Top Secret Microsoft Technology in Seattle (Redmond), Washington

I may never be able to think of Microsoft the same way that I always have in the past. Over the past two days, Microsoft has spared no expense in flying me and a group of other Youtubers out to Seattle, Washington to tour some production processes and top secret, yet-to-be-announced tech in their Redmond, WA campus. It started with the first-class flight upgrades, the black car service, a nice dinner out on the town, and the top-of-the-tower hotel room with floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides. Gratefulness and gratitude were on tap before we'd even started the tour.
We took cars from the hotel directly to the campus in Redmond and started by touring one of the prototyping and design buildings on campus. Here we saw many of the initial iterations of the Surface book before it's final form took place. The effort that went into reducing weight, finding the perfect balance, and the all-important "muscle wire" folding  mechanism that gives the opening and closing of the notebook just the right amount of touch and go. An entire warehouse filled with 3D printers to afford the engineers and designers the ability to dream up a design and have a 3D prototype in hand in no time flat, rooms for laser etching, finish painting, and everything in between that you could imagine a designer would need to develop the perfect physical product. An impressive sight indeed.
We also got a very thorough tour of the ergonomics department/lab and talked a bit about some of the amazing tech and even a few relatively primitive tools used to find ever conceivable measurement on a human's face. This data is used to ensure that wearable and in-hand devices will be comfortable in at least 90% of the general public's hands. Amazing stuff.
From the ergonomics lab, we next went to the audio testing area where we were treated to a little time in the Guinness Book of World Records quietest room in the world. Your voice sounds so much different in the room (which seems more appropriately called a "chamber") when there is absolutely no sound reflection. The lights were shut off and we stood quietly in the chamber for 30-40 seconds and the sensory deprivation of no sight and no hearing allows you to hear your actual heartbeat, but it also had this strange effect of making my ears feel heavy and gave me a very slight dizzy feeling. It was pretty bizarre.
There were also some amazing technologies that Microsoft gave us exclusive access to see and preview that I'm not even allowed to talk about. But rest assured, between the robots waiting for you ready to give directions when you need them and the language altering artificial intelligence, to the self-growing lettuce vending machines and insane augmented reality that will change the way you buy products and services, the modern face of Microsoft is facing squarely into the future. In fact, they're doing their part to usher it in.

Most Miles Ever in Past Five Days

After catching a red-eye back to Philadelphia on Saturday night (my earlier flight got pushed about 7 hours later than I expected) and spending a day with my family, here I sit in an airplane once more cruising about 35,000 feet above South Dakota in a Boeing 737 flying toward Seattle for a dinner meeting with some folks from Microsoft. There is also some big secret (I think) "underground" tour that I am supposed to be participating in tomorrow. I have absolutely no idea what to expect. Microsoft has generously picked up the tab for my plane (first class window seats both ways), hotel, and car so I figured there was no harm in making the trip as long as I could find the time and still get my work done. I'm hoping this is a quick out-and-back trip.
When I was much younger, my family would take trips across the country, but it was the kind of trip where you all bumble into a van and spend three weeks driving across America and back again. These two flights have been a slightly different method of transcontinental travel. Despite spending an inordinate amount of time on airplanes in the past few days, it still blows my mind that we can travel nearly 6,000 miles in about 5 and a half hours. It doesn't even take enough out of me to prevent me from feeling energized and even doing work. I could almost commute to Seattle (or San Francisco) if my job required it (and they paid for first class!)
I've always loved airplanes since I was a little boy and they really are fascinating machines. To create something that can harness the air as though it had the buoyancy of water and float from one place to the next while soaring above the clouds. I could get used to flying much more than I do. It's so beautiful.
I'm hoping to meet some interesting people while out at Microsoft and see if there are any potential business venture opportunities. Maybe they all need new headshots, who knows? If they do, I'll be there.

For the Love of Uber (& its drivers)

I prefer to take the road less travelled. It speaks to my heart and my gut feel about many of the basic right vs. wrong and life vs. death things in my life. I look around and wish to learn from the mistakes of others even if maybe that's a little naïve to expect to do so at a young age. I'm also reminded of a shirt that I've seen more than once which carries the tagline "I took the road less travelled, now where the heck am I?"
Uber drivers (of whom I've bumped into my fair share these past couple days,) tend to be raw humans who open up if you make it clear you enjoy their company and laugh at their jokes. Many of them are immigrants with fascinating stories. Why they came, what it was like at home, where the rest of their family is now. They talk about travel, food, politics, economics, and even religion. Being in the back of an Uber car can sometimes be the happiest place in the world for me. I don't think about work. I don't worry about a thing. I just have a conversation with a human being who virtually always has an amazing story or point of view to share.
Just in the past 48 hours, I've had Uber drivers from Russia, Palestine, Morocco, Baghdad Iraq, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Northern India, China, Serbia, and a couple drivers from cities around San Francisco too. The conversations have been amazing, from talking about the history between Shiite and Sunni Muslims in the Middle East and Israel being granted sovereign status as a nation, to making money in the stock market and the best borshch in Russia there have been some really cool and very interesting conversations. There was even some Donald Trump talk just to keep things a little controversial. 😂
Uber, keep doing your thing. I like your service, I enjoy your cars, and I love your employees.

Teaching Photoshop & Photography Around the World

It's been the first of three days of live recording here in San Francisco for Adobe. We're recording and broadcasting these live shows that go out via the internet for three straight days at the Adobe HQ on Townsend st. in San Francisco. Today was a good day and from the start, the number of viewers that we were expecting is nearly 10x what I was told to expect. This is a good thing. The crew with whom I am working as well as the artists and co-hosts have all been great to work with as well.
I haven't done much of any preparation work for this project, but these things seem to work better for me when I don't do too much planning. It really allows me to "let my hands go"-to steal an expression from the boxing world. I've seen people turning on the live show while I am hosting from places as far away as Australia, Northern Africa, and central Asia. The power and reach of the internet is very real, folks.
Adobe has also done a great job of providing the hosts of the show with a very nice and laid back environment from which to prepare and work. Relaxation has always been key to me in terms of being more creative and productive in my photography work. The less pressure, the more I am willing to play with ideas and think around problems for creative (and often more beautiful) solutions. The people here are nice and the environment is conducive of happiness.
A brief moment to talk about San Francisco on account of the fact that this is my very first time here. Prices are madness, absolutely crazy. There are more Uber drivers than I have ever seen in my life (more even than NYC,) there are scores of homeless people sleeping on the streets (turns out SF has the highest rate of homelessness in the US,) and the weather-for at least the first day-has been lackluster. It's been foggy and chilly with just enough wind to make things uncomfortable. From what the local folks tell me, things get much nicer. I'll wait and see.
I am a part of the hosting crew for three days of live broadcast from Adobe and we just wrapped up day one. Things feel good. Time to go and kill it for the next two days.

Visualizing Success Definitely Prevents Airplane Crashes

The middle-aged woman sitting across the aisle from me is covering her face with her hands in a most terrifying manner while fly attendants seem to have trouble keeping their balance. The pilot seems oddly silent about this situation… oh wait, he just flipped on the intercom to let us know that we're not crashing, it's just a terrible bout of turbulence. Does it ever go away, or is the guy behind me "backseat flying" making a valid point when he is rather loudly proclaiming that the pilot ought to "climb to a new altitude"--maybe that's to just ensure there are really no survivors left when we inevitably hit the ground. Hey, the higher they fly, the harder they fall, right? Moments like this show me that I am not afraid of flying.
I am, in fact, sitting on an airplane flying as I type this on my way to San Francisco where I'll be working with some creative people from around the country for the next three days on a live video broadcast from the headquarters of the Adobe Systems. You know, the company that made Photoshop. Yeah, that application that I use to retouch most of the work you're seeing on this website.
It's my first time flying to San Francisco and it's my first time doing a live broadcast for an audience of this size (Adobe has a personal and social media reach of well over 50 million people). I find myself strangely calm before such a big event, it could be the fact that this plane feels like it is being shaken to pieces by the never ending turbulence so just making it to San Francisco would be a win in-and-of-itself, or it could be that I sit back and close my eyes and see nothing but success coming from this trip and this broadcast. I am brimming with confidence, not a bone in body holds a single doubt. I know what I am capable of and I know I'll do the best job. Is that confidence, or arrogance? I don't know and I don't really care.
We're flying over the Rocky Mountains at the moment, apparently. I would have a visual and potential to take a sweet photo, but my seat was switched just prior to boarding to an aisle seat. I guess the crew thought it would be good for a few laughs watching me winch in pain each time they ram my elbow with the drink cart as they race up and down the plane distributing drinks like they're the second coming. "No thank you, ma'am, I don't need (another) drink, but I may need a cast for my elbow by the time we're landing.
I have not done any preparation for this 3-day broadcast, I keep telling myself that it's "because I'm trying to leave room for creativity" or something. We'll see if I'm good enough to free hand this thing in front of a relatively large live audience. I'll let the proof be in the pudding. Over the next three days, will I absolutely knock the ball outta the ballpark, or will I crash and burn? I can't even wrap my mind around the concept of crashing and burning. Ok, enough with that kind of talk, I'm still on the airplane.
On a serious note, I will be watching and re-examining my performance and the reaction that the viewers have to it over the next 7-10 days in an effort to further refine my content, quality, delivery, and general interaction skills. Everything is a learning experience. Even the ones that aren't.
One thing that the third-person version of myself admires about the real me is that I take these critical looks at myself and-by some miracle-I turn my situations into learning opportunities. For instance, a single, right-hand elbow pad is a vastly undervalued piece of any person's flying kit.
To wrap things up, I sure hope my pilot has the same visualization of success and unwavering confidence in his flying skills, because if the past four hours are any indication, all of us on this tube in the sky just might need it.

"Perfect is the enemy of good enough"

In all aspects of my life, I try to set the highest of standards for what passes as "good enough." In fact, it's a bit of a running joke with my family that nothing is ever good enough for me. That may be something I need to work on for the sake of others and for the sake of my own sanity too.

Often I find that it is the little details at the end of a project, that last 5% of a project, that I obsess over to an unhealthy degree. In doing so I will end up not posting, not creating, not sharing, any number of projects, photos, videos, etc... that I may be working on. Indeed my pursuit of what I think is "perfection" is the enemy of good enough. It chokes the life out of too many of my projects. I just seem to be afraid to create something and share something with the world that falls short of wherever I place that 100% goal line. 

My counter-attack against this mindset for the past five or so years has been to constantly remind myself that iteration and refinement are good and beautiful things. Flying in the face of expectations, behaving in a more daring fashion (in my own mind at least), and pressing forward relentlessly have been the greatest catalyst for the success I've had for the past few years. Sometimes settling for 90% of perfection is the perfect amount of perfection because 90% of something is always better than 100% of NOTHING. In that case, 90% of perfection is just right.  

I'm finding that I love my 90%, but I'll be darned if I sneakingly don't find ways to try to get to 92% or 95% because the pursuit of perfection in the abstract might be something I just have to live with for the rest of my life and if that's my greatest flaw, I count myself blessed.

Is perfect the enemy of good enough? Absolutely.

Sidenote: Did you know that when I'm not taking photos, I am creating videos on how to create and retouch photos? Check out my YouTube channel right here (tutvid).

When you haven't written a blog in two years (the importance of writing)

The easy way out is to blame a lack of production on "being too busy." Sometimes it's a legitimate excuse, but it's still an excuse. I hate excuses and I try to hold myself to a higher standard.

So here I sit, once more dedicating myself to a writing project. The goal: write one blog post each day for six days a week (Mon-Sat.) Make time for it. Just do it. (Cliches are cliches because they work.) Will this project fall by the wayside like my personal daily journal? Will this project get excused for any number of rationalization I can conjure? This time, I won't let it. 

Writing each day will change the way I think and force me to think more critically. I'll have my mind working to prepare tomorrow's blog post before tomorrow ever comes. Within weeks, I hope my mindset changes and I begin to think differently, and think more creatively. Here I go.

This blog will feature photography work Iove, stories from my work, ideas I have, passions I'm chasing, technical articles, education, and anything else I wish to share. 

Philadelphia Photographer | Fall/Autumn Lawn Party on the Main Line

When a company hosted a lawn party to celebrate a great year of business and growth in their company, they asked me to come out and photograph what went down on a cool October evening in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania.

I was privileged to capture a ton of great photos of the great kids running around at the party participating in pumpkin carving, bobbing for apples, playing football, tug-o-war, corn hole, and so much more!

Everything was shot under the beautiful overcast skies which gave me amazing soft wrapping light the entire day while I was shooting. I also gave the photos a film style in post processing to top off a classic portrait look for these images.

I brought a wireless printer to the party and was able to deliver prints before families headed home and give them a great tangible gift that they could take home from the party. The photos were a hit!

Photographing Captain America in Philadelphia with MARVEL and BBDO

In Philadelphia, the BBDO agency had an event for kids which they had me come out and cover. It was an event born from a partnership between them and MARVEL on a New Avengers Comic Book called "Hero's Welcome" which promotes diversity. Previously MARVEL had been criticized due to a perceived lack of diversity in their offerings.

My assignment was covering the interaction between Captain America and the group of family members that came out for the event. I shot everything in the natural, available light and tended to stay with a shallow depth of field to create depth in an environment lacking great photo opportunity.

Photographing Philadelphia Real Estate Agent, Jamie Raphael

They say that she is one of the top real estate agents for buyer and listing sales, they also say she’s right there at the top of the charts when it comes to total real estate sales, she’s also a part of the Coldwell Banker President’s Honor Roll 2012, and an International Diamond Society Award Winner. I’m not really sure what all that means, but I do know that she answers emails faster than any human I've ever known ever, ever, ever. On a couple of occasions, I thought it was Jimmy Johns because it was freaky fast!

Jamie Raphael is a really good real estate agent (as in really good). We got together in 2013 to shoot some re-branding and promotional photos for her brand new website.

We shot over a simple white seamless background and lit the scene so we could use any of the photos in a composite image as well. You can see a sketch of my lighting setup as well as a few of our finished images below!

My Impressions of the Phase One IQ250 in New York

My buddy Joe and I spent an afternoon at the beautiful Highlight Studio in Manhattan, New York with a small group of great photographers checking out the Phase One IQ250 digital back for the impressive Phase One camera systems. This event was put on by the good folks at Digital Transitions and featured a presentation by, and full day with, great photographer and all around good dude, Douglas Sonders who shared his thoughts, images, and stories of growing as a photographer and falling in love with medium format cameras and, specifically, why he settled on Phase One as his camera of choice.

We had a great model, Cari Funkhouser (awesome last name!) in house as our test subject for the day so we could test drive the camera and check out sharpness, color, resolution, and more..

There is plenty of technical information on the Phase One IQ250 and exactly how it works online and can be readily found. Despite all of this information, I was still having a difficult time understanding how this medium format stuff works and how it all fits together. What exactly is this “Digital back” you speak of? Is it the whole camera? Is it just the box attached to the back? What about the lens? How does that work? Is there a crop on the sensor? Is the sensor equivalent to a full frame DSLR in terms of 100mm being 100mm? I kept running into mental blocks and just wanted to get my hands on the camera system and try it and learn, first-hand, what all this nonsense was about. Enter: Digital Transitions (a Phase One partner) and their event in New York City.


In layman's terms, here’s the deal. You have three pieces to your Phase One: The digital back, the camera body, and the lens. The digital back is the sensor and the magic maker, the camera seems to basically be a lens holder with a shutter release on it, and the lens… well, duh, that’s the lens.

If you’re buying a Phase One you must purchase the digital back (the expensive part), the camera body (the less expensive part), and that usually includes an 80mm lens (worth about $3,000).

When I first picked up the camera I was impressed by the size and feel. It has a little weight, but nothing crazy. I want robust, I want tough, I want people to know I mean business when I show up to shoot. The cast and crew will no doubt know that you’re the big man in the room when you break out your Phase One.

I grabbed the 80mm f2.8 Schneider lens and turned the camera on our model. Immediately I noticed a very different viewfinder from what I am accustomed to in my Canon DSLR. Not bad; just different. Comfortable feeling and easy to use. I pressed the shutter and fired my first shot. Not bad, not bad at all. The sound is like the sound of a freshly cleaned battle rifle crisply chambering it’s first round before you unleash a torrent of hell on whatever poor sod is standing down range. I could almost smell gunpowder in the air. It was love at first sight and sound.


Then I checked the monitor to get a better look at what I shot. Out of focus; not blurry, just out of focus. I was shooting at f2.8 on a camera system that has a sensor cropped to something like 1.3x (when compared with a DSLR sensor) and I’d never used the camera before so growing pains are just going to be a part of this process, right?

I adjusted my aperture to f5.6 to give myself a better shot at nailing focus and adjusted my shutter appropriately. I focused the camera, recomposed, and shot again. Still it was out of focus. Here is when I learned that the Phase One only has three focus points, a big circle in the middle, and two rectangular shaped regions on each side. It is a breeze to select which area will be your focus region, but I would really love to have finer control of the focus because…

The aperture of these lenses is absolutely amazing!! f2.8 shoots like f1.2. It’s positively beautiful and amazingly versatile… if you manage to lock focus. At the end of the day I was never able to get even a sharp picture with the 80mm at anything less than f5. However when you shoot at f5 it’s sharper than a needle wearing a tuxedo and you still have the depth of a tradition DSLR lens shooting at closer to f3.5. Amazing-taculous. Still, I wanted f2.8 on that 80mm and I couldn't get it.

I grabbed the Schneider 110mm F2.8 Leaf Shutter (Google “Leaf Shutter”, it’s amazing as well) lens and stopped up to f2.8 and shot away. Wow! f2.8 and it was incredibly sharp! Focus is quick-ish and the lens is just beautiful. I turned to the Phase One guy and learned that I can trade the 80mm in and just get the 110mm for a couple thousand more instead of paying the standard $5,400 for this lens as a stand alone. My advice: If you’re buying this camera, get the 110mm Leaf Shutter lens. You have sharpness at f2.8 and it gets sharper and sharper and sharper from there. The most impressive 100% crop I’ve seen in my life, bar none.

I also played with the ramping up ISO to the newly flaunted ISO 6400 (typically ISO 400 was about as high as you could go if you wanted a usable commercial image on the older CCD sensors) and it performs admirably. Really you get usable stuff to about ISO 1600, but depending on application, ISO 6400 is absolutely usable as well. Impressive.

The camera tethers to Capture One flawlessly, it renders a preview of your image quickly and loads the larger resolution in the 100% chunks that you’re viewing so it all loads up quickly.

The camera is comfortable to hold, the UI is both beautiful and took me less than 30 seconds to figure out, in fact, I had never used this camera before and I helped at least a half dozen other folks set the camera, lock focus, change lenses, adjust ISO, preview and zoom into images on the retina, touch screen display on the IQ250 back, and just get started with the camera (I had only used the thing once!)

If they had better pin-point control on the focusing system I just may have walked out of that event having bought my very own Phase One flat-out. All things considered, the Phase One camera system is amazing and it is a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if’ I will get one of these beasts of the photography world.

Help Portrait | Philadelphia, 2013 | This one's for you

On Saturday, December 7th, 2013 an amazing event called “Help Portrait” swept across the globe. I lead a group and assembled one of the Help Portrait events right here in Philadelphia.What is Help Portrait? In a word, it's the most awesome photographic, charitable, story-telling, story-giving, picture-creating, tear-jerking, perspective-gaining, thought-provoking, and fun events that one could conjure up.

Help Portrait happens when a group of photographers, hair stylists, makeup artists, and volunteers get together and spend a day giving portraits away to those in need. For free. The people we photographed were characters of every walk of life; fathers, mothers, families, and fun-loving kids.

Partnering up with a number of Philadelphia photographers and artists (credits later on in this post) we had an event that went off without a hitch! I owe a massive “thank you” to everyone involved for helping to make this what it was and what it will be in the future! Without the selfless giving of others, we could never have made this happen!

During the event the best moment I experienced was when one 79 year-old gentleman-who had never been photographed before-looked at me and told me that he now "had a photograph he could give to his granddaughters so they would always remember him”. How cool and incredible is that? That’s a moment that will not soon be lost on me. Perspective gained.

I’d be remiss if I didn't mention that this whole worldwide event was started several years ago by the fantastic Nashville photographer, Jeremy Cowart. (Jeremy hates being mentioned in these articles, but credit where credit is due. *bow* )

We had a great location, Old First Reformed United Church of Christ which the incredible Philly-based company ShareMySpace helped up find and schedule.

Here are a few of the photos I shot on that day:


Fashion Model Katie Shea Walters | Philadelphia Photography

Daughter of local photographer, a film student, avid Star Wars fan, and budding young fashion model, Katie Shea Walters sure has her hands full modeling, walking in events such as the recent “Philadelphia Fashion Week”, oh, and-as mentioned-she’s a film student.

Katie and I first got together in January of 2013 and have worked together a couple times since then. These images are from our very first shoot together. This was very much a run-and-gun style shoot as we ran around a Philadelphia area town called Manayunk and captured images in several different areas of town. This shoot was a stylized, fashion-influenced, environmental portrait shoot to get Katie some unique and fun pictures that she could add to her portfolio.

The light source in these images was a single light, a 400W head with a 39” Rotalux Deep Octa bank (one of my personal favorite lighting modifiers!)

Check out a few of the images we captured below.

Katie Walters | Philadelphia Photography | Philadelphia Photographer


Katie Walters | Philadelphia Photography | Philadelphia Photographer


Katie Walters | Philadelphia Photography | Philadelphia Photographer


Katie Walters | Philadelphia Photography | Philadelphia Photographer


Katie Walters | Philadelphia Photography | Philadelphia Photographer