Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Back in 2007, I took my camera to see Marla Sokoloff (she was on "The Practice," "Dude, Where's My Car?" and "Sugar and Spice") sing at the Derby. It was VERY dark in there. Now, I emailed the Derby ahead of time and they said "photos okay, no monopod, no flash." So I didn't use monopod or flash, but lots of other people were using flash and the Derby bouncer guy didn't harass them at all.

All I could do is shoot at ISO 3200. I did manage to shoot at 1/125 sec though and just tried to hold the camera as steady as I could. 1/125 isn't so bad now, and even without a monopod, 1/60 sec is possible. I think I brought up the exposure for these in Lightroom.

Now, I could say that I posted this to discuss really low light photography, but really, I just think Marla Sokoloff is cute, I like her music, and I was excited about meeting her. I emailed a link to the site to her after the show and she said she liked the photos. :)

My Kit and My Process - A Summary

So far, over the course of many blog entries, I've discussed how and why I assembled the kit that I did. Now, it's time to summarize. Also, I'll update it a little bit to describe developments in the past couple years, and modifications I would suggest if you're starting now.
  • The camera: Canon EOS 30D - I've been very happy with this camera. Canon is known for good optics. (So is Nikon, but I don't know the Nikon cameras as well.) This is an SLR camera (detachable lens). I almost always shoot RAW format now and use the complete Manual mode. The most important consideration to me when buying the camera was the 22.5mm image sensor.
    • More recently, there have been a 40D and a 50D which have better light sensitivity and higher resolutions. I think the 7D is the next in this series and can even do HD video and image preview.
    • There is a cheaper line of these cameras - the Rebel, Rebel XT, XTi, etc. These have a disabled version of the same chip, the same image sensor. The camera is lighter than the corresponding 10D-50D, and it is missing the back dial. There are some buttons there instead. Personally, I think the interface would drive me crazy because I'm constantly adjusting both the exposure and the f-stop. You can still do it with the Rebel series, but I think it's just less convenient.

      You never know until you try it though. Go to a camera store and try it out for yourself. If the Rebel is good enough, you can save yourself a few hundred dollars.
    • There is a more expensive line of these cameras - the 5D and the 1D. These cost about twice as much as the 30D did. The main difference is that they have a full 35 mm image sensor. I believe the 5D Mark II also has video capability. I wish I had one of these, but it's just too much for me.

  • Lens: Canon 24-70mm L series f/2.8 - I love this lens. It can do f/2.8 for the whole range, so I can use it in fairly dark rooms and bars. The 24-70mm range is good enough for a big venue like Camp Hollywood. I highly highly recommend this lens. But it ain't cheap. I got a good deal on it and got mine for about $1200 - almost as much as the camera body itself! But in photography, just be ready to spend on the lenses...
    • I did get some good use out of the Canon 50mm f/1.8 prime lens and it is cheap - only about $80 - and that was from a retail camera store. It's fast enough for good indoor shots with this, and some decent outdoor ones too. It will be close to what you see, so don't expect many dramatic shots. But it is a good lens, and worth the money.
    • Recently, I used a friend's 50-200mm image stabilized zoom lens, and it was really nice. I've thought about getting the L series 70-200mm f/2.8 one after using that - it took great closeups at Camp H, that some nice blurring on the background. A bit pricey for me right now, but it's definitely on the radar. I might buy the cheaper ($350) first and get the $1500 one later after I've saved up a little more.

  • Extra battery.
  • I use a SanDisk Extreme III 32 Gig Compact Flash card, with a 8 Gig Extreme III backup. I also have a couple 4 Gig cards from before I got the 8 Gig. If I was to do it over, I might buy 3 or 4 (at least 2 though) 8 Gig cards, just in case one goes bad. I try to clean out the cards as often as possible during a shooting weekend.
  • monopod - mine is a Manfrotto 680B monopod. It has some nice weight behind it so it's easy to steady.
  • 430 Flash I've only started using this now (2009). I'll blog about it later. There's a better one out there - the 580 - which can be remote triggered. So far, the 430 has been enough, but I'm actually starting to think about whether I should use a remote trigger - that just starts getting super expensive though.
  • Belkin USB card reader - very useful so you don't have to worry about communication protocols with your camera. I've had issues with my Nikon coolpix when I connect to the camera, but everything has been fine when I just plug the SD card into the reader.
  • LowePro CompuDaypack Photojournalist backpack - I got one for about $70 at Amazon. I use this as my carry-on on all flights. There's a padded section to hold the camera and another padded section to hold a laptop. Plus another medium sized pouch for accessories. It's good for holding all camera and computer stuff, but don't expect to fit a change of clothes in there or anything. BTW, once I get to the hotel, I unpack the laptop and use the laptop section to hold my dance shoes.
  • Adobe Lightroom - available on both Mac and PC. I'm using version 2 and I think they're up to version 3 now. It is AMAZING processing software. It's great for organizing my photos, reviewing photos to figure out which ones to delete, making color balance changes to a group of photos, fixing exposures, exporting to JPG, etc. Most importantly, it is really helpful for navigating what you can do with a RAW image.

    I think some people like Aperture, which does similar things. I don't know anything about Aperture, so I won't comment on it, but just thought I'd mention it.
  • Adobe Photoshop - I'm sure everyone's heard of Photoshop, so I won't describe it too much. I'll just say that now and then, there will be something I can't do in Lightroom, like make a spot correction to one little part of the image, or if I want to apply a Gaussian blur somewhere, or use smudge tool to obscure a license plate or something. Honestly, I don't use it very much, but I thought I'd mention it.

So that's the kit. Just a few more pointers...
  • In Lightroom, I output as JPG with a quality setting of 90. They're much smaller than quality 100, and visually, I can't tell the difference.
  • I share the photos at the max resolution of 1600x1600. (One dimension will be smaller). Again, when compared to the full 3244 or whatever resolution, the files are around 1/4 the size. This seems to be about the biggest anyone wants. If there's a special need, you can always re-export a bigger one.
  • I don't distribute the RAW images. It's like a negative.
  • In the metadata, I embed a copyright notice, derived from Creative Commons. For me, the non-commercial, attribute, share-alike seems to fit my needs. Also, I put a description of the license on every gallery. I think it's not asking much to get credit for my photos.
  • I haven't started watermarking photos yet, but probably will starting in early 2010. By the time you're reading this, I might have already started. I've seen a couple cases where people have not included proper attribution per the license. I don't really want to make a big issue out of it, and I don't believe they are intentionally violating the license. At the same time, I don't think they should be offended by an unobtrusive watermark.
  • I keep my online galleries on smugmug The thing I like is that I can make the full res photo available, and I think the galleries are easier to navigate than flickr, though that may be my own personal preferences. But let's say you want to view the "large resolution" versions of each photo. In smugmug, you would click one of them into large resolution, then use left and right arrows to navigate the gallery. In flickr, it looked like I had to go back down to medium size before I could go to the next photo. I haven't explored picassa yet.

    If you wind up wanting a smugmug account though, let me know and I'll give you a referral code and we both get a discount.

    BTW, for the last 4 years or so, I've been using the cheap account, but next week, I may upgrade to the professional account. (Mostly to get the watermarking feature.)
  • Favorite Galleries These days, when I shoot a dance weekend, I shoot a LOT of photos, like in the neighborhood of 3000-3500, keeping around 1600-2000. When I show you a gallery of 1600 photos, that's after I've trashed a bunch. That's quite a bit for anyone to navigate, and most people probably don't want to.

    While there's something I like about all of them, I understand they don't all mean as much to everyone else. Now, I go through All the galleries and tag the 4 or 5 star photos, and maybe the 3 stars and make a special "Favorites" gallery for that. I think people appreciate it, because I monitor the statistics and I see the Favorites gallery gets the most traffic. At first, I would do between 100-600 in the "Favorites," but after seeing that Facebook limits galleries to 200 photos, I try to put a cap of 200 on the "Favorites." Seemed like about the right number I was settling on anyway.

    As for the other galleries, they do sometimes still get some attention. I think that most people look at the Favorites gallery, and if they competed in something, they'll look for more photos of themselves in that gallery. Sometimes I'll see people use these photos (that didn't make it to "Favorites") in their Facebook or Myspace profile photos, so I think people still like to look at them.
  • These days, I also keep Facebook galleries and release low resolution (640) versions of the photos there with a link to the smugmug galleries. I like Facebook's tagging - it actually seems to be the most effective way to publicize the gallery and show everyone photos I took of them. I sometimes post to some bulletin boards like SoCalSwing or denverSwingDance, but honestly, I see just about everyone on Facebook, and I barely see any traffic on the forums anymore.
  • Indoor color temperatures are around 2800 K. Not written in stone. But I've just found that at Camp Hollywood and Cowtown Jamborama, my photos initially come in too yellow, and I need to lower the color temperature from what's in the photo, even though I set it to tungsten, which should be correct (assuming no flash).
  • Ideally, dance shots should be 1/125 sec or faster. You can get away with something as slow as 1/30 sec, but your shots WILL be blurry. At 1/60 sec, they will be acceptable, but a little blurry. If you're in low light, you can generally get away with 1/80 sec or 1/100 of a sec and not feel bad about it. And if you're using a flash, you might be able to use 1/250 sec(but your SLR probably can't go faster), depending on your flash setting.

RAW, Lightroom, and more 2007 dance camps

So now, I pretty much have my kit put together. And it's more or less what I still use now (2009). I'm pretty happy with it, and I'll show a few shots from Jamborama and Inspiration Weekend 2007.

Jamborama 2007:

I'm happy with these - white walls are white, colored low-light indoor stuff is colored, and I'm still not using flash. I'm using an ISO of 800-3200 in these, with exposure times ranging from 1/80 sec to 1/160 sec, which is the right range.

Later that year, I went to Inspiration Weekend in Irvine - the venues were often very dark, but I was pretty happy with what I shot. Here's some examples in different lighting conditions:

Except for the daylight shot, these were shot with ISO 3200 with exposures ranging from 1/125 to 1/200 sec.

So now that I'm pretty happy with my photos, what did I learn?

  • Get a better seat. During the performance, I was way off to the side. This was mostly because this is where I stored my equipment, and I knew I wouldn't be in anyone's way. The shots are okay, but sometimes, it's just really obvious that the performance is out to the front and I was over on the side.

  • When I put the photos online, I found that almost nobody downloaded the full original size(3504x2336). I was shocked and a little insulted! I was paying a photo site that would allow full res downloads and I wanted to make them available to everyone.

    But then I got over it. Honestly, even I usually didn't use the full original size. At the time, my screen was about 1600 across, and so even I only needed half size most of the time. Also, it didn't really account for cropping. Starting with Jamborama 2007, I started cropping a little bit for composition. I think in 2008, I made more extensive use of cropping. And I could hide it more with a 1600 resolution photo.

LotR 2007 cont. - a word about color temperature

Last entry, I briefly mentioned that color issue - the white balance problem with the Sunday daytime competitions. That was pure slop on my part, and not the fault of the camera. But it highlighted the next piece of the puzzle. I went back and tried my best to correct the color on the Showcase competion (100-200 photos) but was severely limited because I was shooting JPG to save memory. That turns out to be a major mistake that my photographer friends have been warning me about for a long time. The main issue I had was that there wasn't an easy way for me to process a large group of photos.

Honestly, I don't understand white balance as well as I should. All I know is that different types of light get recorded differently. Most indoor lighting will be around 2800-3200 K, while outdoor lighting will often be 5500-6500 K. Shooting outdoors with an indoor setting will make your images too blue, while shooting indoors with outdoor settings will make your images too yellow (I'll show an example of that here). If you want to know more, I suggest reading the Wikipedia entry on color temperature

Let me first start by saying the Sunday afternoon competitions were insanely hard to shoot. I wasn't really happy with any of my Sunday afternoon shots, but this is just for discussion. This shot shows two big issues:

  • Differences in color temperature. There are tungsten lights inside, which are actually pretty dim. Plus, there is some pretty powerful daylight coming in from both sides. There's the sky outside the windows in the photo, and obviously the sun coming in from the doors behind me.

  • Differences in light. In the corner of the room, it's pretty dark. But the people in the lower right corner are getting hit directly by the sun. you can see it's actually blowing out (overexposed).

I was shooting JPG, so I couldn't manipulate it too much afterwards, but today, I would have shot it a stop or two down to avoid the overexposure, knowing that I could rescue the dark areas from a RAW image later.

I'm still not really sure what to do about the color temperature. I think I would still just play with it in Lightroom until I found one that was okay.

But to give an example of how much manipulation goes on...

This is what I started with - I set the wrong color temperature when shooting. Probably all photos taken that afternoon started out looking like this - way way too yellow and a little dark.

Here is my first attempt to fix the color, but I think it turned out a little bit too pink.

A few days after that, it just bothered me so much that I decided to try to neutralize the pink a little bit. I think it actually wound up adding a little more green to fix it. Actually, you can see in the mirror that one wall shifted blue showing I may have gone a little too far. But that's not the biggest part of the shot. If I was really trying to refine this one photo, I would consider taking it into photoshop with a few different color settings and mixing it differently in different sections.

The things to consider were:

  • What should be white? The back wall? Teni's shoes?

  • How white should it be? The back wall probably wasn't really white, but more a beige, very very slightly warmer. Also, there is colored light in the room, whether it's bouncing off the floor and stage

  • What should the skin tones be? Try to pick something reasonable. Remember despite the crayola "flesh" colored crayon, everyone isn't the same. Check everyone. If worst comes to worst, you can use photoshop to fix people individually, but you can probably find a setting that looks right for everyone, knowing that everyone's skin tones can wind up different.

The thing is, making these adjustments is very hard with a JPG because the image gets the color temperature baked in. Though it doesn't even record the color temperature in the metadata in the image. With a RAW image, the color temperature is just a setting recorded to tell the software how to process the RAW data. But (I think) the RAW data is really the same whatever the color temperature is set to. After all, it's the same light that's hitting the CMOS sensor. The processing happens when it's turned into a JPG.

The bottom line:

Always shoot RAW.

The problems with RAW (and why they shouldn't concern you) are:

  • The files are huge. A big high quality JPG may be around 2 or 3 MB. A RAW file is about 12 MB. Let's say you have a 1 GB Compact Flash card. You're looking at over 300 JPG images or less than 90 RAW images. That's a tough decision... in 2007. But today(2009), a new SanDisk Extreme III 32 GB Compact Flash card sells for $149 from Amazon's featured merchants. Now, 32 GB is a lot. That's enough for me to shoot a 4 day swing event without having to delete any photos (though you should delete the crappy ones). A 8GB Extreme III Compact Flash is selling for $50, and that's good for a whole day at a dance camp. And you can probably even find cheaper ones if you start exploring ebay and craig's list.

  • They take a lot of disk space. Again, disk space is getting really cheap too. Today, quickly scanning Amazon again shows a 2 TB hard drive sells for under $200.

  • Sometimes older operating systems (Windows XP) have trouble understanding what RAW is. I'm pretty sure XP and Windows 7 can handle them just fine, and now I'm using a Mac and OS X handles it great. But really, you should use Lightroom or something to process and view the images. Lightroom sells for something like $300 retail. But go take or teach a class or something and the educational price is $100.

So I'll revise that to say:

Always shoot RAW.

Get a 32 GB memory card, or several 8 GB ones.

Get a huge hard drive

Get Adobe Lightroom - I think some people also really like aperture, but I've never tried it myself.

My favorite lens - Canon L series 24-70mm, f/2.8

A week or two after Camp Hollywood, I decided to invest in a new lens. The Canon L series 24-70mm, capable of f/2.8 though the whole range. To date (2009) this is still my favorite go-to lens. I love this lens and I only wish I had bought it earlier. Don't get me wrong. There are other lenses I want now, but this one has been good for just about anywhere I go, and I highly recommend it.

As noted in my earlier Camp Hollywood Photography blog entry, I was dissatisfied with the lens length. 50mm was okay, but not great. So right before Lindy on the Rocks (Denver), I bought this Canon lens. It's a bit hefty, but it's great for indoor dance photography. The zoom range is enough for close-ups and also enough to get a dancer across the room. Now, you still can't get a headshot across the room or anything, but you can get a full head-to-toe shot, which is generally what I'm trying to get at a dance competition.

So the lens took its maiden voyage at Lindy on the Rocks, and I was really happy with its performance. There were a few minor glitches, like me forgetting to reset the color temperature for daylight in the Sunday competitions, but for composition and clarity, I was very happy with the quality of photos. A bunch of friends used them for their myspace avatars, so I guess others were happy with the photos too. So while I rated my Camp Hollywood photos as "fair to good, no excellents," I thought the Lindy on the Rocks photos were mostly good, with a few great ones.

Some of my favorites were:

I actually used this one as the basis for an oil painting this year(2009).

I don't know if I've ever seen anyone pancake as high as Shannon. This was a very memorable moment to me.

Solo Charleston contest... You can probably guess it was extremely dark here, and I was actually really impressed that the camera got what it did. For reference, in this last one, I was using:
  • Exposure: 1/40 sec
  • f-stop: f/2.8
  • ISO: 3200 (H mode)
  • focal len: 24mm

It's a pretty long exposure, but I did have the monopod to help me.

But even now, I wouldn't do it any differently. Actually, I take that back. I believe I was still shooting JPG and not RAW. I had my reasons back then, but now, I see it as a big mistake.

50mm, a monopod, and Camp Hollywood 2007

I think it was after the Midwest Bal Fest when I got a monopod, a.k.a. "the stick." I was having trouble with stabilizing the photos, but at a dance camp, I usually don't have space for a tripod. The monopod isn't quite as stable, but it helps, and now I consider it part of my standard kit.

Here is Shout n Feel It performing in the Team division at Camp Hollywood 2007.

So what did I learn?
  • My photos still came out pretty yellow. I was shooting with a standard tungsten/indoor settiing, which I think is 3200 degrees - at least that seemed a pretty good match. Playing around in post-processing, I found that the photos looked a little better if I instead used a custom white balance of 2800 degrees (which was as low as it would go).
  • There were more heads in my way this time. Since I was only using my 50mm lens, I had to stand back a little bit so I could see feet. I couldn't stand right against the floor. I was usually okay in the afternoon prelims when there were fewer people, but the night time dances were a problem - and people just didn't care that they stood in front of someone. Solution: get a wider lens so I can stand closer to the floor.
  • Sometimes the best action was across the floor, and they wound up being pretty small in frame. Solution: get a longer lens.
  • Well, to summarize the last 2, I think I'm realizing the 50mm lens is not the ideal lens I thought it would be. (And honestly, I spent months trying to evaluate whether I thought it would be good enough.) I set my sights on the Canon zoom lens 24-70mm, f/2.8.
  • The monopod was very effective. My backgrounds were nice and crisp, telling me the camera didn't move.
  • Many many times, the background was actually a little too crisp, and the dancers were a little blurred. I still haven't mastered the auto-focus. I think it may have had difficulty with a moving subject. I mean it registered that it got them, but the photo said otherwise. After the whole camp was done, someone actually passed on some advice to me that I'll try next camp: focus on the floor at the same depth as the subjects. There's actually a mode of the camera where I can select the focus point, so I can focus on the floor while still composing the shot to keep the dancers near the middle. I'll have to try that out at Lindy on the Rocks... (I'm stuggling with this one even now in 2009)
What happened? This lens was great at Cowtown... Camp Hollywood is just a much bigger venue than the Omaha Eagles Lodge so there was a wider variety of lenses I needed. At the Eagles Lodge, everything I wanted to shoot was generally 25-40 feet away and had about the same framing. At Camp Hollywood, sometimes someone would be 10 ft away. Sometimes, they'd be 100 ft.

I was still shooting JPG. I cannot emphasize how big a mistake I believe that is. I think I would later switch to RAW once Lightroom came out.

The 50mm lens

After talking with some colleagues at work who are really into photography, I went out and got the Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens - in the context of photography equipment, it's really cheap at about $80.

So I've gone out shooting with the 50mm now and then, and took it to Midwest Bal Fest (Omaha, NE) in 2007. This time, I could take the f-stop way down. Turns out the Eagle's lodge is just really really dark. Honestly, this time, it did feel a little dim. And darned if my photos didn't wind up all dark and yellow. Also disturbing was that I also learned I don't hold the camera steady enough for the relatively long (1/30 sec, 1/60 sec - and later I would realize I should really try to get closer to 1/125 sec).

I saw a lot of other photographers had great photos with flash, but it would take me until now (2009) to really try to use it.

Here's a shot of the Omahotties performing at the Midwest Bal Fest (2007). Settings were:
  • Exposure: 1/60 sec. Acceptable, but these days, I try to go a little faster, like 1/125 sec. Of course, I violate that all the time too.
  • f-stop: f/1.8. This is extremely "fast." For low light indoors, I figured I should go as fast as possible. Ideally, f/4.0 would be nice, but I don't think I've been to any swing venue where I could do that.
  • focal length: 50mm - this is the prime lens
  • ISO: 3200 - a little grainy, but I was trying to get light any way I could.
  • File format: Still mid resolution JPG. Big mistake! Use RAW! I've forgotten just how long it took me to learn that.

It's still a bit yellow, and it's hard to adjust the white balance on a JPG.

With this though, I thought that the 50 mm was the right setup. Until Camp Hollywood...

Jamborama 2006 and the Canon 30D

In 2006, I bought my 30D. It debuted at Jamborama 2006 with my Tamron 18-200mm lens. I was psyched - this thing could really do everything from close up to really zooming in across a room. But this was really the first event with the camera.

I didn't know how to set the color balance. All my photos came out kind of dark and yellow. Yuck.

Also, it surprised me just how little light there was in the Eagle's Lodge on an absolute scale. Standing there, it didn't look dark, but the camera sure thought it was. What I didn't realize was just how much a 3.5 f-stop sucked in those conditions, and that was only in 18mm mode. If I wanted a decent close-up around 50 mm, the f-stop was already at 5.6. By 70mm, it topped out at 6.3! So I would lose almost 2 stops of light if I wanted a close-up.

Okay, so what did I learn at Jamborama?
  • f/5.6 really sucks indoors. In fact f/3.5 already kind of sucks.
  • Most of my shots were about 50mm.
  • I need to learn how the White Balance works (Now I know - and knowing is half the battle.)

This shot was taken with the settings:
  • Exposure: 1/25 sec. At this resolution, most of the shot looks okay, but the fast moving sections (everyone's feet) are pretty blurry.
  • ISO: 1250 A little grainy, but I think it's still acceptable.
  • f-stop: f/4. Actually, I think this is the right setting. Though if it could go lower, I probably would have taken it lower, just to get more light.
  • Focal Length: 31mm. I would have liked to zoom in a bit more, and arguably, I should just crop in. But this lens would take the f-stop to 5.6 or so if I tried to zoom in, and I think it would have been unacceptably dark.
  • Image format: Mid size(2544x1896), High Quality JPG. This was a huge mistake and I hadn't learned yet to always use RAW. With a JPG, I have less control over the White Balance and I can't push the exposure as much as with a RAW.

Canon PowerShot 410 (around 2003-2006)

Around 2004 or 2005, I bought a Canon PowerShot 410. I decided that with a digital camera, I would shoot more and get more practice. This is just a consumer grade camera, more or less point-and-shoot. But I would try to have it on the settings to do as much manually as possible.

I've brought the 410 to several dance camps before, like Camp Hollywood, Lindy on the Rocks, Herrang, and Cowtown Jamborama. While I did get a lot of nice shots, I observed a few weaknesses with the 410:

  • Manual mode still did a lot of automatic things - specifically, I couldn't set the f-stop and exposure times independently. It would always try to get a certain light level, even if it meant a ridiculously long (1/8 second) exposure time, which just wouldn't work for dance competitions. I'm reluctant to flash, especially with the quantity of photos I take.

  • I couldn't tell it exactly what to focus on, or what to use as the exposure level. It would do some kind of weighted averaging, and often I'd have to find ways to trick it.

  • It took a long time to focus and I would often miss the sweet shot at the apex of an aerial.

Of course, there were some things that I was still learning, such as:

  • Don't track the action while actually exposing - I'll never match the exact speed, and they'll wind up blurrier as a result.

  • I sometimes re-compose the shot after the focus locks, which is good, but I need to do that more often. I see too many of my shots where the subject is dead center, but the overall composition is really unbalanced.

I'll start with a couple shots from Herrang 2005. Those seem to be some of the earliest dance camp photos I have. These are just a few fun photos from around the camp.

Overall, I actually did like these photos. However, on the indoor shot with Frankie, Dawn, and Chazz (low light), you can see Chazz's hand blurs. Overall, they're not moving fast in this shot, so it's not that bad.

Outdoors, you would think think that the camera would do fine - there's more than enough light. In fact, maybe that's the problem - there was just too much light and it gets a little fogged out. Maybe that was lens glare too - I don't know. Anyway, it just seemed like the camera had trouble unless you were in the perfect conditions.

In the last photo, I thought it was a weird composition, but for some reason, it just worked for me.

Here's one of my favorite shots from Camp Hollywood 2005. There's a lot of action, personality, and attitude. But none of that is really worth anything because the photo is just so darned blurry! The exposure time was 1/30 of a sec.

Something to realize though is that Camp Hollywood actually has more light during the competitions than really any other venue I've been to. So if the camera is struggling here, it's going to struggle everywhere.

Here's one from the following year with 23 Skidoo performing at Camp Hollywood 2006. I think it was a good action shot, but (the theme with this camera) it's so darned blurry - but at least better than 2005. I think I was starting to learn how to trick the camera by holding the button down halfway looking at something really bright (like the lights) so the exposure would think it could go faster, then reframe the shot.

But the camera itself was extremely limited, and even tricking it, I could only push it so far.

Here's one from Lindy on the Rocks 2006.I had the shot. I HAD THE SHOT! But the stupid camera decided that the best solution to the low light was to expose at 1/6 of a second so instead of a fantastic aerial photo, I got a big ol blur. My experience has been that I need to be at at most 1/60 of a second, and preferably 1/125 of a sec.

Also, the limit on the camera was ASA 400 (though I think consumer cameras can do better than that today). I think part of this though is that the image sensor is so tiny. Probably it was only about 7mm or so. In a normal film camera, it's 35mm.

Most venues are lit like this - fairly dark. That year, they also put up the Christmas lights which actually really helped a lot. It was subtle, but I noticed in later years without the Christmas lights, I actually did need to adjust by about a stop or so.

I think this event was actually the last straw that made me decide I need a real camera.

Here's a cute one from Jamborama 2005 that turned out okay:

A long time ago... (early 2000s)

It was a dark period in my photography. I wasn't really growing, and honestly, I got lazy.

I found that when I went on vacation, it was just too much trouble to pack the camera. Also, remember with film, it was pretty expensive to have developed, so I might only take a couple rolls of 36-exposure film. I didn't have a flash, so I wouldn't shoot that much indoors.

What I found was that those disposable cameras that were pretty popular back then (early 2000's) were "good enough" and were more convenient and less fragile for packing. But these cameras kind of made me stupid.

There were just no adjustment choices to make - everything was fixed so I wasn't learning anything. I did write Kodak to ask them details about the camera and they actually wrote back saying:

> About 20% more of the scene will appear in picture than
> is seen in the viewfinder.
> Focus/Exposure - Fixed focus, 4 ft to infinity
> Shutter - 1/100 second
> Lens - 32.8 mm, f/11 single-element plastic
> Flash range - 4-15 feet or 4-14 ft.,
> powered by 1 AA-size Alkaline
> Flash output is expressed in candela seconds.
> At a distance of one meter the flash delivers
> approximately 250 candela seconds at full charge.
> The light is daylight balanced (approximately 6000
> degrees K).
These are from Cowtown Jamborama 2003, taken with a disposable camera. Actually, I think the photos aren't really bad, but something I thought was funny was either the disposable camera or the scanning equipment caught the edge of the film on the far left of the image. I guess I could just crop that out.

A long long time ago... (early 2000's and before)

Well, first off, a long long time ago, I used to use a manual Konica film camera - manual everything - exposure, f-stop, even focus! I only had a 50mm prime lens, and used the standard Kodak and Fuji film you could buy at the drugstore. Eventually, I think I favored Fuji because I felt like I got more saturated colors out of it. I didn't understand the camera though. I hadn't taken classes and I really didn't know what an f-stop was. The camera had a light meter, and I would just use it to set the exposure.

I think sometime around 2002, I took a series of cinematography classes at the UCLA Extensions program, which exposed me to a few different film stocks and I think I bought a zoom lens to do the assignments in the class.

I pretty much did standard snapshots - friends, family, vacations. Maybe later, I'll scan a few of those in. I had a few from college graduations in the 90's and some hiking in Utah in 2003 (with the movie film stock and the zoom lens). There were a lot of things I liked about those photos, but I'm sure I'll have some critiques when I look back on them now.


I'm going to use this to chronicle my journey as a photographer, discussing my equipment, technique, and what I think about while I shoot. I mostly shoot at Lindy Hop / Swing Dance events (typically indoor, low light) or while hiking.

As a disclaimer, I'm just an amateur. Every once in a while, someone will ask me about cameras and/or photography and I just wanted to organize my thoughts.

If you've taken a photography class, you're probably not going to see anything groundbreaking here.

I'll start by just cut-and-pasting and editing some blog entries I wrote a while ago on myspace, updating them with more examples, then try to transition into more recent things.