365 Project

For 2017, I've made a goal for myself -- share a portrait every day for the whole year. Since these are a way for me to play, I don't know what I'm gonna do. Some will be colorful, some will be fun, some will be edgy, some may even be good.

If you want to follow me on my photographic challenge, you can check out my Instagram feed.

Wine Business Monthly - January 2017 Edition

The cover and a few other of my images are in the latest issue of Wine Business Monthly. These were taken during photoshoots for John Anthony Vineyards and CK Mondavi Family Vineyards

I love that CK Mondavi chose that image of their winemaker, because neither one of us wanted to do it. We both thought it was too cliché. I told him that marketers and publicists love that shot, so let's just do one really quick. And that's the one they chose.

Review of the Nikon 105mm f/1.4E Lens

Oh, man, I did not want to like this lens. I did not want to spend $2200 on another new lens. But after reading the reviews, I did it anyway. 

I already own the 85mm f/1.4 and the 70-200mm f/2.8, so I worried that it wouldn't be all that different from what I have. I was wrong. It separates people from the background better than any other lens I've seen except for the 200 f/2. Almost too much. Backgrounds turn in to solid walls of color instead of details. Environmental portraits don't really tell the whole story since you can't get any information from the background.

I don't often use lenses wide open since they're often kinda soft. The 200 f/2 and now this lens can be used wide open without the fear losing sharpness. The 105 ain't easy to use at 1.4 as the depth of field is measured in millimeters. It's a little slow to focus, but it kept up with a seven-year-old running right at me. 

Frankly, I wasn't planning on keeping this lens the first time I used it. I took it out again to give it a second chance, and I fell in love with it. Dang it.

Raw Conversion Software

I admit it. I shoot in raw.

I want the ability to really push those pixels to my will, and shooting in JPEG doesn't always allow me to do that. I actually really like the look of Nikon's JPEGs, and when I'm shooting family snapshots, I'll usually just do so as JPEGs. When I shoot for a client, I shoot in raw. Those big ol' .NEF files allow me to fully tweak the images as I want.

For the past few years, I've used Adobe Lightroom for my image processing. While I don't think it produces the absolute best image quality, I can still get through a batch of images quickest using Lightroom. In the past few weeks, however, there's been some new contenders to the raw conversion software battle. They're free to try, so that's just what I did.

I grabbed a landscape photo and a portrait photo and converted them using the different applications. These are all straight from each converter with no tweaks. I've also included the final image I delivered to the clients.

Apple Photos

Apple Photos

Capture One

Capture One

Lightroom

Lightroom

Nikon JPEG/Capture NX-D  

Nikon JPEG/Capture NX-D  

On1 Photo RAW

On1 Photo RAW

Luminar

Luminar

Final edited in Lightroom

Final edited in Lightroom

Apple Photos

Apple Photos

Capture One

Capture One

Lightroom

Lightroom

Nikon JPEG/Capture NX-D

Nikon JPEG/Capture NX-D

On1 Photo RAW

On1 Photo RAW

Luminar

Luminar

Final edited in Lightroom

Final edited in Lightroom

Based mostly on the skin tones, my favorite portrait is probably from Capture One with the Capture NX-D a close second. I don't know what the heck is going on with the Luminar image. Looking at how the software renders the sun in the landscape photo, I prefer the look of the Capture One with the Apple Photos in second place. I like the quality of the images that come out of Capture One, but I find the software slow to use. Not necessarily slow to see changes when I make adjustments, but rather speed at which I can edit a photo and move on to the next one.

While Lightroom doesn't necessarily produce the best images, its speed and features more than make up for it.


Update...

The Macphun folks were very interested in my findings here. They requested the original NEF images for testing. A couple of days later, they updated Luminar and totally fixed the issues I was having. It's obvious that Macphun really wants to compete in this space. Here are the updated images:

Screen Shot 2016-12-01 at 10.04.03 PM.jpg

More Food Photography

"That looks good enough to eat." 

Recently, I had someone ask me what the secret to food photography is. I told him to make the food look appetizing. It ain't that hard. I try to light the food and compose the photo in an interesting and pleasing way. Sometimes I work with the chefs to make sure they plate the dishes in a way that works for photos. Sometimes I straight up tell the chefs that certain foods just don't photograph well. 

I also have to work with the restaurant owners to photograph their food dishes in a way that fits their marketing. A style that works for one restaurant may not work for another. 

Here are a few recent images from various restaurants for whom I've photographed some of their dishes:

Napa Valley Film Festival 2016

The 2016 Napa Valley Film Festival just wrapped up. I started photographing the event during the first festival back in 2011, and I can't believe how much it's grown up since up then. Every year, it gets bigger and better. 

I don't get all that star-struck, but it is a surreal feeling when I walk past Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) in the hallway or run in to Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) backstage. Or turn around at a party and see Cuba Gooding Jr. standing next to me. Or Katie Holmes say "excuse me" as she walks past. I try to be all cool about it on the outside, but inside, I'm all, like, "OMG! It's the king of Middle Earth!"

Here are a few of my favorite images:

Bottle Shots

As a photographer here in the Napa Valley, I get asked to shoot lots and lots of wine bottles. If you've ever attempted to photograph a wine bottle, you know that it can sometimes be difficult. Those suckers reflect everything from all directions. There's no hiding from a wine bottle. Throw in that some bottles have designs in the glass or embossed labels or gold silk screen (the worst), and just lighting them can be difficult. Then you have to be creative and work within the clients' marketing parameters. In the end, bottle shots require the most creativity of all the photographs I make. 

Here are a few I've done the last few months:

Safeway Open

I just wrapped up shooting the Safeway Open for Silverado Resort. I had never photographed professional golfers before, and I always welcome photographing something new. And like anything new, you have to learn the rules. Golfers don't like distractions, so we're not allowed to move or press the camera shutter until after they've hit the ball. That makes it difficult to get the shots I wanted, since I couldn't always shoot when and where I wanted.

Here are a few of my favorite images from the tournament:

Harvest 2016

With the 2016 grape harvest just about to wrap, I figured it was time to share some of my favorite images of the season.

Napa Valley's first grapes were picked on July 28, 2016. Mumm has made it a tradition to pick some of their grapes as a celebration of kicking off the harvest. I was there bright and early that morning to capture the work in the field then get some snaps of the blessing of the grapes. Within a couple of months, just about all the grapes have the plucked from the vines, and the juice is fermenting away. 

I have good fun photographing this ritual every year. Sure it's rough getting up before the sun, but I'm just amazed at the speed and energy those hard-working folks do all night long. 

Vineyards

There are just a few weeks of the year when the grapes are purple and the leaves are green. When that happens, every winery in the Napa Valley wants to update their images. Which, for me, is both good and bad. Good because, well, money. Bad because that means every morning I have to get up before 6am and head out to a different vineyard. And hope there isn't any fog. And then make another trip every evening. And hope that Mother Nature gives me an interesting sky. And that the vineyard manager knows I'm coming. 

Here are a few of my favorites:

Noise Reduction Software

While today's cameras can do some amazing things shooting at high ISOs, sometimes they need a little help. By default, noise reduction is automatically applied to JPEGs. Raw files, however, can be served up with whatever noise reduction is needed. Lightroom, Photoshop, Capture One, Capture NX-D, and other raw processors have built-in noise reduction. Optionally, you can purchase plug-ins that can also perform the function.

As an experiment, I used all the noise reduction software I had to determine which one is best. They all do a fine job, and I really couldn't pick one as the best. It's all about balance; each of the applications can be tuned to get rid of the noise but at the expense of detail. None that I used could get rid of the noise and keep the fine detail. I tried to find the right balance among all the choices between noise reduction and detail.

Click on the images below to see them full screen.

This is the straight-out-of-camera image from a Nikon D5 at 102,000 ISO.

Capture One at a noise reduction setting of 40.

Topaz DeNoise at the Lightest setting.

Google/Nik Dfine on auto.

Lightroom at 50%.

AKVIS Noise Buster 10 on auto.

Macphun Noiseless Pro on the Intense setting.

Capture NX-D at 20%.

ON1 on the Strong setting.

Photoshop at level 10.

V Foundation Wine Celebration 2016

Having photographed BottleRock, Auction Napa Valley, and Festival Napa Valley, I just wrapped up the last major event of the summer -- the V Foundation Wine Celebration. The next big event is the Napa Valley Film Festival in November.

The Wine Celebration is the biggest fundraising event for the V Foundation for Cancer Research. ESPN created the V Foundation in honor of Jim Valvano who lost his battle with cancer in 1993. The charity raises funds for cancer research and has awarded over $120 million in grants.

Over the last five days, I've attempted to photograph the events...

1313 Main Advertising Campaign

A couple of months ago, I was approached by 1313 Main to do an ad campaign for the launch of their bloody mary bar. For Sunday brunch, they prepare custom bloody marys for their guests. Different vegetables, salts, meats, etc. can be ordered. It's a cool idea dreamed up by one of their frequent guests. 

It just so happens that the same frequent guest also does a little modeling on the side. We were hired to create a series of images to help promote the bloody mary bar. 

Here are the advertisements:

Festival Napa Valley 2016

Festival Napa Valley (which used to be called Festival del Sole) is a celebration of wine, food, and the arts. Its mission is to raise funds to support arts in education for local schools. Over 11 days, I photographed the lunches, the performances, the dinners, the fun, the beauty, and the emotion of it all. I'm proud to be a part of it.

The days were long as I was trying to fit in as much regular work as possible. If I had a couple of hours between events, I'd be either editing images or working on images for other clients. All the images were delivered before I went to bed each night. I can't sit on them for too long, since the media outlets want images to accompany their articles.

Here are some of my favorite images from this year:

Aerial Photography

I had been trying to avoid the purchase of a drone for a couple of years, but too many clients have been asking for aerial photographs that I had to get one. I knew that I'd be learning (AKA crashing) a lot, so I didn't see the point in buying an expensive drone at the outset. I purchased a DJI Phantom 3 last month and have been having quite a good time getting a different angle on things.