Academy Awards 2016

Every year I make it a goal to watch every Best Picture Nominee for the Academy Awards prior to the airing of the Awards Show. Here are the eight movies nominated this year and my brief take on each one. These are listed in order from least favorite to most favorite. Which one do you think is going to win?


The Revenant

This was a beautifully filmed movie, the scenery was amazing, everyone seems to love this movie but I'm going against the grain on this one, to me it was a 30 minute story stretched into 3 hours. I was bored more than once during the movie, in fact at one point I was starting to doze off. That is not the sign of a great movie. I'm guessing people are gushing over it because of the cinematography, which was spectacular, and Leo's performance which was also very good, but the drawn out story .


Mad Max: Fury Road

This movie was much better than my expectations going into to it. I was expecting just another action movie with little substance, but it surprised me. Both the story and the acting were very good. I don't typically like action movies but this one was a good balance of interesting action and visuals with a good story. I've seen some film reviewers actually predict it could win the Best Picture Award. While I liked I do disagree that it was that good.


The Martian

After reading the book I was very excited to see that it was going to be made into a movie. I was doubly excited when I heard that Ridley Scott would be the director. The visuals in the movie were fantastic and better than I could hope for. Matt Damon did a great job playing Mark Watney. But I was disappointed. Movies are never better than the book and I expected that, but the parts of the book they cut out of the movie were the parts that made it a great book, the tension. The book was full of tension and you were never sure how Watney was going to get out of a situation. The movie had zero tension. There was never a point in the movie where I felt like Watney wasn't going to make it. As I said the visuals and special effects were great but the story never grabbed me.



Room was a very good movie and although it was depressing I did enjoy it. I won't give any spoilers, but I enjoyed how it showed something I never really considered, which is the aftermath of a trama like kidnapping. Brie Larson was excellent and deserves her Best Actress Nomination. It's not a movie I would see again, or even one that stuck with me that long, but I always appreciate movies that make me think or where I learn something. Room is one of those movies.


Bridge of Spies

This movie is about what transpired after the Russian's shot down a U-2 plane during the height of the cold war in 1960 and how the a lawyer James Donovan, played by Tom Hanks, negoiated an prisoner exchange for the U-2 pilot in exchange for a Soviet KGB spy. Although before I was born, I knew about the shooting down of the plane, but knew nothing about what went on to arrange the exchange. I found it very interesting, and even suspensful. - Mark Rylance who played the KGB spy Rudolf Abel was excellent in the role, and Tom Hanks delivered his typical well done performance.



I knew nothing about this movie when I went to see it except that it had been nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award. I enjoyed this movie quite a lot, it's not very fast paced and while it was a fairly formulaic love story it still surprised me and had me questioning what was going to happen next. The lead actress Saoirse Ronan was very good. A very strong, well done movie.


The Big Short

I thought this movie was a little confusing in the beginning mainly because it is multiple stories about people who realize the housing crisis is coming and how they use that knowledge to profit for the crash. It's a complicated subject but the movie did a great job of explaining it, often by having a sidebar scene where some actor/actress does a cameo and pops in to explain a concept; Margot Robbie in a bath tub, Selena Gomez playing blackjack. The first of these caught me off-guard but it was very effective to understanding the subject matter. Great performances, especially by Christian Bale (nominated for Best Supporting Actor), Steve Carell, and Brad Pitt. A very interesting and enjoyable movie.



This movie felt a lot like All the Presidents men which showed newspaper reporters learning about Watergate. In this case it was Boston Globe reporters uncovering the child sex abuse by Roman Catholic Priests and the church's cover up. Very well acted, well paced and really great script that made it easy to follow what transpired.

Essential Travel Tools for the Photographer

For the past 26 days I've been travelling all over Europe taking photographs, a lot of photographs. In this post I wanted to share a couple of items that I took with me that I found indispensable.

Traveling Light

On my last trip to Europe 3 years ago I took over 45 lbs of camera and computer gear. This trip I wanted avoid that weight so I went with the bare minimum.

Micro 4/3rds Camera

Instead of my heavy Canon 5DmkIII I decided to take the Olympus OMD EM-1 with 4 lenses,

This gave me an effective range to 14mm-600mm which should cover every situation I was like to encounter. Normally I would not take the 75-300mm lens, but 1 week of the trip was a Mediterain Cruise and I wanted some reach from the cruise ship. In hindsight that was the right decision.

iPad instead of Laptop

This was a harder decision. I needed mail/internet access, the ability to edit photos, and a way to backup photos. On several recent domestic trips I had taken my laptop with the plan of editing photos and then never got motivated to do so. So my thinking was I would just use the iPad for some light editing, and save all the heavy Photoshop work for when I got home. My editor of choice on the iPad is Snapseed (they also have an Android version) so I was covered for the editing. Now my only issue was backing up my photos.

Backup Strategy

I purchased a few extra SD cards so I would not have to reuse cards while on my trip. But I still needed to make a backup of them each evening. I did some research and decided on the Western Digital My Passport Wireless. This is a great little drive. It has a built-in battery, wifi, and most importantly a SD slot.

Each night I would put the SD card in the WD drive, push a button and it would copy the contents of the SD card to the drive. It has the option for to erase the card or leave the photos on the card, it is smart enough to not copy photos that it has already backed up. A great solution.

In addition using the wireless capabilities I was able to use my iPad to browse the photos and download the ones I wanted to edit and post on all of my social media sites.


Part of life these days are all of my electronic devices that I travel with that need to be charged, my iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, the WD My Passport, etc. One of the challenges is finding enough plugs in a hotel room to charge all of my (and my family's) devices. When travelling domestically I put a power strip in my suitcase so I only need to find one vacant plug in the room and can charge 6 devices, but that power strip won't work in Europe at 220V, so I needed to find another solution. I ended up with a Photive 50W USB Charger. This device is AWESOME, it has six USB ports and allowed me to charge all of my devices from a single outlet. It works at both 110V and 220V and has now replaced the power strip in my suitcase.

Photive 50 Watt Charger


Overall this all worked great. I did have one small issue, I lost my iPad halfway through the trip but was able to borrow my wife's some nights to do some quick editing. I loved how light my camera bag was and carried it with me a lot more than I might have if I had my DSLR.

The only downside was not having my laptop to sort/keyword/edit photos each night. The result was I got home with over 6000 images and it took me a couple of days just to organize and keyword them all. Would have been easier to do a little bit at time each night instead of all at the end of the trip.

Next time I travel I plan to use the same basic strategy as outlined above, it worked very well.

What do you take on your travels that you find indispensable?


Academy Awards 2014

(image courtesy of Craig Piersma)

This post is going to be a break from my normal posts about photography to talk about the Academy Awards. It is a tradition of mine each year to watch all of the Best Picture Nominees prior to the Academy Awards show and then post my thoughts of the movies and make predictions about the winners.

This goal of watching all of the movies can sometimes be a challenge as some are winding down their runs in theaters or are already out of theaters but the DVD has yet to be released. This year I got an early start and managed to see all of the movies a couple of weeks before my self imposed deadline.

I thought it was interesting that 5.5 of the 9 movies this year were based on real life events (0.5 because American Hustle had fictional characters but was based on real events). Perhaps real life is stranger than fiction. Here are my thoughts on the various nominees.

American Hustle
An excellent movie and a stronger contender to win the Best Picture award. This movie has it all great story, great direction, and outstanding performances by all 4 leads, 3 of which have been nominated for Academy Awards. I highly recommend this movie.

Captain Phillips
This was also a well acted movie, that an interesting story that I was only vaguely familiar with. While enjoyable, it never really grabbed me. Tom Hanks' acting was amazing and Barkhad Abdi did a great job as well, all the more amazing because this was his first movie. Captain Phillips isn't going to win, and while it wasn't my favorite movie it is worth seeing.

Dallas Buyers Club
Another movie based on real events. I thought dragged a little at times, but it was an interesting story. I'm noticing a recurring theme in my reviews that the acting was top notch. Matthew McConaughey was very strong in this move and I believe Jared Leto will win for Best Supporting Actor for his role in this film.

This movie was the highest grossing of the nominees, and is a popular choice to win Best Picture, but I disagree. Most movies based in space get the physics wrong, or add sounds of the rocket engines, etc. Gravity started out doing a great job of getting the physics right, probably the best movie to do so since 2001 a Space Odyssey and Apollo 13. But about half-way through they threw physics out the window to make their story work. There were a half dozen scenes where the physics of space were ignored. After starting off so strong it was very disappointing to see them abandon that to make the story work. In reality they could have told the story and made the physics work, but just got lazy. For me it took a great movie and turned it into just another average adventure movie. Sandra Bullock did a great job and deserved a nomination, but won't win. I do think the movie should win for Best Cinematography, and has a shot at Best Director, but is does not deserve the Best Picture award.

Interesting movie with great acting by Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson. I enjoyed this movie but thought the ending was a little weak. I was really impressed with the cinematography of this film, lots of extreme closeups and shallow depth of field really worked to help tell this story. Not going to win, but worth watching.

I think this was a near perfect movie. Great script with tightly written dialog, great cinematography, and well acted by all involved. It didn't have a large release and therefore wasn't seen by a lot of people which is a shame. I don't think it will win but not because it doesn't deserve to.

An enjoyable movie telling a real-life tale. I enjoyed this movie but it didn't stay with me after watching. To me this is a sign of a just OK movie. The story was interesting and well told. Somewhat predictable, with only a few surprises. Dame Judy Dench was awesome as always. Not going to win, but worth seeing.

12 Years a Slave
Another real-life tale that took me on an unexpected journey. Well acted, well directed, a very interesting story. Some of the scenes made me uncomfortable, but they were meant to, and were just portraying things that happened. A very strong contender to win Best Picture.

The Wolf of Wall Street
To me the appeal of this movie was just the grandeur. The visuals in the movie were amazing, with big scenes with hundreds of actors which is where Scorsese excels. As a bonus it had actress Margot Robbie, who I've been a fan of since the tv show Pan Am. Not going to win, but worth seeing. I realize I say that all of the movies are worth watching. They aren't Best Picture nominees for nothing.

My Prediction
My top three are Nebraska, American Hustle, and 12 Years a Slave. But I think the Academy's top 3 are Gravity, American Hustle, and 12 Years a Slave. I predict 12 Years a Slave is going to be the winner.

Published in LensWork Extended Magazine

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I am honored to have my Multiscapes Series appear in LensWork Extended issue #110.

LensWork published 17 of my images from my Multiscapes series, here are a few samples from the series.


Project Origin

The impedius for this project was a photo trip to Death Valley in March 2011. I spent multiple sunrises and sunsets photographing the beautiful Mesquite Dunes and on one particular morning I took a shot of 3 dunes that reminded me of the curve of the female form. I had often done bodyscape photos with a model in the studio, and when I returned from Death Valley I used Photoshop to superimpose these bodyscapes onto the dunes.

Sensual Dunes

This was the start of a new project where I would use photos of models taken in the studio and combine them with photos from nature. I used rocks, sand, dunes, clouds, and other elements from nature that resembled the curves in my models.



Up until March of 2013 I had only used a single model for my bodyscapes, but in March I had the opportunity to shoot bodyscapes with 3 models. After a few shots I was immediately struck with how in certain poses the models looked just like the dunes I had photographed in Death Valley. I took a break and quickly sketched some poses in my notebook that were reminiscent of dunes and resumed shooting. I soon was recruiting additional models to do these "multiscapes", and reviewing my old photos looking for curves in nature that would work for these bodyscape shoots.


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Backup Cameras and Canon Professional Services


I had 6 shoots scheduled in 5 days this past week. The 2nd shoot was this past Thursday night and was a workshop I was teaching on how to shoot silhouettes. I had 5 students and a model all ready to shoot, I pulled my camera out of my bag and it would not turn on, I thought it was a dead battery, but my 2nd battery didn't work either. Crap! One of the participants, Andy Morris of ended up sharing his camera with me, so I was able to make it through the workshop.

You Have a Backup Camera, Right?

I used to have a backup camera but I sold it this past May because I had been carrying it around for over a year and had not take a single photo with it. I said to myself that I could always rent a camera from if mine broke. So I sold it and bought a new lens which I would get more use out of. In hindsight, perhaps not the best choice.

Renting a Camera

My backup plan was to rent a camera body. is local so I can pick up a camera and not have to wait on shipping, so I thought I would be covered. Unfortunately they had no Canon 5DmkIIs or 5DmkIIIs available until the following week. Doh! I checked the local camera store which also rents cameras and the price was 2.5x what BorrowLenses charges. I decided that would be plan C if I couldn't locate a camera any other way.

My Network to the Rescue

So I got on my social media and asked to borrow a camera for the weekend. I had a great response from fellow photographers and was able to pick up a Canon 5DmkII from my friend Ben Park ( on Friday morning. I used it for my remaining shoots over the weekend and returned it to him on Monday. Thanks Ben!

Canon Professional Services

I still had to deal with getting my camera repaired. So I packed it up on Friday and sent it in to Canon Professional Services ( I have the "Gold" level of Canon Professional Services which gives me a discount on repair services, free overnight return shipping and a 3-day turn-around. They received it on Monday, repaired it that day, I received it on Wednesday so I was ready for my shoot on Thursday. Total charge was $158. The issue was an internal short on one of the circuit boards.

If you are a Canon shooter and you aren't already a member of Canon Professional Services you should be. This is the 3rd time I've made use of their repair services and I highly recommend them.

So What's Next?

I'm still debating how I should prepare for the next time my camera breaks. I'm leaning towards buying another backup camera and am on the lookout for a used 5DmkII. While my photography network came through for me this time, the circumstances might not be as favorable next time, perhaps I'll be in the middle of Death Valley when my camera breaks. I'm not really willing to take that risk, so a backup camera seems like good (although expensive) insurance.

So what is your backup plan?

Gregory Crewdson, Fallen Idol?

When I discovered the work of Gregory Crewdson, a few years ago, I was in awe. His work resonated with me, I believe partly because it was the style of work that I found myself doing in my own photography. I want to make photos that look like a snapshot from a movie, that tell a story, that suck the viewer in and make them question what the image is about. The photo above was inspired by Gregory's work and I was very pleased with the end result. When I show this photo, people often comment that it is very reminiscent of Crewdson's work which I take as a compliment.

Gregory Crewdson Documentary

So when I saw that there a documentary about Gregory Crewdson and his work (Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters) I immediately found it on Netflix and started watching. However as I watched I became more and more depressed. Here was my photography idol, the man who's style I want to emulate, and the more I watched the sadder I got. After a while I stopped and asked myself why? Why, is watching him create some of my favorite photos so depressing? It turns out there was not one single reason for this sadness, but many.

Crewdson Shoots Are Huge

Crewdson has a huge budget, many of his shoots are done on a sound stage with a crew of consisting of hundreds of people who build a complete set, find the props, paint the set, bring in snow, dirt, mud, etc. to achieve just the right look to match Gregory's vision. At one point he mentioned that the one shot was costing $100K.

How can I as a lone photographer ever hope to match that achieve photos that rival his work on my non-existent budget and crew of one?

Crewdson Doesn't Actually Do Photography

Gregory doesn't actually click the shutter, he has a director of photography who does that for him, because he does not want to be behind the camera. He doesn't do post-processing, he has a team who does that for him. He is basically a producer/director. He has the vision, but he directs his team to make that vision into a final image. My first thought when I realized this was that he is not a photographer, and I was disappointed by that. If I'm going to look up to a photographer shouldn't he be an actual photographer? This bothered me for awhile, but after some reflection I realized he is still a photographer, photography does not have to be about actually clicking the shutter and doing the post-processing, it is more about transferring the vision in your mind onto a photo, the steps in between neither do or don't make you a photographer.

Turning Depression into Inspiration

After a day of processing my thoughts I turned them around and instead of being depressed I became inspired. The documentary shows Gregory at the peak of his career, he didn't start off with huge crews and $100K/photo budgets, he started where I am. Working by himself, making photos out of the scenes in front of him. I can do that, I do, do that, and if I keep at it, perhaps one day I will be shooting at his level. There is nothing stopping me.

What Do You Want From Your Photography?

For the past couple of years I've been struggling with my photography and what I want to be when I grow up as a photographer. I've tried a few avenues, made goals to publish a book, be in a gallery, etc. but I've come to realize that these were not really what I was seeking, or if they were it was just a portion of a grander whole. So what do I really want for my photography? I want my photography to be seen. I want people to look at it and have an emotional reaction. I want to be proud of my work. I want people to remember my work and seek out more. I want my photography to be memorable. I want my photos to be loved by others just as much as I love creating them. And really isn't this what most serious photographers are looking for, an AUDIENCE?

Part of what as made this so difficult is I was searching for a single audience for my work. This really came into focus when I took a workshop with John Paul Caponigro in March of 2011 (a life changing event, I've talk about it some here). He stressed that I needed to create cohesive bodies of work, that build on each other. So instead of shooting still life's, Pinup, glamour, landscapes, and everything else I was shooting at the time, I should pick one and make that be my focus. That is where this struggle started, I could not decide which of my bodies of work to pursue, I started thinking of them as which would be more marketable or please more people and ignored my inner passion to shoot all of these things. My creativity seemed to dry up and I felt like I was forcing my photos to fit into some specific unknown project.

It took another workshop, this time by Brooks Jensen publisher of Lenswork Magazine to bring clarity to the path I should be taking. Brooks pointed out that John Paul's model was the correct way to become an artist in the past, but it's not the only way and in fact it a fading view of how to become an artist in today's world. Brooks proposes that you can find an audience for any type of work and that it's OK to have disparate projects and multiple audiences. It may take a bit more work to cultivate multiple audiences, but it is doable. Instead of trying to have a consistency and focus on only one type of photography I feel free to shoot whatever project I want and then find the appropriate audience for that project. This has completely changed the way I now think about my photography and I'm excited now to pursue my passion again.

What do you want from your photography?

2012 Best Picture Nominees

Every year my goal is to watch all of the Best Picture Nominees for the Oscar. This year I met this goal on Sunday night, a week before the Oscars, on a red-eye flight from San Jose to JFK Airport in New York by watching Tree of Life on my iPad. 

There were some very good movies this year and surprisingly some bad ones as well. Here is my take on the 9 nominated films in the order I watched them.


Money Ball

I enjoyed this movie a lot. Part of that might be because it was about my local team the Oakland As. Great performance by Brad Pitt and and solid performance by Jonah Hill. Good solid A.

The Descendants

This was a slice of life movie about a slice of life I don't really care about. There were A LOT of scenes that were just 30-50 seconds of George Clooney's face, looking sad, looking pensive, looking lost, no dialog, just George's face. The first one went a bit too long and caught my attention, I was then distracted throughout the entire movie whenever it happened again and as I said it happened a LOT. Besides this the acting was all good, but as I said I found the story not that interesting. I am very surprised by all the accolades this movie has received. C+

The Help

Very well done movie, I think it was the best of the bunch. Good story, good acting, not much more to say. A+

The Artist

This movie pleasantly surprised me. I didn't think I would enjoy a silent movie, but after 10 minutes I didn't even notice that it was a silent movie. The story and acting was so well done it kept me engaged and sucked me in, the sign of a good movie.

This was the first of the movies that I watched this year that relied a little too much on coincidence in the plot. Coincidence is a common plot device, but I felt it was a little overdone in this movie. In spite of that I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. While a good movie I believe that a lot of the awards it has been receiving is do to the novelty and not because it truely is the best picture. Solid A

Midnight in Paris

I knew nothing about this movie when I went to see it except that it was directed by Woody Allen and I was surprised that it wasn't a typical Woody Allen movie. I enjoyed the references and portrayals of the great historic writers that I recognized, but I felt stupid about the ones I didn't. That part is typical Woody Allen, throwing in references that only a small part of the audience is going to get. I really enjoyed this movie at the time I watched it, and I have warm fuzzy feelings about it, but it didn't stick with me. Now 4 weeks later I couldn't tell you how the movie ended, again typical of Woody Allen movies. So perhaps it was more of a Woody Allen movie that I initially thought. A-


I put off this movie because it just didn't sound that interesting to me, but it was much more interesting than I anticipated. The best part of this movie were the elaborate sets and scenes. It is a visually rich movie and even though I did not see it in 3D, I really enjoyed the visuals. This was the 2nd movie of the group that I felt relied too much on coincidence. There was not just 1 or 2 coincidences there were dozens and I felt it detracted from the overall story. I was entertained, but felt a little cheated at the end. B+

War Horse

Another visually rich movie with way too many coincidences. Less than Hugo, but enough to be unbelievable. I enoyed the time period this movie was set in and the portrayal of World War I life and times. I recall another movie I've seen from that time period and I found that aspect of the movie fascinating. I was a little disappointed by how the horse seemed to be more intelligent than a normal horse, like it could read the minds of the people around it. This is probably a result of interpreting the book, which was written from the horse's perspective, so it's understandable.  An entertaining film. B+

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

This was another movie I put off because I really had not interest in a movie about 9/11. But while integral to the story, it really wasn't a movie about 9/11. The boy in this movie was fantastic, and really carried the movie. Like some of the other movies, this one had a little too much coincidences. A good movie, but not a great movie. B+

Tree of Life

I put this one off until the end because I had heard so many negative reviews about it from friends. People who said they got up and walked out of the movie. After seeing it I can certainly understand wanting to walk out. You could cut out the first 20 minutes of this movie and the last 10 and make this into a fairly decent movie, but those 30 minutes ruined it. The visuals were stunning, deep space, churning water, volcanic lava, etc. but they did absolutely nothing to move the movie along. I'm sure the director thought there was some deep meaning in these scenes, but there wasn't, he was just full of himself and too proud to cut it out. I'm guessing the Academy members that selected this didn't understand it either and just didn't want to admit they weren't smart enough to figure it out so they decided it must be brilliant. Either that or the director sent them all free hookers and blow. The story jumped around a little too much for my taste, and the parts with Sean Penn could also have been cut from the movie without losing much. By far the worst movie I've seen in the last 2-3 years. D


So there it is, my take on this year's Best Picture Nominees. I think the Help should win, but suspect that The Artist will win because of it's novelty. 




Is Being Creative a Constant Uphill Battle?

Ira Glass outlines what it takes to break through as a creative person. I've seen various versions of this over the past month, but liked this presentation and thought it fit well with today's topic.

I am constantly trying to realize my vision in my photography. I have the idea and visualize it in my mind, but the resulting photograph is rarely as good as in my mind. Occasionally though I produce some work that I'm really proud of, because it exactly represents my vision, perhaps it's a fluke, or by chance. Perhaps it's because I had planned and thought about the concept for months or years prior to actually taking the photo. Perhaps that planning helped me to pay attention to the little details while I took the photo.

Often when I do get one of these "good photos", I will come back a year later and look at it and think our naive I was, that I'm much better now than I was then and I could make that photo so much better now. It seems that I am never happy with the level that I'm at. I'm always striving to get better, which I guess is a good thing, but I often wonder if I'm ever going to get to the point where I consider my work good. Or is it going to be a constant striving to be better, never satisfied with the current?

Learning to Say NO!

I recently came across this quote that summed up one of my issues very well.

"People think focus means saying yes to the thing you've got to focus on. But that's not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully." -- Steve Jobs

I suffer from this in spades. I am constantly getting distracted by the next idea, project, shoot, you name it. Any good project is going to generate ideas for other projects and I don't tend to have the discipline to say no to these new projects ideas and go off and pursue them as well until I have way too many projects to do.

So starting now I'm picking just one primary project to focus on and I'm going to get it across the finish line before starting any new project.