Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Tech Tuesdays - Dell Studio XPS 1645 Laptop

Down time is a bad thing, at least from a business standpoint. The less time you have to be productive, the less time you have to be profitable. Before I got a laptop, when Belinda would go to a coffee shop to work and I’d go with her, I’d end up reading my photography magazines. That’s not a bad thing, as I’ve always got plenty that need reading. But that’s not necessarily the best use of my time, especially when I have photos to edit.

The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. I needed a laptop. Then, it was a question of what specs do I need? It came down to a big screen, a powerful processor and a long-lasting battery. I needed something that I could use to edit photos and possibly create short videos. I needed a desktop replacement.

I never thought I’d want a desktop replacement for a laptop. It kind of defeats the function of a laptop if you can’t use it on your lap, doesn’t it? Not really. In today’s age of the coffee shop, a laptop is just a portable computer. A laptop is something you can take with you and work on while you sip a latte. It’s something you can pull out at the airport and catch up on a little work while you wait for an airplane. It’s something that you can use in a hotel room to work while on the road. And when you think about it, all of these places now have work surfaces and even accessible power outlets because laptops have become ubiquitous. No laps required!

Back in my computer geek days, I knew that the XPS line of Dell computers was something that power-users used. So, that’s what I got: a Dell Studio XPS. When I placed my order for my laptop, I knew that I wasn’t going to be getting an ultra-portable laptop. This thing is no netbook. It’s heavy. It’s big. It’s got a bulky battery. But you know what? When it showed up, it wasn’t nearly as big as I was expecting. It’s actually kind of sleek. It’s a good looking piece of technology. Sure, it’s heavy, but it’s also powerful, and that’s a tradeoff that you have to accept.

This laptop is much more powerful than my desktop computer. It’s got a newer processor that has more cores. It’s got more RAM. It’s got the same resolution screen (1080p). It’s got a full-sized, backlit keyboard. It’s pretty darn nice. When I can, I try to use it instead of my desktop to edit photos because it’s faster. There’s less down time. And remember, down time is a bad thing.

So, any negatives? I’ve found a few. Again, it’s big and heavy. When it was time to look for a camera bag that could hold my laptop, I was limited because of the size of the laptop. I even found that my laptop bag options were limited. And talk about heavy… Belinda won’t even lift my camera bag when I have my camera gear and laptop in it at the same time.

What else? For some reason, the keyboard has a strange stutter and random keys will type two letters in a row while I’m typing. The screen is pretty glossy, which can be pretty distracting when there’s a bright light behind me. The processor can get pretty hot while I’m editing photos, which makes the computer hot to the touch and uncomfortable to work on.

In the end, I’m quite happy with my laptop. It does everything I need it to do. It’s fast. The battery is awesome. The screen is beautiful. It’s red and shiny. Now I can be productive anywhere I want, just as long as I can find a table and a power outlet.

Oh, and sorry for the recycled photo. That's just the way things are going today. :)

Monday, August 30, 2010

Jennifer and Chris

I'm not going to deny that I love referrals. What could be better than having a client send a friend your way? I'll tell you what could be better. When the client is a lot of fun to hang out with. Usually their friends are fun to hang out with also, so you know you're going to have a good shoot!

Jennifer got in touch with me based on a friend's recommendation. She wanted family photos of her, her husband Chris and their son Andrew. Since they live in Littleton, we chose to meet at Clement Park first thing in the morning.

It was a beautiful morning and Andrew was in good spirits. I think seeing the ducks swimming in the pond really made his day. After some slightly posed photos down by the water we headed up to the playground, because, let's face it, kids always love a good playground and it makes for great photos!

Andrew certainly loved playing around on the playground. He was having so much fun he didn't even notice when I stole Jennifer and Chris for a few minutes for some couples photos! Of course, Andrew was the star of the show and we got some great photos that show off his big blue eyes.

As with any shoot that children are involved in, we finished up pretty quickly. Once a kid is done, the shoot is over and it started to become clear that Andrew was done. We said our goodbyes and I headed up to a coffee shop to meet my wife, look over the photos and reflect on a great morning.

You can see more photos from their shoot here.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Friday Fix - 8/27/10

It's been a rather light week for listening to music. For some reason, there hasn't really been anything that I've been addicted to. Well, that's not entirely true. I've been stuck on one album all week, but that's it.

So what's been taking up all of my time? I've been watching Jasmine Star on the CreativeLIVE broadcast as she prepares to shoot a wedding, live over the internet! The class started on Wednesday and goes through Sunday. Talk about a marathon! It's been amazing to watch and if you haven't had a chance to tune in, you should definitely take some time to watch. You won't regret it.

This has been a good week for live music. I added about 3 new concerts to my calendar, bringing it to a total of 5 shows that I plan on seeing over the next few months. So, who am I planning on seeing? Here's the list: Ra Ra Riot, Bob Schneider, OK Go, Mumford and Sons, and Sufjan Stevens. Dang! That's a good lookin' list of shows!

The album that I've been listening to this week is The Black Ghosts "Mixtape". It's an amazing mix of their songs and other artists' songs that they've remixed into one continuous mix. I can't tell you how many times Belinda and I have listened to this when we needed some energy or a little extra motivation. Definitely check it out if you have the chance.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


... days in a year. One year ago I started my Project 365. What's that? It's a photo project where you take a photo a day. Sounds simple, right? In all honesty, it could be simple. Just pick up the camera, take a photo of anything... check! The purpose of the project is not just to make sure to touch your camera every day. My camera is not that needy. Instead, it's supposed to make you think creatively, push yourself when you don't feel creative or, even worse, when you just don't feel like taking a photo.

I must admit, I didn't succeed at the challenge. On Day 205, I didn't take a photo. Once that happened, I started to slip a bit more. I think I missed 4 days during the year. There were other days when I didn't really get very creative and pretty much just took a picture to take one. I hate to say it, because it sounds so whiny, but it's not easy to take a photo every day.

So today, the last day of my 365, instead of counting how many days I missed or how uncreative I was, I want to look back and see what I've accomplished in the last year:

- Having started the project with a photo of Belinda, I think it's appropriate I end it with a photo of me. It would be symbolic to end with a photo of her, but really, we complete each other. Without her, there would not only be no Project 365, but I would not be doing what I love. She constantly pushes me to improve and to push myself. She also reminds me to do things for myself once in a while. I don't know if a self portrait is really a luxury, but that's how I want to end this project, so that's what I'm going to do.

- I got my first paying client, taught myself how to work in a studio, shot my first wedding, attended a major training seminar, met lots of people in the industry and have somehow been able to not spent every penny I've made buying new camera gear.

- I've partnered with many different non profit organizations and raised money for them through silent auction donations and through fundraising photo shoots.

- I've moved beyond the point of not knowing what I don't know and am now at the point of knowing what I don't know. It's a nice place to be.

- I've made many mistakes and like to think I've learned from most of them. I've also overcome obstacles, most of them self-imposed, and have come out the other side with a better idea of where I'm going.

There are so many other things that I've learned, but I'm not going to list them all here. I can't say that I'm sad this project is over, but I do hope that I still pick up the camera when I don't have a shoot scheduled and try to do something creative, not because of a project, but because I want to.

I can't wait to see what surprises the next year will bring...

See my favorite photos from the last year here.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Tech Tuesdays - Camera Bags: Think Tank Streetwalker HardDrive

It's funny what can influence your purchases. You'd think that the reason I buy a new camera bag would be because I had too many lenses or too much gear for my old bag. While that was the case, it wasn't enough to make me go out and buy a new bag. Instead, it took the purchase of a laptop to send me out bag shopping.

My old bag was still working just fine for me. As a matter of fact, I ended up using it more on my recent vacation than I used my new bag, mainly because it forced me to carry less gear which made it lighter to carry around all day. But, once I got a big laptop and needed a way to travel with it and my camera without taking 2 different bags, I knew it was time for a new bag.

Because of the size of the laptop (17" widescreen), I was limited in my selection of camera bags. Most hold a 15" screen, but not many go larger. In addition to the screen, I got the high-capacity battery which makes the laptop thicker than usual. I quickly realized that I needed to start bringing my laptop with me when testing out camera bags.

Since I was going to be using the bag for my camera gear as well, it needed to meet my requirements for that area as well. I needed something that would keep everything organized, allow me to carry just one gear bag to a shoot (meaning I could keep my cables, Pocket Wizards, light meter and lens hoods in it) and had room for growth if needed. It also needed to be sturdy, attractive, comfortable and not cost a small fortune.

Quite a list of requirements, eh? So off I went, laptop in hand, to start testing bags. Some would fit the laptop, but wouldn't hold much gear. Some would hold all my gear but not hold the laptop. Some would hold the gear and laptop but were huge, heavy and expensive. Just when I thought I wouldn't be able to find a bag locally and have to take my chances with an online purchase I found it. I found the Goldilocks bag... it was just right!

Say hello to the Think Tank Streetwalker HardDrive. It pretty much does it all. The laptop fits (just barely... it's that big battery), my gear fits, and it wasn't very expensive. So far I've taken it with me on two out of state trips that included flying and it's been great! So, how about some details?

The inside of the bag can be divided up however you see fit. It's got loads of dividers that all just reposition with velcro. It can hold a pro-level DSLR with a battery grip and 70-200 f/2.8 lens, plus many other lenses and accessories. I don't have that setup, so here's what I've got in it at any given time: My D90 with a 50mm f/1.4 attached, 4-5 Nikon lenses ranging from a 12-24mm f/4 to a 135mm f/2, a SB-600 flash, 2 Pocket Wizards, a light meter, a handful of cords and cables, lens hoods, the power supply for the laptop, the included rain cover and a tub of gum. That's just in the bag part! Inside the lid are a few zippered compartments where I keep spare batteries, memory cards and gels and filters.

The laptop zips into a compartment on the rear of the bag, so it sits under the camera gear and against your back when wearing the bag. On shoots where I don't need the laptop I've been able to zip a collapsible reflector into the laptop compartment. On the front of the bag there are a few zippered pockets where I store pens, business cards, loose change and anything else I need to access in a hurry.

The shoulder straps on the bag are excellent. They're very padded but not too bulky. They have a great shape that really distributes the weight of the bag without digging into my shoulders. The bag also has straps that you can use to distribute the weight of the bag across your chest and waist, although I don't have the waist straps attached (they're removable!). Also included with the bag were straps that can be used to attach a tripod or light stand to the bag, but they're removable as well which really helps keep the external clutter to a minimum.

So how does the bag perform? While the bag is pretty light, when it's fully loaded with all my gear and the laptop it is HEAVY! I'd guess 30 lbs. heavy. That's the downside of bringing all your gear with you. On the plus side, the bag is so well designed it's not uncomfortable to carry when it's fully loaded. On our vacation I chose not to carry it around town and on our hikes, but chose to revert back to my old bag just to save my back. This meant I had a lot less gear with me, but it also meant I didn't dread going out for the day. Accessing my gear is so easy now. The bag design and zippers are just awesome. Really... even the zippers rock!

To say I'm happy with this purchase would be an understatement. I'd always heard good things about Think Tank gear and I can safely say that everything I'd heard is true. It's an amazing bag that will probably see me through a few new camera bodies. I'd recommend it without hesitation to anyone from the serious amature with a few lenses to the seasoned pro with tons of gear. Oh, and anyone with a ginormous laptop who needs a new camera bag.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Friday Fix - 8/20/10

My wife and I just got back from a much needed vacation, but that doesn't mean we weren't listening to music the whole time! Our car came with Sirius Radio and we very quickly found the stations we liked for driving around Seattle and Victoria. Once I got home, it was time to edit a ton of photos, so that meant more music! So, without further ado, here's what I've been listening to for the past few weeks:

While driving around Seattle, we found BBC Radio 1 to be our favorite station on Sirius and listened to it for most of our trip. Once I got home, I was able to track down the live feed on the BBC website. Now we can listen to great British music anytime!

I've been a fan of Ra Ra Riot for a few years now and am super excited that they are coming through Denver on the tour to support their new album, The Orchard. I couldn't be happier that NPR has it streaming on their website for free until it's release date next week. It's been streaming at my house quite a bit this week.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Vicentia - Aurora Central HS Senior

There are times when you know everything is going to work out. Maybe you didn't get to do things like you'd normally like to, but you still have a feeling that there's nothing to fear, that things will be fine. I typically like to meet with any high school seniors that I'm going to photograph ahead of the photo shoot. This gives us a chance to get to know each other and also work out the details of our shoot. So what happens when this isn't possible?

In Vicentia's case, you don't worry. Vicentia contacted me by phone and immediately struck me as a very courteous and friendly person. She wanted to set up a photo shoot, but I was leaving town within the week. We decided it would be best to discuss everything over the phone and just meet the day of the shoot. A few things I learned about Vicentia are that she spends most of her time in Choir and she's also a member of a leadership club that mentors freshman.

The morning of our shoot at Cherry Creek State Park started out nice and cool but quickly got hot. We tried to stay out of direct sunlight and in the shade, which worked most of the time. Unfortunately, we ventured into a beautiful wooded area that was home to swarms of mosquitoes! We got a few quick photos, including the one at the top of this post, before making a quick getaway. We each got a few bites but nothing too serious.

As we made our way around to the different parts of the park, we constantly chatted. I was very surprised at how easy Vicentia carried on a conversation. She is very easy to talk to. Near the end of the shoot we were joined by her mother. Once I started talking to her, I realized why Vicentia is so easy to talk to: she learned her conversation skills from her mother, who is also easy to talk to!

For her final outfit, Vicentia wanted to wear a traditional Ghanaian head wrap. One of her friends taught her how to wrap it and, to my surprise, she was able to do it with the reflection in a car window! Who needs mirrors? It's so nice to be able to showcase a heritage and tradition that you're proud of, especially in your senior photos, so I'm glad that Vicentia was able to incorporate the head wrap into her session.

As the day warmed up we continued to shoot well past the 2-hour mark. When I asked Vicentia if she was getting tired yet, she said that she was having so much fun she wanted to keep shooting all day! We didn't shoot all day, but we'll get to shoot again soon in the studio. Now that we've met and have one shoot down, the next one should be amazing!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Favorite Blogs: Southern Weddings

Note: I'm out of town this week, but I'm posting some of my favorite blogs that I read on a regular basis...

OK, maybe I'm not a regular reader of the Southern Weddings blog, but their It List::Hot Shots series is too good to pass up. Enjoy a little eye-candy on your Friday and check out all 4 posts.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Favorite Blogs: Jasmine Star

Note: I'm out of town this week, but I'm posting some of my favorite blogs that I read on a regular basis...

I always feel a little guilty reading Jasmine Star's blog. It's just a little too fun to read. My guilty pleasure are her Kisses + Disses. Go on... I defy you to read just one.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Favorite Blogs: Chase Jarvis

Note: I'm out of town this week, but I'm posting some of my favorite blogs that I read on a regular basis...

Chase Jarvis is pretty much the rockstar of photography. His blog has lots of great info and when you see the types of shoots he does you'll probably really respect him for putting together such big shoots and getting such great photos.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Favorite Blogs: Fstoppers

Note: I'm out of town this week, but I'm posting some of my favorite blogs that I read on a regular basis...

Fstoppers posts some amazing videos that go behind the scenes of photo shoots to show you what goes into creating amazing images.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Favorite Blogs: Strobist

Note: I'm out of town this week, but I'm posting some of my favorite blogs that I read on a regular basis...

Strobist. It's a word. It's a movement. It's a blog. If you like to geek out over details and technical information, this is the blog for you.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Sha’Quon - George Washington HS Senior

When I saw Sha’Quon’s list of activities and organizations that she’s involved with at school, I couldn’t believe that she has time for all of it. Then when I found out she also has a job with the govermnet, I knew she was not your average high school student.

Somme of Sha’Quon’s school activities include ROTC, Yearbook, Fashion Club and PIT, a mentoring program for freshman. I can totally see her being someone you’d want to team up with a wide-eyed, scared freshman. She’s just so nice, has a great smile and is probably loved by everyone at the school.

For her photo session, she preferred something a little more traditional, so we went out into nature and found some great locations for her photos. The weather totally cooperated by giving us a little shower before we started shooting, which cooled everything down and gave a little extra sparkle to grass and leaves.

She had a particular pond in mind, so that's where we went first. Of course, the fountain that is usually turned on was turned off, so we didn't get any great water features in the photos, but I think they still look great. After spending a little time by the pond we went over to some grassy open space. Finally, we ended up at a small office complex that had great landscaping. Guess what we found there? A fountain!

Through our entire shoot, Sha'Quon had a smile on her face and a great attitude. Even though it was cooler than it had been that day, it was still a warm day. Fortunately, Sha'Quon never missed a beat. She was happy to do what I asked her to do, but she still made the pictures her own. She was a pleasure to work with. Thanks, Sha'Quon!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Tech Tuesdays - Sneak Preview

Since I’m busy getting ready for a vacation at the moment, I thought I’d give you a sneak preview of some gear that you can expect to see reviewed in the near future.

- Think Tank Streetwalker HardDrive: This new camera bag has been one of the best investments I’ve made in a while. My old bag was (and still is) great, but this bag takes things to a whole new level. It’s already come with me on one big trip. After I get back from another big trip I’ll really be able to give a full review of what it’s all about. The big question is this: Will I get to review the included rain cover? Hopefully not, but it's there if I need it!

- Lastolite TriFlip Bottletop Covers: What is this? It's simply an amazing product! If you have a Lastolite TriGrip, you need these. They're covers that slip over your TriGrip, turning it into any reflector that Lastolite makes! It's a kit of 7 different materials that hardly takes up any room! It's everything you need when you need it! It really is that cool.

- Pro Show Gold: Need to make a quick slideshow that looks great and includes both photos and video? Want to completely customize a video that shows off your photography? Do you need full control over transitions and the look and feel of your videos? With Pro Show Gold you’ve got all that and more. Maybe I’ll make a video review!

- Dell Studio XPS Laptop: Us photographers are typically pretty mobile (I‘m actually typing this while driving down the interstate… well, my wife is driving). When you’re mobile, a laptop is a great tool to have in your bag. If you plan on doing any kind of photo work like editing on that laptop, it needs to have some power. This laptop’s got power, and a big screen, and a good battery… it’s pretty sweet. It’s also coming with me on vacation, so I’ll get to use it to back up photos on the go!

- Wacom Tablet: How did I ever live without one of these? Now, when I need to do some editing and just have a mouse, it’s like going back to the dark ages. That’s actually how they would have tortured medieval photographers (if photography and computers existed back then). They give you a Wacom tablet, let you get used to it, then take it away and force you to use a mouse. Noooo!!!!

So there you go… a sneak peak of a few pieces of gear that have made my life a little (or a lot) easier. Expect full reviews to start up mid-August. Until then, I’m going to go hike around Seattle and Victoria! Be back soon!