Scarlet Symphony, Apes of Wrath, Zodiac Death Valley at the Casbah 2/21/09

Heather wanted to come with me on Saturday night, since she’d heard good things about Scarlet Symphony and was in a party mood. I love it when I don’t have to drive, but we got a late start on our night and had to park on the other side of the Kava Lounge. By the time we got in to the Casbah, it was just after 10pm and Drug Wars was already tearing down. Since when do shows start on time?

I caught Zodiac Death Valley at the Soda Bar last month when they played with Scarlet Symphony, and they invited me down to shoot them again.

They sounded better tonight than last time, there’s a Doors-y , desert sound to them. Their CD will be perfect for my photo trip to Anza Borrego Desert this weekend.

All five members have a ZDV tattoo, some more visible than others.

I’m not sure if it was intentional, but the CD is produced in a way that makes them sound almost reggae.  While it’s a stylistic clash, it sure does make my subwoofer go boom!


Apes of Wrath remind me of the NYC new wave punk sound, so I chose to process most of the images in a different way than usual.

They were handing out free CDs after the show, it looked like I was going to get a free CD from three bands!

It’s very danceable music, and the snarky vocal delivery makes it very memorable too.


By the time Scarlet Symphony took the stage, the floor was packed. I had to take all my photos from the same spot.

These guys are great subjects to shoot since they’re hyper and expressive. It was tough to edit this set since there were so many unique looks from them.

Zach Wheeler plays a lot of interesting stuff for this type of rock music, including fretless bass and slapping. I don’t think I’ve ever seen either one on this stage before. He doesn’t stay still for long, though…

And neither does the crowd…

These guys can make their audience do some interesting things, like crowd surf in a really short skirt.

Sensing the crowd’s rowdiness, they changed the vibe a bit.

And then worked the crowd back up into a moshing frenzy.

Too bad this audience doesn’t come out for more bands.

I would have liked to get the free CD that was advertisied on the flyer, but when I went to pick one up on my way out, the merch guy demanded a ticket. SInce I got in on a guest list, I didn’t have one and I didn’t have the energy to find someone in the band to ask for a CD. So if anyone from this show got one and is reading this, tell me how it is.

A Wider view of Windansea Beach 2/14/09

After having some fun at Windansea Beach last week and from the positive feedback I received on the results, I decided to revisit the same place on Saturday. This time, I brought the rental 11-16mm to see how well it worked for landscapes.

Luckily, this lens uses the same size filters as my main lens, so I can use my ND/POL combo. Light falloff is expected in this focal length range, but it doesn’t turn into total vignetting (chopped corners due to seeing the edges of the filters), which is a big plus. That would have been enough reason to decide to not buy it.

The double shadows on the left are a result of the differing heights of the bare sand and the surface of the water. It’s easy to eliminate the effect using a shorter exposure time, but I kinda like to see it.

The tide was much higher this time, so I couldn’t get down on the beach as much as I wanted to, so the shots are from the upper level of rocks, right when you get down the stairs.

Most of the above shots were 30 seconds or so, using my trusty 10-stop ND filter. I haven’t really explored my 6-stop ND filter much, but I did use it with the polarizer to see how it would change the look of the water. So instead of 30 second exposures, I could use 0.5- 4 second exposures. This gave a dramatically different look to the water.

That 3 second exposure has blurry water, but still shows details of where the waves are. There’s more movement and energy in the water, since it hasn’t had time to blur out to cotton candy. For a more even comparison:

30 seconds:

3 seconds:

The faint white blur above the rock in the back is a wave crashing against it. I played around  with getting an interesting wave crash too, at 1 second:

The surf shack makes a nice subject too.

I never bought into the photographic rule that you shouldn’t use a polarizer on a wide angle lens, but I can see that it’s more important at try to least make the sky look natural and not just max out the effect, as above. The two-tone look isn’t so great. I’m kicking myself for not just taking a few steps to the left, than I’d have a sky that responded evenly to a polarizer, I think.

“So what did you do at the beach today, honey?”
“Oh nothing, just hung out.”

Dinner at The Better Half 2/14/09

Instead of giving presents to each other, we decided to splurge on a really nice dinner for Valentine’s Day. We ate at the Better Half a few months ago for my birthday and took advantage of their stressed economy special, an amazing $15 for a 3-course meal of this level!

During warmer days, you can sit right in front and watch your meal be prepared in the kitchen.

We were the first ones to arrive for the early seating, and took the
corner table. I didn’t bring my ultra-wide angle with me since I wanted
to travel light, but I sure could have used it….

Instead of trying to figure out which bottle went with which dish, we just ordered wine by the glass from the menu- they suggested parings for each dish. We had our choice of a couple selections per course, four courses in all.

Starting with an amuse bouche of blue cheese mousse in a tulip cup with caviar, chive batons, and rose petals.  The blue cheese flavor melded well with the prosecco sparkling wine Heather ordered. The rose petals are a sublte reminder of the “holiday”, and other Valentine’s reminders showed up in subsequent dishes.

Heather’s first course was a mixed-green salad with pecans, rasberries, and herb-crusted goat cheese

I ordered the truffled mushroom bisque with wild mushroom terrine. The bowl is served with the terrine in place. To make the terrine, they fill a mold with wild mushrooms and then refrigerate it for a couple days so that it holds shape when the mushroom bisque is poured over top of it at the table. As a mushroom lover, it was a delight. Taking one basic flavor, mushrooms in this case, and creating a dish that contrasts texture and temperature is very interesting and tasty. But it didn’t really photograph well, so I just ate it.

The second couse for both of us was butternut squash ravioli with a brown butter and bittersweet chocolate sauce.

They were very tender and light, almost slippery. Heather’s only compliant was that mine had more chocolate sauce than hers.

Before the main courses showed up, we had a rasberry sorbet to cleanse the palate, served in a mini cone.

Heather had the half-lobster souffle with asparaus and lemon tarragon butter.

I had the pan-seared petite filet with garlic mashed potatoes, blue cheese dressing and tomatoes with chocolate madeira sauce. It went perfectly with the suggested petite syrah.

I was shooting from Heather’s side of the table to catch some nicer light, so I didn’t notice that I missed focus until later. Dessert was a bread pudding with sour cherries…

…and a peach tart with cherries-jubilee sauce.

The end of the evening was capped off with some surprises from the kitchen, a pair of white chocolate truffles…

…and a rose for the lady.

It was a great night and I would recommend the Better Half to anyone. This was a fairly expensive dinner compared to what we usually spend when we go out, but that’s what their regular special is for. Tonight was about enjoying the sweetest things life has to offer, and sharing it with the sweetest thing my life has offered me, my wife. Happy Valentine’s day, Hedda Lettuce.

Parking lot at night 2/10/09

I’ve been sick most of this week, and today was my first full day back at work for the week. I guess over-exerted myself on Saturday with a total of six hours shooting in cool ocean breezes,  two dark nightclubs, and a full band practice to boot. I was home to sign for my 11-16 lens, but had no energy to actually shoot anything other than whatever was around my desk. I was sick of being sick Tuesday night, so I spent 20 minutes shooting around my complex’s parking lot and mailboxes. I know.. exotic…

OAKS and Fever Sleeves at the Ruby Room 2/07/09

After Dizzy’s, I only had a few minutes to stop at home to grab a bite and kiss Heather good night before headed to the Ruby Room. I wanted to see OAKS a month ago when this show was originally scheduled, but the Ruby Room double-booked that night and this show got bumped, for some inexplicable reason.

Every time I shoot at the Ken Club, Justin is running sound. He’s also the hard hitting drummer from OAKS. and I got there just in time to grab a beer just before they started their set. Sometimes, my timing’s just perfect.

Heavy, sludgy rock. Reminded me of a more metal Kyuss.

Of all three of the band members, Justin seems to be having the most fun on stage.

Get these guys, Secret Fun Club, and Hostile Combover on a bill, and you’ve got a drummer extravaganza!

I’ve shot Fever Sleeves 3 times in as many months, so I didn’t take all that many photos this time and could afford to be brutal during my editing process.

So, one group shot:

And two duos:

And one bonus shot, just because I need someone to tell me what this tattoo is from:

It’s got to be from somewhere, otherwise, this guy just did some mad libs, ended up with a list that had “monkey”, “turban”, “cape”, and “robot legs” and thought to himself, “hey, that would make a sweet tattoo.”

I’ve made it a point to mention to them a few times that I’m ready for their full length CD, since I know it’s so close to being ready. To throw their own lyrics back at them- don’t make me wait for it, I don’t wanna.

Gilbert Castellanos Quintet at Dizzy’s 2/07/09

Dylan Savage was gracious enough to invite me to shoot his set with Gilbert Castellanos’s New Latin Jazz Quintet at Dizzy’s Saturday evening. Heather was all set to go with me, but she was still getting over a case of the sniffles, which I’m dealing with myself today. I didn’t get there in time for their 8pm hit, but I still managed to catch most of the set.

The night was dedicated to recently deceased superstar Freddie Hubbard. While I’ve got a lot of albums with Freddie’s playing on them, Red Clay is the only album I have of his as a leader. Some of my favorites of his as a sideman are Out to Lunch, The Blues and the Abstract Truth, Maiden Voyage, and Free Jazz.

If you have any interest jazz music, check out one of the many permutations of Gilbert’s band. He plays a free show at Onyx downtown every Tuesday night, where you can see his band mix it up with local talent in a jam setting.

In order to play in this band, you’ve got to have chops, obviously, and Dylan Savage has plenty. One thing that amazes me about jazz drumming is how the good players can play around the main beat and still keep the groove going without making it sound random. He played a few solos in unison with the conga player where I could still hear the melody, showing that in jazz, everyone has to read music.

Since he’s always sitting behind the drums, I never noticed how tall Dylan is until I shook his hand after the show. He must be 6′ 3″, although he might have seemed taller due to my nervousness when meeting a great player for the first time in person. I know it’s silly, but my photography is helping me to work on that.


A couple technical notes about shooting at Dizzy’s. With a larger group like this, the lighting is not very even across the stage. While the melodious instruments were lit well enough that I could use my slower telephoto lens to do close-ups, the percussion section required at least 2 more stops of exposure, making full group shots a challenge. A lot of B&W conversion and contrast reduction helped.

Since shows at Dizzy’s are a seated affair, I had to go to extra lengths to stay inconspicuous. At a rock show, I have no problem shooting from the front of the stage, although the sides work out better for me than standing front and center. I tried to change positions in between songs only and stay seated most of the time in order to not get in anyone’s way.

I also made sure to not click the shutter during the quieter passages. There’s not a lot of amplification at Dizzy’s so, it’s possible to hear noise during the music. If you think that a camera shutter isn’t loud, try shooting during a solo flugelhorn interlude and you’ll see just how loud it really is. My camera has a couple “silent shoot” modes, but they are totally ineffective, in my opinion- they just delay the shutter sound, not eliminate it.

All in all, this is a much better venue to see music than the old location next to the ball park, which was pretty much just an empty warehouse with a stage in the front. This place? Way better.

Windansea Beach 2/07/09

Saturday was a fairly eventful day, photographically. After lunch, I headed to Windansea beach for some more long exposure practice.

Last time I was here, I did some long exposures at night, but since it was before I had my external shutter release, I was limited to 30 second exposures. The images needed more time, and were quite dark. I’d like to go back again at night, but I wanted to see what I could accomplish with my 10-stop ND, 6-stop ND, and polarizer.

I think I’m starting to finally get the hang of this.

Holding the shutter open past a few seconds at a time means that the moving objects look nothing like what you see live. The pounding waves turn creamy, although not in the same way that a calmer shore would look. The areas that are partially obscured by the water splashing against the rocks turns into something like mist, while the waves themselves average out to cotton candy.

The thing that takes the most practice is pre-visualization. It’s easy to click the shutter enough times to get something interesting, but I tried to have an idea of what I wanted a shot to look like and then make that happen. There’s plenty of time to think about these things when you’ve got a minute to stand behind the camera just waiting for the exposure to finish.

It took me several tries to get the water flowing down from the rocks just right. Part of it was finding the right number of seconds to leave the shutter open, but mostly it was about timing the shot just right so that the water flowed during the majority of the exposure. Otherwise, the flowing water wouldn’t stay opaque.

I’m also starting to learn how to use the water as an accent to a photo, instead of the main subject. Without sharp waves, it actually helps to make the other objects stand out more, instead of competing for attention. 

One issue, however, is that neutral density filters aren’t perfectly neutral across the entire visible spectrum. They pass infrared radiation, and the transition between transmitting 0.001% in the visible and >95% in the near-infrared actually begins around 650nm (deep red). At long exposures, this slight opacity loss results in an overall red cast to every shot. Adjusting white balance helps to bring things back toward neutral, but when I stacked all my filters for a total of 18.5 stop density (transmitting 0.0000026% of the incident light), the color was so red that it wasn’t possible to bring it back to natural. The color shift is easily seen in color-neutral objects, like clouds and white walls. Setting them to be perfectly neutral made the rest of the scene unnaturally cyan. I decided that slightly wamr clouds looked better than slightly cool sand.

It did mean that I was able to make exposures as long as I wanted at that point. without a filter, a change from f/8 to f/11 might mean doubling the shutter speed from 1/125s to 1/60s. With all that neutral density on the lens, though, stopping the lens down one stop could mean going from 4 minutes to 8 minutes. That’s some serious water-smoothing ability right there, but I didn’t have the patience for that since I was trying to explore more manageable shutter speeds. I tried a few 4 minute exposures, but most were in the 10-30 second range.

Since it was a pretty windy and cloudy day, that gave me another moving object to play with.

Clouds are actually a bit easier to work with since they move in a more predictable way, and I could decide well in advance where I wanted them to appear in the shot. Waves are much quicker and one wave might travel further up the shore than the one before or after it.

Luckily, these clouds moved faster than the big, puffy ones to the north, which are in some of the shots above. The further away the clouds, the slower their apparent speed, which made clouds directly overhead streak by, while still being able to see sharp clouds in the distance.

I’m renting a lens!

I’ve never rented a lens before, but had a free extra week promotion that I couldn’t resist. In the next couple days, I’m going to be getting a Tokina 11-16/2.8 ultra-wide-angle lens for three weeks. I’ve been trying to decide between that and the Canon 10-22/3.5-4.5, but the Tokina won in the end.

Why? Well:

I’ve been finding myself wishing for a wider lens for a while, especially when shooting from the front of the stage, I just can’t get it all in. Renting for a few weeks will give me a chance to see if I can really use the short focal lengths effectively, in music, nature, and interior situations. The only thing going for the Canon 10-22 is the extra 1mm on the wide
end and that it’s a bit lighter. It’s a 3.5-4.0 lens, so it’s too slow for shows. Both
lenses use the 77mm filter thread, same as my 17-55/2.8 but the Tokina
comes with a lens hood and has a better build quality. Distortion and
corner sharpness isn’t as much of an issue for me, since I don’t shoot
architecture and I can stop down for landscapes. It’s also almost $150 cheaper.

I didn’t place the order before 10am today, so I might not have it in time to shoot a show or Harley Magsino’s photo shoot this weekend, but that just means I’ll have it an extra weekend at the end, which won’t be so bad. I am planning on going out to shoot at one, maybe two clubs on Saturday night, so the couple people who have been meaning to make it to a show with me, email me and I’ll let you know where I’ll be. I’m going to be making full use of my time with this lens this month, so feel free to give me some ideas about what I should shoot.

Modern Rifles CD Release Party with Marasol and Irradio at the Ken Club 1/30/09

Modern Rifles’ CD Release Party was a lot of fun on Friday night, once again Ron, my buddy (and drummer) came out with me to have some drinks and see some music. The night started even later than usual, giving me plenty of time to play some free pool (badly).

It’s always interesting to see how a rock band will incorporate non-traditional instruments. Irradio takes the standard rock quartet and adds a sax/flute player.

Unfortunately, you could barely hear him. Too bad.

I don’t really pay attention to lyrics much when I shoot, but I could hear a couple inspirational themes. Their myspace lists them under indie and gospel, so I’m happy to know they might think the same thing. I often have radically different takes on what a band’s music is about after just hearing them once. That’s only one of the reasons I don’t talk about the music much on here, just go to their myspace.


I just saw Marasol a couple weeks ago, and I decided to buy their CD this time.

The songs are good, but there’s a rawness to their live sound that doesn’t come through on CD. The vocals are a bit more forward than they should be, for my taste, and the vocal and guitar overdubs obscure the rhythm section’s tightness. They are a pretty new band, just about a year old, and they are going back to record a full length soon, which I’m sure will showcase a more mature sound.

They’re a sort of a peppy version of Hum, lots of simple, memorable riffs. And they bring their own lights! Yay! The only club dimmer than the Ken is the Kava Lounge.


Modern Rifles‘ new CD, I was Young, It Was Dark, has been in constant rotation on my player since I bought it a month ago. It’s a seriously good CD.

I’ve talked about these guys enough already, just go seem them and buy the CD, you won’t regret it.

I don’t know why, but I always end up eliminating most of the color for their sets. They just look good in B&W, no?