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South Padre Island: Gomez Family Session

Yesterday was fantastic. After watching the weather go from blaringly sunny to thunderclouds in the span of a week, things couldn't have been better for my shoot with the Gomez family. Skies were overcast, with some slight texture in the clouds. That provided great sky-texture when I wanted to shoot wide, and nice even lighting when I needed to get close and focus on traditional portraits. Once again, the Canon 24-70 f/2.8 II really did a fantastic job with such varied light.

Having recently bought a house here on the island, Ashley wanted to document the special occasion with a beach photo shoot for her yearly christmas cards. The kids were fantastic subjects, probably the most energetic and well-behaved I've ever had, and the family as a whole was simply a pleasure to work with. 

I'm still editing the photos, but I'll update this post as I go along. For now here's one I couldn't help but edit last night! 

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The next big thing!

This past month or two have been an absolute roller coaster. I've gone from a scientist stuck in a dead-end job with no offers from graduate schools, to a soon-to-be 2016 Pacific Crest Trail tru-hiker, to a photographer without a working camera, eventually landing where I am today: a photographer with two cameras, who's going to get his Master's Degree! 

Crazy, right? I'm sad that my plans to hike all 2,665 miles of the PCT will have to be post-poned for two years, but I've committed myself to that journey at the end of my Masters. I suspect these two years will fly by like no others in my life. 

Long story short, my Canon 6D of three years got too cozy with the ocean. So did the Canon 17-40 f/4L that was on it. Insurance covered the damages, but I needed a lighter alternative, so now I'm sitting with one Canon 6D (plus 2 L lenses) and a wonderful new Fuji X-T1 mirrorless (w/ kit lens). I'll write a review on the latter soon enough. 

Literally on the same day that my Fuji arrived, in the same hour actually, I got a call that will change my life. A professor from the University of Texas Rio Grand Valley offered me a full scholarship and Master's position in his lab. Small school or not, that's not the kind of offer you say "no" to. 

So here I am, sitting in an entirely different situation than I was just one month ago. I almost can't believe it. In just a few weeks I'll be moving to Brownsville, Texas, and from there on, who knows what will happen? 

All I know is I'll have a camera with me the whole time. Hell, I'll have two! 

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Making memories, and making friends!

Sometimes, I wander.

I wander down ravines. I wander into the sea. I wander onto cliffs. I wander, in search of photos. Last week, I found one.

I had already shot a landscape which I thought would be decent, so I packed up the tripod and walked up the coast. Turning off abandoned railroad tracks, I decided I'd skirt the cliff-side agriculture fields just North of Davenport Beach. With sunset an hour out, I expected to set up for a long exposure on some precipice. I didn't expect to be charged by an 8 month old puppy out of nowhere.

Turns out, that pup belonged to Noah and Brendan, two locals fishing off the cliffs some 100 ft above the water below. I asked if I could share their cliff, and they kindly obliged. The three of us chatted for almost an hour, between their threading new bait and my snapping the occasional sneak photo. We chatted about life, about our parents, and watched as whales breached in the distance.

Some sunsets, you'll never forget.

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Explore: The Beaches of Davenport, CA

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Explore: The Beaches of Davenport, CA

Davenport, California is home to world-class coastline. Now you have a guide to some of the best shooting spots! 

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Getting Out: Making of "Naga"

Sometimes you just have to get out. For me, that "sometime" was yesterday. 

All day I sat at my desk at Google, and ran through the same calculations. You know, the "What am I doing with my life?" kind of questions. The kind that inspires doubt no matter how happy you might be, regardless of any success you've had in the past. These are the questions that rip you apart from the inside, forcing you to message your significant other "I love you" just because you need to hear their reply. Because you need to know you aren't alone. 

By the end of the workday, I was exhausted. I didn't want to interact with people. I didn't want to eat. I wanted to relax, take my mind off things, and take a damn photo. So I grabbed a sandwich, a few bottles of water, and left for the coast. 

Davenport has been my home for the past seven months. North of Santa Cruz, it's a place I can relax. A place where those soul-shredding questions seem to disappear, if only for a few hours. Within just a few miles of coastline I've found limitless photographic opportunity to distract myself with. I parked along the side of Highway 1, and set out to an unfamiliar beach. 

I had no idea I would be so fortunate. The beach was pristine. The crisp sand crunched beneath my feet, and the water seemed unnaturally clear and blue for Northern California. To top it all off, it had fantastic rock structure at both ends, and a pair of grey whales playing not 100 feet from where I stood. Watching them, I set off for the southern-most, rocky edge.

Many of the rocky beaches around Davenport sport smalls channels, carved out from rock plateaus by the angry surf. This beach was different, or at least, much larger. Instead of a 3 foot deep channel, the gouge I stood above allowed for a depth of at least 15 feet, if not more. The waves pounded into the hollow rock below me, slowly carving out a tunnel which has yet to see the light of day. The rumbling shook my tripod. This same action had also carve a peninsula of sorts. A spine of rock stretching some 70 or so feet out into the sea. I set up my tripod, and waited for the right wave to spill over its top. All the while I ruminated on the spine's resemblance to a serpent, stretching out into the abyss, beat back with each wave by the sea. 

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Here be Treasure....Island!

This weekend was a blast! Not only did I get to once again explore the abandoned buildings of Treasure Island (near SF), but I also got to take photos of a fantastic model while doing so! 

Meet Mary. She's a model from my college hometown of Davis, and a damn good one at that. How many people do you know would be willing to climb through broken windows into abandoned buildings, stand in totally trashed rooms, and do it all without a scrap of clothing on? I can't think of many who'd go so far to help make an artistic concept a reality. The best part? Our two assistants Vyvy and Rachel were equally badass. 

So what did we do in said building? We rocked a shoot, that's what :) Here are my favorites from the day. 

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Passing By

It's always sad when a whale washes up, but their stories are ones which need to be told. This female died from a boat strike during the annual migration North. Watching pairs of other whales swim by in the distance, mostly mothers and children, I only hope her own offspring faired better. I wanted to emphasize the interaction between her remains, and passersby, and thought a one minute exposure might do the trick. 


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Stranger: Loid

"Hold on a minute, I'll look cool." Those were some of the first words Loid said to me when I asked if I could take his photo. Loid and I go way back. All total, we've known each other for about 5 minutes. 

I met Loid while walking towards the Tenderloin area of downtown San Francisco, near the BART station. At first, I thought "wow, look at this asshole, with his bike up on the sidewalk." As it turns out, Loid's a pretty cool guy. He's been riding motorcycles since his early twenties, and is an SF regular. All in all, he's a pretty original dude. Right down to the rings of ink tattooed on his hands, and the self-made white hand emblem he puts on all his belongings. 

Curious, I asked Loid what the hand meant. 

"Eh, it's just a symbol."

I suppose that sometimes, things are just as they seem. 

P.S: I did think to ask him, the hand is not the white hand of Sarumon from LOTR :) 

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Stranger: David

A boy ducked below a prop wagon on the streets of Mountain View, looking to investigate its less-than-authentic wooden spoke wheels. The sign read "Calendars" and the front of the cart had editions featuring cats, elephants, americana, and photos from places most people will never get to visit.

"David, come out of there." called the dad. The boy smiled an adventurous grin as he took his time. I smiled at their antics, and kept walking.

Ten minutes later, I round a corner and see the duo at it again. This time, David's picked a string of lights in a shop window as his muse. His father seems more accepting of this selection than David's last.

I point to the camera, and whisper to the father for permission to take a photo. He nods.

And that, is how I met David.

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Stranger: Micah

Meet Micah. 

I was walking down the street in downtown Mountain View, and next thing I know, I hear acoustic guitar and vocals streaming out of a side-alley. Turning the corner, I see Micah, singing his heart out to the fantastic acoustics of the hallway. I point to the camera with a "Can I?" look, and he nods. 

Micah's been playing since he was 12 years old. He collects donations, but works three jobs. Mostly, he says he plays because of all the people he gets to meet. People who approach him, talk and share stories. Strangers who become more than just another face. 

It was only when I turned to leave that I realized I had become just that. 

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Sho, Round 2

Few things make me happier than photography, and surrounding myself with like-minded people is one of my favorite things to do. Group shoots cover all of that. 

So with the help of my friend and model, Sho, I got to hosting an impromptu workshop for the local UC Davis photo club. With 5 photographers in total, and two hours of shooting time, it was a blast! Not to mention, another opportunity to put the new Canon 24-70 f/2.8L II through its paces. Man am I loving this lens! 


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Growing Up Chinatown

When I bought the Canon 70-200 f/2.8L mk II, I thought I was done. No more lens purchases for me, I was covered. Well, I was wrong. 

While the 70-200 is a fantastic lens for portraits, it simply left me hungry for more close-up photos. It's not like you can go walking through San Francisco with a giant white telephoto. At least, not without getting jumped. 

So there I was, yesterday. In San Francisco, hunting for light, with a new lens! I held in my hands the beautiful Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 mk II. Talk about a beefy lens! 

My good friend Phil, toting his Tamron 24-70 f/2.8, and I headed into Chinatown, eventually working our way down Stockton St. to the fish markets. Somehow, across four trips to Chinatown I had never visited this area, but I know I'll be going back. 

All in all, the lens performed like a dream. Smooth bokeh when I wanted it, and tack-sharp focus across the 24-70 focal length. I couldn't ask for more. It even helped me get what is now one of my favorite portraits to-date, thanks to some beautiful distortion at 24mm and the fantastic f/2.8 aperture. 

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Engaged! Meet Tyler & Adriena!

If there's one thing I love about photography, it's getting to meet great people. If I'm lucky, they'll even trust me enough to let me take a photo or two. 

And then there are weddings. The few couples who have entrusted to me not only their photos, but what might very well be the biggest day of their lives. I'll have one shot to capture those memories and moments, so I'd better get it right the first time. That means knowing whats happening when on the big day, and even more so, knowing my clients. 

That process begins with the engagement shoot. 

This past weekend I had the great opportunity to shoot with Tyler and Adriena, the first couple to ever sign me for their wedding (coming in August). They're fun-loving, and focused on what matters most in life, each other. So, we headed to a location I thought would suit them: Davenport Beach. What followed was probably one of my best engagement shoots to-date, and...well I'll let you be the judge :) 



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Passing Shadows

What's a quick drive home, if you don't stop to snap a photo or two? 

For me, this photo has racked my mind for the past couple months. Every time I drive to Davis to spend the weekend with Athina, I see these hills. Sometimes, I stop, and actually snap off a frame. But never have the clouds worked in my favor. That is, until this past Sunday. 

With a storm approaching California's coast, heavy clouds were getting pushed inland. Combine that with some recent rain, and the fields were looking especially green. Next thing I know, I'm setting up the shot I've been waiting for. The only downside being that I left my intervalometer at home, so I was limited to the 30 seconds max exposure time offered in manual mode. 

Anyways, hope you like it! 

 

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Fly By

San Francisco has always, well, sucked the life out of me. I don’t enjoy the city, or at least, I never have. The crowds make me uncomfortable. The people often seem unfriendly. The amount of trash can be staggering.

Sometimes, to enjoy the city I just have to get out of it. 

A little bit of distance can make a huge difference. 

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Lauren

Sometimes, it's nice to just do a shoot that doesn't involve a deadline, or expectant clients, or even the presumption of success. Shoots like these help me relax, and recenter my own creative styling. 

So, I set out to Lake Berryessa with two awesome volunteers: assistant Ananaya and model Lauren. A short hike later, and we were on the rocky shores of the reservoir. Platform boats passed by, toting an american flag and eyeing our model clad in just a blanket. 

A moment later, and privacy was restored.

Lauren dropped her blanket. She stepped out into the murky waters of Berryessa, and nailed the pose right out of the gate. 

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Attrition

Davenport, CA has become a second home for me. 

At least once a week, I hop in my car after work, and head to the coast, pushing my way through traffic and over the Santa Cruz Mountains. The trip takes about an hour, and it has been worth it every time. 

This time, I shot straight out to Davenport Beach, a beach that has quickly become a favorite of mine. While its sandy shore might be beautiful, what I really wanted to capture was a large fissure on the far Southern end of the beach. Here, the ocean swells to and fro, filling and draining the fissure, constantly carving away at the shale below. 

And it was here, that I found my photo. 


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Threshold

Here's the newest from an adventure this Monday! Phil Kalam of Phil Kalam Photography and I headed out towards Davenport, CA. With cliffsides and beaches unmatched anywhere else in California, Davenport has become one of my favorite places to shoot landscapes. I'm even considering writing an entire blog post devoted just to the various locales I've found near this small town over the past months. 

Anyways, until then, here is my newest landscape! A beautiful plateau only accessible after Phil and I used some less-than-substantial ropes to get down the seaward cliffs just South of Davenport. 

Taken with:

  • Canon 6D
  • Canon 17-40f/4L
  • Lee .9GND Soft 

Canon 6D, Canon 17-40f/4L, Lee .9GND Soft, ISO100, .8 seconds, f/16 @ 17mm

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Stranger: Plano Orange

"What're you using as bait?" 

"Sardines. Going for stripers." he replied, pulling his orange tackle-box closer. A freight train rounding the bend. 

"Watch out for those guys. They'll sound their horn, but that's all. They don't stop." 

Those were all the words I heard as the carts began to thunder past.

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Engaged! Meet Matt & Ashley

As a photographer, sometimes you have shoots that just make your day. You plug in your memory card a couple days later, and just can’t help but smile at the results. 

Last Saturday was one of those days. 

Driving out to the coast, girlfriend/impromptu assistant along for the ride, I headed towards Pescadero, California. Turning South towards Davenport, we kept an eye out for a beach I had only heard about. No signs, just a turnout, and a path leading through 10 minutes of sandy dunes to a secluded beach. 

From the moment we stepped on the trail’s wooden walkways, I was completely enamored with the place. I needed to move the shoot I had in an hour to this location. 

So fast forward 20 minutes of driving and rerouting a shoot, and there we were. Athina, myself, and my two engagement clients: Matt and Ashley. We started down the path, and I started shooting. 

I've come to realize that I have a thing for grass.

We worked our way down the paths, their wooden planks firm in contrast to the surrounding dunes, flanked by waist-high shore grasses. In some areas, blades slipped upwards between boards. Through all of this, I was amazed that the place didn’t even have name. Or at least, not a roadside sign disclaiming it. 

As it turned out, sunset wasn’t as fantastic as I had hoped. However, on the up side, we had great cloud cover to provide nice soft lighting. Working with what we had, we began to wind our way up the beach, towards a rock outcropping with a bench. 

About an hour from sunset, I perched Matt & Ashley on beach-side dune, and explained to them the shot. The idea was that we’d go for a long exposure, to really help pull the muted sunset colors out of the sky, and to add texture to the clouds above. We’d also take a couple frames lit by flash, so I could have some flexibility if I needed to composite the two in post.

They were champs, and sat through the entire process. And I think it’s fair to say the reward was probably the best image of the shoot.

2 minute exposure on the sky, blended with a flash exposure to make sure our lucky couple has just the right amount of detail.

Being that this was my first engagement shoot, I truly enjoyed myself. There is just something about shooting happy couples that makes me smile. Not only are they allowing you a glimpse into their lives, you’re getting to know them on a really personal level. You also can’t help but laugh with them when they giggle together, or when one tickles the other to coax a smile. I can’t wait to do more of these shoots, and with all the wedding’s I have booked, I’ll get plenty of chances.

Who say's a photographer can't use a graduated filter and an ultra-wide lens for a portrait?

To put it simply: Happy couples, make a happy photographer :) 

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