Sunday, February 19, 2017

John Wick: Chapter 2

Could that be his slick unkempt hair, his beard, his immaculate bespoke suits or his mildly bowed gait?  Keanu Reeves' John Wick proves once again irresistible to an audience who craves gun porn and on-screen violence with an R rating.  Enough water downed PG-13 violent content already.  I don't recall any recent action movie that is as satisfying as it is unrelenting and unapologetic.  It harks back to an era when John Woo ruled the on screen gun play in the eighties, except of course, JWC2 is light years ahead in production value in addition to being more realistic, relatively speaking.  JWC2's mute henchman or henchwoman character even reminds me that one character in A Better Tomorrow II who doesn't utter a single word only to kill and be killed.  And then of course JWC2's violence is literally ball busting and eviscerating, a nod to Bruce Lee's kind of street style no holds barred fights.  The final big fight is a homage to the 1973 Enter The Dragon:  A room of mirrors is the choice of hideout for the villain in JWC2 as well.

If you hate on screen violence and on screen gun violence in particular, do not go see it, it will give you nightmare.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The State of Online Shopping, Clothes Edition

My online experience started with Amazon.

That must be over some fifteen years ago.

Still something has never changed.  Shops selling clothes for the most part do a very poor job.  What does S, M, L or 38, 40, 42 mean exactly.  I don't have a clue.

Why is it so lazy not to include measurements?  Because you know size 42 doesn't necessarily mean 42 inches.  Even pants listed as 34 don't mean 34 inches.

When it comes to online shopping especially clothing, we are still in the stone age.  Sure the web site may be HTML5, CSS, JavaScript and all the cutting edge and the company spends a fortune on it but hey they can't tell you what a Large is.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

2017 USA Cyclocross National Championships

I was shooting without a press pass for this event.  I don't know much about biking or cyclocross.  I haven't had any meaningful ownership of any bicycle since high school.

I didn't go shoot all week I only went for the last two days, Saturday and Sunday.  I put myself up in the nearby Hilton otherwise known to the public as Super8.  I ordered room service from a nearby Michelin 4-star restaurant for dinner while going through my pictures and uploading them to Instagram.  Before I knew it, a Rolls Royce rolled up and dropped off my dinner.

For this event, I decided to go wider than my usual 20-35 or 16-35.  I went for the Nikkor 16mm f/2.8 fisheye from my library in Adorama Rental.  I was committed to it for the simple reason that I paid for it might as well used it to the fullest.  To fill the frame of the fisheye lens is to go really close and that's what I did and tried to do all day every day.  The above were shot using the fisheye lens.  My other setup was the usual 70-200 f/2.8, charity of my dear friend.

Weeks before the event I tried to get some press credential.  I even followed up when I didn't hear anything.  I even emailed and texted the parties involved.  The first one left his job and the second one never replied my text or would have none of my bull shit; a reflection of what a photographer I am.  Anyway I still proceeded to book my Hilton even I didn't get no press pass.  I guess I simply spectate if I am not allowed to take pictures.  Packing is always challenging; should I bring my 600mm or 800mm?  Should I use my F-stop Ajna or the biggest Shinn?  In the end, I settled for a small no-brand backpack my kids got from scouting but considered too uncool to use.  For me that's just true normcore I couldn't pass up.  Though I have to say before this, I had never ever shoot wearing a backpack, a slingback messenger bag yes but never a backpack.  I actively use two camera setups and I actually don't need to carry a bag for equipment in the field because the two camera setups are always in use and won't stay in the bag anyway.

It always takes me longer than I thought no matter I knew it would take longer than I thought to last minute pack my stuff to the car the morning I leave the house.

Google tells me I need some 2 hours to get there.  I am happy with the morning traffic.  When I got to the venue I was pointed to go to the parking lot some where across some highway.  It was a minor miracle I was able to find the parking lot without GPS or not driving back to the highway inadvertently.

It took me forever to take my gear out and to get everything I need ready.  The car was parked not too close to the course so I didn't imagine myself coming back to the car to pick up something I forgot; I would only come back to the car to drive away when the day was done.  I needed to make sure I had everything I needed for the shoot as if it's very important like I was paid to do it or like my career was on the line.  "If you don't take money, they can't tell you what to do, kid."

Nikon D810 with Nikkor 16mm f/2.8 fisheye.  Nikon D700 with the Nikon 70-200 f/2.8.  Sunpak 160J, PC sync cable, power cable with power pack.  Junior bracket.  Nikkor 16-35 f/4 carried as a spare in my backpack--or simply for weight training or back breaking purpose.  I also carried my rocket blower which turned out to be useful when the almost blizzard like snow came later in the day.  And yes the two rain covers too.

Snow came in the afternoon and it never relented.  Bad weather kind of makes good pictures for me.

I didn't set up my flash when I left the parking lot so it was a bit of a hassle to set it up there in the course amid all the actions.  I ended up hand holding the 120J (just as planned) without using the bracket as the days prior I noticed the bracket could get into the fisheye angle of view, ever slightly.  Anyway while I was shooting, see the above pictures,  I noticed I dropped the knurled knot and the flash anti twist plate--even I wasn't attaching the flash to the bracket, I had the knob went through the plate and screwed onto the flash shoe.  During the shooting frenzy, the knob must have come unscrewed and fell on the ground together with the leaves and falling snow.  Talking about finding a needle in the haystack.  I almost gave up searching in between shots.  Luckily I or my foot found the knurled knob and then the tiny anti hot shoe twist plate.  I felt very lucky.  I don't know what I am going to do without the knob and the plate, they are my life.

It got ridiculously cold and snowy as the day went on.  I took a breather buying lunch from one of the food trucks.

to be continued . . .

I was glad I remembered to bring the two rain covers from home and more importantly carried them in the field.  I needed them.  The cover was long enough to accommodate a long lens.  However it turned out too long and unwieldy for the 16mm fisheye.  Sometimes the cover was too loose and got into the picture view.  In the end I just removed the cover all together for the 16mm lens.  Both camera and lens performed almost flawlessly under sub zero temperature, wind and snow.  My fingers aren't all that lucky.  Skin fell off after a week and they are still numb.

I guess some observations merit and merit sharing.

I am in general a cheap person.  I use the camera strap that comes with the camera.  I don't have any fancy straps or carrying system.  When the camera is hanging from my neck I feel safe and secured.  The constant neck pain reminded me the camera setups were in place where they needed to be.  My hands can be free if I want to without dropping the camera.  Of course there are drawbacks.  When I shoot vertical which is actually infrequent with my D700 and grip, too often the strap got into the viewfinder which can be annoying and shot stopping (the rain cover made it 10 times worse).  With my D810 and 16mm fisheye I simply did not shoot vertical.  Also I do not have a grip for my D810 so that kind of discouraged me to shoot vertical anyway.

I did use my rocket blower to blow away the snowflakes which came down non stop and got accumulated on my viewfinder and whatnot.  I grabbed my rocket blower to blow the flakes away.  It didn't look too professional but it worked.  I guess it beats blowing with my breath as my breath would most likely fog up the viewfinder, even I guess, momentarily.

The junior races might not be as exciting as the U23 or the elites' but in terms of licensing potential it's better or equally good or I mean bad?  I am speaking from experience here.  So don't write off the junior races if licensing your shots is what you have in mind--I try to be pedantic here, I don't sell my pictures I license them.

It was a challenge, a real struggle to carry two camera setups a backpack and weigh 200 pounds to use the potty.  I just felt lucky without dropping anything.  I hope I never need to make the decision to retrieve or not to retrieve . . .

The day's program came to an end and I was happy to drive to check-in my Hilton which was just some 10 or 15 minutes away in snowy road condition.

The place was better than expected.  The bed was nicely made, the bathroom was all clean and with ample supply of towels.  The WiFi was sufficiently fast at least for download, the upload was slow just as what I would expect from cable.  I ordered from a neighborhood Michelin 4-star restaurant.  Unlike New York, there was no such thing as free delivery but I still need to order a certain amount to be worth their trouble.  About an hour later, my phone rang and I was ready to pick up my delivery.  I gave a hefty tips for the Rolls Royce chauffeured delivery.  I only ate half of my dinner and put the half in the fridge.  The bathroom vent made some weird noise non stop and the TV remote worked haphazardly.  The TV remote was designed in such a way one can't easily change the battery.  Anyway I wasn't a big TV watcher plus I was too busy Light Rooming my pictures.

I had breakfast in the Hilton.  It was quite an experience.  There was this dude, sort of in bike attire presumably a cyclocross racer who just casually grabbed a napkin and blew his nose and put the used napkin now full of booger and snot into the stir up waste basket right next to the coffee urns and other Hilton breakfast delicacies.  A woman was rightfully appalled and took it upon herself to empty it to the trash bin which was just about ten feet away.  Then he was at it again.  I was disgusted by his lack of manner and utter oblivious to decorum.  After all we were staying in a Hilton.

The second day wasn't as exciting as the first.  Good or better weather did not help my pictures.  The highlight was I met Nick a real photographer and videographer.  I meant to meet Nick when I was at the UCI Cyclocross at Rockland Community College.  The first day highlight was I bumped into Coach David and his family; DJ, one of the Star Track riders was in the race and Matt's girlfriend was racing as well.

I almost left before the elite race began as I was tired, cold and worried about driving back to New York.  I had four slices of white bread I got from breakfast for lunch.  Plus a hotdog I got from SRAM.  I honestly don't know what SRAM does.  For all I know, they make hotdogs.  After the elite race started came the third highlight of the 2-day event.  I bumped into track sheriff Karl from Kissena.  We had a good chat.  Karl was all smile, happily shooting a real camera with real black and white film.  I was instantly diminished, my toy cameras and all.  It took me some time to recover to begin shooting again.

Without a press pass wasn't a big issue except when it was.  I did get asked to leave the course once though.  With the press vest one can I assume get inside the course when the winner rides across the finish line.  Without the vest I got the excuse of not getting the position I needed to get the shot.

It was a once in a lifetime experience for me.  I figure if it's held somewhere else I wouldn't bother or have the resources to go.

Friday, January 06, 2017


Experience is something sometimes you can't really replace, at least for me.

I just got my hands on a Nikon 16mm AF-D f/2.8 fisheye.  The thing is it has a 180 degrees of coverage, and hence the fisheye designation.

Now I like to shoot with my flash bracket and flash mounted.  The thing is the 180 coverage can get the bracket'S grip ever slightly into the picture if I am not careful enough.

My older version of the Custom Bracket Junior, I dare say, doesn't design with fisheye in mind, or with much flexibility when mounting.  I can't slide to the right or left to accommodate for wider coverage lens like a 16mm fisheye.  Sometimes it just takes a few millimeters to make a difference.  I only have the option to shift the bracket further back closer to my body but then my hand or fingers would have a difficult time getting in between the camera's grip and the bracket grip, as the bracket doesn't provide the option to shift it a bit to the right.  Normally a 16mm lens doesn't present a problem as I have a 16-35mm f/4 and it never causes any problem.  The angle of view wouldn't get in the way; it's only when the fisheye's 180 degrees of coverage that the bracket grip gets into the way.

Now I am contemplating of actually left hand holding the flash when shooting.  It certainly isn't a good solution for me.  I am old school, I like to cradle my lens with my left hand while depressing the shutter using my right hand index finger.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Moonlight (2016)

There is probably a dozen reasons to see a movie.  But this is a first for me--I would like to hear your take on it.

Barry Jenkins' Moonlight tells the age-old story of growing up and finding one's place in this world.  If you are some kid living in a Manhattan high-rise that bears your family name, your struggle could be setting up a lemonade stand in that posh apartment building.  But's that's another story for another time.  If you are Chiron aka Little or Black, the protagonist of Moonlight, it could be a myriad of things like being black growing up sexually unsure in a single mother household in a drug, poverty, and violence infested environment.

Chiron's life is a series of disappointments.  His mom is a crack addict who ends up in rehab.  His only father figure Juan whose tenderness and generosity are as genuine as he is a crack supplier, his mom's crack supplier no less.  His first romantic sexual encounter is his only friend Kevin who also betrays him for the acceptance of a group of bullies.  All these people love Chiron.  But love simply is not enough.  Chiron ends up trapping in the street, with seeming success, just like his childhood father figure.

Trevante Rhodes who plays the adult Chiron delivers the most awkward, in the best sense of the word, and the sexually palpable scene when Chiron confesses to Kevin that he is the only man that ever touches him.  The film ends with a shot pulling in from behind Little, the little Chiron, in the beach then Little looking into the camera.  Chiron is no longer the frail kid that he was, he is a bona fide trapper that can easily bench press ten times his body weight and kills a grown man with his bare hand but deep down he is still that same awkward child who yearns to connect, to love and to be loved.  Aren't we all?

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Arrival (2016)

Arrival (2016).  Or how to read ink squirt from giant alien octopus.  This borefest is about time and how time doesn't have a beginning or an end, that is, provided that you know how to communicate in squirt ink.  Louise, played by Amy Adams, is a linguist enlisted by the US army to communicate with the aliens.  Together with some guy called Ian, played by Jeremy Renner, the two keep going in and out of the giant spacecraft parked or floated somewhere above Montana.  Often times a boring movie is just a boring movie.  Arrival fails to deliver any intellectual rigor in the sci-fi genre nor jolts us with any action if only to wake us up every now and then.  The cinematography is a constant drab and looks horribly underexposed.  Amy Adams' performance is not understated, just underwhelming.  With the help of a $2 freshly brewed small coffee I manage to stay awake the entire time if only in a fugue state which is not too different from what Louise experiences in the movie.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Nikon AF-S 300mm f/2.8G ED VR II

I was thinking about getting one on eBay.  The older version of course.  So naturally I tried to play with one when I got the chance at the Exp Plus Photo 2016.

I shoot regularly with my 70-200 but this 300mm is on another level.  I am glad I tried it.  I don't think I can shoot an event with this lens.  Not the entire event anyway.  The 70-200 is versatile enough but this 300mm is quite specialized I imagine.  It won't be too feasible to carry around this 300mm on location for 3 hours or longer, unless you have an assistant.  For any extended shooting, I think a monopod is a must just so your arms and back can thank you later.

I certainly appreciate the 70-200, more so than ever.