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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Air Travel Security: a no-cost solution

Looks peaceful on the outside


Since the Christmas Day Crotch Bomber’s failed attempt to bring down an airliner, air travel safety has been abuzz in the news. In a typically reactive fashion, safety measures have been introduced to protect us from an attempt that has already failed.

Remember the shoe bomber? Since then, millions of air travelers have endured the ritual of removing their shoes and walking through the metal detectors in their socks or, worse, barefoot.

I don’t want to begin to speculate how TSA would tighten crotch security.

Since the latest terrorist attempt has illuminated several weaknesses in our government’s safety protocols, the other typical reactive fashion is to put lots of energy (and money) into investigating the people who are critical of the weaknesses. A couple of bloggers have been visited by high-level TSA investigators, interrogated and had their computers confiscated. To my knowledge, these people have not ever attempted to place explosives in their underwear.


I think we are taking the wrong approach with airline safety. The airport screening measures seem to work at stopping the most obvious methods, so I’m fine with continued baggage screening. But that is pretty much the limit of its effectiveness. I believe the single greatest deterrent to any terrorist activity will ultimately depend upon the eyes, ears (and hands) of other passengers.

So here’s my solution (and it will solve more than one problem): On every flight, the airline attendants already spend a few minutes showing you how to buckle your seatbelt, put on an inflatable donut for water landings, and use the little oxygen masks that will appear when needed. At this point, they should add one topic: they should demonstrate four ways to immobilize another human being. If everyone on a flight is informed and empowered to act, then any suspicious behavior would receive immediate response. If you show a crowded, agitated cabin full of passengers how to kick out a knee, punch a larynx, break an elbow and gouge out an eyeball, then anyone contemplating a terrorist act would not get past first base.

This would be a very cost-effective method to intercept terrorists before they could cause serious damage. Really, it would cost nothing to implement, outside of the initial hand-to-hand combat training for the flight attendants. (And I’m pretty sure they are already trained in these methods.)

In addition to solving the terrorist threat, this would also eliminate a couple of other problems with air travel. First, it would make the pre-flight instruction much more interesting (imagine the play-acted attack and response demonstrated by two flight attendants). Secondly, and even more appealing, this approach would address much of the obnoxious behavior of other passengers. Drunken belligerence would be stifled immediately, people with loud headphones would be much more considerate of their neighbors and perhaps parents would think twice before allowing their little kid to whine throughout an entire flight. (“Hush, Billy, or that sweet little old lady sitting next to you will punch you in the Adam’s Apple.”)

Power to the People…right on

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All aboard

Amtrak passes a roadside store.
Amtrak passes a roadside store.


I rode Amtrak to San Francisco to visit Kenny yesterday. It is a much better way to get to The City than driving. Instead of grinding it out in traffic, I was able to enjoy my coffee, read a book, listen to music, and watch the world pass by my window.

Carquniez Strat Bridges - new one on the left and old one on the right
Carquinez Strait Bridges - new one on the left and old one on the right

The train travels more or less along the Interstate 80 corridor and makes about three stops before Richmond. The Richmond station is a great place to jump on BART and finish the trip into San Francisco. 

ken lobby
Kenny sitting in the lobby of his apartment building.

We had a great day, grabbed some lunch, walked over to a nice park, stopped at Rogue for cold beer and had a crazy-packed-rush-hour-Muni-bus-ride back to the BART station.

A little girl is no match for a stubborn dog at Washington Square Park.
A little girl is no match for a stubborn dog at Washington Square Park.
A BART train streaks by as it leaves an underground station.
A BART train streaks by as it leaves an underground station.

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