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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Las Vegas resorts

Back in the desert again last month, this time in Sin City.

Again, not my usual thing, I'm used to beaches, ocean and humidity, but this assignment came directly from the shot of the W in Scottsdale I posted a little while back. Not too often that things like that happen, but when it does it feels that all is right with the world.

November in Las Vegas isn't warm, especially hanging off a terrace 25 floors up on a windy evening. The noise, crowds and hookers are all way down below. all I can hear is the sound of Stan Getz playing Bossa Nova from the room and Astrid Gilberto's sweet voice accompanying him. Perfect music to be shooting the Bellagio fountains to. We also did a number of stitched panoramas from this terrace that turned out quite well, although we were way off the twelve shot panos that Peter Lik did from an adjacent location with a Red Epic. But, that's Peter for you.

The new(ish) City Center is the largest private construction project ever undertaken in the U.S., and it is mighty impressive - hotels,casinos,shopping,entertainment and residences all rolled into one massive development.You could spend a month shooting the place and still have missed something, it's just that big - and worthy. Although I must admit that the Veer Towers gave me the willies - twin towers leaning in the opposite direction to each other. Reminds me of a hotel we did in Atlanta that didn't have one right angle in the whole place. Just doesn't feel right somehow.

A special thanks to the guys at the Sony Store in the Forum Shops in Caesars Palace for coming through when we had a technical issue. Not too often we find service that good anymore and more's the pity.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Cape Cod in the Fall

It's been over twenty years since I've had a job on Cape Cod. In the meantime, we actually owned a summer place in Hyannisport for a number of years. So, I've shot a lot here, but this is only the second time that I'm getting paid to do so.

These two shots are typical Cape in mid-September. One glorious sunrise and one dreary cloudy day that was also very interesting, but unusable for commercial purposes. I didn't even notice the cloudy scene because I was facing the other way toward the resort and the ocean and muttering about the crappy weather.

Deciding to call it quits and pack up for the day I looked over my shoulder across the saltwater inlet and marsh behind me and voila! Nice little scene and very Cape Cod like.

It's unusual for us to be working outside of the Sunbelt and the tropics, but it's not for lack of interest on my part. It just rarely happens that way, and when it does, I can't think of a place I love to be more than this.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Summer in Scottsdale

This is a personal shot and an unusual one for me because I usuually don't work in urban surroundings.

It was taken during a break on a resort shoot in Scottsdale, AZ. I decided to go downtown and explore the air-conditioned cocoons called shopping malls. Sitting at a traffic light, I saw the newly opened W Hotel out of the corner of my eye, on the cross street. I zipped over and parked on a side street and watched the scores of twentysomethings come and go from the W. They all seemed to be dressed in baggy surfer shorts and garish T shirts, proclaiming "Acapulco Beer Champ", and the like.

Starwood like to brand the W as a hip brand but I doubt that this is what they had in mind. Must be happy hour, I thought, as the music blared from the rooftop pool deck and I could see the silhouettes of their bodies milling around against the setting sun.

I quickly and somewhat absent mindedly shot off about a dozen frames and didn't bother to go inside because it looked like a zoo. Besides, I was on a mission and going shopping before we started to set-up for the evening's shoot.

Later that night, I started to process the day's take and when this shot popped up on the screen I became dissapointed that I hadn't spent more time or given it more thought. I liked it and wished that I had more to choose from.

All that I can say is that I blame it on the heat. It was 115 degrees for seven days in a row and even the usual cool night air of the desert didn't materialize. The first day, I just thought that the heat was a little crispy. The second day, I started muttering, "son of a bitch", but by the third day, I was going mental. Even the cameras and lens barrels were hot to the touch and when a gust of super-heated wind hit my face, it just sucked the breath from my mouth.

I've worked in the desert before; here in Scottsdale, as well as Las Vegas and in Cabo San Lucas, Baja, a number of times, but I have never been as debilitated as this. My usual stomping ground is the Caribbean and Mexico and I rarely work north of Miami. Not only do I have no problem with the heat, I love tropical weather and feel that I was born for it. All I can say is that it's a good job I've been doing the Cancun shuttle lately and my skin is already well tanned, because I would have fried otherwise.

The day after I left, Phoenix and Scottsdale were hit by a massive sandstorm, hundreds of feet high, driven by searingly hot winds, that pummeled the city and brought it to a standstill. Whew. Close one.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Yucatan memories

I recently returned from back-to-back projects in Mexico - a week in Cancun and then we drove south to the Riviera Maya for the second shoot.

Fourteen consecutive days of 5am starts and 7pm finishes seemed like child's play when I returned and faced editing about 8000 frames. "You've got to learn to be more selective", I said to myself. As if that's going to happen, because I always say that to myself. Ah well, old dogs, new tricks and ne'er the twain shall meet. (Apologies to Kipling).

I used to live around here in the 1970's and although much has changed it still feels like home to me. At one point we were a short drive from Belize, where I also lived, but I resisted the temptation of a trip down memory lane because we were on a schedule. Cancun didn't really exist then, it was just a big spit of white sand which curved out 15 miles into the sea. Local fishermen would ferry people across to Isla Mujeres for a few pesos and Cozumel for a few pesos more. Now, huge catamarans ferry hundreds of people at a time to these islands and Cozumel even has an international airport.

Playa del Carmen is supposed to be the fastest growing town in Latin America, but it seems to decay as fast as they build. Even the building seems to be half-assed, unfinished this, unfinished that and there are more potholes than in the old part of town. Maybe they're actually constructing potholes? Hmm. Still, it has a charm that even the hordes of English louts roaming the streets can't dent.

Playa is definitely more Mexican than Cancun and although I usually go for more "authentic" myself, there's something about Cancun I really like. The Riviera Maya is completely the opposite of Cancun's large, multi-level resorts, and intimate, low-rise buildings spread over large, mangrove covered, properties prevail. If heaven on earth exists, this is it.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Location laptop for photographers

As anyone who has read this Blog will know - yes, both of you - I'm a reluctant Blogger at best and am never to sure what to write about. Why anybody would be interested in me, I have no idea and I'm not that egotistical or insecure that I need affirmation from others.

This is different though. I have finally found something that I would like to share. While it's not earth-shattering, I do believe that I have found the Holy Grail, for me, anyway. Lugging computers around on location is an absolute pain, and also absolutely vital. I've tried numerous and different combinations of gear and always had too much, or too little - until now.

Two months ago I started the search for the perfect location laptop for the way that I work. I have a lovely Sony with an 18.5" screen and a fully calibrated monitor that's just too big to be as versatile as I need on location. I shoot tethered infrequently and rarely have a client looking over my shoulder at the capture, so the Sony was overkill and took up a lot of valuable, carry-on luggage space. On the bottom end I have a little Asus R2 Ultra Mobile PC, the predecessor of Netbooks. It has a useless 7" screen and is completely underpowered. However, it has a bunch of USB ports and I could attach a card reader and two external drives and securely copy my work as I went along. Not entirely satisfactory, but I had redundant copies of the work, which was the most important thing.

When the iPad came out, like many others I had high hopes that were dashed because of its lack of USB ports and the lack of ability to attach peripheral drives - partially remedied by the Hyperdrive unit, but not totally satisfactorily. I have an iPad version of the Hyperdrive and like it, but I use it for on-the-fly backup prior to my nightly back up to a laptop. I consider it to be another backup of my backup and carry it in a separate place to my other drives, just in case.

So, I went in search of something in the middle of what I already own - just what I need, more gear! After a long search of every manufacturer that I could find, who was also credible and had a firm reputation, I settled on the Fujitsu TH1000, a Laptop and Tablet convertible, responsive to both fingers and stylus. While it only has an 12.5" screen,it is big enough for Lightroom. To compensate for the i3 processor, I put in a 250 Gig solid state drive that is lightning fast. The 4 Gigs of RAM are more than sufficient and Windows 7 makes full use of it all.

Here are the key factors that sold me on this unit: four USB ports and an Express Card slot that I can put a card in that accepts two eSATA connections. The DVD drive pops out to make room for an additional battery module with which I get a solid 8 hours of use from. It has an internal SD card slot which I use as a 32 Gig Cache drive to speed up Lightroom - keeping the C drive as clear as possible is very important if you want Lightroom to be responsive and as fast as possible.

I didn't put Photoshop on this machine because I don't do any post production work while still on location and I want lots of free space on that C drive. Lightroom is so fully featured now it's all I need until I get back home.

I attach two Seagate Go Flex Pro drives with eSATA, the Pro units are 7200 RPM and worth the extra. Lightroom doesn't use a lot of RAM, but it sure likes fast drives and an eSATA connection. If I'm being really paranoid, I make an addiitonal copy on my Guardian Maximus Mini - a RAID 1 storage unit using 2.5" drives, from OWC - highly recommended and quite inexpensive for what they are.

My main criteria was small, very portable, multi-functional, long battery life, flexibility of use and lots or ports, and I got it all. However, dressed up as I finally did it doubled the initial price, so it isn't a cheap machine, but it's the most flexible and usefully compact thing I could find, without any major compromises.