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Friday, 30 August 2013

Shooting Video: Should You?

Now for something completely different: I am tasked this weekend with recording a good friend's wedding. Now, I have shot some pretty successful videos; however, I have never shot a wedding. A wedding is the single most important day in a woman's life and I am honoured to be a part of that. But should I shoot this? Well, when the chips are down, as they say: shoot away.

Recently, I read that for the first wedding to shoot, you really shouldn't take point. This is superb advice: you should never be solely responsible for the memories of this special occasion as a first timer; try to be an assistant or just help cover some less important aspects of the day.

With these tips in mind, you may ask why I'm so willing to put myself out there on a special day and on such short notice. There are a few reasons: The person I am doing it for has a photographer already hired and it is that person who will be responsible for the memories of the day. Secondly, I am very close to this person and all she wanted from me is to film her vows. Sadly, her grandmother isn't able to attend due to health reasons and both parties desperately want to be together. That is probably the biggest reason I have agreed. In these circumstances, everything is pretty well-covered, and I should be able to video the vows no problem, since it's a straight-forward shot.

When I was tasked to take care of this special event I hit the internet to find as many articles as possible to augment what I already knew about videography. This includes shooting style, equipment needed, and all other aspects of shooting a video (versus photographs, which is where my expertise lies).

Today is the day before the event, and I have begged, borrowed, and purchased the extra equipment I need. This includes a pan-head tripod, second and third body, lots of fast memory cards, lenses, and a suit.

But if all she wants is a little video of the vows, why all the fuss? I have very often blogged about the client being in charge, and they are, but for this example I have a good friend who invited me as a guest and doesn't want to impose on me to work during what is supposed to be a fun occasion for all. I, however, am at odds with my creative self and want to produce the best video of my career, so will go out of my way to provide a professional level movie of her special day.

As the countdown is on I will cut this short, but I will write next week with how things went and possible post a short excerpt of the final movie.

Feel free to comment about experiences you have had shooting outside of your comfort zone -- we can all do with a little advice!

Friday, 23 August 2013

Photography, Down and Dirty

Get your mind out of the gutter! The down and dirty of photography is really all about how we photographers kneel, crawl, hike, climb, and really get into all sorts of nasty positions just for that one great shot.

We see photos everyday that are taken at the same old boring run-of-the-mill position. Subject standing, probably a little sideways to the camera, Photographer standing at eye level with the subject. Boring!

How about doing something a little different, like getting above your subject?

Take a look at these two examples and see how dramatically the mood changes just with viewpoint alone. The photo to the left (a straight-on shot) is just your average snap shot, but the photo to the right (taken from above, as my sore and craning neck will gladly tell you) relays more emotion and energy.

That's above, but why not also try tackling a subject from below?

This baby portrait shot was taken with me flat on my back while the child was flown over me by an uncle. Great family memory.

Finally here's a shot one of my bemused family members snapped of me while I was setting up to shoot an exhibit at Hell's Gate. It's not an attractive view of me but that's why I'm a photographer and not a model. More importantly, I got exactly the shot I was looking for, and it's probably not one that the thousands of other visitors took away from the same exhibit.

The result was great -- although it's worth noting that I was only able to, ahem, spread out because I was there early in the day. I encourage you to to take up any weird position necessary to get a shot, but make sure you're not a nuisance to any one else trying to see the same sights!

There is more to shooting pictures than standing and firing off hundreds of frames. You need to be ready to get down and dirty with your photography. Seize the moment, and don't worry about looking like an idiot. You'll have the last laugh when everyone wishes they thought to take the photo you were sweating for.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

A Bit of a Guide to Photo Restoration

A few weeks ago, a colleague of mine was lamenting that she had a damaged photo, and that she could not find anyone to restore it. One of the people she was talking to suggested talking to me, and I found myself taking on a new and interesting project. 

Usually I like to suggest locations for photographs, or talk about how to get that special shot, but sometimes the work you put into a photo after the fact is just as important. That being said, I believe that the more careful you are creating and composing your original shot the better the quality and the less post production you need to do. For the most part I use Lightroom for a bit of white balance correction, perhaps a bit of crop. If I think the exposure is a bit off, I might play by a stop or two. I can do the basic functions, and I have fun fiddling with the levels (sometimes with surprisingly neat results), but Photoshop is not a strength of mine by any means. When she asked me to take a look at the damaged photo, I was a little hesitant but also excited to try out old tools in a new way.

The first thing I have to note about taking on a restoration project, however, is to be completely frank about your expectations. I was up front and said I would give it a shot, but could not guarantee the final output quality. Thanks to Photoshop, Even if you're attempting to restore a photo for the first time, at least there's no chance of harming the original.

A few days after accepting the job, this is the photo I received.

This is a Polaroid photo of her children who I believe are in their early 30s now, making this Polaroid over 25 years old. It is sun-bleached, where it sat in some sort of frame, and has burn holes and stains embedded into it. As soon as I saw it, I understood why no other restoration place was willing to take this on, but because of the working relationship I had with the client, and since I'd already stressed to her that there were no promises about the result, I thought I would give it a whirl.

The first thing I did is scan at 2400 DPI (the highest setting on my scanner) to create as much information on the photo as I could and smooth out some grain, then the work began. I did a quick crop to get rid of the boarders, including the darker sides, did a lot of colour correction and dodge and burn to change exposure in specific areas. Finally, I super enlarged the photo to use the clone tool to "heal" some areas by replacing damaged areas with a similar colour from nearby healthy areas on a pixel by pixel basis. 

This image was the result. Not so bad, now, is it?

I am sure there are Photoshop artists out there who could have re-conditioned the entire photo, but even though this way is not perfect, it still has that early 70s Polaroid.

Scanning the original at such a high resolution and healing with a pixel by pixel process also meant that I was able to enlarge the original, so the client was able to print out a larger version as a 4x5.
After delivery, the owner of the photo was in tears. She couldn't believe that the photo, which was so dear to her, was brought back to this type of quality. I didn't have the heart to tell her the reason no other photo refinisher/restorer would touch it was because she wouldn't have wanted to pay for the nearly 14 hours of work that this photo took; it probably would have cost her several hundred dollars.

But part of being a part-time photo geek means that I have the time to fool around with projects like this when it suits me, without worrying about putting bread on the table. This project does give a good example of how much you can do in restoration work. 

Do you have a restoration project you would like to share? Leave a link in the comments below! I would love to see what others are up to and maybe offer some tips and tricks for specific projects if you're stumped about something. 

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Destination Photography: Harrison Hotsprings

The beauty of Harrison Lake
It's almost time for my wife and I to make our quarterly trek to Harrison. This is a delightful location for both of us to decompress, re-energise and relax. Located just off of highway 7 in the Fraser Valley, about an hour and a half from Vancouver, this is a world-renowned location that attracts visitors year- round for its splendour, beauty and (most importantly) its hot springs.

Arriving in Harrison I strongly suggest taking a wander down to Muddy Waters Cafe where they serve breakfast all day. Or, if you're interested in some lunch, they boast the best nachos in town. I've had them on more than one occasion and I can honestly say the boast is not idle.

After lunch you can take a casual stroll along the park and lake; the town of Harrison takes great pride in their parks, as you can see in this photo. If the kids are along as well, you will find the communities brand new playground close to the man-made lagoon. Luckily, just a two minute walk away there's a refreshing lake with a sandy beach for those who no longer hear the call of the monkeybars.

 If you're there with someone special, maybe you want to just sit and watch the waves at the beach.

If you enjoy the outdoors there are also some spectacular hiking trails. If water sport is your passion there are boat rentals, guided fishing adventures, or relaxing beach side. Of course the greatest of all is the hot springs which has given Harrison its worldwide fame.

If you are staying at Harrison Hotspring Resort then you have access to the hot springs at their source. There is much more to see and do check out the community tourism page for all the latest and greatest of events.

On the path around the Resort

Accommodations are plentiful and available in a variety of price ranges. Be sure to shop around for pricing and specials. My favourite is the Harrison Ramada Hotel. They offer frequent deals, and the rooms are newly renovated, some with spa tubs and king-size beds.

Just a couple doors down, the Harrison Hairstyling and Day Spa is there for all your relaxation needs.

For evening dining I would recommend the Blackforest Restaurant. The food is simply to die for and the service has always been above and beyond exceptional. I enjoy the schnitzel Madagascar and believe it is the best schnitzel I have ever eaten. If you prefer, there is a sushi restaurant on the main street that I also recommend.

With so much to see and do in Harrison, I believe you will, like me, find more than enough reason to go back again and again and again. Don't forget your camera, because Harrison is full of beautiful and secluded spots, boasting everything you want in a nature shot (mountains, water, beaches, blue sky) as well as quaint little areas in town just begging for a snapshot.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Destination Photography: Hell's Gate

Nestled in the Cascade Mountains, Hell's Gate is located two and a half hours away from Vancouver it is well worth the journey. If you start out early in the day, you can arrive easily by opening at 10 a.m. and even have time for a coffee and snack in the picturesque town of Hope on your way up the Trans-Canada Highway.
In terms of a view (and the resulting photos) this location is awe-inspiring; more water carves its way through this narrow Fraser River canyon than goes over Niagara Falls each day.

The main attraction is the air tram spanning the river, and as you board you can hear the thundering water. The sound isn't all that surprising, considering 200 million gallons of water per minute crushes between the sides of the gorge. On the day I visited, the river's water level was 120 feet deep, and this was at the end of July when high water is already down considerably.

At the other end of the air tram is a quaint and very informative interpretive centre. There are things to see and do for all ages, which kept my family occupied nicely while I devolved into my natural shutterbug state.

I made a point to wander out over the river on the suspension bridge and made full use of the late morning lighting to photograph the river and the fish ladders (see right). These fish ladders are designed to help salmon make their journey up the Fraser to their spawning grounds; they're designed to slow the water down so the fish can have an easier time getting through the gorge, where the water gets a little rough and rowdy as it pushes through.

After I finished with the suspension bridge I wandered through the displays. I found the Chinese history exhibit (dedicated to all the workers that helped build the bridge and the bordering rail lines) particularly interesting. While my family wandered around, I took advantage of the fact that we were the only ones there to get down and dirty and take some interesting shots of the artefacts. This is one of the benefits of starting out early and on a weekday: you can sneak shots in without getting in anyone's way or having to wait for a passerby to get the heck out of your shot.

Other than these photo opportunities, I have to wax poetic on lunch. I had an amazing bowl of salmon chowder, which was the best I have ever eaten, and a very large cheeseburger and fries that tasted like they had coerced a master chef into the tiny kitchen. Even if you're not a chowder kind of a person, just trust me and order a bowl. It was creamy, well-seasoned, and they weren't shy about adding the salmon. Perfect!

After lunch, I took some time with the family to check out the fudge factory. Yes, you heard me: a fudge factory. They had 23 different kinds when we were there, and I cleaned them out of the last of their espresso crunch fudge (which I can't stop eating, and now my wife has instituted a lunch-before-fudge rule).

Anyway there are many other things to check out and see, and a ton of great photo opportunities. Sometimes you don't have to go very far to find a completely new location and snap some dramatic pics, and I recommend you check out your own nearby tourist locations. Even if you roll your eyes at the thought of playing tourist, you shouldn't discount the opportunities waiting for you in your own neighbourhood. Tourist attractions draw tourists for a reason, and you can up your game by playing tourist with an SLR instead of a point-and-shoot or camera phone.

If you find yourself heading to Hell's Gate, I recommend bringing a wide-angle lens to grab more of that great landscape, a telephoto lens to zoom in on details that other tourists are likely to miss, definitely a tripod to help steady your shots and maybe set up some timed family portraits (including you), and last but not least, a big appetite for fudge.