, but it was too expensive at the time to purchase. He said back then one of the coveted lenses were Zeiss, which I thought was funny because I just happened to have a Zeiss lens on my camera at the time!

But I think the really cool part about that day was when he told stories about what happened after the North Vietnamese took over. How they took over houses and land, and they even took over the hospital that he used to work at. He said the idiots used the water lines at the hospital to water flower beds, and just pretty much ruined everything. One of the more interesting stories was he was forced to be a laborer for some lady who took over his land to grow and sell pigs. Since he was an MD, he told her if you’re going to sell the pigs, 3 days before market inject them or feed them ( I forget the name of the drug he mentioned, but it’s something they use now on cows). She asked him, “are you sure?” And my dad said, “yes”. The pigs grew more dense, gained weight, and she sold them for a lot more money! I asked him
if he knew he wasn’t going to get anything out of helping her, why did he do it? The answer was just very matter of fact and simple. You help them, and you live. When your usefulness ends, they could just shoot you.

Very cool stories, I just wanted to sit there and pick his brain. Here’s to another year I’ll have to spend with him!

2 yrs later

So I’m probably about 80% complete on principal photo selection for my album. I’ve decided on a vendor (KISS albums). They’re a tad more expensive to print but since this is my own wedding album, I guess I have to splurge just a little. It’s really weird looking back at the photos. My dad was really chubby back then! He had rosy cheeks! And it was really cool just seeing my friends all there, and generally thankful and glad that they could make it. Despite some weather difficulties, I think the whole thing went off pretty well.

And if you ever get to experience one first-hand. You’ll quickly realize that the day goes by really really fast. And you’re pretty exhausted by the end, so it took a good 2 years for me to finally get my act together and revisit my own wedding day, and I’m glad I did. Maybe it just took awhile because I wanted to distance myself from the event, to go back to it with a more objective point of view. But as I’ve discovered, seeing as the pictures that I’m selecting isn’t merely an event that I’ve photographed, like countless others. It’s my own actual event! So I think that precludes any form of objectivity.

But I digress. So as I’m going through the pictures, it did make me want to relive it to some extent. I’d say the day was rather fun! (despite the fact I didn’t get to drink, eat, or try the coffee bar). Anyways, I encourage you all to go back to your own wedding photos and relive your memories. Who knows, it may even bring a smile.