Sunday, November 27, 2011

T-Shirts, get your kitsch on!

I've been working on these cool line art drawings of old cameras for a while now and finally got around to opening up a storefront on

Photographers are notoriously hard to buy for so here's your chance to win some major brownie points with that special photo-geek of yours. Or if you're the photo-geek don't risk being disappointed xmas morning and just gift one to yourself :)

As a side-note I'm planning on using redbubble as a storefront to sell prints of my photographer in the near future. Once this is up and running I'm planning to make a post about how the process went and whether I'm liking redbubble or not. So far I've heard nothing but good things so you may want to head there yourself and create an account today.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Photographer Never Gets Photographed...

Krystian is up to bat with me and Mary as the subjects

A few months ago while talking with some photography buddies this topic came up. As a photographer you're constantly taking photos of other people and never have any photos of yourself. In an effort to combat this and give ourselves an excuse to indulge in 3 vices at once (eating, drinking, and shooting) we decided to have a portrait party. My girlfriend and I invited a few friends and two other couples over for drinks and appetizers in with photo-shoots throughout.

In total we had 3 photographers there, Krystian, Conrad, and myself. Since me and my girlfriend were hosting it I provided the bulk of the equipment just so that everyone else didn't have to lug tons of gear over.

Doing free for all shoots is a great way to play with lighting and try new things without the pressure of having to deliver. Doing so with a bunch of friends along with food and booze is even better! On a funny side note we determined that when faced with a long wine aisle at the liquor store 2 out of 3 photographers will end up buying this brand just because of the label ;)

As the night progressed and more booze was consumed people relaxed a little more and some extravagant props like a bright pink feather boa made appearances ;)

We all had a blast and finally had some decent photos of ourselves for a change. So if you're in the same boat just throw portrait party of your own!

Women and their wine...
What's a feather boa between friends?

Some highlights from the portrait party

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Majestic Maya - Destination Cancun

[1] Cancun, Chitzen Itza De Touristed FIXED BW
El Castillo at Chichen Itza. See all photos here

I guess I'm a little quite tardy in writing this post but better late than never. A few months back my and my girlfriend decided to blow this sub-zero Popsicle stand and fly south for some warmer climates.

We considered a few different destinations, Jamaica? Too expensive right now, Dominican? Both had been there already. Cuba? Maybe. Mexico? Possibly but only if we go to the Mayan Riviera side so we can see some cool sights. In the end we chose Cancun, Mexico, based on prices and attractions. We booked our trip for Jan 30 to Feb 6th and after many hours on Tripadvisor decided to go with Sea Adventure Resort & Waterpark, an older hacienda style resort a little off the beaten path and away from all the tourists.

Our flight was good with no delays etc though our in flight entertainment system was down (Westjet I swear this happens 75% of the time, fix it already) but thanks to ipods, kindles, and good old fashioned paper books we were kept entertained.

Our resort in a nutshell was great, although upon arriving we were a little concerned. A couple from either US or Canada were in the middle of a fight with the hotel staff when we walked in the front doors. The bellboy was holding the door closed and they were shouting "you can't keep us prisoner here!!" and trying to open the door. It goes without saying that we were pretty wide eyed when we approached the front desk. It turned out the people had refused to pay $20 because one of their kids had spilled something on the bed and stained the sheets. Anyway, seeing how bewildered we were they immediately upgraded our room to an oceanview room with a jacuzzi on the balcony. Sweet.

Sunrise Stitch SD780IS
View from our balcony

That was really the only bad experience we had at the resort. The staff were very friendly and eager to please, this was part of why we booked there, people on Tripadvisor couldn't say enough good things about the service.

The resort was located in Puerto Juarez in north Cancun, well away from the tourist zone. In fact it seemed we were pretty much on the outskirts of town. Pros were that we were close to the ferry to La Isla Mujeres and we had Mayan Ruins just up the road from us, cons were that cab rides into downtown were a little more money but not that bad.

Our first night we didn't do too much, just ate, drank, and got the lay of the land. The next day we paid for some tours and formulated a rough plan for our week.

Monday - Take the 2min shuttle up the road to El Meco Ruins ($3 fee at the gates)
Tuesday - Chichen Itza Tour ($72 each, 12 hour excursion)
Wednesday - Take it easy, maybe go downtown to the market
Thursday - Rio Secreto Cave Tour ($89 each, ~8hr excursion)
Friday - La Isla Mujeres
Saturday - Last full day, relax and enjoy it.

For the most part we were able to stick with our plan with the exception of La Isla Mujeres which got moved to Saturday.

El Meco

[2] Cancun, El Meco, 12 images, IMG_2050 - IMG_2061 BW
Pano taken at El Meco ruins just a 10 min walk from our resort

This was such a treat. We had heard about it on trip advisor when researching our resort. Reviews had mentioned that this ruin site was almost always free of other visitors and this turned out to be true, we were the only visitors there for half an hour and then one guy from our resort wandered in as well. If you're in Cancun I highly recommend heading out to these ruins, they may not be as grandiose as Chichen Itza but the peaceful stillness from the lack of people gives it a more surreal feeling. Both me and my girlfriend counted it as one of the highlights of our trip.

IMG_2080 colour
The lizards have taken over the ruins at El Meco

Chichen Itza
[3] Cancun, Chitzen Itza, 13 images, IMG_2431 - IMG_2443 Square Detouristed Cross Processedr

Being that our hotel was a little out of the way we were picked up by a shuttle (30 min late) and taken downtown to where the mini tour bus was departing. The drive was around 2.5hrs with a stop near Chichen Itza at a Cenote. There you could swim if you wanted then a stop for an included lunch. The lunch was actually pretty good and included a bit more authentic local fare.

After lunch we made our way to the historical site where we stayed for 2 and half hours. Our guide said we could follow him or break off from the group, however he very strongly suggested we stay with the group because it was easy to get lost and not find the proper exit. Don't believe they hype! We stayed with the group and regretted it afterwards, our guide took us through the Great Ballcourt and then stopped under the shade of some trees and talked for over an hour. Then we were given a little less than an hour to wander around the whole site on our own. In the end we missed some cool portions like the Priests Temple and the Observatory. My recommendation is watch "Cracking The Mayan Code" (its also on Netflix) before you go and read up about Chichen Itza on wikipedia before you go and skip the guide.

The site was pretty cool, the hoards of tourists kinda took away from the surreal landscape though. It wasn't until I had gotten home, processed and de-touristed the photos, that I could look back and appreciate what I had seen. It seems to be the same no matter where I go, I felt the same when I was on the Great Wall of China. I heard some people complaining that you they no longer let you climb up on the structures, I for one was glad since it kept people out of my shots ;)

[1] Cancun, Chitzen Itza, 11 images, IMG_2489 - IMG_2499 12x36 Colour Brown
Temple of The Warriors at Chichen Itza
One last note on Chichen Itza regarding souvenirs, there are some items we saw there and passed over because we thought we'd find them again later for a cheaper price. While this was true of some items there were others that we never saw again, for example there was a woven blanket with a very cool Mayan/Aztec looking pattern that I regret not picking up. I also bought an ash tray and a stone chess board while we were on our way out, I got both together for $20 and later on I saw the same chessboards for $80. I just said to the guy I've got a bus to catch, take it or leave it and he took the cash. When I told one of the vendors I bought the same chess board for around $15 he got a little angry and said that was not possible ;)

Rio Secreto Caves

Photo from cd purchased after the tour

Now this was something I was very excited about before the trip. I came across it while reading up on excursions in and around Cancun and was surprised when I had discovered it because I had seen portions of it featured in the BBC/Discover series Planet Earth. I had no idea that this was in Mexico so as soon as I found out I told my girlfriend this was something we had to do.

The Yucatan penninsula is primarly limestone, because of this there are no natural rivers, instead they are all underground. Normally these caves are filled with water and require scuba gear to explore them, underwater cave exploration is one of the most dangerous activities in the world. Rio Secreto on the other hand is one of the few underground rivers that you can actually walk/wade through without ever having to put your head under the water.

The tour cost us around $99 USD and included pickup/dropoff from our resort as well as lunch at the caves. Like the Chichen Itza excursion our shuttle to pick us up at our resort was late, this time though it was running really late. Eventually after talking to a rep from Best Day Travel we found out that our shuttle had gotten a flat tire, the rep then put us into a cab on their dime and sent us downtown to meet up with the bus. We ended up being the last people to get on the bus and I'm sure people were thinking it was our fault we were late and held them up. Oh well I'll never see them again anyway ;)

Despite getting off to a rough start the rest of the excursion was great. Just a heads up though the showers they make you use before getting into your wetsuit are insanely cold since they are using water from the underground river. Its funny when you get back and you see another group who are just about to go through the same experience ;)

Our tour guide was great and our group was fairly small, I believe they always try to keep the size below 10 people. Walking is a little tricky since the bottom of the cave isn't always flat, just go slow and you'll be fine. Throughout the tour there is a guy that shadows your group and snaps photos here and there. At preset locations they have flashes setup (with bags over them to keep them dry) and they'll get you to pose for a shot like the one below.

A posed shot while on the tour, note the flashlights in the pools providing extra light ;)

At the end of the tour while you're busy trying to get your wet-suit off they run ahead and dump their memory cards. You then get a shot of an anise and honey flavoured Mayan liqueur and they try to sell you the photos they took of you. Its a little steep at $60 USD for a disc but I'd rather pay for these shots then some lame one on a beach with a parrot on your shoulder. The disc you get also includes some nice stock shots from the caves as well, unfortunately the stock shots are lower res (2-3Mega Pixel). One thing to note is that your disc will contain two folders, "Fotos" and "Fotos para impresion", the first contains photos that are good for web use and emailing, the second contains larger files (10 Mega Pixels) which are for printing. At first I didn't see the folder with the full sized files and felt a little cheated.

La Isla Mujeres (The Island of Women)
The large ferries that take people back and forth to the island, $7 USD return

On our second last day we took a ferry across to the Island of Women. There is plenty of stuff to do on the island like diving and a whole host of water sports or you can rent a golf cart and cruise around the island. We however just played it low key and just walked up and down the strip on foot. At one point we wandered off the main strip a little too far and it was looking a little seedier, I don't think we were ever in any danger since the whole island makes its living on tourism.

Some graffiti we came across when we wandered off the beaten path on La Isla Mujeres

While we were off the beaten path we came across a neat little cemetery that had this creepy black cat apparently standing guard at the gates.


We made it back to the main strip and found a little ice cream/gelato shop which was a nice place to sit and cool off a little. All in all the island was decent, others we talked to that had done some of the excursions had quite a good time so I'd say its worth checking out.

We could see our resort from the ferry!

In the end it was quite a nice little winter get away, we had a nice mix of adventure and relaxation and didn't break the bank in the process. What more can you ask for right?

Here's a little video I put together from a collection of clips I had shot with my little ipod touch.

Mexico Randomness from James Hildebrandt on Vimeo.

While staying at the resort you get 2 vouchers per week to eat at their fancier a la carte restaurant "Oysters". We found the food there to be quite good and while we thought the buffet was decent this was definitely a nice change. Here's a clip of our waiter preparing our Mayan Coffee:

Mayan Coffee at Sea Adventure Resort Cancun from James Hildebrandt on Vimeo.

If you want to see all of the photos from the trip you can check them out at my flickr gallery here or if you really like the shots you can purchase a little book of them here.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Advice on finding a wedding photographer

Wedding revamped 2

First let me start off by saying I'm not trying to pitch myself ;) In fact I haven't been shooting weddings for a few years now and won't be until I have my basement studio finished (if even then). However, I'm often approached by people asking if I'll shoot their wedding and always feel the need to write up a long email referring them to other photographers as well as give them tips on what to look for. I realized today that I've probably written over 50 emails like this so I finally decided to just make a blog post about it so in future I can just link them to it ;)

There are tons of photographers to choose from.
With the price of digital SLR cameras these days everyone seems to be getting into the biz, this is both good and bad for you. A fancy camera does not a photographer make ;) There are a lot of up and comers that are undercutting established photographers, a few are amazing and are a steal of a deal where others simply shouldn't be working. On the flip side some of the "established" photographers out there are really quite terrible. So what do you do?

First off ask your friends/family that have recently been married who shot their wedding and ask to see their wedding photos. Word of mouth and testimonials from people you know carry way more weight than a fancy website and/or ad campaign. Remember, a photographer's portfolio is their best work and not always typical of what you're going to get so trust what you see in your friends album over the portfolio.

Here are some questions to ask yourself as well as the prospective photographer:

  • How many years have they been shooting weddings/how many wedding have they shot? An experienced photographer that has shot a lot of weddings will probably cost more but it might be worth it because they'll know how to handle any situation that comes up. On the flip side a newer photographer, other than being cheaper, might be more in-tune with newer styles and may not take shots that seem as "old fashioned".
  • Engagement Photos. Often packages will include engagement photos and as I photographer I always preferred to do both the engagement photos and wedding photos. This gives the bride and groom a chance to work with the photographer and build a rapport with each other so that when the big day comes everyone is comfortable with each other. From purely a customer stand point my take is that the only reason for engagement photos is to have a nice photo for the wedding invitation, the rest of the photos are forgotten after the wedding. If the package includes it then great, if it costs more then its up to you to decide if you really want/need them.
  • What if it rains? Amazingly even some of the high end photographers don't do a proper job if it rains. Rain means shooting inside, preferably with the proper lighting equipment and skills to use it. This is where most photographers either lack studio experience, proper gear, or studio space to do it properly. Note that this is why I've decided not to take on any weddings for now, I simply lack the studio space to accommodate a wedding party. Ask the photographer what the backup plan is in the event of inclement weather. If they have a studio available to them with proper equipment ask them to see examples of the shots, if they've been shooting weddings for any length of time they will have certainly been rained out at least once.
  • Backup equipment. One thing that almost nobody asks the photographer is whether or not they have backup equipment. It's not unheard of for a camera to suddenly fail during a wedding shoot (a photographer's worst nightmare ;) but this again is where a seasoned pro will be covered and a newer photographer may not.
  • All day, just ceremony & formals, or by the hour? Most photographers will offer at least 2 of the 3 if not all of them. Which one you should choose is really up to you. You'll want to cover the ceremony and formals as a minimum and that is often much cheaper than all day coverage. Are the "getting ready" shots worth the extra price? Same goes with the dance, if you're cool with just "documenting" these extras then skip the all day coverage and collect pictures from your friend's digital cameras.
  • What is a second shooter and should I pick a package that has one? A second shooter is a second photographer that helps ensure the main photographer doesn't miss a moment, also by having one you'll get photos from multiple angles which can yield better coverage during say the ceremony. Generally only the higher end packages offer a second shooter and depending on the photographer/package they might only be there to help cover the ceremony.
  • Full resolution files on disc or ordering through the photographer? Nowadays with the digital revolution more and more photographers are just giving the files to the client on a disc and letting them make as many copies as they want. It's worth it to pay a little more for this feature as ordering through the photographer is generally expensive and some of the prices I've seen for enlargements are downright un-ethical. If you do get a disc though I highly recommend making a few extra copies as backups and keep one at a friend/relatives place as an off-site backup.
  • Photo editing, wedding album, hosted gallery etc. One thing you need to ask, especially with cheaper packages or inexperienced photographers, is whether or not the photos are edited and to what level are they edited. Is it just basic exposure & colour correction or does it include blemish removal etc. As for the other extras you might want to save the $$$ and do it yourself. I recommend to all of my friends for photobooks, they are really economical and offer a very professional method for displaying your photos. Hosted galleries are almost pointless nowadays since you can do it yourself on facebook or flickr. One more thing about the photo editing, if possible see if they photographer will even be willing to throw in the original or "RAW" files, this way if the person doesn't do a good job editing the photos you'll still have the originals which could be edited properly at a later date.
  • Wedding Insurance, say what? Chances are you probably didn't even know this existed, don't worry because most photographers don't either. It's actually ingenious really and I'm surprised more people don't get it. Some photographers offer it but I believe the bride/groom can purchase it on their own as well. If you're planning a big/expensive wedding I recommend giving it some thought. Here is just an example of some of the things that can be covered: Personal Liability, postponement/cancellation, wedding photographs, wedding gifts, loss of deposits, wedding gown & attire, wedding jewelery.
  • Location location location.Where are you planning to get your photos taken? A few quick things to remember when choosing a location is that public places (parks etc) generally can't be booked for private gatherings and during peak wedding season may be inundated with other wedding parties. Here in Saskatoon a popular place is the Boffin's Club gardens, what most people don't realize is that you can't actually book this place. You can call them and they'll put your name down but they'll do the same for the next photographer that calls too, if you're lucky they'll let you know how many other weddings are marked down for that day. In short, try to have a backup plan and discuss this before hand with your photographer.
  • Agreement of service expected. To be honest I'm not actually sure if this is common or not but I think it should be if it isn't. Basically before you hand over any deposits write out in point form what the package includes AND what the photographer's liability is if for some unforeseen reason they are unable to deliver (gets into an accident on the way to the wedding etc). Essentially this is a contract for services, if they are asking for a deposit to ensure you don't bail on them its only fair that you have some assurances as well.
Well hopefully that covers just about everything, if I think of anything else I'll update this post.