Laguna Beach, California

Laguna Beach

NIKON D300, Nikon 18-200 VR

While on our trip last week to Southern California…we always take an afternoon to go visit one of our favorite places…Laguna Beach.    We lived inland 10 mins away for many years in Orange County.  There are many great places to see…but this is a must visit!   Its a hotel/spa located on Pacific Coast Highway in Laguna called the Montage.  I have never stayed there….as its expensive..about $500+/nite.   But have had a chance to enjoy the spa….wonderful!!   It is located right on the cliffs and beach of Laguna.  The views from inside the hotel or outside on the walkways/beach are amazing!   Arrive just before sunset and you will be glad you visited.

We usually pull up around 3-4 PM to the hotel…you can valet for $5!  Cheap!  One nice thing is that you have a chance to see some Hollywood stars!  We have seen a few in trips there.  Just treat them like regular folk and they may walk by and say hello!  After you valet your car to get to the beach we walk through the hotel and take the elevator down to the pool area.  There you can catch a walkway to the cliff views and steps going down to the beach!   Its never crowded…you may see some photographers taking family portraits or a few locals surfing.  There are nice rock formations and wonderful views!  We were lucky this day…about 100 yards out we saw a school of dolphins making their way south!

I took this shot this past week….not bad for early spring.   In the summer, the flowers are in full bloom and your pictures will come out much better!   After the sun sets…make your way to one of my favorite restaurants….Javier’s for some Mexican food that is amazing!    If you are in the Laguna area…stop by the Montage and you will be glad you did!

Rafael Nadal, Indian Wells, California

Rafa 01

NIKON D300, Nikon 70-200 VR f/2.8, Nikon TC14IIE

I am a big sports fan…basically any sport is ok with me!   Tennis is one of my favorites to play and to watch.  This was taken at the BNP Paribas tennis tournament in Palm Springs, CA this past week.  We have attended many tournaments through the years and this is the best tournament to go to for tennis!   It is about 80-85 degrees and sunny everyday in Palm Springs in March…one day we even had a cool breeze!   The stadiums are well spread out and food and drinks are located perfectly.  As you walk into the event there are about 10-15 practice courts next to the stadiums.   We attend the early rounds in order to see all the players.  But another advantage in this tournament is that most all players practice in front of the fans.  You are basically 10 feet away from your favorite players.  If you are lucky…autographs are not too hard to get!  We met Maria Sharapova…she is of my favs….got a few autographs…my daughter gave her a red flower she was holding and Maria thanked her kindly!  Thanks Maria for being so nice!   I’m sure its hard being famous.

As I knew we were going to this tournament…I had been eyeing a new Nikon lens.  The 70-200 VR f/2.8.  I had read all the reviews and wanted to give it a try.  I listen to photogrpahy podcasts as I am always trying to learn everyday and just recently in the TWIP Podcast the mentioned a company called Lens Rentals.  They have a web site you can basically rent any lens you want!  The prices are pretty good!   This lens costs $1700+ dollars if you by it from a store.  To me alot of money to just buy it hope it works for you.   This service was a great opportunity to give it a try and test the performance of the lens.

I rented the lens for 2 weeks….$163.00…including shipping to you and back!  It arrived via Fed Ex in 2 days and my first day with the lens was at my daughters soccer game.  I already had in my possesion a teleconverter…the Nikon TC14IIE. So it added about another 100mm focal length to the lens.    You can get different teleconverters to add distance to your lenses (mostly they only work on the bigger lenses).  But in some cases you may lose quality and performance.   Read up before buying one.   The TC14IIE is one of the best for adding equal quality and barely losing any preformance.   So at the soccer game I took 400 pics that day.  Addded to that it was photo day for the team and I gave the lens a try for portraits as well.  All of my action shots I used the lens hand held.  Its big, but I had no problems with the weight. 

After the first day….one word…AMAZING!  The lens was the best lens I had ever used and seen in action!   The portrait shots had fantastic bokeh (background blur)!!   The action shots with the correct shutter speed were unreal…add the f/2.8 and it adds bokeh even to the action shots.   So with one day of action in my pocket I was ready for the tennis tournament!

It was the second day we were were there…all the favs had practiced…I have lots of pics of Sharapova, Federer, Blake, Ivanovic, Jankovic, Safina, Hewitt, Tsonga, etc…..and I had not seen Nadal yet.  I saw a big crowd gather on one practice court…there he was…Nadal.   He is the mens number one player in the world and could possibly become one of the greatest of all time.   Just watching this guy is unreal.  You get the sense of power, drive and the feeling that even at number one…he is trying to improve his game.  Great characteristics to emulate!

So the crowd was 3-6 people deep…I had to fight in to get about 1 person back…luckily I am somewhat tall…I could stand tippy toe over most peoples heads.  I had the camera, lens and teleconverter all set to go!  I took about 50 shots of Nadal.   I wanted to capture action….to truly test the lens.  Going through the pics…I can easily say…its a must buy!!!   The clarity and quality of my pics are wonderful!   I had some blurry ones (due to hand held and tippy toeing the shots)…but overall most were great…so practice makes perfect…but having a lens ike this definately helps!   The hood of the lens fully extended occasionally bumped a few guys on the head while I was trying to get some shots…sorry dudes!  LOL

The day I sent this lens back, I was a bit sad.  I want this lens surely in my camera bag!   Not only for sports and animal shots….but also portaits!   It may take me week or so…but check my site….I’ll add some more tennis pics from the tournament.  Lens gets my thumbs up!!!   Nikon 70-200 VR f/2.8  …one word…WOW!!!!!!!!!!!

Splash of Color – Las Vegas, Nevada


NIKON D300, Nikon 18-200 VR

Just got back from our trip and have tons of photos to download and look at.   I will share a few over the next few days. We were in Las Vegas, Palm Springs and Southern California.  A fun wonderful trip and lots of beautiful weather!    This is one shot I took at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas.  They had an amazing spring flower exhibit just beyond the registration desk.    If you have a tripod and are willing to set it up in the hotels there… just hope you dont get bumped or knocked over…you can get fantastic shots basically in any of the nice mainstream hotels….with some patience.    Just be careful with your equipment…people drink lots in Vegas.  =)   The best time to shoot is around 7 AM inside the hotels.  Many people are partied out or are stumbling back to their rooms around this time….so it is nice and quiet!

As I walked around with my daughter (at 4 years old she has her own camera also! ) and took pictures of the flowers….this angle caught my eye.  I took about 10 versions of this picture and when I finally got to look at them tonite….this looked liked the best one.  If I find a angle I like alot in any pics I’m taking…I make sure to take 5-10 pics of it from different focal lengths.  That way you have options of which one looks the best.  How many times have we taken a shot and got home and looked at it and said to ourselves…wish I had taken a few more cause this one turned out mediocre.  Thats the fun of digital cameras.  The law of averages will work in your favor…hopefully!   Enjoy the Splash of Color!

Palm Springs, California – IR Photo

Palm Springs IR

NIKON D70S  (modified IR by Life Pixel), Nikon 18-70, Photoshop

Here is a pretty cool shot I took this morning.  I’m sure you are wondering how it was done?  It is an IR (Infrared) Photo.   This was in my first downloads on my trial run for the IR camera I just had convereted.   So this process is all new to me!   Seemed very easy!

Many cameras can be converted to IR or if not can be used with an IR filter.   I had heard it was better to have the camera converted to IR as you get to look at the end result on your view finder.  If you use a filter…like a Hoya R72…it does not show the picture.  With this in mind I recently sent out my old Nikon D70s out to a place called LifePixel.  In about 10 days, the camera came back looking the same…but the filter was changed internally to IR.  Go to Life Pixel for more details.  You can read FAQ’s, etc… about the process.

I had studied IR photos in the past year and always wanted to give it a try!  I had read that pictures that look good are ones that have sky, trees and water.  This shot has all three…got lucky this morning.  This shot was handheld with the kit lens that came with my D70s.   I took about 20 pictures early this morning around 7:30 AM.  The sun was bright and the sky was crystal clear.  For an IR photo..sunlight or strong light is necessary or the shot will not come out properly.

I opened the orignal shot in Photoshop CS3 (any photoshop will do!) it looks redish.  I did a little processing and made the sky and water blue…took me only 3 mins and this is the final shot!   I’m impressed with the artistic look of the shot.  This is a very different style of photography.  I’m sure some may like it and and some may not.  I am one that thinks its kinda neat. 

I’d enjoy your feedback on IR photography.  As these are my first photos today…I am curious to see what kind of pictures can be taken?  Buildings, ocean shots, people?  Not sure?  I’ll post any good ones here.  With standard photogrpahy (portraits, lanndscapes, etc..), HDR and now IR…it makes taking pictures exciting!  Feel free to email any questions about my IR setup…I’ll try to help out as much as possible.  Enjoy!  I’ll post a normal shot form Palm Springs in a few days.

Las Vegas, Nevada – NYNY Hotel

Las Vegas

NIKON D300, Nikon 18-200 VR

This picture was taken the other nite in Las Vegas.  We had stopped over for 2 nights to have fun.  Early March in Vegas is nice…the weather is somewhat cool and the crowds are not too bad.  Vegas is a great place to visit…the days can be fun…but the nights are where its at.  The nightlife and night lights come out.   For the 2 days I must have walked 5 miles!  There are tons of things to see and do….and its easy to walk everywhere!

Some great places to visit at night in Vegas are…Bellagio Fountain show, Paris Hotel, Mirage Volcano, New York New York Views, Luxor Pyramid, and much more.

I decided this night to take a walk down the strip and take some pics of New York New York Hotel at sunset.  The hotel view accross from the Tropicana  is a great place to take pictures.   I set up my tripod/shutter release and snapped away while the sun was setting.  Nice shots…but as the sky became darker…the lights on the hotel became more distinct.   I took many shots…but this one caught my eye.   The Statue of Liberty replica is still a strong sight…even in Vegas!  I zoomed in on her and the background lit up gave such a nice backdrop.   For night shots of buildings…I like to set the camera to Manual and the Aperature to F/16 for 3 seconds.   Of course different situations can alter the settings…so just play around.  Hope you enjoy the picture!

Austin, Texas – Capitol Building HDR

Austin, Texas

NIKON D300, Nikon 18-200 VR, HDR in Photomatix

This picture is from my hometown of Austin, Texas.  We have now been here about 2+ years and it is a beautiful little city.   The city itself is filled with live music any day of  the week on 6th strreet.    Lance Armstrong, Andy Roddick, Sandra Bullock are some of the local celebs that reside here.  We live in the Hill Country…it kinda reminds me of a Southern San Francisco….replace the seafood with barbeque food and there you have it! Austin is the capital of Texas and is about 3 1/2 hours south of Dallas and about 3 hours NE of Houston.

I really enjoy springtime in Texas.  The wildflowers fill the coutryside and even the roadside.  A sight to see!  Cant beat Texas Blue Bonnets!  Hope to have some new pics of spring 2009 on here next month! 

Every few months or so we take a drive to downtown and see the sights.  Our first stop is always the Capitol Building.   We had just parked this day and it was almost time for the sun to set.  For photogrpahs it may be a perfect time…its the Golden Hour!    We walked up the side entrance and this was the first picture I took that day!   I first tried a normal shot and it looked decent.  I wasnt sure how an HDR would work….and gave it a try!   I took 5 exposures and then produced the HDR in Photomatix (see the new coupon code for Photomatix link to the right!   15% off using Places2Explore as your code!).  This has become one of my favorite HDR shots!  I have it hanging in my office as a nice 30×20 gallery wrap!

New York City – Bird’s Eye View

New York City

NIKON D300, Nikon 18-200 VR

This picture was from last year in NYC.   I grew up about 1 hour south of NYC and just like anywhere you live…you take it for granted and overlook the opportunity to visit more often and enjoy the sights.   Now we are in Texas and when I get back to NYC…I enjoy it tremendously!  Just an amazing city!  Through the years I have seen lots, but still there are many places I still want to photograph!  I tell my wife that one day we must live in NYC…at least for one year when we are retired….just to enjoy the city life. 

I get in at least once a year these days and always enjoy the sightseeing!  Like  a usual tourist, I hop on the double decker bus and enjoy the tons of iconic sights in NYC!  The usual stops are Times Square, Rockefeller, Central Park, Flatiron Building, South Street Seaport, etc…  I try to make a list in my mind of what I want to see next on my next visit.  Hopefully this year it is to have dinner with my family at the River Cafe in Brooklyn!  You can eat dinner and overlook a beautiful view of Manhattan, nestled next to the Brooklyn Bridge!  If I do…I will surely post pics later this year!

For this shot I took a friend to see NYC and he always wanted to visit the Empire State Bulding.  It was the end of summer and lines were long.  The new saftey rules at the building are tight and you have to go though many security points.  Took about 1 1/2 hours to finally take the elevator ride to the viewing level.  Its a fantastic view!   For those that have seen it…NYC from all sides!   Its nice to overlook the city and hear the typical city traffic noises as its quiet from above.   Many people are enjoying the view and taking photos.  I was one as well!   I was ready to pack up my camera and head down and this little fellow appeared right in front of me!    He landed on a great perch and had such a wonderful view!    Hope you enjoy it as well!!