News and Views from Dave Wilson

Archive for November, 2009

Thanksgiving

by on Nov.30, 2009, under Photography

Helen, Jackie & Adam

Helen, Jackie & Adam, originally uploaded by DaveWilsonPhotography.

Thanksgiving is a holiday that I’ve really come to appreciate since moving over here. Think of it as Christmas-lite – all the wonderful family-get-together time and ridiculous amounts of food but without the crass commercialisation and frenzied gift shopping associated with Christmas itself.

That may be a bit cynical but it really is lovely to have an excuse to get the whole family together for the day and just hang out and enjoy each other’s company.

This year was especially lovely. Nikki’s mum Rae and step-dad John have just moved to a new house only a few miles from us so we all descended there. Rae’s new kitchen is ideal for huge family gatherings so there was none of the usual fighting for oven space and the garden is large and populated with lots of play equipment to keep the 7 kids present happily occupied. I even got some time to play at portrait photographer, taking some shots of Thanh’s kids for her (Helen, Jackie and Adam can be seen here).

After dinner, Nikki, myself and the boys hit the trail and headed up to Round Rock to see her dad Tom and step-mum Katherine. We didn’t have space for another full meal but had a lovely time nonetheless, staying a lot later than initially anticipated thanks to one of the most exciting Longhorn/Aggie football matches I can remember.

Overall, then, Thanksgiving 09 proved a highly successful day for us. Now we can look forward to Christmas and, hopefully, try not to leave everything to the last minute this year.

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Capacity Crowd, Texas Memorial Stadium

by on Nov.23, 2009, under Photography

Nikki and I attended the UT/Kansas game last night and I spent a few minutes during the game walking around the stadium. In the past, I had never been to the very top. The view from up there is pretty spectacular (as long as you don’t actually want to see the game – the players look like specs in the distance) and it really gives you an idea of just how huge the place is.

The attendance was somewhere over 101,000 or, put another way, around 10% of the total Greater Austin population. No wonder I can never get an iPhone data connection while at games!

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Great Photography in the Austin American-Statesman

by on Nov.13, 2009, under Photography

I have huge respect for the great work done by the photography staff of our local daily, the Austin American-Statesman. Their images are of consistently high quality and creativity. This is shown beautifully in a video posted today on the paper’s photoblog, Collective Vision. This piece shows images taken at Fort Hood following last week’s terrible shooting and is narrated by the three photojournalists assigned to cover the story. Their pictures are powerful, sensitive and very touching. Congratulations Jay Janner, Rodolfo Gonzalez and Ricardo Brazziell on another job very well done!

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Trip to New York

by on Nov.13, 2009, under Photography

Nikki and I got back from our trip to New York last weekend (and, yes, I’m only now getting round to writing about it. It’s been a pretty busy week). Nikki was attending the Backspace Writers’ Conference and I had a couple of days to wander around taking pictures. We also managed to fit in a Broadway show on Friday night (Mary Poppins – it was excellent!) and a very enjoyable 5 hour dinner at “Angelo & Maxie’s Steakhouse” with one of Nikki’s high school friends.

My days were filled with long walks carrying far too much camera equipment. I reckon I covered something around 15 miles each day and ranged as far as Brooklyn from our hotel base at 32nd and Park Avenue. I ended up with about 600 pictures, most of which still need to go through the editing process. The gear-carrying was a test to see how I could handle the backpack over an extended trek and I’ve pretty much come to the conclusion that I need to be more selective and carry a smaller bag when I go to Utah in February (for National Geographic photographer Raul Touzon’s Bryce Canyon and Zion photo expedition – won’t that be fun!).

Look out for more pictures over the coming couple of months as I find time to process them.

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Big, Scary Group Portrait

by on Nov.03, 2009, under Photography

The wonderfully talented Central Presbyterian Church Choir sang John Rutter’s Requiem last Sunday with instrumental help from Wild Basin Winds. It was a super performance (not that I’m biased by the fact that I sing in the choir). We were extremely well rehearsed (by our great director Cindy Couch) and I have been singing this piece for the best part of 20 years so I wasn’t too worried about the singing part. Getting this photo, however, was another matter entirely.

Cindy wanted a photo of everyone in “uniform” for the front of the CD that was recorded and I volunteered. I’d read both of Joe McNally’s books so I was sure I could handle it but that didn’t stop me losing sleep for a few nights before trying to figure out how to light it.

The church is pretty dim. I’ve taken many pictures there but always from a tripod with no-one around and shutter speeds in the 1 to 10 second range. This time, I had people to worry about. The first tricky choice was where to take the shot from. If I was at ground level, the pews would get in the way so I opted for the back balcony which put me about 75 feet from the group.

Next question was lighting. I got into the church an hour or so before the final rehearsal and cranked the choir spotlights up to their maximum. I then positioned 2 SB-600 flashes on the balconies on either side of and around 20ft in front of the choir. I had both of these gelled with orange filters (otherwise known as “CTO”) so that the flash light colour would balance with the tungsten lighting in the building. Both flashes were set to be triggered remotely using Nikon’s wonderful optilcal CLS system – the popup on my camera body sends signals to the flashes to tell them when to fire and how much power to throw out.

Retiring to the balcony, I set the camera in manual, told the flash on my right to fire at full power and the one on the left to fire at half power then fiddled with the exposure to get things looking right (with a few stalwart volunteers standing on the risers for test shots). I wanted to keep the shutter speed as high as possible while maintaining good focus throughout the whole group. The Photocalc app on my iPhone told me that I had to stick somewhere above f4 to get the right depth of field so this meant a shutter speed of around 1/40 which was fine on the tripod.

Once the choir was ready, thanks to the earlier test shots, I took 4 or 5 exposures and got this one which I’m happy with (no-one has their eyes closed, people look generally happy to be there, and nothing untoward is happening in the background).

Overall, a scary experience but one which was definitely a very valuable learning exercise for me.

Next week, however, things get worse since I’m shooting my second wedding. Prior to that, however, Nikki and I will be in New York for 3 days. I’ll be filling memory cards while she is at a writers’ conference.

Look out for wedding news next week…

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