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The Indefinite Article.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Back to Work

Paola & Mama
Originally uploaded by killy
Today, i drove home for lunch. For me, this is twenty minutes of highway driving from just south of the south loop to just north of the north loop. This may not be the best use of my time, but it's a wonderful feeling to see my house, my wife, and my daughter in the middle of the day even if it is for only 20 minutes while I scarf down a quick lunch with the both of them. I usually eat, play a few chords on the guitar and then rush out again to make it back to work in a reasonable amount of time.

Made it to the Y today for a workout. I hadn't done this in nearly two months. It felt really good to be able to strain myself in that way.

Continued in the studio once i got home. Working on formulaic setups for headshots, etc ... this is one is known as clamshell lighting.

It works!

Sunday, February 27, 2011


Tranquility Park
Originally uploaded by killy
Success. Spent a good amount of time with the camera back in front of my face. The most challenging part was being outside on a cloudy day. The light was changing constantly and with me on 'M' (manual) exposure mode i was constantly having to adjust exposures. So it was good practice.

This week brings some excitement: i'll be assisting T on Wednesday with a local River Oaks home.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Saturday Dinner: Sifting Chile Negro Sauce

All i did today was eat and take photos. I felt like a lion when the water comes back to Africa after a long drought. Carol prepared 'Costillas Negras' and homemade flour tortillas, a first for her. They were marvelous in every way.

I photo-ed as the meal came to life. Food photography?

Scenes From Breakfast

Scenes From Breakfast
Originally uploaded by killy
I ate breakfast with a camera in front of my face, which wasn't easy considering i had shovel ham, eggs, toast, oatmeal and coffee into my mouth.

I remember when Todd and I used to walk into various lighting situations and evaluate the light without a meter. We would both give our best guesses for the room - Todd was more often correct, but it was a nice game and kept my mind and eye on the light. I am playing the same game with myself these days - not nearly as much fun without Todd, though.

Things are a bit more complicated these days, though. I can easily change the ISO at any point. I guess, technically, i could have pushed my film, but at that point i was compressing/expanding values in such a way that is very different from changing ISOs on a digital camera. At least, i think so. At any rate, the game was played with a constant value (400 ASA) if i remember correctly.

So today, at the dining table with a NE facing window, i watched the light and made my best guesses.

Friday, February 25, 2011


Originally uploaded by killy
After a few beers, a bowl of chips and salsa and improvisational songs with the in-laws, i headed into the gar-udio to set up some lights for some portraits of my in-laws. Luckily they are wonderfully good humored people and love their son-in-law beyond measure.

We had a pretty good time.

This was a four light set up: two bare studio strobes (slaved) on either side just behind the subject with two black boards as flags, one snooted Vivitar 285 camera left and up high, and an sb-600 on the floor pointing up to trigger the slaved strobes which did double duty on the background.


Paola on the Fence
Originally uploaded by killy
I made myself a snoot out of a cereal box and a handful of black straws. Tonight, i'm going to take it out for a spin.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Coming Together

Originally uploaded by killy
This weekend, if you see my face, tell me to put a camera in front of it. Thank you.

Weekend, here i come.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Sugar Skull

Sugar Skull
Originally uploaded by killy
I find myself needing the same things over and over again when trying to shoot stuff in the studio. Tonight, i wrote it all down and set up a priority of purchase.

I had to stop and think today. I was immediately in a whirlwind: the sugarskull was thrown down onto the table, i picked up the camera, setup a strobe/umbrellas combination and started shooting. Naturally, it was a disaster.

I felt a self loathing begin to set in so i stopped. I resisted the urge to delete every shot from my camera. I put it down. I stared and took note: the light was at the wrong angle, the zoom on the flash was not set correctly, i hadn't looked at the shape of the object at all. I picked up the camera - the exposures were all over the place.

I started over and slowly created a shot. I picked up the sugar skull and looked at it and found the shape. I set it up and composed and focused. I set the strobe/umbrella camera right and set the zoom at 85mm on the sb-600. I used an old red umbrella in front of my Vivitar 285 (@ 1/16) to add some color (no gels ... yet) and set that up directly camera left. I tested exposures with a light meter, made some minor adjustments to light placement and came away with a shot i was happy with.

So the moral of the story for me is ... slow down. Also, it troubles me that skeletons have no nose.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Two light set-ups

Adolfo & Paola
Originally uploaded by killy
Back in the studio today with two lighting scenarios. The first was for this shot: a high umbrella (8 feet all the way to ceiling) at a high angle down; two lights on the background to blow it out white; can't see much of it, but a bare sb-600 is pointed to the back of Adolfo's head and gives a slight highlight.

Today, I found myself at a Barnes & Noble mid-morning reading a few pages of 'Annie Lebovitz At Work'. Inspirational and set me on a good path for the day. I spent the day thinking about taking photos.

PhotoFrustration #8: The room i have carved out in my garage is very cramped. For shots like this i find myself having to squat, bend and contort myself to avoid my lights. It's probably a good time for me to take things on the road now that the days are a bit longer.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Razor Sharp Focus

Razor Wire
Originally uploaded by killy
Spent the last 24 hours scanning old negatives and prints. What a head trip it's been. On one hand, i made some pretty nice photos. On the other, i don't remember knowing what the hell i was doing.

Here is a good example. This is an old photo from when i used to keep a studio space in an artspace warehouse just north of Downtown. The gates at the entry points to the studio were lined with razor wire and made for great photos. I don't know if i would be able to approach this situation the same way. I think i would make a much larger production out of a shot like this. I can see myself attempting to light the focus points in a way that would allow me a more dramatic background.

Carol is sick so my day was consumed with errands and attending a birthday party, which as any parent knows, includes managing conflicts, calming high emotions and tending to bruised egos. I did, however, manage to squeeze in a trip to Texas Art Supply for some black foam board to be used as flags in the studio. Now, i just need some stands to hold them.

PhotoFrustration #7: I am having a difficult time focusing in indoor light. I find myself having to depend on the auto focus in quick situations. I dunno if my glasses are dirty (likely) or the diopter adjustment is out of whack (also likely). Or, I forgot how to focus.


Originally uploaded by killy
Okay, so i didn't exactly take this today, but i did shoot some candid shots at my cousin's 1st year birthday. They weren't interesting enough to post on Chairjockey, though.

What is interesting, however, is that i spent the last three hours scanning in old prints and negatives. While i had mixed feelings as i went through my old work, i came away with a pretty favorable view of myself. I have posted a good portion of what i've scanned to flickr.

This shot was taken at the home of Nini, the woman Carol and I stayed with while we honeymooned in Mexcio. Colin and Laura hooked us up with her. She is a wonderfully kind woman.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Skip Day

Two Carols
Originally uploaded by killy
Spent the day running errands and working around the house; and spent days end at the McNulty's drinking cocktails and laughing. Hope everyone's Friday was as fun as ours.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Am I Just Pretending?

Dead Grass
Originally uploaded by killy
Spent some time with Taggart this evening. He said something nice: my home is like my heart, wide open, with nothing to hide. Thanks Tag. I appreciated that.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Paola: Earthbender

Paola, Hardcore
Originally uploaded by killy
I had a pretty good time with Paola today. Unfortunately, she is not nearly as patient as Adolfo is. Once i get her in there she just starts moving and talking and so on. So i had to be quick.

The kids' favorite show currently is the Last Airbender animated series. If any of you have not seen this, you really should. One of Paola's favorite characters is Toph (a.k.a. the Blind Bandit), an earthbender. Paola will take any opportunity to show you just how awesome she is at earthbending.

Stobist info: shoot through umbrella camera right; bare sb-600 directly to the side of paola (camera left); narrow grid on back wall.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A quick night

Originally uploaded by killy
My son is sick with a cough and a light fever. He stayed home from school today and will probably head to the doctor tomorrow if he doesn't feel better in the morning.

Had my weekly run this evening, which was harder to do than usual. It could have something to do with the horrible diet I have been keeping lately. Yesterday, i had a candy binge that started with girl scout cookies and ended with several rolls of smarties.

Ate a bowl of homemade beef soup when i got home and spent some time with AFCIV. He lay in bed smiling at me and gave me a light kiss welcoming me home. I could tell by his body language that he didn't like my after-run stink, but he didn't say anything. Normally, he would. We talked for a bit, but he was ready to sleep. I gave him some tylenol and settled in for sleep.

Having spent the day with a sick Adolfo, an active Paola and a lingering dad, Carol quickly beat a path to the YMCA for some exercise and much needed break. Paola and I took a few photos with daddy trying to bounce flashes off of this and that. I shot a few with a flash through a purple balloon. The most successful, however, were the ones where i flashed them directly off my white BON running shirt which gave the photos a ringlight effect.

I caught abuelito in the kitchen getting water before bed. Little does he know, he'll be sitting for me tomorrow.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Making Do

Flash Lamp
Originally uploaded by killy
Twice on the way to work i wanted to stop, set up a tripod and take a photo of the Houston landscape. Both times I could see myself doing it in my mind, but i did't have my camera with me. Would i have done it if i had my equipment with me? Perhaps.

The first shot was as i came over I-10 on the west loop looking towards the galleria complex. The sunlight was sharp and orange and filtered through a bright blue cloud and there was the slightest hint of fog.

The second was on the south loop just before Weslayan of a field that houses a church garden and an seemingly infinite number of electric towers that receded into a blue green fog.

I am making many more mental notes of locations as i run across them.

I fell asleep today before i could touch my camera, but i woke up at 10:30 and completed my assignment: balancing (exposure, not color ... yet) ambient light and flash.

Another cool thing i did this weekend was making a few homemade light modifiers. The first is what i call a strobe lamp made from the bottom of a milk carton. Works deliciously!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Slowing Down

Paola Isabel Chavez
Originally uploaded by killy
My head moves faster than i do which got me thinking about time. So i started reading about time dilation and special relativity, but then i went cross-eyed, so i stopped; rather, i decided to just slow down.

I began to get frustrated today. Couldn't make things happen the way i wanted them to and i froze. I ended up at the park with the kids and played Adolfo's new invention: hop-scotch extravaganza. Best part of the day was taking the time to lay on the warm concrete in the Texas sun.

Shot Paola today with the softbox. Results inside.

Before Noon

Adolfo Fidel Chavez IV
Originally uploaded by killy
Woke up with an urgency to continue fiddling with my lights, but no one else did. Instead, they woke up with an urgency for pancakes. Father-in-Law wanted a restaurant breakfast, so we packed up and headed to a local joint that used to be an IHOP. The menu is identical, the staff is identical, the cooks are identical but it's called ... Jackie's Kitchen.

On our way home FIL decided he had to go to home depot. Lucky me! I abandoned the family to look for light modifiers. Flourescent light banks and covers caught my eye (but i didn't buy any ... yet). I was looking for cheap, fun reflectors. I ended up in the roofing section looking at flashing. Bought a small, square piece of flashing that i could play around with. I also bought a flashing ring that i thought might come in handy for a DIY ring flash or DIY beauty dish.

This shot is the first with a small piece of flashing directly behind and above me at about 45 degrees reflecting a sb-600.

PhotoFrustation #7: My D80 does not support a 1/200 sec sync speed when i connect them to my strobes. The max sync speed is 1/60 sec. That blows, but there is a workaround thankfully. The only way the D80 supports the higher sync speed is when it is used with a CLS approved flash, which i have: an sb-600. All my studio strobes have a built in slave. So when i fire the sb-600 all the strobes fire. So either i have to include the sb-600 in the lighting scenario, or i have to just fire it in such a way that it doesn't interfere with the shot, but will fire the strobes. I hate workarounds like that.

Introducing, Killy

Self Portraits - Killy
Originally uploaded by killy
Here I am, Killy the Photographer.

Well, it turns out that clean garages make pretty awesome studios. A clean, decently painted wall will do wonders as a background and studio strobes don't hurt either. What i have found, though, is that studio lights make me mentally crazy. I spent most of my day with the strobes, setting them up, shooting, moving them again, adjusting output, moving them again, diffusing this, snooting that, moving them again.

At the end of the day i hardly remember how this particular shot was lit. I mean, i could probably deconstruct from the image, but the nuances are what makes lighting what it is: how far was the umbrella from the light source? was this a shoot through or reflection? angle? height? distance?

New strategy for studio strobes. Set up for ONE kick-ass lighting technique and leave it for a month. Shoot for a month. THEN change. Now all i gotta do is find someone to photograph that isn't me or my kids or my wife ... and if they pay, that would be lovely too.

PhotoFrustation#6 - discovered that two of my umbrellas are bent to hell. Gotta get a new silver reflective and a white shoot through.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Hard Sun, Hard Flash

Adolfo: Hard Sun, Hard Flash
Originally uploaded by killy
Completed my assignment for today, but again, in a terrible rush. I hurried home, picked up my equpiment and tried to get to the park before the sun went down and before the kids got too tired to humor me. Made it just as Adolfo had tired himself out scooting around the perimeter of the park.

"You're not going to use the umbrellas today?" he asked. "Nope," i said, "we're gonna do bare flash today"

And so after a brief dance around the sun trying to get the right angle we settled in and took a few shots. The whole time i was anxious to get home. I believe this is a symptom of office work: a compulsive need to get HOME and BE home.

As usual, i see everything i didn't do to make this shot better. Perhaps we'll try again tomorrow morning with grandpa.

Strobist info: out in the park, Feb 11th at around 4:45 - 5:00 in the evening. Vivitar 285HV bare flash held by my wife about 5 to 6 feet away. The exposure was 1/200@4.5. Got the open apeture by shooting through a polarizer which eats up a stop or two depending on your angle to the sky. Wanna try this tomorrow morning with my father-in-law and take my time. Want to shoot with a bare flash and then again with the umbrella. Saw a couple of examples of this technique and the results were pretty astounding. Gotta practice this one.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


Did a google search for 'houston editorial portrait' and reviewed the portfolios of a number of talented photographers in the Houston area who are doing precisely what i want to be doing. So, in the coming months, for technique practice, i'll be attempting to duplicate images from their portfolios.

At the same time, ideally, i'll be discovering my own sense of style my own way of working, of seeing. I'll continue with the strobist assignments and perhaps even embark on Project 365.

Recently, i heard a quote from Chuck Close that went something like this, "... Inspiration is for amateurs, just get to work." So that's what i'm gonna do - i'm just gonna get to work and let all the pieces fall where they may. I've sat around for far too long.

Tonight, on a chilly evening the kids and I went outside and shot as quickly as possible. I think we were outside for about 20 minutes. By the end my hands were frozen and i didn't care if i got much of anything out of this shoot. Alas, I came away with moderate success in balancing the strobe with the twilight and a cute shot of the kids too.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Maria Rocio Mercado

Maria Rocio Mercado
Originally uploaded by killy
It's cold again tonight, but not as cold as it is in chicago, according to my visiting sister-in-law. She showed up just in time for the birth of Maru's baby, Eli, who was born this morning at 10:50 a.m. This evening she told us stories of 12 foot snow drifts and neighbors who steal snow shovels.

I was planning on shooting paola this evening against my headboard, but as luck would have it. i ended up braving the cold and heading to Katy for a visit. It turns out there is next to nothing dark and reflective in the Singleterry household, except for those curtains. Those wonderful curtains.

It was a quick setup and shoot; i knew exactly what i wanted the moment i saw the curtains - and i did it!

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Wisk Setup Shot

Wisk Setup Shot
Originally uploaded by killy
Oh yeah, i managed to finally clean out my garage and make it a workable space. This is what it looks like at 1/200 sec @ f/16.

A Mission

The wisk I knew i could see
Originally uploaded by killy
Today i had a mission. Actually, two missions. The first was to get back to running. In order to do that, i knew that i had to eat right today; i knew i had to hydrate myself properly; and i did. In the morning i packed my own breakfast and lunch (prepared, of course, by my wife): morning egg white, sausage and potato breakfast taco; turkey meatloaf, a large spinach avacado salad (no dressing), a banana, an apple, and a ziploc of almonds and raisins.

Once Adolph and I were on the trail i took off fast - faster than i should have. I hadn't run in two weeks. It felt so good to be back on the trail, exerting myself. My legs were light and free of soreness. Of course, i could only keep up that pace for so long. It wasn't very long before i was back at a more manageable pace. But i was able to keep it for the most part.

Near the end of our run, i sprinted till my middle wouldn't let me go anymore. Adolph, so kind, offered a slight 'go chavez' as i jogged by. Once i slow down, he passes me again. On our final stretch, with Adolph far ahead, i sprint again determined to not force him to wait for me. He stops about 10 seconds ahead of me, hardly breathing. This confirms my long held suspicion that he is a cyborg created by his dad. Jett should get himself checked.

Normally, i try to clear my head while running. This time my mind was squarely focused on one thing: photography. Specifically, how i was going to reshoot this wisk. Main light from direclty above (sb-600 diffused with a gentle curve of parchment paper. Fill is the Vivitar 285 (similarly diffused) to camera left. Additionally, it's gobo'd to prevent spillage onto the background. If you continue to my flickr page you can see the setup pic.

Monday, February 07, 2011


Originally uploaded by killy
Since January 28th, i have shot every single day. I have dedicated at least an hour of my day to shooting, whether it be for strobist assignments or on my own. So for these past few days, i've felt pretty darn good.

Every day, when i know i'm about to shoot, my stomach twists up. While I am shooting, my insides are tossed about inside of me. When I am done, there is a hazy mixture of fear, relief and nausea.What once used to a two hour process of revalation is now a few seconds of downloading - and then the images appear before me and i all i see are the problems. Immediately, i know what i need to do to improve the shot. Take for instance, my shapeless wisk here. As far as the lighting goes, It is completely backwards.

Every shoot jars me and shakes loose some long forgotten impulse. I can feel myself getting looser. I handle my equipment easier.

Today, as i was waking to a meeting through one of the many walkways, i caught myself staring at the highlights in the chrome lunch chairs and examining the highlights. This is happening more and more as the days go on. I am thinking of photography and more importantly, of me acting as photographer.

Sunday, February 06, 2011


Maria Singleterry
Originally uploaded by killy
Spent nearly my entire day outside de-cluttering my garage and backyard. With heavy trash scheduled for this week, i was able to finally throw out lotsa things that had been accumulating for months. Christmas decoration boxes that have been piling up were finally moved into the attic. The garage opened up and i was able to finally make a work station out of the architects table; there was finally enough room so that my workout bench was usable; there is room for me to do some photography work without setting up light stands all over the living room and disrupting/ important lego time.

Carol's dad is in town for three weeks, so now in addition to giving myself photography projects and making time to exercise, i have to figure out a series of projects for my 86 year old father-in-law to work on while he's here. For those of you who don't know, if he is left to his own devices he gets himself into all sorts of trouble and breaks my stuff. I have already lost a table saw and nearly a lawnmower to his fidgety hands. Tomorrow, he is going to prep out 2011 xmas tree for burning in the chimenea for when it gets cold this week.

Today, Maru came over to visit her dad and to have her pregnancy photo done before the baby is born this week. I shot her with a Vivitar on a silver umbrella and another on the background shot through a full bottle of Cuervo Tequila for color. No, i don't have a gel pack (yet).

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Alexandria Flores

Alexandria Flores
Originally uploaded by killy
Oh yeah - this is my niece. Born last weekend. So happy for my sister and John.


Diego Romel Benitez
Originally uploaded by killy
Spent a good portion of the day visiting with Lynda, John and their new baby, Alexandria. Ate a fine brisket prepared by my new brother in law, John and spent the rest of the time with my face behind a camera. I just trolled around for photos which is something i haven't done in a long time. Having spent the majority of these last few years with camera phones and digital point and shoots perched at the end of my extended arm, being back behind an SLR reminds me of how engaged one has to be.

My face has to be behind the camera; my arms have to be raised next to my face; i have to cradle my lens in my palm; i have to use my left thumb and middle finger to spin the focus ring (another limitation i've placed on myself: manual focus); i have to bend my legs into a squat.

I went for drama today and found a green sun drenched wall bathed in a spotted side light. i set up my Vivitar behind a white umbrella and set it to full extension for a matching pointed dramatic light.

I've elected to using one light and balancing with ambient till i can get my hands on more receivers for my other flash. The slave peanut is miserably UNreliable particulary outdoors.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Adolfo Stands Still for about 2 Seconds

Took some relaxing photos around the house tonight. Adolfo manages to take a pitstop from flying around the house in his new cape. Mama spent the day making him a green cape to his specific specifications only for her final project to be rejected once he got home. Apparently, it wasn't cut right.

But disappointments weren't meant to define the evening. I found the battery holder to my second Vivitar flash and manged to fix it. Some old batteries had corroded in the holder and managed to strip the conductor. A little piece of foil fixed it right up, so now i've got three working flashes: one sb-600 and two Vivitar 285s.

That put me in a pretty good mood so i walked around the house and took some shots of everyone's evening. Adolfo flying around the house and Lego-ing. Paola helping mama make some flour-less peanut butter/coconut cookies and Carol puttering around in the kitchen.

Details on this shot: Camera mounted Vivitar 285 bounced off the ceiling straight up and down. You can see the reflection in the window behind him.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Revisiting the Specular Highlight

A cold day spent mostly in meetings. One - a conference room of radiologists where i demo-ed electronic consenting; Two - a department wide meeting which was standing room only; Three - another consent meeting.

Meh. It was a day. By the end of it, i didn't want to hear anything on the way home. In my head was the sound of a dull grey thud. When i got into the Civic i left the radio off and listened to my car: the cold pistons banging around, the tires dragging themselves along the pavement and the scream of the wind as i moved along the freeway.

Back at home i continued my work by revisiting Specular Highlights. I am happier with today's efforts, but not entirely. I'm going to keep at this until i get it right. I'm waiting for my 'aHa!' moment with this one.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

A Cold Cold Day

Specular Highlights
Originally uploaded by killy
It's cold today. Really cold. Supposedly, it's going to drop to near 20 degrees tonight. All my faucets are on a drip and the dishwasher is running. I called off the weekly run with Adolph and Taggart and instead opted for indoor exercise (Yoga) at the YMCA.

Today i shot a black pencil sharpener and manipulated the light to create specular highlights that give a black object some shape. So there. I prolly could have spent a little more time with this shoot, but it's cold, i'm grumpy and i have a meeting first thing in the morning. Yuck.

PhotoFrustration #4: I am exceptionally scared of taking photographs. More specifically I am frightened to fail at taking photos, which is why I don't charge anyone for 'work' that i do, or why i can't seem to look at any of the photos i take after i take them. It will be weeks, if not months, before i can stand to look at them. Once i do, all i see are the problems: the bad lighting, the horrible composition, technical mistakes, etc ... I'm working on changing this, but it's still pretty darn frustrating. Even more frustrating is KNOWING exactly why you feel this way, and still not be able to resolve it.