Monthly Archives: July 2009

Thoughts on San Franciso Weddings

Well, this was the first real instance where I had to take a substantial amount of gear onto an airplane. I was a tad worried about FAA rules, but surprisingly, my camera bag got past security quicker than my regular backpack, which happened to be packing a PSP. As those of you know, I’m a camera bag whore, but when it comes to a single bag that can hold (most) of what I need, it’s the Expedition 7. Now for those of you who clicked the link, you may be asking yourself, “Gee, that bag sure looks big and heavy”. Well, yes…yes it is. It’s big, bulky, heavy, and since I’m short, I look like a complete idiot carrying a backpack that’s twice my size. And…to top that off, since the good manufacturers and marketers of Tamrac were so kind enough to plaster their name all over the place, it does have an additional feature of ‘please steal this bag’ written all over it. So I guess my review of the bag for any long term travel would be…. travel with less equipment. But in the event you can’t…it may be the way to go.
The Bag is weather resistant, but I would still feel uneasy during a good heavy rain.

Off to the wedding! San Francisco, is actually a very very very (yes I wrote that three times) beautiful. If anything, it has a lot of character. And the one thing I regret not being able to do, but will definitely get to it next time, would be to get landscape shots of the downtown skyline, and the golden gate proper.

Started the morning by going to two destinations. One was the Palace Of Fine Arts. For those of you unfamiliar with that name, it looks sorta like this:




Yes, when I found out I was going to shoot there, I nearly wet myself, and my mind raced with a thousand different ideas. But I’ve only been there once, and the only other time I’ve seen it was during the movie “The Rock”, with Sean Connery. So needless to say I was trying to recall those scenes with the benches, and tailor my shots to that. When I got there, it was a different story. We only had time for a few locations, and it was kind of muddy, so we kept to the front. So rule #1. No matter what you try to plan or envision, don’t worry. Life never works that way, and you’ll always end up with something else. Plan too much, and you’re gonna set yourself up for failure. At least when it comes to more dynamic events, like weddings (that doesn’t quite apply to contrived shots, where planning is essential). But they really can’t escape Murphy’s Law.


As you can see Mitch, the groom is in full military (navy) regalia…and needless to say, his outfit is more white than the bride’s. I know I harped on a student earlier this much and said, when the dress or outfit is too reflective, always stop down. This way it’s easier to bring out details in a slightly darker image, than to lose the information entirely in an over exposed image. Ahhh…if only I heeded my own advice. I tried to get them into the shade as much as possible, but wow, there were some embarrassing overexposed shots in there. Shhhhh…. Rule #2. “A good photographer never shows’ his crappy photos”. (Technically this should be rule #0, it’s kinda implied).

The 2nd location is a a park called Crissy Fields. It over-looks a little bridge called “The Golden Gate Bridge”. Well there were 2 problems that I could visibly see. A) The bridge was surrounded by haze. B) It was super bright, and I had no shade to speak of to block the harsh shadows. Rule #2. Don’t panic. (I think this was the title of a Douglas Adams Book). If you can’t alter your environment to your favor…screw it. Live with the consequences and ask for forgiveness later. Absolution can sometimes be found during post process (Note the sometimes). But never panic. Panicking is for beginners….and ooh do people smell fear and insecurity a mile away.

Which does segway nicely to Rule #3. People like are like sheep. They want to be led into some direction. Despite what anyone says, you are in control, you dictate the shot, to some extent the pose, mood, and general art direction. And it’s nice that someone can take control of the situation, especially since the couple generally has a ton of other things on their mind that day. The least of which should be, how or where should I stand during a photoshoot). So even if you don’t know what you’re doing… make believe you know what you’re doing. Truth be told, half of the time I’m in la la land. I’m worried about what settings to use, lighting, i kinda give the stance, pose, and other things a fraction of a thought. That’s where assistants do help out tremendously. They help worry about the little details that I often overlook, but shouldn’t. Like…oh the flower on your lapel is slightly crooked. Once in awhile I’ll get to that, but generally…trust me, I have way too much other crap going on in that little head of mine to worry about the small details…But as that cliche saying goes. “The devil…is in the details”. So yes, there’s plenty of things for me to improve on.


Note the squint in the eyes. and nasty shadows.

This one above isn’t one of my best work, (I’ve violated rule #1, but it’s to prove an interesting point). Always know, or at least try to know what you’re getting into, and prepare accordingly. I knew I was going to be in the sun with no assistant to hold a reflector to mitigate shadows. So, I brought along an external flash for fill. I knew it was going to be sunny as hell. So, I did bring along a .6 neutral density filter In other words, glorified sunglasses for my lens. This helps me able to achieve lower apertures in bright sunlight without having to worry about the 1/8000th of a second limitation on shutter speed. As you can see, the flash (kind of helped) fill in the frame. Both of them wearing white did throw it off, and it’s slightly clipped in some parts, but as a whole, it’s not bad.

The Art of Black and White
So I often get asked when or why do I convert something to Black and White. Ok fine, I don’t ‘often’ get asked anything, but I do sometimes like to make myself feel important so I thought I suppose it’s only appropriate I used that sentence. Anyways, I digress. So…Onto B&W. I first used B&W as a crutch. When I totally missed the exposure, or the colors are so out of whacked I have no choice but to convert over to a single 2 tone. But lately as I grew in experience, I convert to B&W for an entirely different reason. And that is, whenever I feel like I want color to not distract the viewer from the image. What do I mean by that? Well, take the image below for instance. It in essence is a boy and his mother. More accurately, a boy, carrying holding on to his mother’s dess.
If I kept it in color, people would notice the green foliage they’re walking by, or the strange brown and blue windows that are in the entry way. or perhaps maybe even the tan stone/tile blocks they were walking on. Well, in the absence of any color information, the brain tends to be less inundated with extra information, and focus moreso on that is important….The subject…. So that does cross my mind whenever I decide to convert something over from color to B&W. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I eschew color. It’s just sometimes, I find, depending on the situation, color can be more of a burden than an attraction.




The full set can be seen here on my flickr account

SF, is a beautiful city and I would love to come back to try to capture it now. It’s funny, I used to go there every year, but this is really the first year I do see it with a different eye.


Well, I just realized it’s been about 2yrs since I was gun ho and wrote an article or a review of any kind. I figured one of my friends asked me how bokeh works in a photograph, and I thought hmm…that would be an interesting article to write about. So I figured I’d gear up to write it as soon as I get some equipment together.

Here are links to my past 4 articles that I have on

200MM lens reviews

My experiences with prosumer bodies (note this was written in 2007)

Why I think one should hire a professional photographer for your event instead of Uncle Bob.

Thoughts on workflow

Expect one on Bokeh between lenses very soon!
I’ll do the kit lens vs a CZ 2.8 vs a 35mm 1.5 vs a 85mm 1.2
basically, how they compare and does one really need a super lens to get decent bokeh.

The Roaring 20’s….Sort of.

Well today was the first time in a long while that I actually got nervous before doing a shoot. I’ve never done a period piece before, so the probability of failure was slightly higher than normal. Then I got giddy because it’s been awhile since I got that nervous feeling before a shoot. I tried to get psyched up before we got into location. Guns and Roses was the obvious choice. I blasted Axl in the car on my way to the location. I am so stuck in the 80’s it’s not even funny.

The make-up portion went fine. I Wanted to thank Lisa Pilgrim, the MUA (Make Up Artist) for doing a fabuloso job. If anyone has make-up needs. You can contact her at She’s about $50 an hour. Very nice, very professional, and most importantly, she seems to know her craft.

Nothing new on my end. I’ve done numerous makeup/getting ready shots for weddings. I guess the big difference is this one was done at 15:00, instead of some insane hour like 07:00.

The entire makeup set can be seen here





Now off to the shoot! This was taken at Orange Circle. Normally I don’t like to re-use locations. Simply because
a) I’ve done them before and they get boring
b) I feel it’s unfair to my clients I take them to the same spots as my other clients.

Though I’d say it’s due more to artistic boredom and needing variety, rather than professional courtesy to the client. However, I ended picking up the Orange Circle location simply because it was one of the two areas that had a less modern feel to it (Old town Tustin was runner up). The entire set can be seen here:

I was very fortunate to have a model that doesn’t flinch when the camera is nearby. She took direction well, and also brought a few poses and looks to the table. Nothing worse than someone that just stands there and says, “now what”. I did come away with a few things, and that’s where all the experimenting came about. I tried shooting into the sun. Something I’ve avoided doing because it’s hard to execute properly.

My weakness is with poses. I should of done my research, and it was my fault for not coming into the shoot with a bit more period stances. But I have problems with the human form in general. I totally suck when the arms are raised. So I tried having the model do some of those poses for more practice (They obviously never made it out of the cutting room floor, so I clearly need to still work on that).

Also I really need to be more aware of neck lines and wrinkle lines. There were a few shots that were good, but I realized I had the neck contorted in a way that made it look funny (at least to me, and I’m my biggest critic) so the image was just cut, or heavily cropped. I think that’s one of the biggest differences between this and event photography. In events, I just hunt or wait for the moment and snap. An experienced shooter in this area anticipates when moments occur and be prepared for it to happen. Whereas this is slightly more contrived, and shots are literally, “lets try this, lets try that, pose here, stand there”. I don’t often do that during wedding/event photography. So an experienced shooter in this type of shooting lies in the fact that they’ve shot hundreds of times, done all the poses and knows what works and what doesn’t for the varying body-types. Essentially reactive vs proactive shooting. Different styles, different skill-sets involved.






The shot above I ended up liking a lot after the fact. The lighting was perfect. Despite the fact that she looks more like a native American in this shot with the feather. Which is why we scrapped the feather on the head for the red dress.

“Through the looking glass”. One of my favorite shots of the day. It looks like it could come from the era.



My Memories of Michael Jackson

So today they had this huge memorial/tribute for MJ. I guess how I found out he died was when we came out of a work meeting and my friend Danny checked out CNN and said, “hey dude, Michael Jackson just died”. I guess my first reaction was “no friggin way, so I had to check for myself”. So we spent the day blasting out his tunes in our office, and that was that. But my earliest memories were during the 80’s. We had pretty much barely moved to America, and my first glimpses of him on TV were when they played the “Billie Jean” videos where he was walking on those steps and they all lit up. All I remembered was the glowing sidewalk, in a really dirty city, (which I assumed was Los Angeles). I didn’t really understand why they lit up, and I always thought right in the beginning of the song, MJ said a bad word! They lyrics are as follows: ”

“She was more like a beauty queen from a movie scene
I said don’t mind, but what do you mean I am the one”….but to me, the way he sang “don’t mind” sounded a lot like I said ‘do ma’, which is pretty much a really bad word in Vietnamese, so every time he said that I was like wooooo, he said “do ma”. I was a young Vietnamese kid who was in ESL, and English was a second language, so I guess the only thing I recognized were English words that sounded like Vietnamese words, and haha.. “Do Ma” was definitely one of them (which translates to F’ yer mom’).

Then comes Halloween. Well, my first Halloween costume. We couldn’t afford anything so my mom put a big white sheet over me, and cut holes for my eyes, so I was a ghost. My brother on the other hand got to be MJ. He got this glove, and it was so ghetto, we had to use elmer’s glue to put together the sequins. Then when the “Bad” album came out, we had purchased the tape. (Ok, for younger blog readers out in the world, tapes (aka cassettes) were what we listened to. They usually have two sides (A and B), and often times if your tape player sucked, the tape would get caught and would get all messed up. So you’d roll it back in, and hope it doesn’t sound too funky after wards. Pretty much google walkman. Anyways, I digress…So I would take my brother’s “Bad” tape and listen to it on my Walkman at night before going to sleep, and I’d imagine myself singing those songs to countless adoring fans. I guess it all sounds so silly now, and it’s strange. I guess some people still consider race something of a barrier he broke, and I guess coming from an 1st generation immigrant family, race to me really wasn’t that big of an issue. I didn’t even understand it. He wasn’t black, white, red, or yellow. To me, he was just a badass dude that sang. Oh and the one dude that said “do ma” on national TV.