Photographic Social Experimentation

On Monday, I conducted a small strobe light workshop with my photojournalism class. After the set-up and technical discussion in the studio my ambitious students took to the campus of Point Park University to practice quick light set-ups on unsuspecting subjects.

Armed with Nikon SB-800’s fired with Nikon CLS, they made their first stop at the Point Cafe and made a photograph of a patron eating dinner. They bored with that pretty quick and soon came up with a social experimentation concept of photographing people as they exited the elevator.

Two important things happened, first, they learned they are in control when the camera is in their hands. Most folks passing through asked the student photographers if they could still use the elevators, pretty humorous to watch.

Secondly they learned that most people don’t react negatively when photographed. This was a good lesson because students often express their fear of taking pictures of people beacuse they are initimidated by the reaction they think they will get from the subject. Some people didn’t react at all, most people smiled and walked away, only one person seemed annoyed at the experiment.

The experiment got their wheels turning about other ways to conduct the exercise and how it could be implemented into longer term projects for publication. Most importantly it helped them think quickly and creatively about the image making process.


Macro Cat Parts

After finally having a minute to relax on the couch, my cat Stinky curled up next to me. He is fond of the blanket I was using to keep warm. His proximity gave me the opportunity to try out he macro lens on the Canon G9. I was truly impressed with its clarity and sharp focus at less than one inch. In comparison on my Nikon D200 I use a Tamron 28-105mm Macro lens, its focus distance is over one foot. This camera continues to prove itself as a powerful pocket camera, it has changed the way I consider capturing imagery.

Inauguration Review

Four days of shooting created nearly 1800 images from the inauguration. Those have been narrowed to 246. Of those 246 twenty will be chosen for a joint exhibition with several of my students who also attended the inauguration.

Portraits of the Inauguration, so far, will be exhibited in four locations, the Mt. Lebanon Library, the Father Ryan Arts Center in McKees Rocks, the Braddock Library and the University Center Gallery at Point Park University.


I arrived to Bristow, Va. Friday night. After a few unrelated issues Saturday morning, I made it into DC by noon. Walking around the National Mall while the finishing touches were being applied gave me the opportunity to get the lay of the land. I was able to mingle with and photograph people while at the same time evaluate all sorts of things like my attire, would I be arm enough, do I have an appropriate amount of gear and am I carrying it in such a way to minimize security slowdowns around town.


Sunday was the day of the inauguration kick-off concert at the Lincoln Memorial. This event was packed. Too many people tried to get to the memorial while organizers closed the gates and stopped admitting people to the area. The crowd grew larger and larger between the Lincoln and Washington Memorials. This event gave a visual prelude to what would happen Tuesday.


On Monday I rode my bike part way from Alexandria to the District to get a sense of the ride and also to figure out how to get through Alexandria. It wasn’t complicated, but it sure did save time on Tuesday as there were no questions about the route. I arrived in town about noon and met up with students and two other photographers. We wanted more inspiration. We went to see the Robert Frank exhibition, The Americans, at the National Gallery. Seeing his work prior to the big event was beneficial. It helped get the creative juice flowing faster Tuesday.


Monday was also Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a day of service in the District. Many groups and organizations volunteered themselves to serve others. One particular group held an event at the Martin Luther King Jr. Library and provided a hot meal and clothing to the needy. This event provided a scene of visual richness. opportunities for good photographs were present everywhere you looked.


By Tuesday I had changed locations to the Huntington Ave. section of Alexandria, just blocks away from the Metro and the Mt. Vernon Bike Trail. I left on my bike at 7am and reached the Inaugural Bike Valet located at the Jefferson Memorial just after 8am. The ride was easy and visually striking. The light was perfect. After arriving at the Jefferson I continued my walk to the mall where I stayed between 15th Street and the Lincoln Memorial. I challenged myself not to get stuck in a crowd were I could not move freely from one place to the next. Some of my students reported that they got stuck in the middle of the Mall for several hours.


It was my mission to create a portrait style document of the event. I initially intended to photography the protesters and the fringe elements at the edges of the crowds. However, those scenes never really materialized to the level I expected, so I changed course a bit, my subjects became interesting faces and statements provided by the attendants.


The scale of the event was a challenge to the students, part of their mission was to provide on the spot reportage for the Point Park News Service and its partner the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Students were able to provide small items of coverage for the event. However, a greater lesson was learned by them. Preparation, preparation, preparation. Most of the students arrived late to the show, Monday evening or early Tuesday morning. This did not provide adequate time for them to capture more than one aspect of the event. It also limited their ability to access the internet to file stories and photos. Surprisingly, the level of connectivity of my current students is less than what is generally assumed about the generation. Most of them cannot access the internet from their cell phones and most lack the exeprience through trial and error to create effective work arounds to technical problems. An event like this will surely prime the pump and prepare them for the next big deal. They will consider more angles and will ask more questions about how to get things done and they will be successful.

Inaugural FTP


Using my 2GB cards containing images from my Canon G9, my Treo 650 loaded with VFS-FTP, national access through Verizon and an FTP server at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, I will be able to upload high quaility JPEG images captured at the Presidential Inauguration for publication.

The process for getting the full-sized images to the server requires a few steps.

First capture the images in the Canon G9 as medium-sized JPEGs, 1600×1200 pixels.
Second take the card from the camera and place it into the phone.
Open VFS-FTP, select your FTP server, select the image(s) and press ‘to FTP’.
The file will begin to transfer and about 45 minutes, yes, minutes, later it will be accessible at the Tribune-Review.
Finally, I will have to call or text message the editor to let him know the file name and dictate the caption information.

Using this process requires no computer, no cables or other fancy toys. It should allow me to remain streamlined and light weight during inauguration day and it will give me more room for other cameras.

I will be shooting with at least two more cameras, Nikon D200s. Those cameras, however, use compact flash cards, those images unfortunately will not be able to be transmitted in this way. Those images will be captured as .NEF files and will be processed and transmitted, if necessary, by traditional methods.

Fwd: Test posting

This is a photo of my office shelves. I am testing all of my devices to ensure that content will reach the web during the three days I will be in Washington, D.C. for Barack Obama's inauguration as President of the United States.

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Next week I will be in attendance to the Presidential Inauguration in Washington D.C. Many of my students in colleagues will be in attendance. I think it goes without saying that this will be an enormous event. Attendance at an event of this scale will require an enormous amount of logistics. The lack of proper planning and thought could lead to a potentially dangerous situation.

As a mentor to student photojournalists I have come up with a list of items and things to consider while planning the trek. By no means is this list complete, rather it is just a place to start. The events begin in less than one week, now is the time to get it together. With a little prep the evenst should go smoothly and everyone will return home safely with great images and stories from the historic event.

Functional Warm Winter Hat
Wool Socks
Spare Wool Socks
Hiking Boots
Heavy Gloves
Scarf or Gator
Long Underwear
Pocket Hand Warmers
Layer upper jacket/parka

Camera batteries
Extra Flash batteries
Camera Cards
extra Camera cards
battery charger, camera and cell phone

Packable Food
Grocery bag- to carry your rubbish. The garbage cans will be a mess.
Don’t contribute to the problem, document it.

Metrorail Card
2 forms of photo ID
DC Map
VA Map
MD Map

Plan your route in and out of DC. How will you get to and from your mode of transport back to Pittsburgh? Do you have more than one route planned?

Set up your phone on Facebook to send and receive. Use this to send status updates and use as emergency text access to your broader network back home.

Set up your camera phone to email images to Flickr.

Collect telephone numbers of others that are going to be in DC.


As an aside to the busy life of fatherhood and a career, I finally made it out of the house to hang out with my friend Tom. We decided to eat, drink and go bowling.
Dormont Lanes is a classic old bowling alley. It is appropriately situated in the basement of a neighborhood shopping center. It is in it’s original stylization, though, the carpet looked new. It carries both automatic and hand scored lanes. They don’t sell beer but it is OK to take your own.
Photography in the bowling alley is easy in terms of the conditions and subject matter. However, they are a bit peculiar about photography in the same space where there are ‘Amusement Only’ video gaming machines. If it is for amusement only I am not sure what the hang-up is.

As you can see with both did wonderful.

He is an expert bowler.

Knock em down.

For Amuesment Only

What I Did Over Christmas Break

This Christmas season was particularly slow. I just put the photography for my book ‘Our State Parks’ to rest. Most of my professional projects were at a good pausing point. School was out. So I took the slow pace as an opportunity to to play around with snapshots, ride bikes with Max, play cards with the cat and listen to music with Andy. After this week, it is back to business and then off to the Presidential Inauguration in Washington DC.

Max Kickin’ his Big Wheel

Lucky Playing Uno

Andy Making Music

World’s Largest Tea Party


This tea pot, which claims to be the largest in the world, is located at the junction of the Lincoln Highway and WV Route 2 in Chester, West Virginia. Chester is located on the most northern patch of land in the Panhandle of West Virginia, one mile south of East Liverpool, Ohio and about 38 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, Pa.

I like this interesting bit of Americana and the claim that it makes. I have only one question. If it is truly a teapot do the residents ever make tea in it and when? I am certain it would be an interesting shindig. Might I suggest New Year’s Eve?

Happy New Year!

The Archive Part 2

Make no mistake. Photography has changed. Our philosophy and attitudes toward it have not. Photography has always been something tangible. It was a physical process. It required you to use all of your senses during the photographic processes. You were left with a sleeve of negatives and a stack of photos to hang on to. Use the images now or revisit in the future. Except for fire or flood, you would always have the negative to go back to. You could keep them all in a shoebox or a file cabinet, all subjects marked with Sharpie. They could be highly organized in files or not so much. No matter what, you knew where they were when you needed them.

Shoe Boxes
(click on the image for notations)

Fast forward. Now images exist only in a non tangible format. A format that requires thousands of dollars of equipment to capture, process, display and archive. Keeping digital assets isn’t like it was in the old days. To maintain value in the investment of photography digital images cannot be kept in a ‘shoe box’. The digital images need to be handled and processed in a highly organized system. The system includes the rigorous use of metadata, multiple hard-drives and arrays, off site DVD back ups, cataloging software, and a degree in network technology.

My Drives
(click on the image for notations)

For the professionals, I am preaching to the choir. I am concerned about the new to digital and student photographers. Get into good habits archiving your images now. You will need to be ever vigilant about archiving if you want to maintain a profitable archive. Image loss is disastrous and an enormous drain on time already committed to projects as well as time in trying to fix what has broken or find what has been lost.

(click on the image for notations)

The Archive

Today, I took a big step forward in protecting my photographic assets. I am now the proud owner of a Systemax Intel Entry Storage system set up as a Raid 10. A RAID 10 provides 4 hard disk mirrored array that acts as a data protection system. If any one of the drives fails, it will in theory, email me about the problem, keep the data intact, and automatically recover data once a new harddrive is intalled. Geeky I know, but very important.

The out of the box set up was easy relatively speaking. The directions were clear enough, only one real delay concerning something called the ‘default gateway’. After a few hours break to mull it over and a couple of cookies the problems worked themselves out through trial and error.
I’ve spent years on this trial and mostly error process of working on the guts of the hardware and software of my computers. I attribute these tribulations, to the relative ease of the process. I also think that devices are being designed and implimented smarter. Time has worked out the logic pretty clearly.

This move will add, organize and clear space for me to expand my archives in a practical and scalable manner. I estimate that I can go another year before I will have to add another terabyte to the archive. It is becoming a big expensive business to keep these images archived. It is now the time for the archive to become self sustaining in relationship to its costs. I consider the RAID project to be an insurance policy designed use my inertia to over come the decay of atrophy. I want the images I’ve created to last. It is a dream of mine for my children to take over and manage the archive into something positive for their families and beyond.

Furthering GigaPan

It has been a few weeks since I have create a successful GigaPan. I have been running into problems on the processing end. I guess I’m being too ambitious with the system. I shot several panoramas with over 1500 images. This is just too many for either of my computers. I only have 2 gigs of RAM. After speaking with GigaPan guru Dror Yaron from the Manchester Craftsman’s Guild I had a better idea of what to do. So rather than fully extend the zoom lens and take highly detailed photos of exit signs and blank walls and end up with an unmanageable amount of information, he suggested that I back off of the zoom to reduce the number of files that will comprise the GigaPan. His methodology worked. My ambition with the GigaPan is to do architectural interiors and you have to ask the question: How Much Information is Really Needed Before it Becomes Overkill? I’ve been able to put together a manageable and successful work flow for the process. We are still talking hours of processing, but in the end there is a usable image, and for that I am happy.

Another problem reared itself when I attempted to take full 360 degree view pictures from floor to ceiling (Circular Images). The photography goes smoothly, again this is a too much information issue. When photographing in the straight up position this causes an overlap of information that the GigaPan Stitcher can’t seem to resolve. The images are all identical except for their position on the circle. This caused alignment problems, meaning making the number of rows and columns even and line up incorrectly. The final image resulted in an unexpected split in the image. It attempted to align portions together that were not intended to be together in the final image.

To resolve this I deleted the top two rows above the lights. It corrected the positioning and eliminated the confusion generated at the top of the image. My next attempt to do a circular image will include a few more rows of information beyond 360 degrees. I have a hunch that if I shoot more I will have enough images in the overlap to cover any errors generated.

The image below is the successful attempt:

You can see all of my Giga Pans at the StartPoint Media website.