Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Crappiest Lens in the Room, Part I

Like the title? I'll explain directly.
Lego Girl - Chicago

This past weekend was the event I had been waiting for for some time. I rode the roller coaster of highs (this is going to be so great!) to lows (what was I thinking?) and back again.

By the time the plane took off from Atlanta I was cautiously optimistic with a side of anticipation.


We-my BFF Candi who will now and forevermore be referred to as bffC but not to be confused with mfC and I-landed in Chicago just in time for rush hour, and enjoyed a joyous rush hour commute from the airport to the hotel which involved suffocation, open windows and lost chapstick. We got checked in to our hotel with two or three conventions going on. The view from my room was amazing - looking across Michigan Avenue toward the lake. On the right was the Field Museum and on the left was the Hancock Tower.
bffC had a mission of going to the Lego Store who knew there was such a place? so off we went. It was only several blocks, just a mile or so. Ha!

After a long hike, we arrived. It was a great place. Can't really say much more than I am set with some awesome Christmas presents for certain littles in my life. And I snapped a couple of phone pictures included here. Wait, I must mention that shopping at the Lego store with a mother of two boys-7 and 10, now I believe-was a Godsend. If I had not had guidance, I would never have known to assemble certain parts with other parts and then to count them out to be sure all corresponding parts were available for maximum construction opportunities. And in retrospect, maybe I should have bought my brother's present at the Lego store too, because I notice he's often in all the kid's pictures that involve Legos.

R2D2 - Chicago

We left the Lego mecca starving, and after a discussion about whether we wanted McDonald's or Subway after California Pizza Kitchen had a too long a wait, settled on Subway.

After a sumptuous meal at Subway we really know how to paint the town red we walked back to the hotel to try to hook up with the other workshoppers in the bar. Now, I have a streak of shy that rears its ugly head on occasion, and I hate walking into something like a bar to try to find people I know, let alone people I don't know. We found the bar, and might have picked out the photographer, but weren't sure. No one looked like they were waiting for more people to join their party. So, we went to our rooms for the night.


This was it! It was cloudy and cool, but not yet rainy or snowing. Up and out by 8:30, we visited Dunkin Donuts for coffee and bagels and went next door to the Fine Arts building to the workshop. The building was amazing with mission style woodwork and terrazzo floors with mosaic tiles for borders. Over the doorway from the entry to the hallway is the inscription "All Else Fades - Art Alone Endures". After that, we took the elevator to the 4th floor with kids carrying musical instruments. The elevator is the last human operated elevator operating in the US - pretty amazing.

The space we were in had lovely dark woodwork with a pattern painted on it - by Frank Lloyd Wright before he became Frank Lloyd Wright.
Everyone got settled in and Me Ra and her husband Brian arrived. Soon after we had introductions: why were you here, what's your ability level, what do you hope to get out of the workshop?

At least two ladies didn't own DSLRs yet (lots of courage to come) and several were interested in building or beginning a photography business. Most wanted to continue to document their families' day to day lives, to help preserve memories, and everyone was there to be the best they could be when they held a camera in their hands. There were several pairs or groups of friends, and two mother/daughter combos. More than a few became emotional when talking about their reasons for being there.

Me Ra shared some of her story: of working her way back from date rape, marriage and then losing their second child, and picking up a camera as she learned to live life again. I noticed that she laughed so readily. I like that. It is engaging - she is engaging. Later on, she and bffC got into a conversation that appeared to range from kids to God, but I didn't hang around and actually eavesdrop. My point is, she seemed genuine and everyone seemed to respond to it.

The first order of the day was to understand that photography was all about light. No light, no photos. How much light you let in (aperture), how long you let it in (shutter speed) and how sensitive your "canvas" is to the light (ISO). Along the way we talked about equipment, and how much stuff there is and what equipment you really need.

I will stop at this point to say that I really appreciated Me Ra for her attitude that all that stuff is not imperative to take good photographs. That she doesn't haul around so much lighting and gear. But that the camera, and maybe the lens most of all is what counts. And Me Ra is an award winning destination photographer who charges $20,000 or so per wedding, so one would think she's doing something right.

Back to equipment. About That: Me Ra also said that the lens(es) that come with a camera, also called a kit lens, is the crappiest lens of all. Why? Because they come with an aperture that won't get wide enough to make those wonderful shots that everyone wants to be able to take with the right kind of blurring in the background. This is when bffC and I looked at each other and laughed because what did we have? Correct! Kit lenses!! We had the crappiest lens(es) in the room!!

Not to fear, Me Ra also mentioned that Canon made a 50mm lens that could do the good things we had been discussing, and it was about $100. When most lenses are hundreds or thousands of dollars, this sounded too good to be true. I surreptitiously got online at B&H Photo, and there it was: $84.95. Right up my alley! The second lens she mentioned will take even me some time to justify: it was the 24-70mm for around $1200.

Although, if you add the two together and divide by 2, you get a much more reasonable per lens investment. That's my mind. Always working.

We spent time looking at images she brought and discussing why they worked, what the exposure and shutter speeds were and how she decided the composition.

We soon learned there would be a photo shoot with models. Then we learned the models were moms and babies. And then the sun went very far away and the day became even more overcast and cold, and there was no natural light, no matter how large the window.

And the photo shoot was moved to a room with 1 window and fluorescent lights and the heat turned up to keep the babies warm. And twenty or so photographers descended on the models.

Let's meet the models, shall we?

This is Julianna with her mom, Marisol.

And this? Well, howdy, partner: this is Duke sitting with his mom Janell.

This is baby Hayden with his parents.

And last but not least is baby Keira with mom Kristen.

Tomorrow, the shots I liked from the shoot and the epiphany regarding the last technical element of photography. And bffC's consultation on the right lens for sports photography. Oh, and setting up a model for portraits.

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