Downtown Portland

Portland, Oregon

Portland, Oregon

My wife and I recently paid a visit to Portland Oregon for our wedding anniversary. If you have a weekend to kill, this city is the place to see. We love visiting new places and when we found out Portland is essentially known as Beervana, we got really excited. I'm not by any means what you'd consider a beer snob, but I do enjoy craft beers. My beer vocabulary doesn't typically include stuff like Coors or Michelob. When I found out my favorite brewery, Rogue, had a public ale house in the Pearl District not too far from my hotel, I was through the roof.

If you like pub crawling, a weekend in Portland is perfect. All within walking distance from each other is Rogue, 10 Barrel Brewing, Brew Cycle, Bridgeport, and several others. My favorite, unsurprisingly, was Rogue. They had an amazing selection of limited release beers, including an interesting concoction only available at the Flanders Street location called the Haze-O-Lantern. I was about to order my favorite Hazelnut Brown when the server told us about this new specialty brew, a mix of their Hazelnut Brown, Chocolate stout, and Pumpkin Patch ales. I skeptically and reluctantly deviated from what I really wanted, and gave this unfamiliar brew a try. I've never tasted anything like it before, it was pure happiness, a combination of three of my favorite types of beers in one pint. I wanted this in a case to go but sadly it was a concoction they had to mix right there on the spot. It was proof that good beer isn't required to have the three letter acronym IPA. Dear Rogue, if you want to do something completely awesome, package the Haze-O-Lantern in bottles and ship it out across the nation.

The rest of Portland was a lot of fun too. It's a unique little city with lots of character. Running into the large homeless population right by the Hawthorne bridge, where I shot this photo, was anything but exciting, but the view is great. All the locals jogging along the Eastbank Esplanade didn't seem the be phased by the homeless either.

If you have about an hour to kill, wait in line at Voodoo Doughnuts. One of the highlights of this trip was ordering a half dozen box of these crazy not-so-little diabetes inducing globs of goodness for my wife and I to share. I barely made it through one full donut, and then out of obligation and guilt, I forced myself to try the others. It's not that I didn't like them, oh no, just the opposite. I had consumed so much sugar that I started getting sick. I felt like I needed to get up and run a 10k. Seriously though, you've never tried donuts until you've tried these. They're pretty darn awesome.

Overcoming Setbacks

Laguna Beach, CA

The Last Stand | Laguna Beach, CA

Setbacks happen all the time. They're simply an inevitable fact of life. It's our response to these setbacks that pave our way for future success or failure. The truth is, each and every one of us could sit around and victimize ourselves about how some force beyond our control screwed us over and left us in a state of despair. We justify in our minds over again how we are not the ones at fault, as if some unfortunate tragedy was suddenly inflicted upon us against our will. What we seem to forget most though, is that actions have consequences, and consequences present with them new opportunities, if we choose to see them.

Falling Off The Figurative Horse
A couple of months ago I was shooting photos at Bluebird Canyon in downtown Laguna Beach. It was high tide and I made the mistake of leaving my camera bag on the ground behind me a ways back. The exact wave you see pictured above hit the shore and washed out my camera bag. It destroyed my Zeiss 21mm and Canon 16-35mm f4 lenses. It also claimed my phone, wallet, and car keys. Panic set in the second I realized what had happened. I spent an entire evening at a nearby hotel waiting to be rescued, with my water soaked gear in hand. As the dust started to settle, I began feeling hopeless. I spent years saving up for my Zeiss lens and had just purchased my 16-35mm lens not even two weeks prior. The salt water rendered my lenses completely useless. The financial significance of this loss left me screwed. I was contemplating selling off my remaining gear and walking away from photography. I couldn't understand how this had happened to me.

The Reality of the Situaton
With the support of my amazing wife and family, I was able to pull myself together. I realized I had to accept the reality of the situation. I could choose to be strong or give up and move on. I had to accept that I was responsible for the outcome of the situation and that I was responsible for overcoming the loss. I made a grave mistake that evening by leaving my camera gear unattended. I made another mistake by investing a significant amount of money in camera gear without protecting it with an insurance policy. As soon as I accepted responsibility and stopped being the victim, I was able to see the opportunities this situation had presented. I realized that all hope was not lost despite the difficulties I needed to face in my journey back to the top.

Setbacks will always be difficult to overcome. It's the reason we call it a setback. The most successful people did not become that way while while walking down a clear path. Thomas Edison, my childhood inspiration, once said "Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time."

Moving Forward
It is true that we are only human, no body is perfect. Setbacks will always happen. That's ok though, it's a part of our learning process. They help us to grow stronger, smarter, and more determined. Life is a journey with many ups and just as many downs. To think we have control over everything that happens to us is nothing more than an illusion. My father once taught me three very important words from his years of experience in the military. Improvise, Assess, Overcome. Do not be so rigid in your plans that you cannot spontaneously adapt to the changing circumstances you encounter.

Capturing Wide Angle Perspectives with a Telephoto Lens

St Anne's Beach | Laguna Beach, CA

St Anne's Beach | Laguna Beach, CA

I love wide angle photography. My go to lens is my Zeiss 21mm Distagon T*. I recently purchased the new Canon 16-35mm f4 lens and fell in love with wide angle photography all over again. I don't like getting too complacent with my methods though. I'm constantly pushing myself outside of my comfort zone into situations where I'm forced to learn and grow. I captured this wide angle perspective of St. Anne's Beach with a 70-200mm telephoto lens. It's a concept I never really gave much thought to until that evening at St. Anne's Beach. I was feeling uninspired by everything. The sunset didn't appear to be that spectacular at first, the shoreline wasn't rocky or interesting, the surrounding cliffs that define Laguna's coast were seemingly far away from the perspective of a wide angle lens. Rather than pack my bags and head home, which was very tempting, I figured what the heck do I have to gain by calling it quits for the night. I started experimenting with the different lenses in my bag and compositions they could bring to the table. I needed to figure out a way to create a more impactful shot from an otherwise dull experience.

The difficulty I found myself trying to overcome was that I was shooting with my new Canon 16-35mm f/4 lens for the first time and I really wanted to bring home something amazing to show for it. I was very impressed with the performance of this new lens but I just wasn't feeling a sense of satisfaction with the composition that I was capturing with my wide angle lenses that night. It was a problem that even my Zeiss 21mm lens couldn't have resolved. I was capturing a wide sweeping perspective with tons of detail, but there was too much and it was all too small.

Wide angle lenses are known for being able to capture a lot of detail in a single frame. You can stand very close to the subject area of what you're photographing and bring in a lot of detail. There comes a point though where the details become too small to take notice because the lens is zoomed out too far. If you were to stand much further back and capture the same subject with a telephoto lens, the longer lens would have a way of magnifying the subject while still capturing a wide perspective. This is due to your physical position from the subject area being further back.

Moving your physical location to zoom in and out is a concept that prime lens shooters are all too familiar with. Zoom lenses are typically purchased by those who don't want to have to move their physical location to zoom in and out.

When I captured this photograph I started off with my 16-35mm lens. While looking at the results, I noticed that the hills and surrounding landscape were all too small to be able to make any significant impact in the photograph. Wide angles lenses simply do not magnify the subject in the way telephoto lenses do. To experiment with this concept, I walked to the far end of the beach, away from everything. I then swapped over to my 70-200 lens and captured the same scene. The hill and surrounding landcape in this photograph resulted in a much more impactful presence. You get a much better idea here of just how large the hills are in Laguna when standing on the beach. Now, scatter houses all over those hills and you have one heck of a view that people pay a fortune for. Some day, maybe!

Table Rock Beach

Table Rock Beach | Laguna Beach, CA

Table Rock Beach | Laguna Beach, CA

There have been a lot of changes going on with my normal routine lately. Since purchasing a house and moving out of a tiny apartment, I'm now living 45 minutes from the beach instead of 25 minutes. Regardless though, a little extra distance isn't enough to keep me away from something I love so much. California's coast is undoubtedly some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, and I'm on a mission to photography it all, from San Diego on the south end to to Pelican State Beach below the Oregon border.

Before moving further from the beach, I crammed as many seascape sessions as I could onto my calendar because I knew it would take some time to get settled into the new place and my opportunities to get out to the beach would be inconvenient until my life settles back into what you could call a normal state.  On this evening I continued my trek into south Laguna to a little place called Table Rock Beach.  Some photographers guard their photo locations like it's the holy grail, which I think is freakin' absurd. I could care less about my secret spots getting "exposed".  This beach is located off of Table Rock Drive and Pacific Coast Highway. You won't find it on the map when searching for Table Rock Beach, but I assure you it's there and there are signs at its entrance to let you know you're in the right place. Don't bother trying to park on Table Rock Drive. You'll need to park on Coast Highway and walk.  Like many beaches throughout Laguna, there are a lot of steps you need to go down (and unfortunately back up) to get to it. Be sure you're in good shape before going because your legs are going to thank you for this, and by thank I mean scream what the heck were you thinking, by the time you get back up to your car. 

Surprisingly, this is the first shot I fired off that evening. After I loaded my photos from this session into lightroom, I briefly glanced at the others and rejected the whole rest of the set. This was supposed to be my initial test shot to see what settings I wanted to use and I nailed it on the first try. All I did was I mounted my reverse graduated neutral density filter onto my lens, set my aperture to f18 to capture the sun star, and fired off a shot at 1/60th of a second. Later that evening the cloud formations mostly disappeared making the available light and the sky look rather dull. Photography is so much about being in the right place at the right time that it makes the camera gear secondary. You can have the most expensive gear money can buy but if you don't put yourself in front of beautiful scenery, you're still going to capture dull photographs.

Laguna Swells

Laguna Beach, California

Shaw's Cove, Laguna Beach, California

The swells were unreal last night at Laguna.  I've never seen anything like it this far south in O.C.  We're talking 10 feet plus swells slamming the shore line with brute force. I was over at Cress Street checking out all the action.  For those that have never been to Cress Street beach, it's a tiny cove with lots of rocks. There's a small cliff to the right that you can climb up which waves slam into.  It's a fun spot to watch the surf from if you don't mind getting soaked. When it's high tide, like it was last night, stepping foot onto the beach can be dangerous from all the rocks that are hidden beneath the water.  I was able to time the sets and climb up onto the cliff when the water retreated a bit.  My camera spent most of the time being held high above my head to keep it dry, but I did manage to snap a couple shots of these swells when I could. I walked away soaked with some awesome big wave shots and it was totally worth it.  I'd say this round was a tie.  Me: 1, Ocean: 1

Camera Technique
Camera: Canon 5D Mark III
Lens: 70-200mm f/4L
Focal Length: 163mm
Shutter Speed: 1/200
Aperture: f/8
ISO: 800

Fire Sky

Fire Sky | Monterey Park, California

Fire Sky | Monterey Park, California

The sky looked like it was on fire one night after work while walking to my car. My team and I had just wrapped up a deployment we were working on and I was planning on hitting up DTLA to shoot some cityscapes. I was floored by how cool the sky looked. Thankfully I already had my camera on me. People love Southern California for its perfect weather all year round. Our weather is a little too perfect though. We never get a real autumn with leaves that turn colors or cloudy sunsets with vibrant colors swirling throughout the sky. We do get some cloudy sunsets but it doesn't happen a lot. I always have to have my camera with me for that one chance we might get a really sweet sunset. When we do get one, they are absolutely stunning.

Camera Technique:
The sky had taken me completely off guard when I was leaving. I had my camera on me but my tripod was still in the trunk of my car. With the sky literally changing every second, there was no time to grab my tripod. I had to think on the fly and try various options. I used my 70-200mm lens at 70mm as opposed to a wide angle lens to narrow the viewer's focus and eliminate distracting elements that a wide angle lens would've introduced. Since I had no tripod, I tried a big aperture (small F stop) to let more light in combined with a fast shutter speed to reduce camera shake from hand holding the camera. This setup's problem was that the big aperture combined with a telephoto lens gave me a very small depth of field and threw the trees out of focus.

My other option to get everything in focus was to use a small aperture (big F stop) with a fast shutter speed. To avoid underexposure with my new settings, I cranked the ISO up to 1000 to increase the camera's sensitivity to light as much as possible while still maintaining good image quality with little to no grain. A good rule of thumb when hand holding a camera is to use a shutter speed that is no slower than the focal length you are using. Since I was shooting at 70mm, I should have used 1/70th of a second or faster for my shutter speed but I was able to tuck my arms into my sides and hold the camera steady enough to still get a sharp shot at 1/40th of a second. The final result is this hand held image shot at 1/40th of a second at f/14 with ISO 1000.

Ordering Replacement Parts for your Gitzo Tripod

Theres no doubt amongst photographers that Gitzo makes some of the best tripods known to man.  Their product support however, has left a rather sour taste in my mouth that leaves me questioning if my next tripod will be a Gitzo.  Really Right Stuff has emerged as a worthy contender among tripod makers, but for the price of entry, I'm not convinced their tripods are built better.  Is RRS worth paying a higher premium for?  Is their product support better?  I couldn't even find a product support section on the RRS website for ordering replacement parts. 

If you're like me and you use your tripod in conditions that expose it to a lot of dust, dirt, or sand, then you're likely cleaning your tripod frequently.  I always break down my tripod completely after every seascape shoot to scrub off the sand and salt water and to re-grease everything.  It's a pain in the butt process but salt water and sand will destroy your gear in a hurry.

Over time though, parts will inevitably break. The funny thing is, ordering a new gitzo tripod to replace your broken one couldn't be easier. If you have to order replacement parts on the other hand, well, I wish you luck. It's a painful process that'll make you want to cry.

You will first need to go to this page here Gitzo Spare Parts. When you land on the spare parts page you'll notice the instructions say:

Checking the availability and descriptions of every Gitzo spare part could not be easier.

Simply search by product code or find your product using the numerical listing by product code.

In actuality, all you can do is search for your product, there is no numerical listing. Since I have a Gitzo 3541LS tripod, I would search for 3541. Now here is where it gets fun. You then have to download a PDF document that illustrates a breakdown of every part your tripod is made of. Take a good guess at what you think the correct part number should be and then use the contact us form to email their support department. They will email you back an MS Word document order form that you have to fill out with the part number you need, the quantity, and your credit card number. 

You should have zero expectation of your part being in stock. If it's out of stock, you should also have zero expectation that their staff can tell you when the part will be re-stocked.  At this point all you can do is hope for the best. If you're a professional who relies on your tripod for paying assignments, there's a good chance you'll just have to purchase a new tripod or wait it out.  I'm not joking.
I'm not too certain how such a leading name in the photography industry can find it acceptable to offer this level of support.  Their ordering process is an experience that takes me straight back to the 1990's.  I can only hope someone from Gitzo happens to stumble upon this post and do something about it. 

In Part 2 of this series I will illustrate how to tear down and rebuild your Gitzo tripod for cleaning purposes. Stay Tuned!

Urban Light

The LACMA | Los Angeles, California

The LACMA | Los Angeles, California

The first time I drove past the L.A. County Museum of Art, I couldn't figure out what the big deal was with all the light poles. There were tons of people wandering up and down all the aisles of lights like it was some sort of religious experience. It wasn't until I got out of my car and walked up to all the lights that I realized how cool it actually was. After I got home that evening I found out the display is called Urban Light and was designed by the sculpture Chris Burden and is made up of 202 restored street lights that once lit up the streets of Southern California.

I had a good concept in mind for how I wanted to photograph this but I got yelled at by security for attempting to mount my camera onto my tripod. After that happened I knew it would be a challenge to capture the beauty of this display in a way that would do it justice. The architect put a lot of attention to detail into their work here and I wanted to be sure to bring notice to all the intricate details in my photograph. I basically just walked into the middle of it all, pushed all my gear aside, and laid down on my back to think. And that's when i realized it. Sometimes a change in perspective is all we need to discover a fresh idea.

Underground Girl

Underground Girl | Hollywood, California

Underground Girl | Hollywood, California

I love Los Angeles and yet it frustrates me all the same. We're talking an area with such a vast expanse that makes commuting a royal pain. Our roads and freeways were not designed for the volume of people that move through them every day. It really doesn't matter what time of day or what day of the week you need to get into or out of Los Angeles, you can pretty much always expect to hit tons of traffic. It's just a way of life that we all deal with and have grown to accept. We don't know any different.

Los Angeles is WAY behind the times when it comes to public transportation. Thankfully, commuting into the area and getting around is becoming a lot easier. Rail services like the Metrolink can be relied on when it's not broken down or delayed a half hour due to mechanical issues to shuttle you into L.A. from surrounding areas.

The Hollywood and Highland Metro Station was designed by the sculptor Sheila Klein, who named this station's architecture, Underground Girl. This station is one of many subway stops that the Red Line connects you to from Union Station in Downtown L.A. The cool thing is if you're a monthly Metrolink rider, your Metro connections come at no extra cost. Just be sure not to setup any tripods in the metro station or you'll get yelled at and asked to leave by security. Ask me how I know.

Agate Street Beach

Agate Street Beach | Laguna Beach, Ca

Agate Street Beach | Laguna Beach, Ca

I love the excitement of getting off work and seeing a beautiful sunset start to form with the most perfect looking clouds covering the sky. I work in Los Angeles, quite a ways inland, so getting out to the beach on a week night is a real treat for me during the winter months when the sun sets early in the evening. On this night last month I was fortunate to be able to work remotely closer to the coast and I was able to get all my work done on time. It felt like I hit the jack pot. The sunset was scheduled to happen around 5:15 and it was already about 4:15. I quickly grabbed all my gear and raced out to Agate Street Beach in downtown Laguna Beach.

Agate Street is a really chill little beach right off of Agate Street and Pacific Coast Highway. I know, real hard to find huh? There's a stair case at the top of the cliff that takes you down to the quiet little beach. As you approach the staircase there are usually a handful of locals sitting on the benches at the top of the cliff, enjoying the sunset. I love shooting at Agate Street a lot. There are so many rock formations emerging from the sand that make for very interesting compositions. Every time I come here, I go home with photographs that are completely different from the last time.

The Setup:
Tripod: Gitzo 3541 Tripod with RRS Quick Release and L Bracket
Camera: Canon 5D Mark III
Lens: Zeiss 21mm Distigon T*
Filters: Lee .9 stop GND stacked with a Singh-Ray .9 stop Reverse GND to keep the sun from blowing out the sky
Exposure: 1.6 seconds @ f/13

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