Today started out as a pretty good day! I woke up, opened my email inbox and saw the following message from WeddingWire:
Needless to say, I am pretty excited! Thank you to all the wonderful brides and grooms who trusted me with capturing their special moments and thank you so much for taking the time and submitting vendor reviews to WeddingWire.
Last Saturday we held the first photography workshop (in a series of seven) at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. The workshop covered the subject of blurry photographs and was appropriately titled “Help! My Photos Are Blurry!”. Jen McKen did an amazing job teaching. She covered pretty much all the reasons why photos are (or may seem to be) blurry. Jen went over proper camera holding techniques, which shutter speeds to use when, selective focus and a bunch of other incredibly useful techniques. You can find more info on Jen’s workshop on her blog. Jen and I have been Facebook buddies for about a year but have never actually met in person. This workshop was a great opportunity for us to hang out, talk business and gossip. I also met Jen’s wonderful husband Greg and even introduced him to the wonderful world of Uncle Sam’s Subs in Oakland. There will be six more workshops in the series: I Bought a Digital SLR – What Do I Do Now? Sunday, February 13, 2011, 1:00 PM – 2:30 PM Taught by John Craig http://www.carnegielibrary.org/events/details.cfm?event_id=58519 Composition Sunday, February 27, 2011, 1:00 PM – 2:30 PM Taught by John Craig http://www.carnegielibrary.org/events/details.cfm?event_id=58521 Portrait Photography Sunday, March 13, 2011, 1:00 PM – 2:30 PM Taught by Leeann Marie Golish http://www.carnegielibrary.org/events/details.cfm?event_id=58523 How to Use Photographic Flash and Avoid the “Deer-in-Headlights” Look Sunday, March 27, 2011, 1:00 PM – 2:30 PM Taught by Dmitriy Babichenko http://www.carnegielibrary.org/events/details.cfm?event_id=58525 From Camera to Computer – Introduction to Photo Editing Sunday, April 10, 2011, 1:00 PM – 2:30 PM Taught by Valerie Head http://www.carnegielibrary.org/events/details.cfm?event_id=58527 Advanced Photo Editing Sunday, April 17, 2011, 1:00 PM – 2:30 PM Taught by Dmitriy Babichenko and Valerie Head http://www.carnegielibrary.org/events/details.cfm?event_id=58528
I love the sunlight coming through the stained glass windows. We literally managed about 5 shots with this light before Pittsburgh weather took over.
I originally wrote this post almost a year ago, after a friend of mine gave me a copy of Randy Pausch`s book “The Last Lecture”. I never met Dr. Pausch, although I heard a lot about him from Jesse Schell, the current co-director of the CMU Entertainment Technology Center. In the summer of 2007, while researching virtual worlds and avatar technologies for a work-related project, I came across Alice [www.alice.org] (an interactive game and story-telling development environment created by Dr. Pausch and his team) and subsequently, Randy’s website. That is when I found out about his ongoing fight with pancreatic cancer and the upcoming Last Lecture. Unfortunately, I could not make it to the actual lecture, but I watched it from start to finish as soon as it appeared on YouTube. I kept meaning to read the book, but things kept coming up and I did not get to it until a few days ago. After I turned the last page of the book I found “The Last Lecture” on YouTube and watched it again. Reading Randy’s book and watching “The Last Lecture” again was both inspired and depressed me. Randy’s lecture deals with achieving your childhood dreams; reading his book and listening to his lecture made me realize that I am 32 years old and very few of my childhood dreams have come to fruition. I could not get Randy’s words out of my mind; I kept thinking about my life so far, about all the dreams that I had and how few of them I actually followed through on. I took out a notepad and a pen and wrote down the most important dreams of my childhood. Here they are in no particular order: Becoming a National Geographic photographer I got my first camera for my 8th birthday and have been obsessed with photography ever since. In my teens and early 20s I freelanced for a bunch of small newspapers. For the past 9 years I have been running a successful wedding and even photography business. Alas, I never became a National Geographic photographer. I never had the guts to sell my possessions and move to India like Steve McCurry or go into war-ravaged countries like James Nachtwey. While I was always able to capture fleeting moments with my camera, my captured moments were never even close to the perfect shots of Vincent Laforet. When I graduated high school I wanted to go to college to study journalism. My father kept telling me that it would be a waste of my time and that I should pick a real profession, like a doctor or a lawyer. I spent 4 years studying biology as a pre-med major at the Old Dominion University, hating every minute of it. I guess no matter how much I dreamed about becoming a National Geographic photographer I did not want it badly enough to make the necessary sacrifices. And that is one of my biggest regrets in life. Climbing the “7 summits” – the highest mountains on 7 continents (Kilimanjaro, Denali, Elbrus, Aconcagua, Carstensz Pyramid, Vinson & Everest). I caught the rock-climbing bug when I was 13. My best friend joined a rock-climbing club and convinced me to do the same. At first I was a bit skeptical because I wasn’t a very athletic kid, but after the first trip to real cliffs I was hooked. Ever since then I have been climbing on and off, scaling cliffs, falling down, getting hurt, getting up and climbing again. I did climb on of the aforementioned 7 peaks when I was 16 – I was part of a group that attempted Elbrus in 1993. I never made the summit and after immigrating to the United States in 1994 never had the time or the money to try again. About 5 years ago I decided to resurrect that dream and began saving money and training for a Denali climb. However, 6 months into my training I met my wife and all of a sudden the possibility of getting hurt or dying became pretty scary. Now I have a beautiful daughter. I’d love to be with her as she is growing up; as a matter of fact, my new dream is to walk her down the isle on her wedding day. I do not want to do anything that might jeopardize that particular dream. Writing a book Ever since I learned to read at the age of 4, I have been an avid reader. Even now, when I have a family, a full-time job, a part-time business and grad school I still manage to read at least one book every week. I’ve always been envious of brilliant authors such as Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, Neal Stephenson and China Mieville who can create entire worlds out of nothing and weave an intricate story that never gets boring, no matter how many times you read it. For the past 6 years I have been working on a book about my grandfather. He passed away in 1999, after battling lymphoma for over 10 years. My grandfather played a huge role in my life – he was my male role model. Even though we were very close, he never told me anything about his life before he met my grandmother. After his death, I was going through his papers and found documents and letters that made it clear that my grandfather spent 11 years in Soviet Gulag. After grilling my grandmother and my mother about this find, I began doing research. I found people in Germany, Israel, United States and Argentina that new my grandfather in the labor camps. I wrote over 200 pages of my grandfather’s life story. All I need to finish this book is a trip to Poland and to Russia, something that I will hopefully be able to do next year. Hopefully, I’ll be able to achieve my childhood dream of writing a book. Playing guitar in front of a huge audience This is one dream that I actually managed to fulfill. I never opened for a known band, nor have I ever played in an arena in front of thousands of people. However, when I was in high school, a few friends of mine formed a Beatles cover band and I played rhythm guitar. We played in front of our entire school and even played a few gigs at other schools. Writing a computer game I have never been an avid game player, but I am (and have been for a long time) fascinated with storytelling, graphics and the incredible amount of technical knowledge that goes into developing a game. Take Second Life for example – over the last few years that game has really lived up to its name and became very close to Neal Stephenson’s idea of Metaverse (if you have not read Snowcrash, drop whatever you are doing and get that book right now). I have no interest in developing yet another shoot-them-up game. Instead, I’d like to take something like Rosetta Stone language teaching software as my baseline and turn it into a game to make education easier and more interactive. I have a notebook full of ideas and would like to at least get started on a computer game project once this year’s wedding season is over. Really teaching someone That one is not really my childhood dream. Over the years I have had a lot of crappy teachers in both high school and college. I did however have two professors who were truly excellent – Dr. William Chase (University of Pittsburgh history department) and Dr. Catherine Duane-Lennard (University of Pittsburgh mathematics). Those two professors did not just teach – they inspired. A few years ago a good friend of mine taught a computer science course at a private middle school. To make his students more interested in the subject, he invited a couple of guest speakers to give lectures on various computer-related topics. Because I used to work as a systems administrator for a government contractor and have some background in network security, he asked me to lecture on the topic of “hacking”. I took his request very seriously – I prepared slides, sample code so that students could write a rudimentary brute-force password generator and some handouts on basic network security. I did my best to make those lectures interesting and interactive, but students did not seem to be interested. There were a few people in the class who genuinely wanted to learn, but for the most part my lectures fell on utterly uninterested ears. I really wanted to give those kids something useful and I failed. Since then, I have spoken at various software conferences and overall, I am not a bad speaker. However, just once in my life, I would like to give a lecture that would not simply convey information. I would like to give just one lecture that would inspire everyone in the room, just like Randy Pausch’s “Last Lecture” had inspired me. I guess what I`m trying to say is that most of us continuously postpone our dreams – I can take that trip next year, I`ll work on my book whenever I retire, I`ll try skydiving once the kids are out of the house. We postpone the things we want to do until there is really no time to do it. And even though some people will keep repeating the mantra of “it`s never too late”, sometimes it is. The bottom line is that if you don`t do it today, you`ll regret it for the rest of your life.
This is me standing in Chernobyl in 2006, standing about 50 yards from the exploded nuclear reactor. In 2006 I traveled to Ukraine to work on a photo documentary dedicated to the 20th anniversary of Chernobyl`s catastrophe. The documentary did not work out as well as I hoped – even though I was working with a couple of non-profit organizations, without a press pass and sufficient financial support (to bribe Ukrainian and Belorussian officials) I could not photograph everything I wanted. Once I finish reorganizing and reediting some of the photographs, I`ll post a full story.
A few days ago I was cleaning out my basement when I came across an unmarked mystery box. It was your standard, run-of-the-mill brown cardboard box with no special markings. What was strange about it is that it was taped shut with packing tape. When my wife and I moved into our house almost 3 years ago I was sure that I unpacked and sorted pretty much everything that we brought from the old apartment. It seemed like this mystery box somehow got lost in the shuffle and spent the last 3 years obscurely hidden behind old camping and rock climbing gear. To make a long story short, the box contained about 40 rolls of medium format Kodak Tri-X, a bunch of assorted rolls of 35mm film and enough black-and-white film chemicals to either process all the film in the box or to kill every living plant in my backyard. As I started sorting through this newly found treasure I felt a wave of nostalgia for the time in my life, many years ago, when I first got into photography. I realized how much I missed the simultaneous simplicity and complexity of mechanical film cameras and the skill required to take and print a decent photograph. I missed the times when you bought a camera and 10 years later you could still use it. When you could literally drive a nail with your camera body and take amazing photos with it the next day. I remembered when back in 1998 I lost my car keys while hiking in the Shenandoah mountains. I had a spare set of keys in my glove box, but to get to them I had to break my car window. After a few unsuccessful attempts of breaking a window with my fist and with a large branch (there were no rocks nearby), I took the motor drive off of my Nikon F3 and broke the window on the first try. The motor drive went back on the camera with hardly a scratch. I miss the days when you could use your camera as a blunt instrument and still take photos with it. But most of all, I miss film… I miss opening a fresh roll of film; it’s almost like opening a brand-new book – it smell wonderful and feels like unwrapping a tiny present. I miss the wonderful whirring noise that my Nikon F3’s motor drive made while advancing to the next frame. I miss picking up rolls of film from the lab. I even miss the hassle of requesting my film to be hand-checked at the airport. Looking at all that film and at all the film cameras that are lying around my house but have not been picked up in years made me realize a few things. First of all, I miss doing personal work. The last few years I’ve been so wrapped up in getting my business up and running that I haven’t really done any personal work. I did not make any New Year’s resolutions this year, but I think I’d like to make one now – this year I’ll compile all my notes on personal projects that I have wanted to do for years and actually do those projects. Secondly, I’d like to scan and organize my collection of negatives. I have a bookshelf full of large negative binders, probably a few thousands of rolls of film. My next photography-related purchase will be a film scanner – I am actually curious to see my own work from 10 years ago. And who knows – maybe I’ll start shooting film again on daily basis.
A few weeks ago I had an incredible opportunity to photograph Gerald`s and Lois` 50th wedding anniversary. To be honest, it was probably the most emotional event I have ever photographed in my life. I have never seen a couple to be so much in love, especially considering that they have been together for 50 years. Congratulations Gerard and Lois – you are an amazing couple and you have a wonderful, wonderful family!