Photographing Faith

It was an honor and privilege to work on this story for Public Source.

 “Absolutely and unabashedly welcoming”: How some Pittsburgh faith communities embrace LGBT worshippers.

By using the silent mode of my X-Pro2 and X-T2 (sound off, electronic shutter on), I was able to work during the service and not be disruptive. Prime lenses (18mm, 23mm and 50mm) kept my X-Pro2 kit small and light, while the 50-140 on the X-T2 allowed me to get in tight from a greater distance. 

For the portraits, the 10-24mm was perfect to achieve the desired perspective and coverage. Godox TTL flash provided the right illumination to balance with the ambient light.

Without the flip screen on the X-T2, the exterior photo with the rainbow flag would not have been possible. To make that photo, I leaned over a row of prickly plants and framed the shot at a very difficult angle.

As always, my X System worked flawlessly and produced amazing files that needed almost no adjustment in post. 

  Rev. Shanea Leonard, the pastor of Judah Fellowship Christian Church, sings along with the congregation during worship. Anita Levels directs the worshipers in song.

Rev. Shanea Leonard, the pastor of Judah Fellowship Christian Church, sings along with the congregation during worship. Anita Levels directs the worshipers in song.

  Rev. Shanea Leonard delivers the sermon during worship services.

Rev. Shanea Leonard delivers the sermon during worship services.

  Rev. Shanea Leonard gives a hug to three-year-ol Vivian Grey during worship services.

Rev. Shanea Leonard gives a hug to three-year-ol Vivian Grey during worship services.

  The Rev. Vincent Kolb is pastor at Sixth Presbyterian Church in Squirrel Hill.

The Rev. Vincent Kolb is pastor at Sixth Presbyterian Church in Squirrel Hill.

  Yvonne Hudson and Lynette Asson in the sanctuary at Calvary United Methodist Church.

Yvonne Hudson and Lynette Asson in the sanctuary at Calvary United Methodist Church.

  A rainbow flag outside of Calvary United Methodist Church on Pittsburgh’s Northside.

A rainbow flag outside of Calvary United Methodist Church on Pittsburgh’s Northside.

It's all about the light

Sometimes you find the light, and sometimes the light finds you. Be ready. 

During an eight-day shoot in Italy, we stopped one afternoon in Siena. My knees were hurting, the mid-day light was bright and contrasty, and so I wasn't feeling it, but after a bit of mumbling and grumbling I trecked on. And wow, I'm happy I did! 

Walking through the narrow streets of this ancient city I discovered one visual surprise after another. The light bounced and reflected off surfaces as I had never seen before. Shadows cast with sharp definition and contrast formed complex compositions. Because of the orange tones of the buildings, all light in the open shade tunnel of the streets were void of the usual blue cast. It was bright, warm and soft light all at the same time.

Just when I thought it couldn't get better, serendipity stepped in for a grand surprise. We saw two women coming down the street, and my traveling companion recognized one of them as his cousin! What were the chances? Add to that the women stopped to greet us right in front of this fantastic reflection of light. Sometimes, the light finds you. Chiao!


Silence is golden

Silence is not just golden but sometimes required.

Last week I photographed the opening night of the opera Arabella for the Pittsburgh Festival Opera. Usually, photography occurs during the dress rehearsal but due to an unforeseen circumstance that was not possible. The only option was to silently capture the opera as it happened from the control booth. 

Enter the Fuji X system!

Switching to the electronic shutter, and turning off all shutter sounds, made my X-T2 and X-Pro2 cameras entirely silent. No noise at all. Mission accomplished. Before the show, I asked the crew to listen for my shutter. Smiling, they confirmed there was nothing they could hear.

Because of the distance from the control booth to the stage, I decided to use my Fujifilm 50-140 f/2.8 lens on the X-Pro2 and a Nikon 300mm f/2.8 on the X-T2 via an adapter. The 300mm converts to a 450mm f/2.8 on the Fuji making it perfect for close-up portraits of the singers.  I locked my shutter speed at 1/125 and set auto ISO for 640 to 3200 to compensate for any light changes. The aperture on both lenses was 2.8. Both cameras were on tripods. I set the X-T2 and 300mm on a Manfrotto video tripod with fluid head and the X-Pro2 with 50-140mm on my Induro carbon fiber with a large ball head. Throughout the performance, I oscillated back and forth between cameras to capture the action on stage. 

At the end of the night, I had exposed hundreds of frames but made not a single sound. Mission accomplished!


Concert photography

I've said many times before; I haven't had an assignment yet that my Fuji cameras could not perform exceedingly well and produce top professional results. Monday night was a prime example. 

Photographing live music of any kind poses many unique challenges. Lighting variables, movement of the performers, color balance and access limitations can turn what sounds like a fun job into a nightmare. Monday evening I had the pleasure to photograph country star Kelsey Waldon at Club Cafe. It was a laid-back performance in an equally laid-back venue. Of course, that doesn't mean there weren't unique obstacles to overcome, primarily, lighting, or rather, lack of it. The spotlights were not set to illuminate the entire band. One spot was on Kelsey, and the others seemed to be where ever they happened to be, mostly aimed at the floor. Oh, and the main spotlight was very weak, too. 

Many would have shuttered at the conditions, but I knew my X-Pro2 could handle the situation without a blink. First, I always shoot in RAW no matter what the job. After that, I selected my auto ISO #3 setting which gave me a range of 3200 to 12,800. I wanted to keep my shutter speed at 1/125 as much as possible, so I set that manually. The light color varies tremendously I set the camera to auto white balance, expecting to custom white balance in post. Knowing my prime lenses are razor sharp it was with great confidence I set them at f/2. Because it was a concert, I wanted my camera to be nearly silent. No problem, select electronic shutter (es), then go into the sound set-up menu and change the audible levels of the shutter. I could have set the camera so there was absolutely no sound whatsoever, but I like a very faint click to help me in timing. Also, so my presence was minimalized, I selected EVF only on view mode and turned off the image review. Now my LCD screed would remain dark and therefore, less obtrusive. With everything set, I was now free to make pictures at will. 

I knew I would be able to photograph the entire concert, so I packed prime lenses for the job. I always prefer primes whenever possible. My selection included the following: Zeiss 12mm f/2.8; Fujifilm 18mm f/2; Fujifilm 23mm f/2; Fujifilm 35mm f/2; Fujifilm 50mm f/2 and Fujifilm 90mm f/2. If this had been a typical concert where you can photograph the first three songs, I would have instead carried zooms, so I didn't have to take the time to change lenses. Thankfully I didn't have that restriction. 

In the end, my shutter speed varied from 1/125 down to 1/15 depending on who in the band I was photographing and where they were standing. My ISO ranged between 3200 and 12,800, the latter being most predominant. 

I could stop right here, but that's not the end of the story. Once back at the office I uploaded my images into Lightroom CC. Yes, I use LR for my Fuji processing. There are a couple of methods I've learned that have eliminated the crazy wormy grain effect seen from LR in the past. First, LR CC is not the same LR from before. They have improved the program significantly. But, in the last update, the "default" sharpening setting is now at 40. That is much too high for Fuji RAF files. So the first thing I do after editing my selects is to adjust the sharpening from 40 to 10. An ISO of 12,800 is going to be slightly noisy. So when shooting at this extreme, I apply a LR noise reduction setting of 22 to 27. I batch the entire shoot with these two corrections right away. The noise reduction is just enough to take the edge off the noise but not significantly soften the image. From here I proceed as usual and color correct, adjust tone, contrast, exposure, and shadows. Most of the time very little needs to be done. Fuji is like that, almost dead on, right out of the box. 

 ISO 12800 | 12mm Zeiss Touit

ISO 12800 | 12mm Zeiss Touit

 ISO 12800 | Fujifilm 23mm f/2

ISO 12800 | Fujifilm 23mm f/2

 ISO 6400 | Fujifilm 35mm f/2

ISO 6400 | Fujifilm 35mm f/2

 IS0 8000 | Fujifilm 35mm f/2

IS0 8000 | Fujifilm 35mm f/2

Another profile change

Sometimes you have to have to admit you made a mistake. All you can do is fix it and move on. 

According to a lot of people who wrote, my mistake was changing my profile picture from happy me, to a more introspective portrait. "Not all change is good," as someone said. Or another, "The other picture is you!" 

Why bother to write about it? Just change it and go on. But a couple of things occurred to me this morning.

First, sometimes we tend to second guess ourselves too much. Is this right? Is it wrong? Should I change it? Next, we all aspire to make pictures that reveal the personality of our subject. When we nail it, be happy. This picture, or as I call it, my big smiling, belly laughing, hat tipping, happy snap, is me through and through. So, I guess I have to deal with it. I'm very serious about my work, but otherwise, I prefer to laugh. 

Always remember, smile big, laugh hard and make people happy.


The Little Wonder Lens, the Fujifilm 55-200mm

As a committed Fuji X photographer, who is never shy about spreading the word about this gear, I hear a lot of nonsense how some people think it cannot deliver pro-level quality images. Hogwash! This system nails it. The lenses are sharp, contrasty and sturdy. The bodies, the same. The sensor provides excellent color and images with depth. Not depth of field, that's different, I'm talking about that special extra sauce once reserved for that particular German camera maker. Yeah, you know the one. Think red dot.  

Last night in Pittsburgh we had some crazy beautiful light just after sunset. The afterglow was an insane, super orange. I don't know the physics behind it, but dang, was it amazing. I only know this because about this time I had to go out on an emergency ink run for my Epson. So off to Staples I went, trying to get in just before their closing time. As I snaked around the back way, I saw two deer in a field less than 300 yards from my destination. I had a choice, take pictures, or get ink. Pictures won. Always. As I've said many times before if you always carry your camera you never have to go out looking for pictures. You react. That's what I did. 

I slowly pulled over to the side of the road and carefully opened my door to not disturb the pair from their evening dinner. I pulled my camera, an X-Pro2 and attached the 55-200 zoom. I call this my walkabout telephoto. It's small, sharp, crisp, incredibly lightweight for its range, and has image stabilization. What's not to love?

The light was fading fast. Remember, this was the afterglow of sunset. I quickly changed my auto-ISO setting to #3, which for me gives a range from 640 to 12,800. Not surprising, the camera set to 12,800 to give me a shutter speed of 1/125 wide open. 

A lot of people go a bit crazy and tell me you can't work at that high of an ISO with Fuji. Why not? Is it a bit noisy? Sure it is, of course. But trust me, it's a LOT less noisy than what we had with color film pushed from 800 to 3200, and back then nobody cared one bit. It was all about getting the image. Period. Oh sure, you'd have the occasional grain peeper, but they were nothing like the pixel peepers of today.  Now, this was a personal photograph. Would I ever shoot at 12,800 on a paid job? The answer is yes, I would, and I have. Did the client care? Not. One. Bit. I captured an important moment, one that otherwise would not live. 

I followed the two young bucks with 55-200 fully extended for as long as they allowed. Finally, I either made a noise, or they decided they no longer wanted to be watched. The pair took off gracefully up and over the hill. It didn't matter, I had my shots, and besides, it was getting dark. Even at 12,800, my shutter speed had dropped to 1/40th. I panned the camera as the deer bounced away. 

I must also mention, the X-Pro2 kept the animals in sharp focus with the 55-200 lens while I shot their portraits and their departure. Professional grade? Absolutely. 

  Peek-a-boo Buck

Peek-a-boo Buck

  Time to go!

Time to go!

Father's Day

Happy Father's Day, Pop. Love you and miss you. Glad we got to talk so long this morning. 

My Dad worked hard all his life. While growing up, he did three jobs to make sure we never went without. For 30 years he toiled on a General Motors assembly line. He taught me to work hard, keep my head down and keep going. It was a small life lesson he gave by example. 

When I moved to Pittsburgh, he came out to help turn the building I bought into a studio. He built walls, painted and assembled an Ikea kitchen unit. The later was the only time he got frustrated. But, doesn't everybody get that way with Ikea? 

For those few weeks, we bonded like never before. Christmas day came, and we realized the kitchen wasn't ready, and we had no food. Nothing was open in the small town of Ambridge except one bar. We went in and were the only customers. Telling the bartender our plight he offered to make us the only thing he had, spaghetti, so that became our Christmas dinner. 

The weeks I spent with him during the buildout will always be one of my favorite memories of my father.



President Gerald Ford at the University of Michigan

I started out young. Very young. My first newspaper assignment came about when I was just 15 years old. Two years later, I was on staff and eager to prove myself. When word about President Gerald Ford coming back to his home state to speak at the University of Michigan, I convinced my editor we should cover the event. A few phone calls, a letter to the Secret Service and it was game on. 

On the day of the event, I arrived extra early to get my credentials and go through the bag check line. Once approved, all the press photographers were herded into a holding room to wait for the time we could enter the hall and take our positions on the photographer platform. 

The room was very crowded. We were elbow to elbow. Seemed like every newspaper in the state, no matter the size sent a photographer, and of course, the most prominent papers sent more than one. And here I was, a teenager with a press pass and my bosses Leicas around my neck. My eyes must have been as wide as saucers with excitement. 

Eventually, an older, veteran news photographer loaded with multiple Nikon cameras and long lenses came up beside me. He stared me up and down, smirking at the limited gear I had. Finally, he snarled, "Kinda young, aren't you?" Naive doesn't even come close to what happened next. In response to the old photographer's question, I beamed, "Yes! This is the first time I've ever shot a President!" 

Oops. OMG, what did I say!

I can imagine what the parting of the Red Sea looked like based on the mass of news photographers in that room who, upon hearing my response, immediately stepped back, leaving me alone in the center of the space. Well, not entirely alone, there was one other person, an enormous person, dressed in a dark suit and talking into his sleeve. He looked down at me, now shaking in my shoes, and said very sternly, "Son, we don't use that kind of jargon around the President of the United States." Gulp. I'm not sure at that moment if I turned snow white or beet red, but I know some color change occurred and time seemed to stand still as the immense Secret Service agent stared into my almost weeping eyes. Then, almost as if on cue, muffled laughter circled the room. The rest of the press corps thought it was quite amusing how far the new kid stuck his foot down his throat. With that, the agent gave me a slight wink and walked away. Lesson learned. And while this was my first time photographing a President, it wouldn't be my last.