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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

That light you will see as you enter Heaven....The Amalfi Coast

I cannot begin to describe in words the Amalfi Coast. It can only be described in photographs or in person. It screams to you that you are in Italy. A picture perfect depiction of just what you would expect life to be in Italy is summed up in 40 kilometers. The Amalfi coast is a stretch of coastline located on the southern coast of the Sorrentine penninsula in the province of Solerno in Southern Italy. The only land route to the Amalfi coast is the 25 mile stretch known as the Strada Statale 163 that winds through the steep hills and winding roads from the towns of Vietri sul Mare in the east to Positano in the west. Once you hit this stretch of road I can assure you that you will not blink. The Amalfi Coast is the most beautiful place in Heaven and on the Earth.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Death by Tripod


Can someone please site to me or point me in the direction where a tripod was used as a weapon on an airplane to beat someone to death! I recently flew to Italy with my tripod as a piece of my carry-on equipment, with a plane change in Paris (CDG) and with absolutely no problem whatsoever. Coming home, became an entirely different story. Leaving from Naples (NAP) I checked in and checked one piece of luggage, and informed the airline rep that I was carrying on my camera gear as I would need it immediately when I arrived in Amsterdam (AMS). Typically someone would measure my tripod to make sure it did not exceed a certain length, and then I would be on my way. NOT THIS TIME. These 3 security personnel instead surrounded me and said I could not bring a tripod on an airplane. I asked why not, my tripod is within the required length restriction? They informed me that a tripod was considered a deadly weapon on airplanes. YIKES. I thought I had smuggled an IED on board! I looked down at my shoes and thought "is this a joke?", I explained that I would be needing the tripod in Amsterdam for some night photography and I have never ran into a situation like this ever while traveling with my tripod. The agents informed me that I would have to check the tripod in as checked baggage. With my plane boarding in 10 minutes, I complied and took my tripod back down to the same rep who had just checked my baggage and explained the situation to her. She looked me straight in the eyes and said "To check your tripod will be 250 euros please"... That is about $300 U.S. I laughed to myself, then I laughed out loud, then I smiled at her and said, excuse me do you not recognize that I just checked a bag with you, and you looked at my carryon and said nothing about a tripod could not fly on the plane, now you are asking me for 250 euro? Can I please just put this inside my checked bag so I won't miss my plane? I asked. And she said again looking me straight in the eyes, that there is no way of retrieving your checked bag, it is already loaded. Now I was furious because i was not paying this airline 250 additional euro. So I marched back to the screening area, and explained this exuberent fee to the agents and they debated in their native tongue for about 5 minutes as one of them inspected and eyed my manfroto head and legs, nodding in approval of the tripod. He then looked me straight in the eye, and said "You will have to abandon it here if you do not want to pay the 250 euro". They were announcing final boarding for my plane, followed by my name to report to the gate. I could not believe this!!! Frustrated and calculating how much this is starting to cost me, I walked off and left my tripod in the hands of this agent who I am quite sure is a photographer as well by the way he was inspecting my manfroto tripod. I thought my heart was going to jump out of my chest. Not only will I not have my tripod when I land in Amsterdam, but I won't have it when I land at home. It was gone. ABANDONED!!! As I started to walk through the gateway toward the awaiting bus, I suddenly froze in my step, and turned around and told the rep at the gate, what had just happened, and how furious I was feeling right about now. The rep beckoned over another rep,and they begin to speak in their native tongue, and then she looked at me and said, come with me. The other rep walked out to the awaiting bus and made some sort of announcement. As we walked back toward security we then took a sharp left and the rep told me to wait here. She made a couple of phone calls, and aftera few minutes a man appeared through the doorway carrying my tripod. I imagine 15 minutes had gone by.The rep then took possession of my tripod and went through the doorway with me in tow. Inside she spoke in italian and the man behind the desk followed her instructions. She placed my tripod inside of one of their airline bags and then sealed it inside of another one. Gave it a tag number and told me that the tripod will be moving on this tag, handing me the receipt portion of the tag. She then said something in Italian to the man and he stood up and came around the counter took her cell phone and she snuggled up closely to me and SNAP; a photo of the two of us hugging and smiling. I in turn, handed her my business card and she smiled from ear to ear, so I smiled from ear to ear.... Then she said I hate to do this but I have to put you on that bus right now. I arrived in Amsterdam like only Bluestill can (see photo), and I did get to tour the infamous Amsterdam Red Light District. I just didn't get to use my tripod in Amsterdam as planned, but at least I knew it wouldn't be living out its days in Naples abandoned before flight bin. But this is where it gets weird. The airline in Naples made arrangements for me to take possession of  the tripod when I landed in Rome (ROM) and I can carry it on as a carry-on piece from for the rest of my trip. I just can't carry it on board in Naples. Go figure??? When I arrived in Rome, the agents there told me that the tripod had continued on to my final destination to Seattle (SEA).
Meanwhile upon arriving in Seattle, I have yet to see that tripod, and they have no idea where it is right now, but I do have a claim number for it, and if it doesn't appear, I'll be able to replace it on their dime and not mine. How do we as photographers do our job without our equipment? And before someone say it, I would rather have it move on its own ticket because when I flew in from another overseas flight, and got my checked baggage, packages of gift wrapped cookies had been removed from my luggage which I never got back. Flying is certainly becoming a damned if you do, damned if you don't means of transportation.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

If Naples is a Mecca, then Venice is Heaven

The train arrived after dark. Got off the train and asked for a taxi. Someone pointed straight ahead are the taxis. I thought I had misunderstood because the only thing in front of me was a marina of some sort, not a car in sight. Suddenly it became kind of eerie because even though people were out and about, and you could easily hear the echo of high heels and dress shoes walking on concrete and cobblestone, the sound seemed to resonate and sound very distant then very close again. With that the city seem to ring with this sound like a slow dripping faucet, and the slosh of the water against the wooden gondolas. And above all of that was this aroma in the air. Not good, not bad, just a smell of wet, soggy rottening wood. It was like going back in time. The buildings were all very huge and very colorful or very cold ancient stone. The whole place seemed like a ghost town, and all the people seemed to float about their way. When I got off the "Aqua-metro" my hotel lay directly in front of me so this was convenient. And directly in front of it was this large statue which I could not exactly make out exactly who it was suppose to be or represent, but I was anxious to find out at day break. After checking in my room, I headed out to find something to eat. the front desk person had given me a map and verbal directions and it sounded really easy, and only 5 minute walk. Nothing could have prepared me for what would go from a 5 minute walk to what seemed like an hour of being in a giant maze of sharp turns, bridges over waterways, and dead end alleys that either led to a solid stone wall, or a plunge into what appeared to be dark cold water. Even with stopping along the way and getting more directions, it only takes about 10 steps and you will be lost again guaranteed, because there are more corners then you can count, and you cannot tell the difference between a walk way and the courtyards. Finally morning came and this ghost town had been transformed into a sight that cannot be explained with words. The architecture is centuries old and magnificent, The whole place looked mythical. It must cost a fortune to live here or so I thought, but I found out that the average rent is only $600 and that is waterfront property, but no garage. The gondola drivers seem to have it made because everyone wants to ride a gondola and the charge is about euro 120 an hour. I had arrived at the perfect non-tourist season, so I was able to get a great deal (no I won't tell you what I got because you'll try and get it). I had spent a good part of the day walking around aimlessly knowing that if I didn't see it the first time, there was no way I would be able to find my way back to it. After hours of cutting in and out of alley ways, and courtyards and working my way around the tourist from the cruiseships that had arrived, I finally struck up the deal that landed me in a gondola. Seeing the city from in the water rather than the sidewalk is very nastolgic. In canvasing and scouting a good location to do a fashion shoot, I concluded that it can be done just about anywhere from any point in Venice, as long as you get it early in the morning and don't even think about it during the summer tourist months. The cooler the better. Now if you follow my fanpage:!/Bluestilling101, you might be waiting to know the conclusion of the italian woman standing next to me, and the man with the camera. I thought I was blocking or interfering with this woman's photograph so I leaned back  to get out of her shot. When the man showed her about 2 or 3 photos where I had gotten out of the way, the man finally spoke up to me in good english (even though he was italian) and stated that his wife thought I was a celebrity, and resembled jazz bass guitarist Victor Wooten. Upon hearing this I approved a photo with her and it seemed to make her day and mine too. I gave her one of my business cards and told the couple to keep in touch with me. I hope they will because I have business here in Italy and I see quite a few trips on the horizon.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Photography Mecca

Naples is a coastal city that no one with a camera should go through this lifetime and not see with their own lens. From the moment I arrived, I don't think I have ever yet picked my jaw up off the ground. Just when you thought it could get no better than something you just saw, you'll see something else that would just blow your mind. From the sweeping background views of the infamous Mt. Vesuvius whose famous 79 A.D. eruption destroyed the cities of Herculaneum, Stabiae and Pompeii, to the historically famous castle Castel dell' Ovo, to the fact that pizza originated right here in this very city known best for its pie created for and named after Queen Margherita because the people loved her so much, and after I ate my first piece, Queen Margherita, Bluestill loves you too. To seeing the American flag blowing in front of the U.S. Embassy in Naples. And please, do not get hungry while you walk or drive around the city. There is so much history about the city, and just as much history about its food and wines. After all this is where pizza was invented and it's a title I don't ever think the italians will ever lose the rights to. The perfect blend of seafood, pasta and pizza. I will leave Naples and travel by train to Venice. Be sure to check out my blog and photos about Venice. Ms. Lee, I think you will forever be my most favorite client after this one.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Bringing it all together

Great minds do think alike. So when Ashley; the owner of Style Lounge contacted me to meet up and discuss a project she wanted for her new salon, we both had the same idea already; several looks but with the same model. I like the idea because all too often I always detect in photos with multiple models, one model whose presence dominates the shot, and one model who always sort of just fade into the background. It makes the day longer and planning must be precise when using the same model but you have to admit, there is a natural balance that doesn't exist otherwise. Will it work for everything? Of course not, but not because it cannot, but because variety sometimes becomes a necessity. But for this particular project it was the perfect ingredient. I basically took 4 different shots, each with its own look, and stacked or layered them on top of one another utilizing a layering process in photoshop. It's a really simple process as long as you keep two very important things in mind: 1) The  Camera Cannot Move At All, so a tripod is necessary and 2) Light Balance you do not want one model looking darker than the other one.The more layers you use, the more critical this becomes, otherwise you end up with a very photoshopped looking photo with poor results. I have attached the 4 untouched photos to reveal my lighting techniques for the shots as well. Hope you like my finished results and feel inspired to give it a try yourself.

How was it done:
Nikon D700
Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 28mm
28 inch ( 70 cm) beauty dish with sock
strobe with bounce umbrella
SB-900 speedlight with GOBO
Hair Light on boom
SB1-shutter release
Camera settings: 
ISO: 320
Shutter speed: 1/100th second
Aperture: f/11
I wish I could provide one of those diagrams but my explanation will get you there. Boomed 28 inch beauty dish with sock was placed camera left, about 8ft away and approximate height was 6 ft facing sofa. Bounce Umbrella was 3 feet left of beauty dish at about 8.5 ft away approximate height of 7ft and used to light right side of sofa area and chair. Meter for fall off. I added the SB900 at 1/4 power for fill light on subject sitting on right side of sofa. I used a GOBO to keep the flash from bouncing in my lens during the shot ( if you look in the photos I am utilizing a small picture frame in front of the SB900 placed on the lower shelf of the small table. Because the table was black I used a bright colored frame with a black backing to aide with editing. The black backing of the frame assured me that the light would be blocked). The hair light boom was placed in different locations for the shot. I did not use the hair light on the subject sitting on left end of sofa simply because I forgot to set it up and I was satisfied with the results without it, but saw how it could have assisted me because I had to make a small lighting adjustment to the skin tone of this single face and that is why I stress get a good light balance. Place camera on tripod get a good focus and place lens in manual mode.Do not move camera from this point going forward. Shoot model with however many positions and looks as you need or want for your completed project. Important step here is to be sure your that the shot you will utilize as the base photo (the one which you will be adding the other subjects) is free of any booms, cords or anything that you do not want in the frame, unless you just like photoshopping out things that don't have to be there. Because the chair shot was my base shot, I left the speedlight in place to eliminate any problems with strange shadows and lighting once I put in the other photos that needed the light.
Editing: Make any necessary adjustments to your subject but do not make any lighting adjustments to the photos until you have stacked them into a single photo.
1. Open the photos in whatever version of CS you are using, and begin with your base photo first.
2. Open the next photo you will add and click on menu bar SELECT-ALL, then from the menu click on EDIT-COPY, and EDIT-PASTE it onto the top of the base photo. You should be now looking at just the photo you just copied and unable to see the 1st photo. Next click the  ADD LAYER MASK located on the bottom menu of your process window in the right corner of the screen (the add  layer icon looks like a little box with a white circle in it). A white layer should appear next to the photo in the processing window. Again go to the menu bar and choose EDIT-FILL and use: BLACK. The white layer mask should now turn black and you should only be seeing the photo you chose for the base. Select your paint brush and paint in white where the subject is located you want to appear in the photo. Instantly it should appear as if you are painting the subject into the photo. Zoom in and be sure you completely painted in the subject and there are no errors. If you make an error, you can click the toggle switch for the layers (a black and white box stacked diagonally on top of each other)  located in your TOOLS menu and switch it from the black to the white and it will reverse the paintbrush process back to it's original state as you paint. Repeat process as often as you need to complete your project. When you have added all the layers you want to, go to the menu bar and select LAYERS-MERGE LAYERS. this will bring all the layers into one single photo layer. Now you can make any lighting adjustments you  want and they will affect the entire photo. In the case where I adjusted the lighting tone on a single subject, I used the lasso tool and isolated the effect. Good luck with the process and have fun.
You can read and figure out all of this or you can click on this link and use this tutorial I just found on YOUTUBE which will give you a visual of everything I just said: working with layer mask in photoshop

Monday, November 19, 2012


Shashin o totte mo ii desu ka? Translated to english it means can I take a photo? I learned this phrase quite well during my stay in Japan. Having my camera with me most of the time prepared me to always be ready to capture something in digital, but nothing could have prepared me for the first day I met Nami Miyazaki. I was tongue tied and I couldn't even remember the first word in the phrase. I wanted to set up a shoot right there on the spot. No test shoot was necessary. Her unique blend of Kenyan and Japanese heritage already certified that she would yield great images just from watching her approach me. But as it turned out this shoot wasn't going to be just any ordinary day. The makeup artist on hand was the ultra talented Niki Medina whose heritage derived from the Phillipines. This shoot was going to have to be something uniquely different than the towering buildings and crowded streets of Tokyo. Yugihama Beach in the Kamakura District located about 31 miles south-south-west of Tokyo was chosen. But the uniqueness of this shoot still wasn't over. Traveling light, I had nothing but my SB-900 and no external power. I knew I was going to need a reflector/bounce, and I had forgotten to pack mine.Niki showed up with her younger sister; Katrina in tow. I smiled because I knew I could teach her how to hold a reflector as soon as I fabricated one. Buying a roll of aluminum foil and finding a piece of cardboard, I was set. Looking back on this shoot,  my translator had absolutely nothing to do but sit back and enjoy the view and the weather. I didn't need anything translated to Japanese; well, except for "can I take a photo"?