The White House on Flickr

I've been getting Obama's Tweets for quite awhile, and of course his team emails on a very regular basis, but I didn't know until today that the White House has an "official" photostream on Flickr. Pretty cool stuff. Sure, it's filtered, but it's a backstage, behind-the-scenes look at images that there's no room for on tightly managed news sites.

Obama had a Flickr stream during the campaign, too, and I admit that although I had made him a contact, the campaign photos were not as compelling as seeing him at work in the White House.

Yes, there's a bit of "gee whiz" going on on my part. And maybe there's a "so what?" factor out there, too. But I like the access that's being granted here.


Turn that building into a video game? OK! {local}

I didn't get to see this, dammit, but it sure is cool. The people at Obscura Digital made the old Mint building at the corner of Fifth and Mission look like something out of an animated movie. From the description:
So this was a really sweet project. Ricky and the boys hoisted 5 20K Christies up to the 4th floor balcony overlooking the plaza. The other two were stacked away on the ground and off at a 40 degree angle from the smaller building.

We modeled the entire space in 3D and then created media for it in 3DSMax. Very cool.

The media we created was designed to work directly with the architecture and synchronized to a music track created by our own Alex Oropeza. Some of the new guys did some really amazing work with the media, and the FireFrame software did the trick by synchronizing and blending all the projectors and fitting it perfectly with the old SF Mint building.

The project was commissioned by one of our clients, McAfee, who are great to work with and really creative.
I don't know WHY they did it, but the fact they CAN do it is enough for me. Please put me on the mailing list.


Shooting fire

I think fire is one of the hardest things to photograph well. The scenes are almost always high contrast, there are hot spots that drive your camera sensor crazy, and freezing the action with a flash is a bad option, because you really don't want the flash taking away from the light of the fire.

So what to do?

Isa "Glittergirl" Isaacs was holding her Temple of Poi Fire Dancing Expo in Union Square on Saturday evening, so there was going to be a whole new set of challenges. Isa is an amazing person and an incredible teacher, and if you'd like to learn how to fire dance yourself, you can't do better than learning from her.I first met Isa about seven years ago, in a back street near the Chronicle building in a not-so-fashionable part of the South of Market. She was leading one of her fire classes, and the chance meeting eventually resulted in a story. Her school has done really well since then, and her free Union Square event was part of San Francisco's dance week festivities.

But like I said, photographing fire is really tricky. You don't want to set your camera on automatic exposure, because the light varies too dramatically between the hot bright light of the fireballs and the much darker ambient light. The camera is not very smart, and it's going to be fooled. Many point-and-shoots and DSLRs have multiple scene modes, but I don't think they have one for fire festivals yet.

If you try an aperture-priority setting, you'll get either a well-exposed flame with a completely dark background, or you'll get an overall scene that is much too bright. The same is true with shutter-priority. The camera will adjust for the flame or the scene, but not both.

(the camera's auto settings will often give you a result that's too dark.)

So you you have only option left, manual exposure. I know that's going to intimidate at least some of you (and me!), but in this case you'll likely only have to make the settings once, and then you're good to go. I find the right manual setting by taking a bunch of shots, and then picking the exposure that looks the best -- bright flame, but with sufficient ambient light. And I do the test shots with the highest ISO setting possible (in my case, 1600) and the widest aperture, so I can get as much shutter speed as possible. The performers are going to be moving, and I want the best chance of freezing the motion and getting a nice sharp picture.When I look at the test shots, I don't mind if some of the highlights in the flames are blown out, because that's the way flames are supposed to look -- extremely bright. And I try to let in at least some ambient light, so the performers don't look like they are standing in total darkness.

We were lucky on this night, because the show was beginning before it was totally dark, so we'd have some ambient light to work with. (Oh yes, I'm sure Isa had this in mind when she set the timing for her show. Uh huh.)
I was using a 135mm, 2.0 fixed-length lens, and I could afford to expose for about 1/200th or 1/320th of a second at 1600 ISO to get the look I wanted.
Compositionally, I looked for the moments when the dancers held the flame close to their faces, so their features would be lit up by the light of the fire. The flames are cool, but it's still all about the people.

There are lots more photographs from lots of other people over on Flickr.


The bust and the boom {local}

(photo by Brian Rose)
Brian Rose did a book that documented the dotcom boom in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, as seen through the effects on the architecture of the region. It's "California Dreamin' ... House + Home + Housing" and it gets right at the explosion of creativity and innovation of the time.
There are lofts and planned villages set around transportation hubs, and the sprouts of a new urbanism in some of the grittiest neighborhoods of the city.
Despite the scruffiness of the area, the side streets near the Knox are lined with live/work lofts. There are outstanding examples of modern architecture sprinkled throughout South of Market, but it's the wild diversity of the place that creates vitality. The humblest of sheds, the parking lots and gas stations, all are intrinsic to the edgy urban character of the area. Even upscale corporate housing like the Avalon Towers stands next to--perhaps a bit aloofly--its funky neighbors.
Look at the skyline of San Francisco today, with Rincon One rising over everything and a mini megopolis rising on the southern waterfront. Yes, the recession has put hundreds of projects on hold or scuttled them entirely, but there's movement and change and growth happening in spite of it. Where there were rotting piers,
(photo by john curley)

now there's a new part of the city rising, fueled by the billions of dollars the state is spending on stem cell research. You have to think that it's time for another look.


{video} You just have to hope that Obama's new dog doesn't have issues like this

I know, I know, this one has been around awhile, but it just reached me. Wow.

I do a fair amount of talking in my sleep, and when I was younger I'd replay basketball games, with shouts and jumps and bumps, all from the comfort of my bed. But this poor dog, Bizkit, has to be verrrrry tired when it wakes up. It clearly doesn't get much rest at night.

{local} Oh those Easter bonnets ...

Are there Easter celebrations like this anywhere other than San Francisco?

Thirty years ago, three bored friends decided to spice up Easter by dressing up in religious clothing. On Sunday, several thousand people crowded Dolores Park to keep the tradition going strong. They were dressed as nuns and bunnies and lots of other things. They sprawled on the grass and listened to bands and voted with their applause in the "Hunky Jesus" contest.

It all happens because of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. They once awarded me one of their Plenary Indulgences. I was the sports editor of the San Francisco Chronicle at the time, and the Cal football team was trying to decide whether to participate in a bowl game in Arizona. The state's voters had rejected a proposition that would have created a state holiday in memory of Martin Luther King Jr. I didn't think the team should go. The sisters thought I was right, and they sent along one of their "indulgences" as a sign of solidarity.

I was raised Catholic, and I knew what a plenary indulgence was: It let you out of the punishment associated with a forgiven sin. It didn't forgive sins, or give you license to commit new ones, but it might spare you years in Purgatory burning off the penalty for the sin. (And if any of you theological scholars wish to dispute my interpretation, by all means weigh in.)

Anyway, getting that indulgence was one of the highlights of my tenure in the sports job. In what other city would cross-dressing nuns take a stance about a football team's postseason travel plans?

The sisters do lots of good things besides making Easter in San Francisco colorful and extravagant and fun. They fight the good fights for social justice and equal rights. They raise about $100,000 a year for charitable purposes. And they're beautiful.

There is a nice history of the sisters over here.


Nan Goldin's holding an auction

From an interesting but disturbing feature piece in the The Telegraph, in which Nan Goldin explains why she is selling some of the collectibles she has gathered for decades:

"I didn't want to get rid of any of it but I'm completely and totally without money," she says frankly, carrot-curled head held high.
another snippet:

From the start, she found other people's sexuality fascinating. Her two portraits of Bea – a drag-queen friend of hers – which are part of the sale, are typical of this: raw and unflinching, but affectionate at the same time. "Right now, I don't have much of a sexual life but I'm interested in other people's relationships and I feel closer to them when I photograph them – for me it's a sign of love. I've never taken a picture out of meanness," she says, exhaling smoke, "but maybe I should start."

It's a good read, and it's here.

Joe McNally knows how to use light

Combining sharpness and blur in the same photo is a great way to imply motion. When Joe McNally was on assignment shooting dancers in Dubai, he did it twice in this awesome photograph.

He uses a Nikon D3, and in this case he set it for a triple exposure and bookended the flashes. He explains how he did it (a little) in his post here.

I'm also working my way though his excellent book, The Hot Shoe Diaries. You can get it at Amazon.

a big blow

"Beginning March 22nd, 2009, Alaska's Mount Redoubt, began a series of volcanic eruptions, and continues to be active to this date. Ash clouds produced by Redoubt have pushed 65,000 feet into the sky, disrupting air traffic, drifting across Cook Inlet, and depositing layers of gritty ash on populated areas of the Kenai Peninsula and Anchorage, about 180 km (110 miles) to the northeast. Mount Redoubt has erupted at least five times since 1900, with the most recent event taking place in 1989."
via Boston.com and Rachel Lea Fox


The very last Polaroid shipment

The sad day we all knew was coming has arrived.

A photo supplies wholesaler in New Jersey says it has received the last shipment of Polaroid film ever made. The shipment arrived Monday. And that's that.

You can still buy Polaroid 600 and Spectra films, at least, as they say, until supplies last. From the company's website:
Polaroid, founded in 1937 by Edward H. Land, was most famous for its instant film cameras, which reached the consumer market in 1948 and continued to be the company’s flagship product until its decision last year to cease all production in favor of digital photography products. Unique Photo is the largest film supplier in the United States and has enjoyed its 62 year relationship with the Polaroid Corporation and looks forward to helping it's loyal customers moving forward with their instant photographic needs.
The firm's website is here. Order what you can while you can. The prices are getting ridiculous on eBay.

And you can keep your fingers crossed for The Impossible Project.

via PhotographyBlog

{local} We're Number Two!

(photo is a detail from The Onion's first print edition in San Francisco four years ago. True then, true now.)

By "we" I mean San Francisco, and I suppose we could order a recount, but hey, it's just a silly poll. But still, Popular Photography went to some lengths to arrive at an allegedly "objective" list of the top photo cities in the United States. Here is their criteria:

To measure the differences, we compared the 30 most populous cities in the United States across 10 categories, including annual average percentage of sunny hours, number of days with measurable precipitation, per-capita number of camera shops and museums and galleries that exhibit photos. We even counted private security firms, since we’ve found that the more rent-a-cops, the harder it can be to take pictures in public.

Our sources? Municipal websites and federal databases from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, General Services Administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Environmental Protection Agency, as well as private sources such as online yellow pages.

Among the things they said about San Francisco:
The onshore Pacific winds keep the East Bay smog in its place, allowing the cat-footed fog to drift through the treetops and bridge cables. And passing clouds and fog soften the light when you want lower contrast.
Which of course is a very nice way of saying it's often cold as hell, windy as the Senate chambers and probably overcast. But somehow, a lot of times, it just all works.

The complete list:
1) Denver
2) San Francisco
3) Austin (with a mention of the SXSW music festival)
4) Louisville
5) Jacksonville
6) Seattle
7) Fort Worth
8) Philadelphia
9) Dallas
10) San Jose (which of course proves the essential ridiculousness of lists like this.)

The complete story is here.

{local} we can't help it; we just love sexpigeon

here's a little bit of why.

and here's the site.