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Friday, February 19, 2021

Focusing on the details of my new website.



WARNING! NERD CONTENT LIKELY! I will post a warning, though, whenever it is coming up!

While I will certainly provide a bonkers amount of nerdy content, I will also make sure those of whom aren't as tech - centric, won't get lost.

First, when it comes to websites, the name is the name of the game, and in all things digital, its name, name, name. Professionally speaking, michaeltollestrup.com is much more professional sounding, than texasphotoguy123.com (not an actual website, I checked). I used to use "mjtphotograps.smugmug.com". After a few years, and seeking advice from many photographers at many levels, I determined I should just use my own name. I often provide this advice to many people, regardless of career type, because your name can be a truly powerful branding tool, and asset. 

Even if you pick a good name , it may not be available. I got lucky, in that my last name isn't as common as others, and that meant that I could keep michaeltollestrup.com . A friend of mine tried to set up a personal website, but their first and last name are much more common, and the "doppelgänger" for him happens to be a lawyer in London, England!

Once I picked a good name, I needed to pick a service to host my domain name. I had seen several TV ads for GoDaddy, and I didn't really consider other options. My first year, I paid a promotional price of just 1.99, and now I pay just over $40 per year. More specifically, I should mention that SmugMug partnered with GoDaddy and created SmugDomains. That's partially why I chose GoDaddy because they partnered with SmugMug, and I wanted to ensure a seamless integration for me, but more importantly for my visitors and clients. 


The Setup

**WARNING! NERD CONTENT AHEAD!**

GoDaddy has a system of networked computers and hard drives, and that's what they use to host my website, amongst many others. You may actually be familiar with the more common term for this "networked computer system," a Server. When a customer requests some amount of information when visiting a website, a server is displaying that information for the customer. The server "serves" the information, which is stored on a bunch of computers.

Briefly speaking, a website, like all digital information, is really just some variation of a visual representation of computer code. For instance, a few lines of computer code that define my website are:

            <a
                class="hdr-logo header-color7 header-font7"
                href="/"
                style="position:relative;top:-55px;padding:20px 0px;width:333px;height:100px;background-image:url(https://cdn.zenfolio.net/img/s/v-12/u697154948-o955444234-111.png);background-position: center center;background-size: 333px 100px;"
                title="Michael Tollestrup">
            </a>

Could you catch what all that code defines? It turns out that's the code for my business logo! All of that code, and in almost every case for websites, is written in a language called, HTML.
    HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language) is the basis of my website, and defines all of the objects on my website. Images, text, links and other items are defined, written out and displayed with HTML code.

As for all of the colors, fonts, underlining, shapes and other special styling is done with a different language called, CSS. 
    CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) is the language that takes the HTML code and styles it with all kinds of variations. If you look back at the HTML code above, you'll see that there actually is some CSS embedded into the HTML.

            <a
                class="hdr-logo header-color7 header-font7"
                href="/"
                style="position:relative;top:-55px;padding:20px 0px;width:333px;height:100px;background-image:url(https://cdn.zenfolio.net/img/s/v-12/u697154948-o955444234-111.png);background-position: center center;background-size: 333px 100px;"
                title="Michael Tollestrup">
            </a>

That styling defines:
    Padding: How much of a margin above and below is required
    Height & Width: Size of the logo on the screen
    Image Link: When you click on the link, it takes you to my homepage
    Position: Where on the page is it located: Center, Center.

SUMMARY: Everything on my website (the images, fonts, logos, colors, transitions, shopping cart, buttons & links etc) requires HTML and CSS coding to work. All of that information needs to be stored somewhere, and that is where GoDaddy comes in to play. GoDaddy's computers and hard drives, remember that is also known as their "Servers," store my code, and display it whenever someone wants to visit my website.



The Hosting

So all of the code is all fine and dandy, but where should I build my site? And by build, I mean where should I design, setup, layout and add all of my content. While I know enough HTML and CSS to get me started, I can't do anything too technical. I know surprising right!

Like I previously stated, I originally chose SmugMug, and they were great! Previously though, I decided to switch to Zenfolio, my current website builder. I previously did a write up on my decisions for switching, and some of the philosophy of my choices during that switch — to read all about that, check out my blog post HERE!

Once I decided to use SmugMug, and also when I transferred my site to Zenfolio, I needed to connect the website builder to the website hoster. When anyone hosts a website, and connects it to a builder, some records are needed to tell the customer's computer what to do, when they request access to a website. Those records are almost always going to be a CNAME record. CNAME records are basically just local guides in a city, that point your computer in the right direction, eventually leading your computer to the server that hosts the website. Imagine a treasure map:



When you want to visit my website, your computer searches the web, and will find that GoDaddy hosts my website. With the CNAME records, GoDaddy will then tell your computer that Zenfolio builds my website, and finally you end up on my homepage. Without the CNAME records, or without GoDaddy, your computer won't be able to find my site. Basically, GoDaddy is the travel agency, and the CNAME records are the local tour guide. 



How The Photos Work

Oh dear. How on earth was I going to transfer more than 52,000 photos. I briefly answered this question on a previous blog post (HERE), but I wanted to go into further detail. Before I go into file sizes, download speeds and other fun nonsense, I will briefly detail what all is going on.

Photos (now) are digital files that contain information about the scene the photographer took a picture of. Every time the photographer takes a picture, the sensor records values for each pixel of the sensor. When light comes into a sensor, if the sensor is excited (receives light), and detects that the light is either red, blue or green, it will record that information as a number value. If it is fully red, it will display RED255. The full brightness for any color is recored as 255. If it is fully Green, it would show GREEN255.

If a sensor has a size of 5568 pixels X 3712 pixels, it would be roughly 20.8 Megapixels in size. The transferring of sizes from Megapixels to Megabytes is way too complicated for this post (comment or message me if you want to learn more!), but just keep in mind that the majority of my photos (43,680) are roughly 20 Megabytes (MB) in size.

Image courtesy of Apple, Inc.


As previously stated, each of my photos were roughly 20 Megabytes (20MB) in size. There were some files that were smaller and larger, but roughly 84% of my photos fell within a 2 Megabyte range of the 20 MB average. As a result, my 52,000 photos, videos and panoramas comprised more than 2 Terabytes of total size!



As I stated in my other blog post, I used a service that downloaded all of my photos, videos, panoramas and other content from my SmugMug site. My download speed at my house is not slow by any means, and took roughly 16 hours. I had to connect an external, 8TB hard drive, and download the entire archive onto the drive. 

Thankfully, and thoughtfully, I made the decision to not post every photo from the original site. I also decided I would only post a limited number of photos on my site. In total, I have roughly 120 photos publicly available, and several thousand available only to my clients. As a result, I only use a few hundred Gigabytes of data for my new site.



Lastly, Technical Website Stuff!

I'll keep this section shorter than the others. When it came to my new website, I didn't make too many changes from the default for the template, other than the following:
        
        • Logo
        • Font Used
        • Background
        • Theme

The default title for the website, is simply my name, and I decided to change it to my formal business logo. I also added the word "Photography." This formal logo is used on formal business documents (invoices, quotes, terms & conditions etc), and is used for formal settings, i.e. my website.


As for the font, the default used I believe was Rosenvelt, but I changed it to a Google Available Font, "Cormorant." A brief type specimen for Cormorant is displayed here, the weight of the font used for the logo is "Medium."


The background and theme for the website for changed only slightly, and were changed for the purposes of easier, more visually discernible use. A white line is used as the background for the menu bar, and the background for the entire website is set as a light gray (Hex Code: #f4f4f4 | RGB: 244,244,244). The font color was not set to black, and rather as a dark gray, again for the purpose of easier, more visually discernible use.


That's It For Now...

Hopefully that makes sense, if not of course comment or message me, and I'll try to explain it easier! Most of the changes from my old site to my new site were minor. However, I thought I'd detail the transition, for those of whom are interested. 

> LATER THIS MONTH, I'll detail my newly updated branding designs, and I'll also explain how branding can be important for any photographer, or creative designer!


—Michael Tollestrup


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Check Out My All - New Photography Website HERE!

Monday, February 15, 2021

An All New Website! (Seriously!) - Creating my new Zenfolio Site





"All - New" This term is used rather loosely, but I mean it! Seriously!
Its actually an All - New:
• Website
• Layout
• Design

It wasn't something negative about SmugMug, or that I hated something about it, I wanted to refresh my website and online presence. Additionally, creating a new website had the added benefit of re-invigorating my photography (more on that later).


The Reasoning

Previously on Michael Tollestrup TV... no seriously though, I used SmugMug ("SM") to host my photography website (not the website address "michaeltollestrup.com" which is hosted by GoDaddy, but more on that too, later). I started using SM around 2014, I think, and have loved every part of it. Like I said earlier, I didn't hate SmugMug, and I have never had a website issue that couldn't be resolved, or at least one that I didn't get an answer on. Speaking of answers, its customer service platform was excellent, and I always got a response from a well - trained, highly - knowledgeable expert. Their award-winning (btw I'd like to see that award show) service was also friendly and reachable at many late hours of the night.

My point is, SmugMug was perfect. Its Service offering was perfect. So why the change? First, I decided recently that I wanted to further pursue journalism as a career. Or at least something similar (more on that in a future post). As a result, and for the time being, I will be focusing on my photography, as a business. Unlike the past, I will put photography first, and that means I need to get paid! SmugMug unfortunately has no way for me to book clients, for clients to schedule appointments, for me to take payments or manage clients.

Zenfolio has such an offering. Previously I accomplished this with two separate services. The first being Square, and the second being Setmore. Both were great, but the integration with SmugMug was not ideal. Sure I was able to include a button that would direct clients to book an appointment. Doing so would take them to Setmore, and more importantly, it would take them away from my website. Then, if the customers wanted to schedule an appointment, there was no way for me to collect partial payments, or discount my services with coupon codes.  

Again, Zenfolio had the ability for potential clients to book appointments, process partial payments as a booking confirmation, and could even offer discounts. Another thing was that Zenfolio was just a fresh start, something that seemed visually cleaner compared to my old site (not necessarily SmugMug's fault though).





Portfolio Worthy?

Sure a website is crucial to establishing a brand, online presence and acts as a key marketing tool, but I was focused on a more technical benefit to a new website. Many photographers have said that a portfolio, an online collection (or even a print collection) of work, is the best way to ensure I stay consistently motivated. Seeing that old bird photo from 4 years ago, 5 years ago or even longer would constantly motivate me to go out and replace that photo with an even better one. 

On my website I have 7 different portfolios, each showcasing photos from various points in my photography career. Some photos in my portfolio are from 6 years ago! Not that I want to replace that photo, but a portfolio provides a visual depiction of my best work. A visually measurable offering that clients can see and respond with.





Where do the photos go?

So what on earth am I doing with my photos? What am I doing with all of the old photos from my SmugMug site? Fun fact, I found out my SmugMug archive contains over 52,000 photos, more than 100 panoramas and takes up more than 2 Terabytes. I decided to make a digital copy of all of the photos, videos and panoramas, but I also decided to keep using SmugMug.

WHAAT? Keep using SmugMug? That's right!

Consider this: What online cloud storage service lets you:
• upload unlimited photos
• upload unlimited videos
• upload pdf and even raw digital files
• use an unlimited amount of online storage.

All for a low monthly fee? Well Google, Amazon, Backblaze and others let you upload any kind file, and some let you use unlimited storage, but it can get expensive real quick. Smugmug's cheapest plan, paid month - to - month, is $7. Paid year - to - year: it's only $60 ($5 per month). Thats darned cheap. As a result, I figure why not continue to use their cheapest plan as an online cloud backup of my important content. 

BUT WAIT! How would I download the photos in the event I had something go wrong (drive failure, computer failure? How would I transfer all of my 52,000+ photos to my new site, or somewhere else? I tried doing the painstakingly long, and labor intensive process of downloading each gallery, one at a time. After, I would upload them to my new site, however, luck prevailed. Luckily I found an app that I could use to download a carbon copy of my website content, and it would also retain. the hierarchy. Unfortunately I won't say which app, as I want to keep it a secret should I need it again. I plugged in an 8TB external drive, and downloaded the entire archive in one go. My home internet speed isn't terrible, so it only took a mere 16 and half hours! 

Lastly, I made a crucial decision regarding how I would present the content on my new website.





Presentation. Presentation. Presentation.

I used to be of the mindset that I should just take lots and lots of photos, and post all of them. You read that right, ALL OF THEM. Yes, I was crazy, and I'm still partially crazy now, however my reasoning at the time seems logical enough. If I take 1,000 pictures at a football game, why not post all of them? So as long as the photos were in focus, looked decent and I didn't see anything overtly wrong then why not post them. Sadly, when culling (sorting, organizing, choosing, et cetera) through my photos I had to laboriously crop, edit and retouch every single photo. No matter how many I took.

Just about any photographer should (my opinion) tell you that I was insane for doing that. I remember one of my first galleries I ever posted was a track and field meet for my high school. I think I probably posted more than 1,200 photos. And because I care too much about the little details of things, it was actually 1,215 photos. Yikes!

This got me seriously thinking about my new presentation. How would I present my best work, and still let family, friends, the public and my clients see all of my exciting explorations (some more so than others). Then it hit me. Well not really, it wasn't like it was too much of an issue, for me at least. I would only show my portfolios (10-15 photos per type), and I would only show a limited set of photos from my "explorations."

Paolino Real Estate Headquarters, Providence, RI | 2016
Nikon D7000 | 18-140mm lens at 18mm | f/4 — 1/200sec. — ISO 400

Sugar Land Memorial Park, Sugar Land, TX | 2020
Nikon D500 | 200-500mm lens at 500mm | f/5. — 1/200sec. — ISO 400


I love exploring, doing research and finding out all kinds of stuff about really anything. Using photography I have found that I can explore almost anything, with a uniquely visual restriction. While my current explorations are a bit generic (Christmas, sunsets ...), there is a lot I want to research. I am planning on visually exploring adaptive living, mechanical engineering and smells .

This more creative part of my website means I don't have to worry about getting the "best" photo possible. For my portfolio I need to take a photo that is at least better than my worst picture for the topic. However, with my explorations, I can post photos that reflect my current understanding of a subject. Yes, this is more geared towards fine-art, but more and more I find myself wanting to take photos without having to worry about clients, deadlines or perfection.



Next Steps...

While I'm not entirely sure about what all this means (philosophically), I am exceedingly optimistic about what all my new website will mean for my clients, my work, my creative development and for my photography career & lifestyle. Throughout the rest of the month I will be updating, adding and revising my website, so stay tuned for the next chapter of my creative visual presentations.

** Oh, I almsot forgot. In a post later this month, I'll detail the actual process of transferring my domain, photos and setting up the finicky parts of my site. 
** FOREWARNING, IT WILL BE NERDY!

—Michael Tollestrup

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Check Out My All - New Photography Website HERE!

Friday, May 22, 2020

Memorial Day | Focal Point Fridays - Chapter 2



Semper Fidelis. The motto of the United States Marine Corps. Each of the five branches of the military have their own motto. For The Corps, their motto means "Always Faithful". I found this motto to be particularly apt when writing about Memorial Day. Always Faithful. Nothing is better, in my opinion, when discussing a national day dedicated to honoring and remembering the sacrifice and hard work our Men and Women in the armed forces make and do. Always Faithful, I'm saying it again because It can't be said enough. Always honor the hard work and sacrifice of our armed forces, always remember their dedication to making our country safer and better, and always be faithful to those who serve and protect our country.

This Memorial Day, I am even more aware of the sacrifice our armed forces are making, and let us not forget, the sacrifices of their families, too. How are our brave men and women serving in our armed forces doing during these difficult times? What are they doing? For Chapter 2 of Focal Point Fridays, I am going to highlight some past events and photography projects that I have done on or around Memorial Day.



A few years ago I went to my local park and experimented with an ultra wide-angle lens. The park, aptly named, Memorial Park. I ended up taking two photos that are both in my photography portfolio. The first is one of my favorites of the park, and one of my favorites in general. The first photo was taken at 10mm, and despite this, there is barely any distortion. I greatly enjoy this photo because the contrast between the structure and the island it is on, and the night sky are quite remarkable. Since taking this photo, I have tried to replicate this photo, but have been unsuccessful.

Memorial Park, Sugar Land, TX.
Nikon D7000 | 10-24mm lens at 10mm | f/3.5 — 1/20sec. — ISO 100



The second photo was taken with a slightly different lens, but at 18mm. The second, one that that would eventually find its way in the yearly calendar the City of Sugar Land publishes, for the month of December. This photo was a short exposure, and I managed to capture three light trails, and I think this photo is made by these light trails. However, I will admit that there is quite a bit of noise in the shadows.

Memorial Park, Sugar Land, TX.
Nikon D7000 | 18-140mm lens at 18mm | f/4 — 30sec. — ISO 100




The next few photos were taken at various Memorial Day events, and I thought I would share them, not only because they are part of The City's history, but also because they were taken at The City's Memorial Park. The first two photos are of Sugar Land Veterans, both of which served in the Vietnam War.

Two Vietnam Veterans in attendance at the Memorial Day Celebration, May 2017.
Nikon D7000 | 70-200mm lens at 200mm | f/2.8 — 1/800sec. — ISO 320

One of the many veterans is a Vietnam veteran and spoke at the event. I was one of the primary photographers for the events, and I decided to grab a more oblique angle to photograph him during his speech.

A Vietnam Veteran in attendance at the Memorial Day Celebration spoke at the event, May 2017.
Nikon D7000 | 70-200mm lens at 200mm | f/2.8 — 1/800sec. — ISO 320




The last group of photos were taken at different times during the day, and were not anything I was specifically told to capture. I simply took these photos in-between speakers or important moments. I decided to capture these people or subjects because I felt it would help tell the story of the day's events.

An eager child in attendance at the Memorial Day Celebration, May 2017.
Nikon D7000 | 70-200mm lens at 200mm | f/2.8 — 1/800sec. — ISO 320

This painting was done as a tribute to the fallen, and was done by Lance Brown, a local speed painter in Sugar Land. The painting took approx, 3 minutes to complete and was presented to The City shortly after. 

A painting created during the event dedicated to the veterans of the city, May 2017.
Nikon D7000 | 18-140mm lens at 45mm | f/4.5 — 1/320sec. — ISO 100


David van Kleeck, U.S. Army ret., spoke at the event, and is from the Houston area. During his 32 year career in the army, van Kleeck commanded troops at the Battalion, Group, and Brigade levels. He also worked for Shell, and taught at Rice University.

David van Kleeck, United States Army, Salutes during the National Anthem, May 2017.
Nikon D7000 | 70-200mm lens at 200mm | f/2.8 — 1/800sec. — ISO 320


Every year, during the Memorial Day events, the Sugar Land Police Department performs a 21-gun salute. In 2017, the salute was performed before the main events, and during the rain. Even in the rain, a 21-gun salute was still performed, because it was an important way of honoring the fallen soldiers.

Sugar Land Police Department Officers stand at attention before a 21-gun salute, May 2017.
Nikon D7000 | 70-200mm lens at 200mm | f/2.8 — 1/1000sec. — ISO 200


Many people attend the yearly Memorial Day Celebrations, and often adorn patriotic clothing to show their support for their country. The events regularly draw several thousands of people each year.

A mom and her daughter examine a radio system, May 2017.
Nikon D7000 | 18-140mm lens at 32mm | f/4 — 1/500sec. — ISO 400


Then City Councilor Amy Mitchell poses with an army educator, May 2017.
Nikon D7000 | 18-140mm lens at 18mm | f/3.5 — 1/500sec. — ISO 320

Then City Councilor Amy Mitchell poses with then County Judge, the late Ron Cohen, May 2017.
Nikon D7000 | 18-140mm lens at 38mm | f/4.2 — 1/500sec. — ISO 320



Two patriotic citizens gather for a photo after the event finished, May 2017.
Nikon D7000 | 18-140mm lens at 45mm | f/4.5 — 1/320sec. — ISO 100

Every year, several institutions bring service vehicles, gear and weaponry to the event in order to educate people of all ages about the many services of the armed forces. Many branches of the military are present at the educational stations, and the stations are a popular stop during the day's events.

An Army Staff Sergeant poses next to an army vehicle used for educational purposes, May 2017.
Nikon D7000 | 18-140mm lens at 52mm | f/4.8 — 1/500sec. — ISO 640




I'll say it one last time. Semper Fidelis. Always Faithful. I hope that with those words, you too will never forget to honor and remember the sacrifices of our brave men and women serving in our armed forces, both at home and abroad. Memorial Day is a time to remember our fallen; it is meant to be a somber reminder of the brave sacrifice men and women have made to keep the United States a free and just society.



—Michael Tollestrup

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*This blog post was updated with the following corrections at 5:45PM CST February 19, 2021: 
    • Image Caption: Update caption for Judge Ron Cohen to now say: "then County Judge, the late Ron Cohen"

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Exploring Sunrises | Sharpening My Skills - Chapter 2





Sunrises with OCF (Off Camera Flash)? What madness! I decided to spice up the usual cliché of sunrise photos with an off camera flash. Chapter 3 of SMS will focus on sunset photography, and will be posted next Tuesday (May 26). 

Memorial Park, Sugar Land, TX.
Nikon D5 | Nikon 200-500mm lens at 200mm | f/5.6 — 1/100sec — ISO 100 | Profoto B1 - 10.0



Waking up early is different when you actually want to, when you're motivated. I woke up at 5:00AM just to try and get some good shots. Now I will mention that I had been doing quite a bit of sunset photos, but that's for a later post. I had been used to staying out until after the sun would set to try and get the shot, but waking up was something new. As I mentioned earlier, waking up early is easy, or should I say easier, when you're motivated. For me, I was definitely motivated to try and grab a good set of photos, however I didn't plan anything out much. I spent about 2 hours taking photos at my local park & I would've stayed longer had my flash's battery not died!

The first photo was not the first location I shot chronologically, but it was one of my favorites. You may notice that the "Army" (Right side of the structure) face of the obelisk is illuminated, and that was with the help of my Profoto B1. I stood on the opposite end of a small lake, and had my Profoto A1 set to Air-TTL mode. This was completely new for me, as I had never done this sort of thing. Where I would use a strobe as a source of fill for landscape/ nature photos.

Memorial Park, Sugar Land, TX.
Nikon D5 | Nikon 24-70mm lens at 24mm | f/10 — 1/160sec — ISO 100 | Profoto B1 - 8.0


This photo, also one of my favorites, was an experimentation in using a high aperture, and a fill flash from an off camera flash. As mentioned with the first image, I used a Profoto A1 to remotely trigger my Profoto B1. I tried using a higher aperture, however, I was unsuccessful in getting a proper exposure and mixing it with a fill flash. Although, I believe I was successful in using a high aperture to get the "sunburst" effect. This effect is created because the small diameter of the aperture creates a concentrated amount of light, often associated with sharpness.



As for a different angle, I also experimented with a different angle of light from the sun to the camera. As opposed to shooting directly into the sun, like the first two locations, I shot with the sun about 90 degrees to the camera's right.  This was combined with the fill from the strobe, to try and create a balanced exposure on the obelisk.

Unfortunately, the strobe didn't completely fill in the "dark side" of the structure. This may be due to the fact that I didn't have a zoom reflector, and I used a bare bulb flash. While I don't have a zoom reflector, I angled my light up as much as possible, to give my flash a better chance of covering the entire side.

Memorial Park, Sugar Land, TX.
Nikon D5 | Nikon 24-70mm lens at 70mm | f/4 — 1/250sec — ISO 100 | Profoto B1 - 10.0


Memorial Park, Sugar Land, TX.
Nikon D5 | Nikon 24-70mm lens at 70mm | f/4 — 1/250sec — ISO 100 | Profoto B1 - 10.0




This next photo wasn't really one that I cared about that much, in the sense that I didn't really plan it out, and it wasn't even using the flash that I had brought, but it was a nice moment I couldn't pass up on. As I was rushing to move from one location to another I had taken this quick snapshot to capture a "thumbnail" of the day's work.

Memorial Park, Sugar Land, TX.
Nikon D5 | Nikon 24-70mm lens at 70mm | f/2.8 — 1/250sec — ISO 100


Yes, I know the photo is out of focus, and that's mainly due to the fact that I didn't give my lens enough time to focus. And I kinda like it out of focus, it gives a sense of relief to me as a viewer, knowing I don't have to worry about what the objects in the photo are. It also makes me calmer for some reason.




This last photo I captured was actually a composite of 7 photos I bracketed while hand holding the lens. If you read the caption, you'll see that it was a 200-500mm f/5.6 lens. Yes that's right,I hand-held a 200-500mm lens, bracketed 7 photos, and used an off camera strobe as a fill light. Yes, I'm crazy, or at least somewhat crazy. That might be part of the reason why the photo turned out like something from out of this world. I brought the raw files into Lightroom, and proceeded to start an HDR photo merge project.

What came next, specifically the preview and then the final composite, was quite a shock. So much so that I decided to keep the photo. The odd colors are probably Lightroom attempting to merge the different color temperatures of the raw files, and I'm going to post an addendum to this post with more experimentation on this HDR project.

Memorial Park, Sugar Land, TX.
Nikon D5 | Nikon 200-500mm lens at 200mm | f/5.6 — 1/250sec — IS…


I've only done just a few experiments with sunrise photos, and a fill flash, and I definitely want to try and get better pictures. Maybe not even better photos, but just more experiments. There's a lot more that I can do, and I know where and when I need to take the kinds of photos I want. I just have to remember to charge my flash's batteries! More experiments aren't just fun, but they are important trial and error process that can help me sharpen my skills.




—Michael Tollestrup

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Check out my photography website HERE!

*This blog post was updated with the following corrections at 5:45PM CST February 19, 2021:
    • First Paragraph: Update the initialism "OCF" to also say "OCF (Off Camera Flash)" 

Friday, May 8, 2020

Welcome Home Olympians | Focal Point Fridays - Chapter 1



Welcome, Welcome, Welcome. Years ago (yes actually years ago), I was an event event photographer for the City of Sugar Land, in Texas. In the summer of 2016, a little known event you may or may not have heard of, The Summer Olympics® took place. Team USA performed fantastically, with Katie Ledecky, Michael Phelps and Simone Biles headlining the news.

Simone Manuel greets an eager crowd of fans & signs autographs.
Nikon D7000 | 18-140mm lens at 18mm | f/4.5 — 1/3,200sec ISO 1600


Along with Ledecky, Phelps and Biles, first time Olympic® contender Simone Manuel made headlines when she became the first African American woman to win gold in an individual swimming event. She also won a silver and gold in two other events. Simone Manuel is from Sugar Land, and graduated from Stanford University, and from Fort Bend Austin High School.

Steven López, on the other hand, was not a first time Olympic® contender at Rio. Lopez performed at at five Olympic® Games, and was also in attendance at the Welcome Home Celebration.

The above photo was taken after the ceremony concluded & when both athletes were greeting the crowd of eager fans. Unfortunately with this photo, I recognize that the settings weren't adequate, and Simone Manuel (the primary subject) was not properly exposed. Oh well. I think that the expression on everyone's faces was much more important to capture.



How did I get this gig? It took a while, actually. I submitted a photo I took at at local park (Sugar Land's Memorial Park), to the city's yearly calendar contest. My photo got accepted & It wound up in the December issue of the calendar. Along with the chose calendar submission, I asked if I could take some photos at an open house for a new performing arts center. I shot the opening & shortly after I was asked to take photos for the city at the Welcome Home Event.

Veterans Memorial at Sugar Land's Memorial Park.
Nikon D7000 | 18-140mm lens at 18mm | f/4 — 30sec —ISO 100

The photo of the park was not one of my best photos I've ever taken, but I still enjoy looking at it. I've still returned to the park to take photos of the sunset, but I haven't gotten it quite right. Anyhow, I still appreciate the opportunities this photo created. If I didn't send this photo into the contest, I may never have been considered for as an event photographer. 



Back to the event, before the honorees greeted the crowd, they were paraded to the main street in front of City Hall at Town Center. After, they careened through the crowd to arrive at the steps of city hall, where the ceremony began. 

Simone Manuel & Steven López were paraded to the steps of city hall greeted by an eager crowd of fans. Nikon D7000 | 18-140mm at 18mm | f/4.5 — 1/4,000 — ISO 2,500

City Mayor Joe Zimmerman gave the opening remarks and also congratulated both athetles on their success. The athletes both spoke afterwards and were presented with flowers before they spoke. Along with the athletes, City Manager Allen Bogard and Fort Bend ISD Superintendent Charles Dupree spoke at the ceremony.

Mayor Joe R. Zimmerman shares a warm welcome home for the Olympians.
Nikon D7000 | 18-140mm lens at 30mm | f/4.5 — 1/4,000sec — ISO 2,500


Simone Manuel addressed the crowd after the Mayor Joe R. Zimmerman congratulated both athletes. Nikon D7000 | 18-140mm lens at 30mm | f/4.5 — 1/4,000sec — ISO 2,500


“This experience will, by far, be one of the greatest memories for our family,” said Sharron Manuel. “Nothing has ever come close to what we’re feeling right now.” (Fort Bend Lifestyles & Homes)

After the ceremony, the crowd greeting and lots of photos, both athletes went inside city hall to gather for some posed shots with the city council, school board & even some lucky fans.


Simone Manuel & Steven López pose with Fort Bend ISD's Board (left) & the Sugar Land City Council (right)
Nikon D7000 | 18-140mm lens at 50mm | f/4.8 — 1/4,000sec ISO 1600


A local swimmer from First Colony Swim Team (FCST) & their family pose with Simone Manuel.
Simone Manuel is an alumni from the First Colony Swim Team (FCST).
Nikon D7000 | 18-140mm lens at 20mm | f/8 — 1/125sec — ISO 3200


I had so much fun taking pictures at this event & it really sparked my excitement and passion for event photography. It was very hectic & I was very nervous as I was just starting out, and I needed to make sure everything went right. Many of the photos I took at the event were used by entities from the City of Sugar Land, to NBC Sports. It really opened doors for me as a photographer & I will never forget it.




—Michael Tollestrup

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Check out my photography website: www.michaeltollestrup.com!

For any questions, please reach out to me via email: michael@michaeltollestrup.com




*This blog post was updated with the following corrections at 6:45PM CST:
     *Title Graphic: Update to the spelling of Steven López's name. ("Steven" from "Stephen")
     *Simone Manuel: Attended & Graduated from Stanford, and Fort Bend Austin High School.
     *Grammar: "spoke" changed from "Spoke" after Charles Dupree

F•P•F | A New Series

Focal Point Fridays will be posted every Friday, Hopefully!



Focal Point Fridays (FPF) is a new series I'm starting, in which I highlight past and current events, experiences & exciting news stories that are significant and/or interesting to me. My FPF chapters will be posted every Friday & unlike my other series (SMS - Sharpening My Skills), I won't get technical with specific camera settings or techniques.

Focal Point Fridays are a way for me to talk about the photography related things I'm excited about, in as much detail as I want. My first chapter will focus on an event I photographed for the City of Sugar Land in August of 2016 — "Welcome Home Olympians - Simone Manuel & Steven Lopez." The City of Sugar Land welcomed home two Olympic athletes after the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.

The first chapter of FPF will be posted later today at 12:30AM (CST)



—Michael Tollestrup

Subscribe to receive blog post notifications HERE!
Check out my photography website HERE!