Palm Springs – Style

Jags and Bikes

Jags and Bikes

It’s great to be home, home being the United States, with family and with friends. Every year we spend overseas, the more a trip home means to us. You’d think that after ten years living abroad that we’d get used to being away, but we don’t and I can’t image we ever will.

Trips back to the states never change. There’s a big part of us that just wants to fly home drive to our house and put up camp for five or six weeks, but that never happens, and it always turns out that we are glad it never happens.

Outside living areas and pools

Outside living areas and pools

This year we decided to spend the first week home visiting our family in the mid-west followed up by a gathering of close friends in Palm Springs. This was a new place for us. Our first thoughts were of Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin and low slung, angular, mid-century homes with driveways full of Cadillacs and old Thunderbirds.

Palms Springs was exactly that, a city that’s stuck in the 60’s and I would not change a single thing. This is a cool place with great style. As a photographer there are several directions to take.

Palms

Palms

For the street photographer the mix of local residents and tourist give you plenty of opportunities to catch a lensfull of interesting characters/subjects. Still life photographers are in for a special treat especially if you are interested in mid-century architecture. The area is filled with countless homes and building designed by some of the greatest architects around. For the landscape photographer you will be treated to a harsh desert landscape filled with little more than a few scattered trees and desert bushes. It is unfortunate, but I did not make it out into the desert. I won’t make this mistake twice.

 

Staircase

Staircase

Cadillac Style!

Cadillac Style!

Enjoying a drink by the pool

Enjoying a drink by the pool

I’m already looking forward to a return visit to Palm Springs.

Current Configuration: M9, RX1r, RX100II

Relative sizes of each camera: Sony RX100 II, Sony RX1r and the Leica M9

Relative sizes of each camera: Sony RX100 II, Sony RX1r and the Leica M9

I will be the first to admit that I like the gear side of photography. Actually, my wife might be the first one to admit that I like all the gear that accompanies photography.

Over the years my kit has spanned Olympus, Canon, Panasonic, Nikon, Leica and most recently Sony. When the Sony NEX cameras first came out I was intrigued by the idea of a small body housing a large sensor; aside from the quirky Sigma DP1 I can’t think of another digital camera that had such a large sensor is such a small body at the time. Technology has evolved and given us some interesting choices lately, to the point where you can find a full frame sensor in something half the size of a traditional APS-C DSLR. The options for photographers are getting better and better.

As a side note it was a very, very difficult choice to set down the Ricoh GR in favor of the RX100II. I have only had the RX100II in my hands for a day, but I can see a huge amount of potential from this tiny camera.

Influential Photography Books – Magnumº

This is one of the most influential photographic books on my shelf. I have the highest respect and admiration for each Magnum photographer that’s been nominated and selected to join this small group. Magnumº – A book I’d highly recommend for anyone interested in a journalistic approach to photography.

20140603-DSC05306-Edit

This elite group of photographers was originally founded by artist that wanted to protect the copyright of their works. The founding members, all photographers, Robert Capa, David “Chim” Seymour, Henri Cartier-Bresson, George Rodger and William Vandivert created the group in 1947.

 

The Other Hobby

Spring tune-up. Cervelo R3 with Reynolds 46/66 carbon wheels.

Spring tune-up. Cervelo R3 with Reynolds 46/66 carbon wheels.

It is interesting to look through my Lightroom catalogue and see month to month and year to year trends in my shooting habits. The catalogue starts back in 1998 with my first digital camera the Apple QuickTake 100. (It was as advanced then as the most recent digital camera is now, but back then it was revolutionary.) The catalogue now has 100,000+ images. If you are familiar with Lightroom you will know what the file structure looks like; basically each month and year is labeled with the number of files. As cycling crept into my life the number of photos dwindled.

Maybe it all started here with my mom taking me out shopping on the bike. Japan 1969

Maybe it all started here with my mom taking me out shopping on the bike. Japan 1969

A few years ago I picked up road cycling and went head first down the rabbit hole. I tried scuba diving for a few years, but the logistics of it made it inconvenient. Cycling was appealing for a few reasons: it was gear intense, it was a healthy habit and it was much more time efficient compared to scuba diving. About the gear intense comment, I admit that I really enjoy all the gear and gadgets that go along with any hobby, diving, cycling, becoming and audiophile and of course photography. Cycling ticked a lot of boxes.

The bike has taken me to some pretty cool sites along the way. Taiwan's north coast.

The bike has brought me to some pretty cool sites along the way. Taiwan’s north coast.

I had a couple friends that were also supportive in different ways. One was already a cyclist and one was getting interested at the same time so the motivation and support was there to fan the flame of my new hobby. Previous to this the last time I was on a road bike it had leather strapped cages that my tennis shoe would fit into, clipping in was not an option and all the shifting was on the downtube.

The carbon framed bike is fun, fast, agile and light, but for longer rides the titanium framed bike is great.

The carbon framed bike is fun, fast, agile and light, but for longer rides the titanium framed bike is a perfect balance of stiffness and compliance. Leap Ti frame, Thomson seat post, TokyoWheel 60mm carbon tubular wheels and S-Works Toupe carbon saddle.

Back to the Lightroom catalogue. The correlation between when I starting riding the and months when I spend a lot of time on the bike is obvious. My photography took a pretty big hit when I started riding. It did bother me a little, but I was loving the new hobby. Eventually I started bringing a camera with me on some of the rides to document some of the beautiful and interesting sights I see on the rides. Most of the time the iPhone does all the photographic work and occasionally I bring out the NEX7 as a riding companion. One small drawback is that most riders are not interested in stopping mid-ride to grab photos so that has meant more solo riding compared to when I started out in this hobby.

The bike has provided several beautiful sunset rides. Taipei, Taiwan.

The bike has provided several beautiful sunset rides. Taipei, Taiwan.

I am just about to enter my third year of riding, I’ve collected a couple bikes a few cameras and I think I’ve found a good balance between the two hobbies. So, with all that being said you may will see the influence cycling has had on my photography.

Cycling has changed my view of things on the streets a little.

Cycling has changed my view of things on the streets, a little.

This was one of the more foolish, but fun rides I've ever done. We decided to rent some city bikes for the day and tackle a 3000' ride up the mountains. These bikes were not meant for this kind or riding. They are ridiculously heavy, are not geared correctly and have lame brakes...we loved it.

This was one of the more foolish, but fun rides I’ve ever done. We decided to rent some city bikes for the day and tackle a 3000′ climb up into the mountains. These bikes were not meant for this kind or riding. They are ridiculously heavy, are not geared correctly, have fat under-inflated tires and have weak brakes. Yes, we loved it every second of the ride.

A contact sheet of some cyclist I found in Paris. This series was taken over the course of just a few minutes. Paris, France.

A contact sheet of some cyclist I found in Paris. This series was taken over the course of just a few minutes. Paris, France.

This was one of the most memorable rides, heading up Mount Rainier. Seattle, Washington. Photo credit: Tom Collins

This was one of the most memorable rides, heading up Mount Rainier. Seattle, Washington. Photo credit: Tom Collins

 

About the Header – Styrofoam Balls

Styrofoam Balls - Taipei, Taiwan

Styrofoam Balls – Taipei, Taiwan

I went to the zoo and came back with a photo of styrofoam balls hanging from the ceiling. It’s not really what I expected to come home with as my favorite photo, but it did prove that you can’t predict what you will end up with after a day’s outing. In fact, the other photo I decided was a keeper was of people, not animals, but people leaning over the rail to get just a little closer to some monkeys.

Taipei, Taiwan – Photography Off the Beaten Path

Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall is an enormous monument that you need to see to experience its size and beauty.

Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall is an enormous monument that you need to see to experience its size and beauty.

If asked where some of the best street photography can be had, I would be quick to answer: Paris, New York City, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Taipei, Taiwan. If you are coming to Asia then you are mostly-likely going to land in places like Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai or Bangkok. These are among some of my favorite places to shoot, but there is another place that should be mention, Taipei, Taiwan.

While living in Taiwan most travelers that I have run into from overseas are only here as a stop-over on their way to their final destination. It seems very rare that tourist come to Taipei as their final destination. It is somewhat understandable as Taipei doesn’t have the infrastructure to support tourism quite like Hong Kong. But, it is for this very reason that as a photographer you want need to come and shoot the streets of Taipei, before things change too much.

Half of the city's real estate may be covered with food vendors and restaurants. You'll never go hungry.

Half of the city’s real estate may be covered with food vendors and restaurants. You’ll never go hungry.

There could be pages and pages written about getting around here as a tourist, but I’m going to keep it kind of short and photographically centered. About the language: I moved here in 2006 with zero Mandarin and since then have learned very little. Even so, it is easy to get around anywhere I need to go thanks to signs written in English and a fantastic, efficient public transportation system. Taxis are plentiful and cheap, but you would be well advised to do a tiny bit of research first and at least have the addresses of the places you’d like to visit written in Chinese or do what so many expats around here do, take a screenshot of your destination’s address in Chinese off of their website.

Another small temple in the neighborhood.

Another small temple in the neighborhood.

A leather repairman modifying a newly acquired Luigi Case for the M9.

A leather repairman modifying a newly acquired Luigi Case for the Leica M9.

Why photograph the streets of Taipei? The best case I can make is that it is a modern, hyper-active city of 5,000,000+ people with a rich culture full of tradition spilling onto the streets. One of the first things you will notice about Taipei is the sheer density of people. Every nook and cranny is filled with a some kind of store or shop; there’s very little dead space. There are a few wide boulevards to usher people and traffic around, but the best parts of the city are hidden in the narrow alleys and streets. Walk off of any main road and you will come across dozens of food vendors, small restaurants, specialty shops and most likely a temple. Temples are sprinkled all of the city. Some of them are no bigger than the size of refrigerator and some of them take up an entire city block. There are a number of large, well known shrines and temples, but some of the most photogenic are the small neighborhood ones that seem to be on just about every corner.

Taipei is off-the-map as far as vacation destinations go and that is exactly what makes this city a gem in so many ways.

Finally, if you plan on coming through Taipei as a stop over on your way somewhere else or if Taipei is your final destination, please feel free to contact me, I would be more than happy to show you some of the sites the city has to offer.  -Steve

There are countless little streets like this one around the city.

There are countless little streets like this one around the city.

A typical street scene.

A typical street scene.

Waiting to cross.

Waiting to cross.

Shoes for sale.

Shoes for sale.

Sitting above the street in Ximending. Ximending is a great starting point when visiting Taipei.

Sitting above the street in Ximending. Ximending is a great starting point when visiting Taipei.

Backlit Subjects and Flare

Backlit subjects on the streets of New York.

Backlit subjects on the streets of New York. NYC.

This was the first sunset of 2014. Paris, France.

This was the first sunset of 2014. Paris, France.

Traditionally speaking shooting into the source of light is not regarded as good photographic technique. I have a good friend who is highly talented and has a body of work I admire greatly. She has shown consistently how effective this technique can be used. Several of her portraits have moderately to heavily backlit subjects and every time I see them I nod my head slowly in agreement.

This subject loses some contrast and there is a bit of flare in the frame. Napa Valley, California.

This lightly backlit subject loses some contrast and there is a bit of flare in the bottom right corner of the frame. Napa Valley, California.

I think the thing that most people are trying to avoid when a subject is backlit is the lower contrast and the potential for flare.  Plus, unless you have a camera with decent dynamic range you will completely lose out on exposing the side of the subject facing the camera. Much of this can recovered with software in post production, but you need to have something there to work with before you begin. Another potential drawback is the chance for flare.  Me, I don’t mind these ‘flaws’ in my photos, in fact, I like the character it adds to a photo. And like everything else in life it needs to be done in moderation for it to be effective.

Backlit pedestrians and strong flare present. New York City, New York.

Backlit pedestrians and strong flare present. New York City, New York.

One of my favorite photographs shot from the hip of someone walking through the park. I like the bright, blown out portion of the image and the shadows of the trees coming toward the camera. Paris, France.

One of my favorite photographs (shot from the hip) of someone walking through the park. I like the bright, blown out portion of the image and the shadows of the trees leaning toward the viewer. Paris, France.

So, the next time you think you can’t get the shot because you are not positioned correctly with your subject and light source, go ahead and shoot. Give it a try you never know what you’ll come up with.