Memory Lane

The bank finally sent me papers, so I’m looking at approximately 100 days left at my current residence.  I think it was a wake up call, so I started to purge, throwing away non essentials.  I discovered a loot of interesting things, fossils by today’s standards.  Old Iomega zip drives, floppy and 3.5 inch disks.  cassette tapes!  It was awesome, and I went through boxes of letters from people that used to be really important in my life.  I wasn’t able to let go then, but I realize now, there are things that I hold so dear to me, I simply can’t let go…refuse to let go.  I ran across my dad’s signature, photos of high school friends, tons of letters and notes.  They all made me smile.  And After I sifted through the items, I packed them carefully back into a box, and hope to take my journey again in another 10 years.  

It’s just so interesting that things that used to hurt, and tear me up inside not don’t even hurt at all.  I guess it is true, time does heal all wounds.  I’m still waiting for it to heal the big hole in me when my dad passed, as I did sob like a little boy in my office during his birthday.  Maybe in 5 to 10 years, I’ll be all better.

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KFC memories

My wife got me KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) today for dinner, and I was munching on it alone in the kitchen and just had a random thought of my dad that totally brought a smile to my face. We grew up pretty poor, and I remember I liked KFC back as a kid, so as treats sometimes, my dad would drive me there, and we would share a three piece dinner meal. We’d just sit in the car, and he would watch me much away on my cole slaw, mashed potatoes, and yummy three pieces of chicken (This was back in the day when a three piece meal was actually large vs the pitiful portions they give now). But I just realized now as an adult, he didn’t share it with my brother, we didn’t bring any home….he used what money he had and got me the KFC. And that brought a smile to my face.

Le family Redux 1980

As you rocket towards life, you sometimes don’t spot the little details along the way that shape and build up the character, and the person you are now.

Day at the Beach!

I had the honer this weekend of photographing a family portrait session at the beach. With the hustle and bustle of work, it’s been a long while since I just sat down and smelled the ocean breeze. It’s a shame really, because the Ocean is really so close by from all of us in socal, yet we’re too busy to just sometimes marvel at it’s simplistic beauty.

I really enjoyed jumping in the ocean and rolling around in the sand, taking pics while the kids were playing. There were some sad moments for me though. During the session, I thought about my brother and I, and how their Dad reminded me a lot of my own dad in his youth. The jeans and the dress shirt, was just exactly what my dad would of worn. As cliche as it sounds, it really felt like I was in a flashback reel, where I’m essentially on automatic pilot taking photos, while simultaneously reliving my youth, thinking of my dad, and my own family.

I wish I had pics like this when I was growing up. Funny, people don’t appreciate things until they’re gone. Now any picture I have of my dad, however out of focus or blurry is like finding gold. But when he was alive, those photos were were just sitting there, piled or stuffed in the corners like faded memories amassing dust. Ahh, life is just a matter of perspective I guess.

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My brother and I used to be close. We rode bikes together and hung out a lot as children. I don’t quite know what happened that caused a deep schism between us. It’s not that we’re estranged, we’re pretty convivial towards each other, but there’s not much of a connection, other than the fact that he’s my brother.

Often times, I’ll document relationships with family and see how other brothers treat one another, and I must admit I do get somewhat jealous. I think I feel deeply rewarded doing these brief stints and moments with families because I’m thinking 10 to 20 years from now, regardless of all the hardships these two will endure growing up, they’ll be able to look back on these photos, and relive their “day at the beach”. Where life was simple, and dad was holding them in his arms.

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But here’s to you dad. I love you, and miss you a lot. Thanks to the Sosa family for allowing me to share few moments of their lives.

Thanksgiving

carry speed dual camera strap review

Well, I bit the bullet and purchased a carry speed dual camera strap system from Amazon.com, and it finally arrived! I was looking forward to using it for my shoot tomorrow, but after playing with it for about 40 minutes at home, adjusting and putting my cameras and lenses on it, I decided it doesn’t fit the shooting style that I’m accustomed to, and it would most likely hinder me rather than help me.

Before I being the review, I’d like to preface it with the fact that I’ve been shooting with dual bodies for a number of years now. Ever since going to prime lenses, I’ve gone with a 1DsMarkII and 1DMarkIII combo, typically with an 35mm and an 85mm lens, with a 70-200 for longer shots in the bag. This coupled with my favorite straps made from a company called Optech. I’ve been using them because they absorb weight pretty well. I usually couple that with a vest, that I strap my straps into so in the event of slippage, they don’t entirely fall to the floor.

Enter the carry speed dual straps that I decided to try. When it arrived, it reminded me of giant rock climbing harnesses or parachute harnesses. It’s well made in terms of construction and materials. The only down side to them is the way they attach to the camera, which is using the 1/4th inch tripod mounting screws. Which means the cameras are generally upside down when they are to the side. This is a bit disorienting as I’d have to reach over and flip them up before shooting. That and when I’m done, I feel like if I just drop them, they’ll fall. The camera on the left hand side is a bit worse, since the orientation is reverse and they are essentially screw mounts, I feel that sometimes as the cameras go up and down, the torque from this motion loosens the connections.

In addition, I typically have a backpack on me, and with a strap that goes around your neck to some extend and some of it is on your back, it feels a bit more cumbersome. For me, the thing that made it unacceptable for my shooting styles, is there isn’t a rapid release system. If I need to put one camera down, or hand it to my assistant or second shooter, it would be impossible. I’d have to flip it right side up, unscrew it, then hand it over. Also for some reason, I’ve tried a few lens changes, and it just doesn’t feel natural to me when doing so.

I think this system may work for some people, but it definitely didn’t fit my shooting style, so I’m going to return this and stick to my old system. I guess the old adage applies, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Though it was definitely worth a try!

last party

I attended my grandma in law’s funeral the other day. It was a celebration of her life and family, and I just thought that life was just so fleeting, and I’ve been humbled and reminded that life is beautiful.

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It was beautiful. There was supposed to be rain that day, but the sky cleared up. There was a mariachi band, and there was a lot of sadness, but I was very pleased that soo many people showed up. She at one point touched each of their lives, if they took the time out of their Fridays, to travel and to fly from a far, to pay their respects.

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I know how it feels like to lose a father, and as much as Dad’s rock. I don’t even want to know how it would feel like to lose a mother. You hear stories of war, where wounded and dying men cry out for their mommies. There is just an indescribable bond that is attached to mom’s. I think I would be completely devastated. But such is the circle of life, and I know none of us can escape the journey. Here’s to you grandma Solis. I’m sorry, I promised you photos the last time we met, and nearly 10 months have passed and I haven’t made good on that promise. That is the one thing I regret, and I guess I’ll carry that along with many other things until it is my turn to take that journey as well.

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Got my wedding demo reel back!

Awww it was so sad watching this. My dad was so vibrant, the kids that back then are seniors in high school or moved off to college. Salud…to good times. Salud to lost loved ones. Salud….to life.

Bringing a gun to a knife fight. My Video Rig

I finally have some free time to post pics of the DSLR rig I’ve been building for the past month. Parts come from various manufacturers, as it wasn’t an out of the box solution. I did plenty of research before choosing the pieces. I must admit I felt like a kid again, playing with my legos (albeit these are somewhat more expensive lego blocks) I built the rig based off the canon’s L lenses’s iconic red strip so Essentially mostly every piece is black with red –yes, us boys do like to accessorize as well–.

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At the core, is the Canon T2i. I could of gone with a 5DII, but quite frankly, with 3 1D series cameras, I couldn’t justify another SLR just for the sole purpose of doing videos. Videos will be a side hobby after all, so I couldn’t justify the costs. A full frame sensor would be nice, but there have been many reviews and tests. Essentially the 5D does better in low light, but for 80% of the types of shots, they are identical.

I think the only drawback of this rig, is A) it looks like a spaceship. And the problem with spaceships, is people love to steal them! So It’s not like I can walk around with this and shoot for fun. It does attract a bit of attention.

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Since all DSLRS (Or real professional film cameras for that matter) are manual focus, the three items I’ve acquired to help achieve focus are:

The only issue I have with the 7inch lilliput monitor is it is a bit on the heavy side. The 5inch is a bit more expensive, so I usually don’t bring it along with me unless I know I’ll be stationary or will require some oddly angled shots. Though there are many viewfinders in the market, some are inexpensive, but Zacuto is essentially the top brand, so I went with that one =) It is very versatile, and can be used outdoors in the bright sun. It essentially magnifies the back of the LCD by 3X, and lets you view the LCD in daylight without glare. Be careful though, if you leave it on the back of your rig for too long, it may take out the LCD due to the weight. So use the Z-Bands which help attach to the camera body to give it support. Or you could use their gorilla mounts, but I wasn’t about to spend 100 dollars on a small mounting plate. I’m somewhat on a budget! =)

The other drawback is the fact that I can’t use the z-finder and the external HDMI output at the same time. It is either one or the other, so you have to switch back and forth depending on the application. It would be convenient if this were the case, but it is just not possible. The moment the camera detects an HDMI cable present with a signal, it will disable the back LCD.

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Follow focus gears, though not crucial, do help during focusing applications. They are standard .8 pitch gears, mounted on the industry standard 15mm rails. They make focusing a bit easier by allowing a 90 degree knob that you can turn to focus, vs putting your whole hand around the focus ring, introducing camera shake, and it’s just more ergonomic to focus with a follow focus. These babies range from 150 dollars, to a few thousand dollars. The difference is in accuracy. The lower end models have a bit more “play” as they call it. Or wobble. What that means is since the gears aren’t accurate, if you spin the knob, it may spin for a good few millimeters before the gears kick in and then move the lens.

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That’s fine for the average Joe, but it may not be fine for a high budget movie production. Since I’m the average Joe, a 150 dollar follow focus works fine with me. You have to buy gears to put on each of your lenses. Those aren’t that cheap if you think about it $30.00 per gear. I opted to buy three of them, to put on my 24-70L, 85L, and a 24mm Yashica Prime. Those are usually the lenses I normally shoot video with.

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For lighting, I use one of these LED banks from Amazon. If I could do it over again, I would of picked up one of these: LEDs but it’s 4x the price so I’m going to use what I have for now. What’s good about the later one is it has dual batter packs, and you can switch to Tungsten via the knobs on the back. Very cool stuff.

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The other doo hickies I have are a friction arm to hold the LCD monitor. I have been very pleased, this thing is very very strong. I may pick up another one of these for good measure. It does have a red accent, so it matches my rig perfectly!

Other items in my bag of tricks is a Manfrotto 701 Fluid head Which allows for panning and tilting smoothly during filming. The bummer though, was when I bought this, I had no idea I was going to build a rig around my camera. This is rated for 8.82lbs, while it’s larger brother (the 501) is rated for 13.23lbs. So I’ll have to be more cognizant of the weight I put on the rig.

But essentially it allows me to be planted on the ground, and if I need to go mobile to run and gun things, I can detach the base from the tripod, and mount it on my shoulder on the go. So far I’m loving my new toy, I just need more opportunities to shoot and learn the craft. I still feel like I don’t have a clue as to what I’m doing yet. And I think that’s part of the fun.

I’m still working on getting the flow for tear up and set down, tweak the weight ratios and really I need more practice on focusing. But It’s a good start. My recommendation to people who want to build their own rig, is plan out your budget. But get ready to plunk down some cash. I find that these parts aren’t cheap, even the ebay ones, most of them ship from China, so even though they are 10 to 15 dollars for a clamp. The 20 dollars in shipping will add up quickly.

Also, the home depot or Lowes really won’t help you. Tried getting some DIY parts to mount to the rod support, and I ended up having to buy rail clamps online simply because I can’t find the parts locally. And expensive doesn’t necessarily mean better. You could spend thousands on a follow focus and Zacutto/ redrock gear, but your vids will still suck! Yup, I said it. Doing videos is no joke. It literally takes multi-media literally. You have to deal with shots, focusing, sound, and handle the technical aspects like you normally would with film, depth of field, lighting etc.

But my advice is to gear up. Pick the lenses you plan to shoot videos with, buy a good set of ND filters. Since videos require on avg 1/30 to 1/60 secs of exposure, that’s letting a lot of light in. And if you want you depth of field shallow, you’ll need to kill a lot of light coming in, so a good set of ND filters is key. But to get them to fit all your lenses, you have to get setup rings to mount on them all so they are all standardized. It helps when switching lenses and using the parts interchangeably. Since I didn’t have it in my budget to get a matte box with 4×4 filters, I opted for this route. It is way cheaper, and I think the matte boxes, though they do give a professional feel to your camera, do add some level of intimidation. If anything I learned from my years of experience in shooting stills, it’s ‘get the client comfortable’. Giant camera rig, plus uber scary matte box doesn’t help! But here’s a link to a matte box for reference.

Gini Rig First Field Test

Had an opportunity to do a small mini documentary for a family today. The original intent was to document their 2 year old, and a newborn. I had some ‘brothers’ theme in my minds eye before the shoot began, but things took a different turn. Basically, most shots for videos are planned, rehearsed, and executed. When shooting children, planning, rehearsing goes out the window, and all you have left is the execution. And if you blink, you’ll miss everything. It was much harder than I thought it would be. But I think in time, I’ll be quicker and have a better idea of what I’m doing. Basically, during post process, you’re at the whim of the footage you took to piece together some semblance of a theme.

I opted to not to bring along my lilliput field monitor. My clamps did not arrive yet, and it would be too bulky to attempt to mount it to my tripod or slider. The equipment I did bring was:

Body:
-Canon T2i
-1Ds MK II (for stills)

Lenses:
-24-70Lmm 2.8
-14mm 2.8
-24mm yashica
-35L 1.4
-85L 1.2

Misc:
-.6 ND filter
-rhode shotgun mike
-zacuto viewfinder
-Konova 1meter slider
-1 tripod, 1 lightstand (to support the slider)
-extra batteries

The 24mm prime was brought along just in case the 24-70 ended up being too heavy to get certain shots. I had time to setup, and plan for the establishing shots. Setting up the slider wasn’t too bad. The problem with using a fluid head with the slider though meant that I was limited to horizontal or Z-axis shots. The other caveat is, since the slider is 1 meter long, I essentially need two tripods to support the slider’s weight.

The shoulder rig worked flawlessly. It added some stability to the shots, and I think what really saved me was the Zacuto viewfinder. All the ambient light outside rendered the 3inch built in LCD useless. I’m curious how the Lilliput would fair under such conditions, and I’ll bring it along during my next shoot to see how it fairs outdoors. I learned a lot during this first gig. But most importantly, I’ve figured out two basic principals.

#1. you MUST nail the exposure on all the video shots. I don’t have the hardware to run fancy post processing on the videos, so the exposure has to be close to right the first time around. It’s not like I can shoot RAW and edit post process if I miss by a few stops.

#2 you MUST nail (or come close to hitting focus). I’m still awaiting my gears from d|focus. So I left my follow focus at home. Pulling focus is crucial, and it’s hard to try to keep do that, plus try to get the proper exposure during changing lighting conditions, all while trying to maintain as close to 1/30 or 1/60 shutterspeed, and composing the frame on the fly.

#3 Shooting good video is very hard. Things that I’ve brought to the table from my film shooting has helped to some extent, but to do video, you need to always be on your toes and think on your feet. It’s not as forgiving as shooting stills.

Here’s the final output. Used AVS video editor. It’s the easiest software that I have to edit quickly. It doesn’t have the strong features of Premiere, but I’ve tried that and it’s a best of an program. Maybe one day when I upgrade my computer.

The shooting time took roughly 2hrs, and editing was about 3-4hrs to complete.

Epic Zacuto viewfinder fail

So I’ve been mounting my Zacuto viewfinder onto my T2i screen using the tape and mounting bracket they provided. Its been on for a good few months now, and nowhere did they really mention, hey by the way, don’t leave this sucker mounted for prolong periods of time. It will tear out your LCD on the back of your camera. Yes, you read it right, tear out the bloody LCD. I noticed some light leaking through, then when I looked closer, I realized the weight of the viewfinder literally has ripped the LCD nearly out of it’s mounts. I think I caught it in time, I can press it back in and pray it stays, but I’m not too thrilled at spending nearly 400 dollars for a piece of equipment, that literally destroys my other piece of equipment. And the prospect of me spending another 160 dollars or so to get a plate to mount the view finder onto my camera sickens me.

I did some research and this has happened to a few other people out there. Some guy came home and saw his viewfinder on the floor, with the LCD attached to it. So I figured I’d write this as a warning to everyone who’s using a viewfinder, from any manufacturer. DO NOT keep it on for extended periods of time. Gravity is a beoych.

UPDATE: i contacted Zacuto customer support about the issue and they pretty much no questuons asked are send me some support bands that would of run me 15 bucks or so for free. Now that is customer support. I guess if you spend money on a good product, it is what one would expect from the company. But you would be surprised these days. So im glad they are helping out.

Also in other news, more research yields that canon uses a 2 millimeter plastic cover to protec the lcd, which uses an adhesive backing. It is this piece that is falling out, not the lcd panel, so i could in theory get anew cover and adhesive strip for around 30 dollars or so from Canon