Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Chicken Run

Chicken Run

This Saturday, I was on Powell and noticed a man pushing a cart with a chicken on top crossing the street. I did the sensible thing, and chased after him. :) After I introduced myself, he explained that his name was Anthony, and that the chicken's name was Merp. I *believe* he said the breed was Golden Comet, but we only had a very brief time to chat as the crowd was pretty intense.

Man, Chicken, Street -- the shot almost took itself.

Monday, November 29, 2010



I was back up in the city for some shooting on Saturday -- couldn't make it up on Black Friday, but there was still plenty of madness to go around on Saturday (wait till you see the shot with the chicken!). It rained a little bit towards the end of the day, leaving behind these little puddles of rainwater that made for interesting light as the sun got lower -- lots of shadows and light interspersed.

Here, I actually think I managed to get most of every form of transit in the city: car, bart station, wheelchair, cane, bicycle, walking, MUNI (I think they're may even be a bus far in the background there), though the story is really about the trifecta at the intersection here.

Saturday, November 27, 2010



Walked by this guy a few weekends back on Market Street. I nearly did a double-take, "Whoa, awesome hair." So, I stopped, went back, and said, "Hey, you have awesome hair. Can I take your picture?"

His name was Jean-Luc, and I didn't find out if he used product.

Friday, November 26, 2010

A Few of My Favorite Things

A Few of My Favorite Things

I've written before about the farmer's market in Mountain View. Every Sunday that I'm free, I go there, buy a dozen raw oysters (half Miyagis, half Kumamotos), and sit at a table there and watch people walk by. I bring my camera every time I do this, in the hope I might get an image worth keeping.

I don't know what it is, but this place is my photographic Waterloo. I can take five photos, 50 photos, 200 photos -- good light, bad light, spring crowds, summer crowds, it doesn't seem to matter. Not sure if it's because it's too familiar with me, the people are just too bourgie, or just too focused on slightly overpriced locally grown organic food, or what. Regardless, my hit rate here is just abysmal, and I'm seldom happy with what I get.

I was thumbing through some unprocessed days in my Lightroom library for November tonight, and I noticed this image. Maybe it's my umbrella axiom ("they make things awesome"), but I love this one. I didn't see it until I looked at it again a few weeks later -- intense and creepy all at once in a way that grabbed me -- definitely one of, if not the favorite of my Farmer's Market photos.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Lurker in Darkness

The Lurker in the Darkness

Snapped this with my phone while we were handing over an endangered mouse to animal control yesterday. The guy was actually amazingly nice and super into his job, so I didn't mean to make him seem like some sort of Lovecraftian eldritch-man, shambling out of the shadows with his crude paws around a demon-light -- but damn it would be cool if he were.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

No Business Like...

No Business Like...

Gary Kasparov came to work a few weeks back, and I got to shoot some of his interview from off stage. Cool guy -- twice over a baller for ushering out the end of the human era in chess and for being a political dissident in Russia.  Naturally, the most interesting photo came when I was noodling around shooting people on the balcony.

I've been shooting people standing on this balcony at events for years, and I've never been quite happy. This one was kind of by accident -- I was kind of wanting a silhouette with that light, but there's actually a window behind the dude in the upper right hand corner, and I managed to meter on that. The result was an instant silhouette, even if I was kind of torturing the camera. Since I had it on 1/100s and ISO 5000 because it's so dark inside, it picked _f/40_ when I metered on the outdoor light!

At any rate, love the pose and the bit of light from the spotlight. And I finally have my photo from this place where I knew there ought to be one.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Shaken, Not Stirred


I was near this dancer most of the time I walked in El Dia de Los Muertos, and she would stop every other block or so to perform. Tough shot in the kind of ugly yellow light of the Mission, but I loved how fast she moved and how much energy she brought to the performance.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Coffee Call

Coffee Call

Thanks to blisters on my feet and toes being a little raw from wearing actual shoes on Saturday up in the city, I couldn't quite tear myself away from raw oysters at the farmer's market and spending the day holed up in Mountain View. I did walk to and from the bookstore though, and I finally found something going on in the local coffee shop worth framing. Like the composition and the expression here -- more angsty phonecalls should happen in the window of coffee shops.

Sunday, November 21, 2010



Shoeshine stands are a bit of a mystery to me, and they always seem like an artifact of a 50s movie set in the Big City, or something my grandfather would have at some point used, had he not spent most his life as a grizzled boat-wright. For me, I've spent most of my adult life in crocs, so I really have no connection to the sort of person who gets a shoeshine. Are they tourists? Businessmen? Fetishists?

Well, there's definitely a little element of ritual to it, and that's what caught my eye when I passed this stand last week near Market and Embarcadero. I was in the middle of a team-building exercise, so I didn't have a lot of time here. The composition isn't as strong as I'd like, but I'm drawn to the story told by the faces of these men. What goes through your head while you're getting your shoes shined?

Anger Management

Anger Management

Went up to SF today, hoping to catch people going nuts in the rain. Turns out it was sunny most of the time I was in the city, except for the last 20 minutes or so right before sunset, when all hell broke loose (rain, hail, etc.). Before that, I did my normal walk around the Market & Union square area, taking in the sights.

This is kind of an intense crop, but it ended up working in an unanticipated way. Originally, I was trying to go for the fact that the girl in the midground and the ad behind her seemed very similar -- thought it might be interesting to explore. This woman saw me raising the camera, and, um, 'reacted'. She didn't actually say anything to me, but marched on by with a scowl on her face. Sorry she was in such a bad mood, but happy all that angry made for an interesting shot.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Friday, November 19, 2010

Standing Tall

Standing Tall

Snapped this on my team's offsite up in the city yesterday for a surprisingly non-horrible team event put together by Go Games.

Somehow, it went without saying that I would be the team photographer for various photo-challenges along the way, but I had some time for a little street photography as we walked around the area near Embarcadero and Market.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Hitting the Spot

Hitting the Spot

I shot this when I was out on a photowalk with my friends Mike and Sara (her first!). The framing and the spots of dark glass on the man in the middle make the shot for me.

On a meta note: As of this image, I've just crossed the one hundred post mark for this blog. There's a continuing tension between my desire to restrict myself to images that I feel are extremely strong, but at the same time to share what I regard as the cool things I've seen with the world. I hope I strike the right balance, but I think at this point I would rather add another layer of curation (and where I'd put the images, I don't know), than stop with slightly more frequent posts.

On a more personal note, I also just had my 35th birthday. Based on some inductive arguments, it appears that neither me nor the photos will be stopping any time soon. :)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010



A little break from transit pictures, which were starting to depress me. This is another shot from Dia de los Muertos, and captures some of the celebrants in the procession. I like the wave of motion as the crowd moves forward, and the control of the man with the whistle.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010



Shot this one at the Caltrain station right around "Mornings". Most of the people commuting probably do the same thing day in and day out, lost in the patterns of routine. Do the same thing often enough, every day, and you could do it in your sleep.



Shot this one leaving Caltrain Tuesday morning. I like to think that the expressions here reflect my general feelings on the philosophical ramifications of getting up this early in the morning.

Monday, November 15, 2010

His First Wand

His First Wand

This is a shot I snagged from this year's celebration of Diwali at Google. Along with all the candles, they also let kids play with sparklers. I love the light from these things -- very similar to what you see in "Vegas Delights", a photo I shot earlier in the year. Seeing all the kids run around with sparklers and how they rendered on camera, I couldn't help but think of a scene in Harry Potter when the little wizards get their first wands.

The Way

The Way

This is one of the many photos I shot out of Caltrain last week, zooming up from Mountain View to San Francisco. On the one hand, it was fertile grounds for photos of people: People tend to be unguarded, bored, or frustrating when commuting, particularly when you shoot through a train window as you pull up to their station.
On the other, Caltrain windows are filthy. The windows are constraining, and shooting off at the edges introduces unacceptable optical falloff. Some number of Caltrains now actually have spray-painted ads on the windows (better than not having Caltrain, but not better than not getting the picture). I also rode the semi-mini-bullet, meaning it tended to be faster than the much slower train on the weekends (Shutter speeds of 1/800-1/1000s recommended). Metering on patches of light on people's faces was pretty hard -- particularly as they zip by. By the end of the week, I was starting to record exposure values for various stations...

But doing this exercise for four days in a row lead me to some interesting photos, and being presented with the same problem day in and day out, knowing there was something there was a fun challenge. I'll be posting some of my favorites this week.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to make it up to the city this weekend -- oncall, and trying to get over the last vestiges of this stupid head cold everyone seems to have.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Phoning It In



I was running super late for the train this morning, and showed up in the Caltrain parking lot only to discover I'd managed to pack every part of my camera bag except my camera. Moral: I'm not cut out for commuting before 8am, and maybe not even tasks involving fine motor skills. ;)

Anyway, I decided I would stick it out with my iPhone, because I was interested in seeing how well I would do with the thing, considering most of the time I have my SLR with me. I've got one of the iPhone 4s, which has a number of things going for it:

The Fighter
"The Fighter"

  •  Comparatively fast "shutter" actuation (for a Phone, at least)
  • Spot metering by touching on the screen (as of iPhone 3, at least)
  • Decent resolution (I think 5MP), and
  • Decent ISO (well, for a phone -- a bit P&S like, so still generally shitty)
  • The new "HDR" feature (which is really the Exposure Fusion algorithm -- generally more sane than the comic book feel of out of the box HDR)

Now, I know you can use a cell phone to take some great images. It's just that inevitably, the really good ones I see tend to be abstracts or landscapes -- it's just pretty hard to use one for the photography I like best, which is live and out on the street. I was kind of interested to see what kind of images I could get on the train ride up and on our lunch break in the city.

I wasn't unhappy with my time using the iPhone (and was even happy with a few of the images), but there were times when I felt myself constrained -- not fast enough, not enough range, too noisy, too cooked, blah blah blah. I do believe that basically anything that can take photographs can produce an amazing image, but after a day of trying to use the phone to capture pedestrians in fleeting moments and fleeting light, I can't say I'm ready to put down my d700 yet.

The Racer
"The Racer"

You can see some of my favorite images from today scattered around this blog -- bear with the clutter, since it seems making four images sanely arranged throughout a blogger post is trickier than it looks. ;)

Friday, November 12, 2010

"Against the War"

Against the War

Caught this one yesterday at lunch, care of Grandmothers Against the War. They were out for Veteran's Day, with a gentle reminder that the best way to show we care for veterans is probably to stop them getting shot at in the first place.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Topsy Turvy

The World Turned Upside Down

I'm taking a class up in the city this week, which entails waking up at an unwholesome hour and taking Caltrain up to the city. The upshot to this (other than the class, which is pretty awesome) is that I take half of my lunch hour every day to walk around the Union square area and try to get some pictures.

Passed this guy yesterday and got him framed between two walkers -- I like the energy and the absurdity of the moment.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Heat of the Moment

The Heat of the Moment

This one is a tough image; I went back and forth a lot on it myself before concluding there was a legitimate moment unfolding here, you just have to take it all in at once. It's not (just) cool because I'm apparently an incipient pyromaniac.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Occurrence on 24th Street

Occurrence on 24th Street

Another one from the Day of the Dead. Note to Missionistas: More of you should hang out of the windows of your Victorians -- it helps make for some good compositions. :)

Monday, November 8, 2010

Helter Skelter

Helter Skelter

This is another one from the Day of the Dead. I shot this guy, because he had one of Those Looks. By this point in the parade, I had almost given up on using my flash (all those candles). I tried a compromise where I fired it mainly up in the air with just the bounce card up -- hoping to get some definition on the eyes, while still catching the flavor of the light. At the time I shot this, I thought there would be some sort of contrast between the guy with The Look and the more normal looking guy in the foreground. Unfortunately, things were moving fast -- I chopped off that guy, and the woman really up front (it was dark, to be fair). The result is way better than I planned though. This image is disquieting -- there's a sort of triangular current to the composition, and the everything about it is creepier and tenser than I hoped for.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Living Dead Girls/Fireflower

Living Dead Girls
"Living Dead Girls"

I'm always a little torn about photography at events. Generally speaking, if someone wants you to cover an event for them, they're looking for a narrative about the event, with a string of photos to back it up. The only concern is that the intersection between those photos and the ones I like is often small. You know, if you're shooting a wedding, there is, 'picture of the bride and groom, posing', vs. 'banshee streaks through time and space to grab flowers in a fit of madness'. Not that you can't take amazing photos that do both things, but it's a lot to hang on a photo. And since I do this for fun (or at least, to satisfy some obsession to solve a creative problem), I can get pretty bored with the latter.

The first photo in today's post, "Living Dead Girls", is a good portrait. I gave it some nice light with a flash with a lumiquest diffuser in my left hand, and I got two people who were clearly characters, dressed to the hilt for the Day of the Dead. There's even a little bit of ennu in the girl on the right (though realistically, probably mid-blink), and some sadness on the girl on the left. Love the texture of the gloves, and the implied intimacy between the two. Most of my friends following my stream on Flickr loved this shot. To me, it's not interesting enough, since ... hmm.. it's the shot I *expected* when I saw of the two of them together. I see the limitations everywhere -- the bare few seconds I had to pose them before the parade started, the sledgehammer of a single flash with a medium-sized box on it and tied to a wire. I would be happy if it showed up on the front of the Day of the Dead website -- but it's still not my pick.


The second image, "Fireflower", is way more what I was after, even though it's less technically perfect. It captures the mood of walking through the streets with candles and other flames way more. The little flare kind of splits the image along a diagonal. The guy's expression? Perfect. Bits & pieces of a Volkswagen, with some gas flame? If you knew nothing about the tendency of people in SF to be precious, you might almost believe this guy is part of some Bohemian street procession, or just another local madman. And the light is alive with character -- it traces out edges, it has shadows, and it casts his face with the tone of the evening.

I'm not sure what to conclude from this. Well, except maybe the most obvious, which is the next time there's a parade at night, I totally would rather carry around a giant flaming torch with me than a flash. ;)

I guess just I'm interested in my reaction to both of these images. One of them is one that I more definitely made, with posing, more control of the light, etc., and it just seems lesser to me than the other, which is one I feel like I definitely found. Maybe it speaks to a lack of experience and imagination on my part as a portraitist, but I think it's probably something a little deeper about the way I view photography.

Friday, November 5, 2010



Every year at work, they hold a big event in the courtyard on main campus for Diwali, which is basically the Indian festival of lights. As a photographer, when someone says "Festival of Lights", my ears perk up, and I wasn't disappointed. Hundreds of candles get lit, and this year they brought sparklers. Recalling how happy I was at that birthday in Vegas with this kind of light, I figured it'd be an interesting opportunity for some portraits. Really liked this one, which worked well even in the pretty fitful light of fireworks and all those candles.

I won't say I had an instant rapport with the subject, but when she asked my name, she said, "Oh, you're that Brandon who takes all those great photos!", so I may have been pressured into exceeding expectations. ;)


Speaking of portraits, if you're up in SF tonight, local photographer Julie Michelle is holding a reception for her "I Live Here: SF" show at the SOMA Arts Cultural Center tonight.

"I Live Here: SF" is based on a cool premise -- Julie basically would take a photograph of anyone who contacted her who lived in SF. She'd ask them to pick a spot that was special to them, and then she'd go there, photograph the person, and find their story. SF being SF, she had an instant cast of characters.

It's an interesting project to me photographically because Julie has to solve two different problems with each person: Not only does she have the challenge of making a given person interesting, she also has to use their environment to do something special. And since the project stretches over some time, you can watch how she gets better at doing this, which is a great way to figure out some things for yourself.

It's from 6-9pm tonight, and I'll be there. I can't exactly say I'm supporting the "Local arts" since I live on the peninsula, but I'll guess I'll be there to 'support all art in a 50 mile radius', which is probably good enough.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Woken Furies

Woken Furies

I went to Día de los Muertos in the city Tuesday night, excited to see it, especially since I missed the religious festival up in the Mission on Monday (e.g., the Feast Day of All Giants). I brought along my flash, diffuser, and TTL cable, since it seemed ideal for doing portraits of celebrants in the parade. More on when this did and didn't work in a later post, but basically here I angled my flash from below to give the girls here scarier, more horror-show light. Love their outfits, and their expressions -- while it was a lot of fun, definitely a lot scarier for me than Halloween.

If you live in the Bay Area (or any place that celebrates it), I highly recommend going to Día de los Muertos -- very cool, and very unlike a lot of other events I've seen.