Photos from Winterfamilytime 2009

Coffee Dad is Happy Dad

I visited my family in December and it was great seeing all of them. I hadn’t seen my brother over Thanksgiving (as he’s been living in South Africa) and it was especially good seeing him again since it had been a while since he and I last had a chance to hang out.

I grew up in Pittsburgh and it’s been several years since my parents moved to Charlotte, but I'm still getting used to the weather there (in a good way). Usually when I’d visit them in December it'd be pretty cold in Pittsburgh, with snow more often than not. In Charlotte—at least for this most recent trip—we had a few days with highs in the 50s. Rather pleasant, that.

Photo-wise, I’ve posted a baker’s dozen shots (not that I was aiming for that number—it just worked out that way). (Bonus trivia: Apparently, a baker’s dozen is also known as a Roughrider’s dozen. Who knew?) I brought along one of my new flash toys for the trip, Lumiquest's Quik Bounce reflector. What’s nice about the Quik Bounce is that it can either be configured to send all light forward or it can be configured to send 80% upward (for bouncing off the ceiling) and 20% forward.

As it would happen, my parents’ family room has vaulted ceilings (while the kitchen has normal-height ceilings) and so a flash reflector/diffuser that relied upon one or the other wouldn't have really worked for me. (For instance, if I hypothetically had a Lumiquest 80-20—which is hard-coded to always send 80% upward and 80% forward—I would have been up a creek in the family room since the upward-sent light would dissipate before having a chance to bounce off the ceiling.)

With the exception of the on-the-trolley shots (like this one) and the ice-skating shots (like this one) I used a flash—predominantly fill-flash—on all the other shots in the set. Overall, I’m fairly pleased with how the Quik Bounce performed. I can see myself using the Quik Bounce again, and if anything, the one thing I’d consider changing—and this doesn’t really have anything to do with Lumiquest—might be to try setting up off-camera strobes for some of the shots. Maybe next time.

Photos from Thanksgiving 2009

Dad and Angelika Talking

I joined my family for Thanksgiving in Charlotte, NC. Well, not my whole family—my brother Adrian has been living in South Africa since August-ish and so he wasn’t able to join us. I missed him a bit; he’s a good brother. Fortunately, I’ll be seeing him (and the rest of the fam) for Winterfamilytime later in December, so I’m looking forward to that.

My family doesn’t often have big Thanksgivings—sometimes it’d just be the four of us—but this year we had something like fourteen people. My dad’s sister Angelika’s family was all there including my cousin Ian’s new wife Brianna—uh, would that be cousin-in-law?—and some friendly neighborhood folks as well.

In my effort to try to be a good host to everyone, I ended up neglecting my photography a bit. In all, I took a few dozen shots and I’ve posted four of them. Interestingly enough, my Canon 40D’s autofocus system ended up leading my astray on one of my shots (the one with my Dad and Angelika talking, which is also featured at the top of this post).

My intention at the time was to keep my Dad in focus while placing Angelika outside the depth of field. As I later found out—and this was when I was reviewing my shots on my computer screen back here in Dallas—is that Canon’s autofocus system (at least on the 40D) apparently places a focal-preference to objects that are closest to the lens (even if they aren’t the largest objects in the scene). To be fair, I’m not really blaming Canon for this; I could have (and perhaps should have) used manual autofocus-point selection to ensure the precise focal point that I had in mind.

In the end, I still kinda like the shot for some reason. Maybe it’s the canonical Dad Face that my dad has at the time. (He tends to have that look on his face when he's listening intensely to someone. It’s part of what makes him my dad.) As my friends are fond of chiding me about, I only post a fraction of the shots I take on Flickr; put another way, if I didn’t like a shot, I wouldn’t be sharing it with other people. Even though I can’t quite put a finger on it, part of me wants to be able to put a finger on what I like about it (and I can’t).

Photos from Winterfamilytime 2008

Mom Sipping Coffee

I visited my family in December, and even though it had been about a month since I had seen them last (for Thanksgiving), it was mere icing on the cake to be able to see them again in December.

Quite pleasantly, it wasn't all that cold (well, for most of the time). Sure enough, it was around 30° the first couple days, but toward the end of my stay, it did get up near 60° for a day or two. And, as it turns out, it was on one of those later days when my mom, my brother, and I decided to head into downtown Charlotte and check out a seasonal outdoor ice skating rink that my mom had heard about.

I probably hadn’t been ice skating since the dot-com bubble (back when I lived in Alexandria, VA), but my muscle memory was still mostly there—I guess it’s a bit like riding a bike in that way. Oh, what fun that was. Sure, the rink wasn’t exactly NHL regulation-size and, while not crowded, there were a fair number of people attending. I got the feeling that most of the skaters—like myself—were on vacation and so there was very little stress in the air. I had a great time and I might just have to see if I can find an ice rink somewhere here in Dallas.

My brother is also into photography he had brought his umbrella along. If you’re not familiar with photographic umbrellas, they pretty much look like regular keep-you-from-getting-wet umbrellas, except that they’re designed so that one can shoot a flash through them or, in some cases, so that one can reflect a flash off them. The gist of it is that photographic umbrellas, while not exactly small enough to carry around for casual party shots, can often create a lovely diffuse light from a flash.

It may have been the even before his flight home, but Adrian generously let me try out a few things with his umbrella. I hooked up my flash to the umbrella, a 430 EX, and after shutting each end of a length of black velour velvet in some cupboards, I took a few shots of Adrian as he coached me through some of the ins and outs. As it turns out, Adrian was a pretty good subject even through—and this isn’t his fault—I struggled even now and then at avoiding the reflection of the illuminated umbrella in his glasses.

I always knew in the back of my mind that umbrellas could help create flattering portraits, but I guess I just needed to see one in action (and with my own gear) to really believe it. I think those handful of portrait shots may have even reenergized my interest in flash-based photography. I even recently bought the Strobist Lighting Seminar DVDs (from what may be the most talked-about flash-lighting blog out there, Strobist). At $129, it’s not cheap, but with eight DVDs, the price per disc is pretty reasonable. I think I’ve watched three discs already and it’s simply a phenomenal tutorial series.