I Photographed the Brother by Joseph Donzis

This weekend, I got to be part of my friends', Ian Smith and Amanda Arena, wedding as a groomsman.  Being such a welcoming couple, they were more than happy to allow me to bring my camera along nearly the entire time.  During all this, I got some really great shots.

I love this one, for example, for its tenderness, traditional appearance, and simplicity.  All on its own, this photo shows the love between the happy couple, revealing Amanda's beaming attitude and Ian's infatuation for his soon-to-be wife.

Or this one, for its dynamic range and crisp level of detail.  You immediately understand the importance of this document, and as you look closer, you can even see the text and him copying his name in Hebrew to be signed.  Overall, it's a relatively broad focus, but I reduced my depth of field a little to draw the eye to his glasses and the document- both set on the same plane to emphasize the importance of it all.

The one thing I did not get to photograph was the bride and bridesmaids getting ready.  These are some of my favorite moments to capture; I can get in really close and intimate on objects such as shoes, zippers, the dress laid out to bring life into these ordinary items.  A pair of hands helping someone else with a strap becomes the hands of a craftsman tailor-fitting a beautiful gown.  The bride: longingly looking out the window while adjusting her clothes...  Instead, I was stuck with the bride's brother while he finished his shower and changed into ordinary clothes before we got ready at the venue.  I was determined, though.  Maybe the bride didn't want the preparation treatment, but I was gonna get some pictures of someone getting ready for a wedding- so I did what any non-thinking human would do: I photographed the bride's brother getting ready.  Fortunately, he was a great sport about the whole thing.  The part which surprised me the most is how well everything turned out.

Granted, it is a little shocking to see ordinary clothes in the positions of the wedding gown and shoes, or a guy in his boxers putting on socks in the place of the bride adjusting her leggings; but it was all far more classy than I expected it to look, and better yet it was a lot of fun.  I doubt I would dare do this ever again for a client in the future, but I will also never forget the time I photographed the brother.

Tuesday's Top Tip: We're back by Joseph Donzis

Photography is nearly as much about timing as it is about composition, lighting, etc.  Pay close attention to your subject to time the best and most incredible photo possible!
Keep checking back for even more incredible shots coming soon!

On The Road by Joseph Donzis

  I'm in Texas for my sister's wedding and will be arriving around with family and friends for a while longer. I will be back soon with more and better pictures! Until then, I'll share the speech I read at my sister's rehearsal dinner.

 

Sarah, we’ve known you our whole lives and you’ve really been like a sister to us.  Throughout the years, you’ve given us so many fun, funny, enraging, sibling moments that have helped shape who we are today.  From the very beginning, you’ve always been there to help guide us and lead us.  Heck, when we created the Kids Klub, where you went on to lead us when you made yourself president.  The fact that we even decided to have some sort of sibling updates at a meeting shows just how much you cared for us, although we quickly realized that all three of us living in the same hallway kept us updated enough; and thus our club was quickly relegated to secret meetings about birthdays and anniversaries.  We had president Sarah (She was the oldest and wisest, so she was our fearless leader), Elissa was vp and treasurer (The one with the most money should obviously be in charge of finances), and Joey was Secretary until proven that he couldn’t write clearly enough to keep minutes and I never paid attention long enough to really advance the conversation (at which point he was demoted to citizen).  I believe Sarah and I once had a meeting to plan for Elissa’s birthday, but Sarah quickly realized she was pretty much just discussing her own ideas out loud and I was having a different conversation.

Sarah was such a great leader because she was sure to always reward good behavior and punish bad behavior.  One day when baby Elissa was sleeping, Sarah noted that this was indeed good behavior, so she coated Elissa in stickers.  All good deeds should be rewarded, and if the president of our country could learn anything from the president of the Kids Klub, it’s that stickers are a great way to let other people know who within your cabinet has been a good boy or girl.  Of course, what kind of sister would Elissa be if she didn’t return the favor?  One day, out of the kindness of her heart, Elissa decided to put a little bit of Sarah’s favorite thing into her cup of Tang.  Sarah’s favorite color was pink, so obviously the only missing ingredient from the Tang was calamine lotion.  Sarah got to try two new things that day: lotion and ipecac.

While Elissa was receiving stickers for good behavior, I was busy racking up demerits.  One day while Sarah was conducting important business on the phone, I realized the need to interrupt her with an important update.  Ok, actually, she was talking to her boyfriend on the phone while laying on the couch, and I decided to pester her asking who it was and making kissing sounds.  As I continued to annoy Sarah, she threatened to kick me in the face.  Let me take a moment here to assure you, Sarah is a very honest and trustworthy person; she always arrives when she says she will, and you can always count on her to know better than you the exact details of any story.  And when she says she’s going to kick you in the face, she makes good on that promise.  I continued making kissing noises and saying whatever nonsense popped into my head when I suddenly received a swift foot in my face.  That day, I gained as much knowledge about annoying sisters as I did about how easy it is to lose teeth.

Now, being kicked in the face wasn’t the only time one of us lost a tooth; we all managed to assist in tooth-removal at one point or another.  This was good news for us because it used to hurt so darn bad when our dad would pull our teeth out, but when we’d knock each other’s teeth out, the pain of being smashed in the mouth by a foot or ladder or any other object was so much more painful, we barely noticed how much it hurt for the tooth itself to come out.  Don’t worry, not all the stories of our childhood were violent.  We also had some adventure!  Being the oldest, Sarah was the first of us to learn how to drive.  After proudly gaining her license, Sarah was going to drive Elissa to clarinet lessons and I got to go along for the ride, and what a ride it was!  After taking a quick right turn followed by a left turn better suited for a Jason Statham movie, the three of us found ourselves facing traffic on the grass next to the road in a 1986 Crown Victoria.  Of course, all of us were quite panicked because when Dad spins the car around, it’s fun; when Sarah does it, it’s an accident and it’s scary.  While the three of us were frantically trying to figure out how to get the car back on the road and facing the right direction, someone suggested calling our father.  What none of us had realized was that during all the commotion, the phone had managed to dial our dad already, who was on his way because he’d heard our whole conversation.  It was practically magic to us when our father arrived and got us out of that situation, but it was also another lesson taught to us by Sarah: don’t try hiding things from Dad, he’ll always find out.  Also, go easy on the accelerator in old cars, they really weren’t made as well as past generation like to believe.

But onto modern times.  More recently, Sarah has shown us the value of doing what makes you happy.  As loving and caring siblings, we have always tried to do what was best for each other and each other's happiness has always been a priority.  This is why we could not be more happy for Sarah that she found David.  He has been able to bring her joy in ways we've never seen before and provided for her what we never could. With David, she has traveled both near and far, learning to appreciate new places and cultures; she has moved to New York City where she thrives and gets to have new adventures all the time; and now, she gets to have a dream wedding to a dream man.  We know we do not need to caution David to take care of Sarah, he already does that so well; we don't need to tell him all the chaos he's about to marry into, he's seen us at our craziest and accepts us all for who we are.  No, we are now here to tell Sarah how much we love you and how happy we are for you as we bear witness to this incredible union.

 

  Love you, Sarah and David. Have a wonderful honeymoon and I look forward to spending the rest of our lives with you two as a married couple.

Weekends on Wednesday: YESTERcades by Joseph Donzis

Welcome to Weekends on Wednesday, your little mid-week fix to get you looking forward to the weekend!  The purpose of Weekends on Wednesday is to provide you with ideas for local spots you can visit during the weekend- not just as a guest or visitor, but also as a photographer.  My requirements for picking a place for Weekends on Wednesday are:
1. Is it a local novelty?  It can't be part of some big, national chain, unless something really sets this place apart from the other locations in the chain.
2. Is it unique?  I'm not looking just any small business or little location; the places I visit need to have something new to show me.
3. Does it make me want to crack out my camera?  Some places are local and unique, but simply don't have the design or appeal to start snapping photos.
These places don't have to just be businesses, either!  It can be a specific street corner, some part of a beach, or even a tree in a park!  It has to be something where someone can spend more than 15 minutes enjoying themselves while having the opportunity to advance their photography collection.

30-second exposure through front window using Neewer ND filter and Neewer wide angle adapter on 18-55mm, f-18, iso 100

For the first edition of Weekends on Wednesday, I'm going to take you to YESTERcades, the retro arcade in Red Bank.  This is an incredible spot in one of the most popular parts of Red Bank, located just down the street from Jay and Silent Bob's Secret Stash.  For only about $8/hr, you can enjoy uninterrupted play at YESTERcades, a virtual (literally) cornucopia of childhood memories for people my age or older and for younger generations, it also provides a wondrous look into how previous generations spent their quarters and hours.  As explained to me by General Manager, John, the games are "the connection they can make with their parents; Mommy used to play this, Daddy spent hours on this."  He explained how parents even start to get giddy and feel like their own kids again.

Camera placed on tripod on top of game cabinets using Nikon Wireless Utility as remote.  30 second exposure 18-55mm, f-14, iso 100 with Neewer wide angle adapter.
ASK FOR PERMISSION BEFORE PUTTING YOUR TRIPOD ON TOP OF THEIR GAMES/TABLES/CABINETS.

Single handheld flash on remote trigger with handheld camera.  1/10 second exposure, 18-55mm, f-22, iso 100.

The thing which first blew me away about YESTERcades was the sheer volume of games.  The game cabinets are in impeccable condition, regarding their age, and every single one is BEAUTIFUL.  Throughout the days, you'll find swells and lulls in the crowd, which will provide you opportunities for multiple ways to get intimate with the machines or some fabulous shots of people enjoying the games.  Of course, if you're going to photograph other people trying to enjoy their time, try not to disturb them and make sure you ask permission before taking any pictures which would make them easily recognizable.  With the large windows at the front of the arcade, there's plenty of opportunities to get pictures with natural lighting, and the ambient lighting allows for easy pictures.  You may be able to tell by my pictures that I'm a big fan of using flashes, which plays in well for my fondness of freezing motion.

 
Parents even start to get giddy and feel like their own kids again
 

A lower angle can provide a perspective similar to what a child sees, or might even remind you of hours spent playing The Simpsons at Chuck E. Cheese with your sisters.

I'd suggest using the slower hours to find really close and interesting angles on some of the games.  If you're like me and played many of these games growing up, you'll find an emotional connection to certain parts of the games.  Use this- find an angle which makes you feel nostalgic or simply makes you say "oh."  Also, try to get into the minds of the children playing these games for the first time.  The manager, Christian, told me that one of his favorite things at YESTERcades is helping the kids and making them happy; he loves the fact that the younger players don't understand the instrumentals of all the old consoles, but find them so fascinating.  Many of the younger kids have no idea the struggles we went through just to play with a single cartridge on Atari, Sega, or Nintendo.  For them, hooking up a controller with a wire is is a new experience and a person blowing into a cartridge to make it work is pure magic.

Using a wide aperture and shallow depth of field can provide an intimate appearance

Try a motion blur to symbolize blowing on the cartridges and a little de-saturation to simulate older film cameras.

Many of the younger kids have no idea the struggles we went through just to play with a single cartridge on Atari, Sega, or Nintendo.

As the crowds begin rolling in, you should consider setting up for some bigger shoots (with permission of course) of other players coming in.  There are multiple comfy couches with more modern gaming systems and large LCDs where gamers like to cozy up and play together; this will give you fantastic opportunities to photograph some groups.  The great thing about taking pictures of people playing games is the fact that you barely have to pose them or ask for them to give you more emotion; I don't think there's emotion more raw than three people trying to whup each other in a game of Mario Kart.

FOCUS

When your friend just destroyed you and acted like it's nothing

Just make sure you always ask people if they mind you taking pictures first...

Anger towards the photographer is not an emotion you want.

While waiting between taking pictures, consider playing some games!  You'll be surprised by the kind of collection at YESTERcades, many people will find themselves locked on a single game for hours on end.  Of course, the games adults seem to play the most are the ones they enjoyed most when they were younger; the employees even reported to me of a man who flew all the way from the UK to play Gorf!  Cabinets and pinball machines like these are hard to come by, which is why people will come from near and far to enjoy a taste of their childhood again.  What I personally find most impressive is the fact that nearly all the games are always functioning; if you find a game with an out-of-order sign on it one day, it'll certainly be running flawlessly the next time you stop by.  This feat made all that much more impressive considering the fact that the employees at YESTERcades lovingly tend to and repair the majority of all the games.  These games are old and some of them take a little more finesse to keep running so efficiently, which means you might actually get to see an opened game if you're lucky enough.  Ask politely if you can get a picture of the inner workings of these games for some wonderful tech images to share with an all new crowd.  Careful not to put your camera too deep into the machinery, you don't want to break anything or get hurt!

Look! Pinball guts!

Back of Beer Time

Bonus Points: get a picture of the front of the game one day while it's running and one day while they're running maintenance

This feat made all that much more impressive considering the fact that the employees at YESTERcades lovingly tend to and repair the majority of all the games.

When the employees at YESTERcades are not checking on the games or customers, they provide wonderful fountains of information regarding the arcade and different games.  I was fortunate enough to get some great pictures of them in front of some of their favorite games using a Ring Flash Diffuser.

Christian

Gary

Tucker

The guys at the front not only maintain the arcade and help the customers, but they also help with the design and decoration within the arcade.  They have access to all the items in the display cases and if you ask really politely, you might even be able to snap a picture of them posing with some of their favorite accessories.

YESTERcades is a labor of love for all the employees involved.  Each person at the arcade will spend hours each day checking each and every game so that it is in best working condition by the time you come in to play.  This attention to detail leads to some of the hardest and best parts of working for YESTERcades.  Maintenance on the machines can be painstaking and tedious, but their work pays off the moment customers walk in.  Repeat customers of YESTERcades are so dedicated and excited that they can almost be more closely described as fans.  It is the attention to every detail that provides such a wonderful gaming experience in such a well-decorated environment.  While trying to decide on the layout of the arcade, the employees consider what kind of decorations and items they'd like to see in a room of their own.  This attention to detail can be seen in the lamp, posters, layout of the games, and even game controllers carefully placed in a thoughtful place yet looking left around.  You can take all of these items as great opportunities for an interesting or unique photo.  Because the decoration is based on the passions of the employees, there's something in the arcade to attract everyone.  

Just like many photographers, photography can either be a job or a hobby, the employees at YESTERcades have their own passions outside of the arcade.  For Christian, he enjoys riding his motorcycle outside of work; for Tucker, he spends his off-time returning to the arcade or playing other games.  These are all people who took something they loved and turned it into something which benefited them.  For the owner who started everything, it all started with his passion for just one game.

Tuesday's Top Tip by Joseph Donzis

Having trouble taking panoramas with your camera?  Find your no parallax point on your camera by marking your window with an x then panning the camera back and forth.  Try finding a way to move your camera back and forth on the tripod (without moving the tripod) until the x does not appear to move in relation to something outside the window.  This will make your panorama stitching quicker, easier, and line up more naturally.  Check back later for a more complete panorama tutorial and don't forget to check my website and blog for more helpful tips and interesting articles!

Why am I a photographer? by Joseph Donzis

Writing a blog is very difficult for me...  I enjoy talking and I like discussing my interests, experiences, or just trying to make people laugh- but trying to express the who, how, and why of myself gets down to a personal level I'm not used to sharing openly.  Something else I'm not used to sharing openly is my finances.  I gotta be honest, money is a big concern for me.  No, no, no, that's not why I'm a photographer, I'm not looking for a quick buck (trust me, this isn't the right profession for that anyway).  The reason I mention money is because photography is a profession with limited funds; businesses only allocate so much money towards media, collectors are only comfortable paying so much, and unless your pictures sell for thousands of dollars- people don't usually WANT to pay you.  In fact, some people will do whatever they can to cheat you out of money; I've learned this lesson the hard way.

So, why take part of a profession with, as I've seen lately, such squalor opportunities?  Because it's important.  Next to teachers, I consider photographers to be the most important non-vital professionals (I say non-vital because people won't immediately die if there were a shortage of teachers, unlike doctors, police officers, firefighters, etc.).  I've actually been very fortuitous that I've had the opportunity to teach for a number of years.  I LOVED teaching; I found kids to be receptive to my methods, I got to entertain while informing, and I got to be part of the preservation of knowledge.  That was huge for me.  Preservation of knowledge...  Yes, I've had my battles acting as an educator, but once I was inside the classroom, none of those issues mattered.  That was until I moved to New Jersey.  I don't know if it's the parents here, the kids, or something in the water, but never have I been met with such deplorable teaching conditions.  I found myself teaching lessons of very little import to children who were only there to play with an end product (which they often expected me to mere give to them) and parents who wanted me to let their child play at the expense of learning, referring to me as an "overpaid babysitter."  That broke my heart.  That was the day I realized that there are some parents who would rather tell other parents how amazing it is that their kid is in an engineering class than actually have an educated child.  I know other educators have had far worse experiences and dealt with true loss as teachers, but that was the point at which I could no longer keep standing in front of a classroom full of children like a party-clown and allow parents to convince themselves and others that their child was somehow better than other children who couldn't afford such an expensive after-school program.

What does this have to do with photography?  Everything.  I was an educator because I enjoyed being part of the preservation of knowledge, and when that means of preservation was devalued, I looked for a new means.  I've always enjoyed photography and had a lot of experience behind the camera or assisting others behind the camera, but no experience running my own photography business.  All that I knew was that there are an infinite number of moments in every day and those infinite moments have a finite amount of time, but with a camera, I can preserve them forever.  I know, a photograph does not contain an entire story, in fact it is an extremely biased view, but so much can be learned from a simple picture.

A moment of shared love and passion, a symbol of hope and caring for future generations.

Playfulness, reluctance, or simply the act of being a child.  Could other children relate to this?  Will future generations see this and understand, or possibly even question such an emotion?

A place preserved in time.  If we have learned nothing else about our iconic architecture, it is that it can be preserved for centuries, or felled and left as rubble or in ruins for future generations to mourn or even forget.

Even something as seemingly simple as food is not eternal.  Over-hunting, famine, and mere passage of time are all enough to make what once was a staple become a mystery for future generations.

A photograph is universal.  Perhaps the subject can be misunderstood due to cultural differences, but every single picture is a record that something once existed in the world or in someone's imagination.  Even to those who cannot see, a picture's content can be described.  Every photo will illicit a response: happiness, hatred, shock, empathy, or even desperate nothingness.  Does the photography of a product lessen the value of a picture?  No; every product exists because someone put forth the effort and worked to make that product exist and preserving the product with respect and dignity provides a record of that product's existence for current and future generations.  Sometimes the photograph is exploited to market the product itself, like in advertisements, and sometimes it is exploited by an artist such as Andy Warhol.

You do need to be careful, of course.  Some clients will try to take advantage of you and steal your photos.  There are procedures you can take to protect yourself, including contracts, releases, and keeping your photos organized and backed up properly.  So why be part of a profession with so many people trying to take advantage of your skills and steal your work?  For me, photography is always about the record first, and any finances come second.  I can only work hard and hope to one day have my name remembered with the other great photographers, but at least I can rest assured that someday in the distant future, one of my photos can serve well as a representation of the world as we once saw it.

Tuesday's Top Tip by Joseph Donzis

Always back up your hard drives, or at least your pictures.  Once you're done backing up your hard drive, back up those hard drives!  You see that hard drive pictured in the test for my LightTrap (From MOD YOUR EQUIPMENT! Part 2)?  The one carelessly placed under my voltage regulator?  It was an old hard drive from an old computer which died.  I was using it as a load resistor because it was the best thing I could think to do with a hard drive full of enough old pictures and designs to make me want to cry.  After I didn't learn my lesson from that hard drive, I got a new computer with a new hard drive and didn't back that one up properly either...  Take it from me, ALWAYS BACK UP YOUR HARD DRIVES!!!

MOD YOUR EQUIPMENT! Part 2 by Joseph Donzis

There are some things you do in your life that you're extremely proud of, there's some things you hate, and some things you love.  I feel all those ways about my new video light/photography flash power supply, which I lovingly call my LightTrap.  It was difficult work, a little more expensive than I'd hoped when I started, but is beautiful and super cool to look at.

I'm especially excited about this project because I created my first Instructable detailing how I built it; check it out here and like/vote for it, since I've submitted it for a contest to win a new camera!

The backstory for this project goes back to a photoshoot I did for a hookah lounge of a belly dancer.  The pictures turned out great, but the shoot had a few issues: mainly my flashes.  When I was taking pictures, my flashes drained their batteries and began to fire slower and slower and slower... At first, I was able to take pictures with 2-3 seconds between flashes, then 5-6 seconds between flashes, then so many seconds that I had quite a few pictures lit poorly  or not at all.  This power supply gives me consistency, makes me less reliable on batteries (good for my wallet, good for the environment), and looks super cool.  Using it, I've actually become quite the Batterybuster!  But, I mean, JUST LOOK AT IT!  In fact, I'm done talking about it, here's some pictures:

Mmmmm... childhood memories...

Knick-Knacks and Doodads!

Bringing the old days into the new with a USB charger and digital readouts!

I was obviously inspired by a specific set of movies from my childhood in the design of this LightTrap and have to admit that I'm quite fond of looking at it.  This power supply is really cool considering that it gets its power from some old recycled computer power supplies and is able to run my flashes, my video lights, and can jump-start my car; which makes it not only good for me, but good for the environment, since there's less computer scrap laying in a heap somewhere!

6 volts

9 volts

12 volts

Not only is it cool looking and great for powering my equipment, I added USB ports so that clients can charge their phones off my new LightTrap.  When trying to obtain and keep clients, you want to have something which will set you apart from your competition; why not be known as the photographer with a power supply from one of the greatest movie series ever which also charges phones?

This build was messy, difficult, and long, but that's not the point; the point is the power supply looks amazing and will let me take more and better pictures.  You may notice that this post was published a little later than usual, part of that is because I was spending time playing around with my new LightTrap.  Please, go to Instructables.com and check out and light my build here.  And look at it again!  Oh, how I love it...