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 the late Judge, 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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Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Exploring Sunrises | Sharpening My Skills - Chapter 2

Sunrises with OCF? 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 — ISO 100 | Photo Composite.

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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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.
“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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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.

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

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Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Starting To Explore Wildlife Photography | Sharpening My Skills - Chapter 1

Sharpening My Skills - Chapter 1. My first chapter of Sharpening My Skills focuses on wildlife & nature photography. Chapter 2's topic will be announced next week.

Yellow Crowned Night Heron (Nyctanassa violacea | Bitterns, Herons & Egrets - Ardeidae)
Nikon D5 | Nikon 200-500mm lens at 360mm | f/5.6 — 1/80sec — ISO 100

Wow. What to do. What to say. I am stuck at home (as we all are) and I find that being a sports & events photographer is difficult (duh). A few weeks ago, I started watching tutorials and podcasts from Tony & Chelsea Northrup on YouTube. They have been a great resource for me for years, & they have encouraged me to get out and shoot! As I mentioned, I am primarily a sports & event photographer, and I've been in need of something to photograph. What better than to get out of the house, get some fresh air, and go to a park! I've been trying to visit a few parks each week, in order to give myself the best access to improving my photography.

Yes, I realize my dog may not qualify for "wildlife," but why not, I'm experimenting.
Nikon D5 | Nikon 24-70mm lens at 24mm | f/2.8 — 1/250sec — ISO 100 | Profoto A1 at -0.8

Wildlife photography is not unlike sports photography. The settings, the quick paced nature, the need to understand and anticipate the subject. In soccer, if a player is taking a free kick, I can expect that somewhere around midfield there will be a few players jumping up in the air for a head ball (header). Likewise, if I'm photographing a heron, I know that they will take off into the wind and I can position myself accordingly. If I can set myself with the sun behind me and when the wind is facing me, I can have a better chance of getting a better shot.

I've visited 6 parks now & I've seen lots of new birds, reptiles and scenery. I first ventured out to Memorial Park in Sugar Land, Texas, and found that wildlife photography was anything other than what I expected. I had some idea about what might be expected in terms of settings & how to anticipate the action, but boy was I wrong.

Tricolored Heron (Egretta Tricolor | Bitterns, Herons & Egrets - Ardeidae)
Nikon D5 | Nikon 200-500mm lens at 500mm | f/5.6 — 1/1000sec — ISO 100
This little guy was walking along the shore line & stepped closer & closer to me. I knew from reading about birds that if you keep still, they may come closer to you, depending on the bird. So, I sat down & every so often snapped a couple of pictures. Every few minutes he would come closer & take a few more steps towards me, staying on the shoreline. I love this picture because I really had to dial in my shutter speed & control my breathing in order to eliminate camera shake.

Tricolored Heron (Egretta Tricolor | Bitterns, Herons & Egrets - Ardeidae)
Nikon D5 | Nikon 200-500mm lens at 500mm | f/5.6 — 1/1000sec — ISO 100
Tricolored Heron (Egretta tricolor | Bitterns, Herons & Egrets - Ardeidae)
Nikon D5 | Nikon 200-500mm lens at 500mm | f/5.6 — 1/1000sec — ISO 100

That same day, I ventured out to another park not too far away. However, I went off the beaten path & after walking in a giant loop for an hour I only managed to get one shot worth keeping.

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis | Cardinals & Grosbeaks - Cardinalidae)
Nikon D5 | Nikon 200-500mm lens at 500mm | f/5.6 — 1/1000sec — ISO 100

Now I will admit, that while this photo isn't in focus, and there's not much going on, I decided to keep this photo because I don't normally get a good enough chance to photograph a small bird. It was a good subject to experiment with, and I enjoyed trying to get a good picture. Almost as fast as I spotted him, he fluttered away, but I was happy with the result.

Jumping back to memorial park, I stubbed upon two white ibis birds. They seemed rather calm for the amount of people nearby. I repeated the tactic of sitting down & waiting for them to come close enough to photograph. These two also seemed to dunk their heads into the water trying to grab lunch (I was at the park after midday). I finally got a keeper, but I'm not sure if its as sharp as I would prefer.

White Ibis (Eudocimus albus | Ibis & Spoonbills - Eudocimus)
Nikon D5 | Nikon 200-500mm lens at 500mm | f/5.6 — 1/1000sec — ISO 100
Lastly, I continued on the trail (it made a loop), and finally found a dragonfly. If I ever thought sports were fast paced, I had never met a dragonfly then. Even my tried and true method (only twice tried) of sitting down and waiting didn't seem to work. Thankfully, I remembered a tip from Tony Northrup, that birds are sometimes creatures of pattern. While a dragonfly is no bird,  it still seemed to adhere to a pattern. It would fly away (yes, pun intended) and then return to a general area, only to fly away again. Once it stayed still long enough for me to get focus, I dialed in the focus manually, as autofocus wasn't quick enough.

Black Meadowhawk (Sympetrum danae Darters & Skimmers - Sympetrum)
Nikon D5 | Nikon 200-500mm lens at 500mm | f/5.6 — 1/1000sec — ISO 100
I've had quite a bit of fun branching out into the world of wildlife photography. Since I started, I've been out and about for a few weeks, and I'm loving it. Wildlife photography is teaching me many new things about myself as a photographer and about how I should approach my photography.

—Michael Tollestrup

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5-16-2020 6:24PM CST: This article was updated to reflect the accurate name of the bird pictured in the first photo. From Great Blue Heron, to Yellow Crowned Night Heron (Nyctanassa violacea).

S•M•S | A New Series

Sharpening My Skills (SMS) is a new series I am starting, in which I describe the photography experiences that allow me to sharpen my skills. As I mentioned before, I am primarily a sports and event photographer, but I am always open to new things. As a seasoned photographer I can understand how different fields of photography can share many similarities, and how an understanding of these similarities can help me improve my skills. SMS is series where I may get a bit technical, but I will try to keep it interesting, for all readers. My first chapter will focus on wildlife photography, and as someone who lives in Texas, I'm sure there will be no shortage of wildlife to photograph.

—Michael Tollestrup

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Friday, May 1, 2020

A Fair Game | A brief overview about my photography story

Clements HS Football v Katy Taylor (Sep 2014)

I grew up in Sugar Land, Texas and as many of you know, football is big in Texas. I started taking photos seriously during my freshman year of high school, of (you guessed it): football. My first game I was extremely nervous. Not because of how the photos might turn out, but because I would go somewhere I wasn't supposed to, get hit by a ball or player, or take a photo of something I wasn't supposed to (what can I say I was only 15). I didn't have to photograph anything or anyone in particular, mainly because I wasn't photographing the game for the newspaper or someone else. I was there for me, but more importantly I was there for my friends & their families.

You see, I started taking photos of high school sports & sports in general because I wanted people to have memories of the things that were most important to them. My parents wanted photos of my brother playing lacrosse & football, so my dad gave me an old Panasonic Lumix camera. I was frustrated with the lack of quality & the inability for the camera to capture the photos like the pros do (crazy to think now I could be considered one).

Year after year, upgrade after upgrade, photo after photo, I was finally starting to get the photos I wanted. I began to seriously enjoy the photos I was making, but more importantly I was enjoying the many rewards of photography: the smiles on peoples faces, the joy of seeing people interact with my pictures and most importantly, knowing that what I was doing would help people remember the important memories of their lives.

—Michael Tollestrup

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