Dorothy Was Right



Nothing like a crunchy aphid for lunch.


At the end of the movie, “Wizard of Oz,” Dorothy says that if she ever goes looking for her heart’s desire again, she won’t look any further than her own back yard.

A couple weeks ago I put out a call asking for the best place to find ladybugs. I wanted to take some closeup shots and I knew this was the time of year for them. I got several suggestions, most of them fell into two camps: 1) drive way the heck up into the hills, or 2) buy a bag of them and wrangle them myself. Instead, I took Dorothy’s advice and looked in my own backyard. Our fruit tree is heavily infested with aphids so it made sense that I would find ladybugs in the tree.

Sure enough. As I got closer to the tree I could hear the faint cry of aphids being devoured alive (and dead).


Don't bug me, I'm busy.

This photo raises a question: What do you call a male ladybug? I learned the answer is: a male ladybug.

Gear talk: These photos were taken with a Canon 7D, 50mm f1.4 lens on a 20mm extension tube, and two Nikon flashes (left and right side). (ISO:100, 1/200, f/11) The camera and flashes were mounted on a home-made bracket (natch) that is pretty mobile and well-balanced.  I can get more magnification by using a longer extension tube. Focusing at this magnification is very critical, depth of field is about 3/8 inch.

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Why Do We Take Photographs?

Gary, Nick, Pat and me at Pat’s birthday party. Her granddaughter joined in.


Today I received news that a dear friend had passed away on her birthday. Pat and I had worked together 30 years ago and we stayed in touch throughout the years. In the office, we called her “Mom” and sometimes when we were out to lunch, we’d all sing “Happy Birthday, Mom” just as a joke. She’d usually cuss us out and walk out of the restaurant. (We were done eating by this time, anyway.)

A couple weeks ago I heard she was in the hospital and the doctors were not sure of her diagnosis. At first it looked like malaria, then maybe it was a form of lime disease. She was very weak had several blood transfusions. Finally she was diagnosed with a form of blood cancer. Her doctors and she agreed that chemotherapy was not practical. She passed away this morning surrounded by her family.

Upon hearing the news, one of my first reactions was to look for photographs of her – I found one (above) that was taken at her 70th birthday party three years ago. This was our old workgroup. I had brought along a point & shoot camera to her party; rather than be “the camera guy” I just wanted to enjoy the celebration with her and her family and friends. I took a couple of photos, but this was the keeper. I take comfort in looking at this photo.

I’ve been thinking about this photo and the reasons we take photographs like this. I’m not talking about portraits or artistic renditions. This obviously was a point-in-time photo which serves the purpose of capturing a few people in one place and time – “for the record” so to speak. For myself, I often feel like I need to capture a scene that my brain would likely forget.

It’s rather strange when I don’t take a photo like this, I feel like something is missing. The other day I had a chance to have lunch with my son in San Francisco. We had a great visit and only later did I realize that I didn’t have someone take a photo of us. For awhile I felt sad about it, and I’m not sure I can explain it. In one sense, it’s like the photograph marks a point along the journey, in much the same way a rock climber will install an anchor every so many feet – in case he slips, he falls back only so far. Or maybe it’s just a break in the routine – I usually pull out a camera and encourage a quick shot of the moment, so I might have been suffering a minor case of withdrawals.

As my sons were growing up, I took thousands of photos of them (this was before digital, so think “photos”, not image files.) Every birthday, vacation, graduation, first-day-of-school…every milestone captured on film. I guess I thought it would slow down the process but it didn’t. It just documented how quickly time flies and our kids grow up. I’m not sure why I took so many photos, but I couldn’t imagine not doing that. I could stack the photos and make an enormous animated flipbook of their lives.

I place a high value on having photos of events and people that are important to me, and I know this has something to do with my passion for making photographs for others. I feel like everyone should have photos like that and it’s my job to make sure they do, especially if they can’t do it themselves.

If I were a SuperHero, my super power would be Image Capturing for Everyone.

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Every Month is Bike Month

My custom cargo trailer helps me use my bike for photo jobs.


The month of May is officially designated as Bike Month. Several events throughout the city help raise awareness of bicycling for commuting, recreation and exercise. I am committed to find more ways to operate my photography business on two wheels. It’s not just the recent rise in gas prices that motivates me; it is much more than that. I’m interested in getting some good clean exercise. I’m interested in conducting my business in a way that attracts like-minded people…clients who appreciate the extra effort and commitment it takes to use a bike. And to expand my range, I can carry quite a bit of photo gear if I add two more wheels, as in using a bike cargo trailer.

I bought a used Burley bike trailer last summer at a yard sale for $20(!) and spent some time over the winter building my custom gear trailer. The wooden box is very light, and the design gives me flexibility for arranging the cargo space. A partial platform leaves space in the lower section for light stands, umbrellas and a tripod. The rest of my gear rides on the top of the platform and a latch on the lid keeps it all in place. The smaller format of the trailer makes a narrower track and the trailer is hardly a burden, even when loaded with equipment.

The lower section holds a tripod and several lightstands. The upper platform holds the camera and lighting gear.

This is the rear view of the trailer – the rear panel is an interchangeable placard.

For fun, I created an interchangeable placard that fits inside the back frame of the trailer. I can easily change the placard to display different messages, depending on my mood at the time.

When possible, I plan to use this rig to go to photo assignments. Naturally, distance, weather and personal safety will dictate the times I’ll use it. I have already used it a couple of times and I believe there are probably a lot more opportunities than would originally come to mind. There are some other errands that I can take care of on a bike as well, if I plan ahead well enough.

I’m trying to figure out how to incorporate carbon credits into this – perhaps someday I will be able to issue carbon credits to clients who hire me for photo jobs that work well with the bike/trailer rig. I don’t know what a “carbon credit” looks like, do you? Maybe I can just figure out how much gas I’m not using and print up a certificate documenting that and give it to the client for framing. You never know where this idea can lead.

So watch for me on the road. Honk gently and wave (with all your fingers) and I’ll wave back – and while we’re on the topic, please Share the Road.

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Locke, Calif

Main Street - Locke, CA


I took a quiet drive along the Sacramento River toward the delta region last week. It’s mostly farmland in this area…pear orchards, new vineyards, grain fields.

Locke is a small historic riverfront town about 20 miles south of Sacramento. In fact, it is very small. The main street (above) runs about one block, and it looks like there are a couple of streets with small houses on them. Locke has an interesting history. It was formed in the early 1900’s by a group of Chinese residents who wanted to form their own community in the farming region.  It has the unique status as the only town in the United States built exclusively by the Chinese for the Chinese. A few small businesses still operate along the main street: a bar called Al the Wop’s, some gift shops and a small market. There is also a small Chinese memorial park monument.

Talk about committed...

I think this is called "knob and tube" wiring. Whatever, it looks like original installation.

Looking between buildings along the main street.
Window detail
A few patrons of the local bar, Al the Wop's.

Making good use of an old auto rim.

Reflecting on a memorial...

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Teaching an old dog new tricks

“…played it til my fingers bled…”


My fingers hurt like hell.

I signed up for Beginning Guitar at Sac City College this semester. I’ve never played a guitar before…never really tried my hand at any musical instrument in a serious way. None, that is, unless you count the time I plunked around on an old accordion when I was 7.

“I’m not musically inclined.” I’m not sure where that notion came from. I’m guessing I got embarrassed when I was a little kid when I tried to sing and someone laughed. Maybe it was the cute girl in class, maybe be it was my fourth grade teacher, “Sister Mary Eff Withyourmind”, hammering home the point with the edge of a ruler. So I grew up without an interest in making music, often a little envious of my peers who could play, and some played quite well. Garage bands in the neighborhood. Jazz bands in college. Me? I am just a music fan.

No interest, until now. Part of my interest in learning to play a guitar comes from the portability of the instrument. A guitar needs no accompaniment, no electricity. Just whip it out and play with it. It is also fun to learn something completely new to me. It’s good for this brain to make it do something unfamiliar. I do not know how to read music, I barely have rhythm. So it’s a challenge on many fronts. The instructor is very good. He’s obviously talented and doesn’t mind working with the students who, like me, have no clue what they’ve gotten themselves into.

First, I’m just learning to place my fingers on the strings in the right places and hoping for a clean strum – that’s all I want. The metal strings don’t have any give to them, so my fingertips are taking all the heat. It is almost like a mini-torture, the pain pushes against the determination, usually ending in a deadlock.

And until the callouses form, my fingers will hurt like hell.

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p.s. Today would have been my dad’s 87th birthday. If he were alive today, I wonder what new tricks he would be learning right now.

Note to self: Eat First

Hot out of the oven at Pizza Rock – 90 second cook time.


In the last few days I’ve had the chance to take photos at a couple of restaurants in Sacramento. The basic rule of food photography? Eat first!

These photos were not the usual food-styled ad shots. These were taken of real food as it was moving from the kitchen to the tables of real customers. So there was not a lot of time to set up a bunch of lights, primp the food, use tweezers to rearrange the garnish, heat up one section with a small torch…etc.  It was run and gun food photography.

A trio of new nightlife establishments have opened in the downtown area in a section of town that has seen better days. These new venues are intended to bring the better days back to the area. One venue is a plush dance club, the other is a fancy bar with a massive overhead fish tank, and the third venue is Pizza Rock, open for lunch, dinner and late night. Pizza Rock has an imported wood burning oven that will bake a pizza in 90 seconds (photos above and below).

Master chef Tony Gemignani

Pizza Rock opened for business today and I was tasked with taking photos for a Sacramento Press article. When the doors opened at 11:30 for the lunch crowd, the restaurant filled quickly. As the food started rolling out, the aroma was intoxicating. I consider pizza one of my favorite foods – and this pizza looked amazing. That’s when I remembered I had not eaten a substantial meal before arriving to take photos. Bad idea. Well, as a professional I’m supposed to be able to work in spite of distractions, right? Um, yeah.  This was clearly going to be a battle. At one point the restaurant manager asked me if she could get me anything…something to eat, or a drink? I politely (and sadly) declined.

Pizza by the meter, on its way to some lucky customer’s table.

So the challenge was to take some awesome food photos while everyone was scurrying around, serving customers, moving food out as fast as it was prepared, and stay out of the way of the serving staff at the same time. The pressure was on. And my stomach was grumbling quite loudly. With the exception of the portrait of Tony, all photos were taken with available light only, using a fairly wide aperture to let the shallow depth of field give me some focus control. I had to move in, shoot quickly and get out.  Since the photos were going to be used for editorial use, I wanted to keep some context in the food shots, so I included kitchen staff in the background. Story-telling, ya know.

I also took photos at the VIP party that happened a couple nights before. Same deal: get in, shoot, get out. The guests were not in any mood for someone fumbling around with a camera in their faces.

I snagged a quick shot of the man behind the new venues, standing in front of the new venues.

George Karpaty in front of his new venues.

One of my favorite images of the night was taken of the Pizza Rock kitchen staff, just before the party began.

Pizza Rock kitchen staff mug for a photo before the start of the VIP Party.

Speaking of favorites… I had a chance to take photos and write a restaurant review of Kupros Bistro. The food was great, the building is awesome, and the gelato is to die for. Pure and simple.

Vanilla and chocolate gelato at Kupros Bistro.

Since that assignment was a food review, the trick was to not eat before going. It was a dirty job, but someone had to do it.

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The Decisive MOMA

A young patron takes a break at the Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibition at the SFMOMA.


The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) is hosting an exhibition of the photographs of Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004). The exhibition is very large – it fills the entire third floor of the museum. Yesterday was free admission day, so it was well-attended.

Cartier-Bresson is known as one of the early pioneers of modern photo-journalism. He would carry a small Leica camera with him on the streets and make candid photographs of everyday life. In order to be less obtrusive, he covered the shiny silver parts of the camera with black paint.  One of his books was titled, “The Decisive Moment,” a nod toward his commentary that the photographer must know intuitively when to click the camera.

I really enjoyed the exhibition – his early works are amazing when you consider that his images were made as early as the 1930’s. He captured common people doing common tasks and most images had a sense of activity. Many of the photographs were low contrast, with some blur, either from the subject movement or camera movement. Keep in mind he had to set everything manually and he did not have a little LCD screen to peek at to see how his photos looked. Think: “Pioneer”.

Coincidentally, the SFMOMA also had an exhibit called “Exposed” which illustrated the arena of surveillance, voyeuristic and street photography. The photo below is not meant to be voyeuristic, but it is an interesting perspective on human movement.

Looking up at the 5th floor catwalk over the atrium at the SFMOMA.


SFMOMA’s exhibition of Cartier-Bresson’s works runs through January.

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One one eleven


Welcome to 2011!

So everyone is posting their summaries of 2010 and predictions of 2011.

A far as 2010 goes, it was a great year. I was busier than before and the photo industry seems to be rebounding. Some of my long-term clients have re-surfaced and are interested in doing new work. And I’ve also been in contact with some potential new clients. Whether we establish a new working relationship or not, it is encouraging to see the level of activity increasing. This is a good sign for everyone, I hope.

Naturally, I am thankful for so many of the things we take for granted, like good health, loving family and a warm home.

My prediction for 2011 is … most predictions won’t come true. It’s better to just be present and notice what is happening, adapt to it and enjoy it. It’s all good. I don’t make new year’s resolutions. It seems silly to think about making improvements on only one day each year – why not make every day a self-improvement day?

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