photography

South Africa: Cape Town and Mabula Game Lodge by Simon Abrams

 Hanging with Stephanie at the Company's Garden in Cape Town

Hanging with Stephanie at the Company's Garden in Cape Town

My wife Stephanie and I just got back from an incredible vacation to South Africa. We picked that destination the way we end up picking most of the destinations for our trips: Stephanie skims through travel deals that happen to correspond with the times that her school is closed for vacation, and if the price is decent, we pull the trigger.

Cape Town's Water Shortage

We booked the trip several months in advance, long before the critical water shortages that Cape Town has been experiencing started making international news. We were initially hesitant, and considered canceling the trip, because we had heard that there would likely be unrest as the water situation became more dire. Fortunately, Cape Town's water conservation intitatives have turned out to be quite effective, and "Day Zero"—the day that the reservoir will run dry—has been pushed back to 2019. This made us feel much more at ease about the trip.

In any case, we needn't have worried; other than being encouraged to take 2-minute showers, and finding hand sanitizer instead of working faucets in many public restrooms, we didn't really feel the effects of the water shortage at all. Probably a side-effect of visiting as a tourist; I'm sure the experience is still much different for residents.

Getting There

We flew Emirates, which resulted in a pretty circuitous route to Cape Town via Dubai. That added up to over 22 grueling hours of flying, despite the comforts of the very fancy Emirates service (yeah, even in Economy class). Sadly, we didn't get to see any of Dubai, other than a hazy glimpse of the Burj Khalifa tower off in the distance as we were bussed across the tarmac to our connecting flight.

 Cape Town, as seen from Table Mountain

Cape Town, as seen from Table Mountain

We booked our trip through Gate 1 Travel, which meant we were part of a tour group of about 40 people. Our Cape Town itinerary took us through some of the city's major landmarks, including Table Mountain, the Victoria and Albert Waterfront, as well as a drive down around the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point. We stopped at a charming seaside town called Simon's Town, and visited with a penguin colony at Boulders Beach.

We had a little scare in Simon's Town as we headed back to the rendevous point for our tour bus, and realized that we, along with another family, had been left behind. I scrambled to call our tour guide's cellphone, and they came back and got us. Luckily, they hadn't gotten that far.

On our last day in the city, Stephanie and I opted out of the shark-cage diving and wine tasting activities that were offered as part of the tour, and decided to do our own thing instead. (Side note: we would have loved to go shark cage diving, but it would have entailed five hours of driving and no guaranteed sharks sightings.) We ended up visiting the Muslim Museum in Bo-Kaap, going paragliding from Signal Hill, taking a tour of Langa Township, and having a lovely dinner back at the Waterfront. I think we made the right choice.

Langa Township

The visit to the township was sobering. It would be easy to visit Cape Town and come away with only the most abstract awareness of the legacy of apartheid; going to the township was a way to come face-to-face—if only in a very superficial way—with the reality of many South Africans' daily existence.

I initially felt a little weird coming in as a spectator to peoples' hardship, but our guide assured us that they were grateful for our visits, because they understood that we were interested and came to learn; and that because we were there, some of them would earn an income. They encouraged us to take photos and say hi to the locals.

In a shabeen, or speakeasy, I got to sample umqombothi (pronounced with the !Xhosa click), which is a local beer made from fermented corn and sorghum. It is definitely an acquired taste, and I didn't acquire it from that one sip. Also, I wasn't a fan of the healer that we visited; his space was dark and impossibly claustrophobic, and filled with unidentifiable, unpleasant smells. And lots of animal parts: skins, hands, horns and the like. I definitely got a bad vibe in there—but it was still an interesting part of the experience.

Mabula Game Lodge

 Mabula Game Lodge

To start the second half of our trip, we took a flight to Johannesburg, followed by a 3-hour bus ride to Mabula Game Reserve, in Limpopo. After settling into our cabins, we were separated into groups of about 10, and then assigned to guides that would lead us on our safari drives for the duration of our time at the lodge. Our guide, Sharon, was incredibly knowledgeable, and was masterful at spotting animals for us.

Mabula is fairly small at only ten hectares (roughly 38 square miles), so we had good odds of impressive sightings. Of the "Big Five" animals (lion, rhino, elephant, Cape buffalo and leopard), we only missed one - the leopard.

On our very first game drive, the evening we arrived at the lodge, we had an incredible encounter with three male lions (two adults and one juvenile). They were so close to our vehicle, we could feel it in our chests when the alpha male began vocalizing and calling out to the females, who were out hunting.

We did several morning and afternoon/evening game drives, and since our planned hot air balloon ride had to be scrapped due to high wind speeds, we opted for a horse-back ride instead. This was cool, because we were able to go off-road and get really close proximity to some of the animals.

Since we were at a game reserve, I made a point to try some game dishes, like ostrich carpaccio and kudu casserole. I also tried "pap", which is a maize-based porrige, kind of like grits or cream of wheat.

Going Home

After just over a week, the trip was finally over. One nice touch was that as we were on the bus, on our way out of Mabula, we had one last sighting of a female lion casually watching traffic go by, at the game lodge across the street. We drove back to Joburg, and flew back to Dubai, and on again to New York.

We met lots of really wonderful people—both locals in South Africa, and fellow travelers that were in our group—and as usual, we can't wait for the next adventure to come along.

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2017 Year in Review by Simon Abrams

 New Yorkers march in protest of President Donald J. Trump's inauguration at the NYC Women's March.

2017 is almost over—what a year, huh? As a country we learned some hard truths about ourselves, but we also learned that we're more resilient than we thought. I think that might apply to me individually as well.

Over the years, at the suggestion of just about every self-help lifehack and prodicutvity blog in existence, I have made many half-hearted attempts at developing a daily journaling habit, but it never seems to stick. But when I look back at my photography, I realize that this has been my form of journaling all along—it's my one daily habit that happens virtually unconsciously, and that I have the itch to do almost no matter what. So ths collection of images is like a look back at my journal over the past year.

With that in mind, for this year's recap, I decided that rather than restrict myself to a specific number of images for the year, or picking a certain number of images per month, I thought I'd just go back and try to pick out the broader themes in my life that materialized through my photography.

Trump's America

Love him or hate him, Donald Trump and his ridiculous politics dominated this year. I'm not shy about saying I loathe the guy from the depths of my being. Because of that, and the renewed sense of civic duty that I know many of us felt as a result of his election, there was no question about whether I would attend the Women's March in January. The experience was  reassuring and helped me to realize that, after having felt let down by a good portion of this country, there were others that were not going to be apathetic, and would fight every day against the indecency of Donald Trump's presidency.

Prospect Park

I feel so fortunate to have Prospect Park as my front yard. When I'm stressed, or need a workout, or want to move slowly for a long time (as the Primal folks would say), the park is my go-to spot.

The Oculus

This didn't happen on purpose, but as I looked back over my photos from this year, I realized that I really spent a lot of time wandering around the Oculus at the World Trade Center. Some people really hate this building (and the fact that from the inside, it kind of feels like you got swallowed by a whale, and it cost billions of dollars), but I really love this space, and find myself compelled to try and take a unique photograph of it every time I'm there.

Everyday Surroundings

Although I try to shoot every day, I have my moments when I don't feel particularly motivated, especially when I'm caught in the day-to-day grind of going to work and coming back home for an extended, uninterrupted period.

I try to pull myself out of that by switching up my commute; by taking a longer route to or from work; by going out for a walk at lunch, even if I brown-bagged it. During those times, I make a point of consciously looking for the light, shapes, colors and designs that surround me. I guess this year, I had a thing for silhouettes and dramatic lighting.

Night

I've always loved night photography. It takes a little more effort, forces you to slow down, and is definitely helped by better gear (wider apertures, sensors that are more light-sensitive). But there results are always so worth it. I didn't do as much of it this year as I could have, but going over some of my night photos from this year made me remember how much I enjoy it.

Being Active

As far as being active and moving a lot, this was a good year. I lost around 14 pounds in April with my second round of the Whole 30 plan. I realized that I do really well with sticking to a workout when I sign up for something, like the Nike+ Run Club or Nike Training Club's coaching plans. Aside from that, for a good part of the spring, I developed a routine of going to karate twice a week, and had lots of fun getting beat up by Dante in sparring class. I also spent a lot of time on my bike, commuting to and from work a total of 38 times, (roughly 266 miles). My wife Stephanie and I even decided that we wanted to start doing more outdoors activities together, so we started with an easy hike at Franny Reese State Park this fall.

I'll admit that I got a bit lazy later in the year, and have been in full-on hibernation mode for the last few weeks, especially since it got dramatically colder here in New York. I even ended up gaining back some of the weight I had lost, but I'm ready to get back to it for 2018.

Wedding Photography

I went way outside my photography comfort zone this year. A friend approached me about shooting her wedding, and even though it gave me the jitters almost immediately, I decided to say yes. I was nervous for weeks leading up to the wedding, and had all sorts of doubts about my ability to do justice to Amanda and Alex's special day, but I had an amazing time doing it. I ended up feeling challenged, but also energized and creative in all sorts of new ways. The lesson for me was, it's true what they say: get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Music and Culture

Concert photography is one of my favorite things to do. Aside from my usual pilgrimage to the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival, I managed to go to a couple of events this year, including the Afropunk Battle of the Bands in Williamsburg and 2 Chainz' performance closing Advertising Week in New York. I also decided to challenge myself to document the West Indian American Day Children's Parade, which is one of the more "low-key" events surrounding the main Parade on Labor Day. We also went up to the New York Botanical Garden's incredible Chilhuly Nights exhibit.

Friends and Family

Some of my favorite pictures this year (most years, for obvious reasons) were of the people close to me. Some of the highlights: we celebrated my father-in-law's 70th birthday at a gorgeous Airbnb rental up in Maine; I photographed my aunt Rose and cousin Claudia, along with her adorable new daughter Danai; I spent time with my cool, funny niece Alexandra; celebrated my sister Sarah's birthday; and I took advantage of a short trip to San Francisco for Afrotech, to reconnect with one of my life-long friends and his family. Finally, I capped off the year with a trip to Virginia to see my mom for her birthday.

2017 certainly had its moments. Politics and the moment we're having as a nation, as well as my own insecurities about myself and my professional growth were probably the most stressful things for me this year. But I think I learned a lot, and got to spend time with the people I care about the most. I don't really do the New Year's resolution thing, but I'm looking forward to continuing to work on myself as a person and as a photographer; and to nurture my relationships with my wife and friends and our families.

Here's to growth, health, and positivity for 2018.

I’m Friends With Some of My Favorite Photographers by Simon Abrams

Ask any photographer who they’re influenced by, or who their favorite photographers are, and chances are pretty good that they’ll list some of the titans of the genre: Henri Cartier-Bresson, William Eggleston, Ansel Adams, Bruce Davidson, Diane Arbus. Makes total sense; there’s a reason these photographers are seen as the epitome of the form.

Typically, people lavish praise on their favorite artists when they’re dead (just to be clear, Bruce Davidson is not dead). I decided that I want to acknowledge some of my favorite photographers, who are not only living, but who I also have the good fortune to know personally, even if only as acquaintances. I’m not trying to be too effusive or fawning here; just stating out loud to some photographers I respect greatly that I’m a fan.

Also, I was thinking about the way we consume photography today. Because of the sheer volume of photography being created, it has inevitably become a really thoughtless exercise in swiping and double-tapping to show surface-level appreciation for an image, so I’m doing this as an exercise in forcing myself to slow down and articulate why I consider these photographers some of my favorites.

Clay Enos

@gal_gadot is THE #WonderWoman

A post shared by Clay Enos (@clayenos) on

A post shared by Clay Enos (@clayenos) on

Website | Twitter | IG

If you’ve seen a poster for a superhero movie in the last 5-10 years, there’s a strong possibility that Clay Enos shot it. But that’s not all he does. I met Clay when we both worked at AOL’s internal media group way back in the early 2000s. I first fell in love with his work through his Street Studio project: a brutally simple idea, consisting of a white backdrop on a street corner, and an invitation to passersby to pose for a photo. That’s it. This project is inspired by the work of Richard Avedon, one of Clay’s favorite photographers. The project initially started in the five boroughs of New York City, but Clay eventually brought it across the country and the world. Taken as a whole, it connects the viewer instantly, and intimately to a huge cross-section of humans. One of the reasons I love this project so much, is because of my own shyness and inability to approach strangers on the street, much less connect with them the way Clay does.

Other things you should know about Clay: he's one of the least gear-obsessed photographers I've ever met. He once rode a Vespa from New York City to Vancouver, and then to Central America, documenting the state of sustainable food production along the way. And When not working as a still photographer on the set of a major film, he spends much of his time photographing and sharing the stories of coffee farmers in places like Eastern Congo, Rwanda and Guatemala.

 

Scott Witt

@migos at @lollapalooza day 1 // #leica #concertphotography

A post shared by Scott Witt (@scottwitt) on

Kyan. Rocking. Everything. // #leica #makeportraits #kids

A post shared by Scott Witt (@scottwitt) on

Website | Twitter | IG

When I think of Scott’s work, I think of impeccable technical execution coexisting with a kind of loose, artistic spontaneity that shouldn’t be possible. Scott’s also a perfectionist, and has impossibly high standards (whether we’re talking about his mixologist tendencies, or his love of Spanish jamón, or his preference of camera gear), and it’s clear that this also applies to his photography. He works relentlessly towards honing his craft. Aside from the high profile stuff he shoots at events like the iTunes Festival (some of which you’ve seen without realizing it, if you’re an Apple Music user), some of my favorite of his work is the spontaneous moments he captures in the streets of various cities late at night, and, of course, the fantastic images he makes with his family.

 

Lev Kuperman

Website | Facebook | IG

I worked with Lev when he was still working a 9-to-5 in the world of advertising, and I’ll always remember the day he came over and announced that he was quitting to go and be a wedding photographer. The idea of doing something like that still strikes fear deep into my core (I have some issues I need to work out), but I was really happy for him, and it has certainly worked out in his favor. His work stands out in a crowded field of me-too wedding photographers, whose work all seems based on the same playbook (and the same batch of Photoshop filters). It’s clear from his work that he connects intimately with the people he photographs; that he’s genuinely invested in helping them make lasting memories of one of the most important days of their lives. I really hate the generic, watered-down meaning the word “curate” has taken on in our modern usage, but Lev really does curate everything that’s included in (and excluded from) each frame he shoots — the framing, the shadows, the light — everything there is totally intentional.

These are a few of my favorite contemporary photographers that I also call friends (I picked three, but there are many more.) Who are some of yours? Go beyond double-tapping or liking, and let them know you dig their work.

Editing RAW on the Go with Lightroom Mobile by Simon Abrams

I had an awesome time at the Afropunk Battle of the Bands at the Knitting Factory the other night. All of the performances were incredible and dynamic (of course I think my friend Gbenga's band, Olu Bliss should have won, but I’m biased like that).

Anyway, it was a fun opportunity for me to indulge in a little bit of concert photography in an intimate, low-pressure setting. I got some great images, and I thought I’d use this as an excuse to write a bit about how I use Lightroom Mobile to begin processing a shoot like this on the go.

Lightroom Mobile is Adobe’s free mobile companion to the desktop version of the software. It has a ton of powerful editing features, and If you’re a Creative Cloud subscriber, it syncs back to the desktop, so you can continue editing on the big screen when you’re back at your computer. There are a lot of plusses about this workflow, but there’s also at least one significant downside, which I’ll get into later. With that said, let's get into it.

Import and Review

The show was in Williamsburg, which meant that I had time during the longish subway ride home to download my photos to my iPhone, using the handy SD to Lightning adapter that’s usually in my bag. I popped the card in the reader, connected it to the Lightning port, and opened the Photos app, (which is the only way to get images off an SD card onto your phone). Next, I tapped Import, then Import All. Boom - done.

Once the images were downloaded from the card (it took a while; I entertained myself by people-watching on the train), my next step was to open up LR Mobile and create a collection to hold the images from the event.

Now that I had those images in Lightroom on my phone, I was able to easily swipe through and do a quick review of my shots from the event, adding “Pick” flags to the shots I liked the most, and then filtering the view to focus on just those flagged images. Just as I was finishing up, I got to my stop. Nice.

One of the major advantages to a workflow like this is that I can now easily share a couple of my favorites from my fancy mirrorless camera (with its big sensor and great low-light performance that few mobile phones can match - I'm sorry, but them's the facts) on social media in a very immediate way. And since I’ve already done some initial rating/triaging of images, when I get back to the desktop, a big chunk of the work is already done. I can then spend a little more time and process the rest of the images from the shoot more carefully. Plus, it's a great way to kill time while traveling. Sweet!

The Caveat: Color Profiles

Okay, so this part is gonna get a little technical, but I feel like I have to talk about it. We all know that RAW images are great, because they give you more control over how you expose the highlights and shadows of your image. Lightroom has a default recipe called Adobe Standard that it uses to apply specific color, hue, saturation, etc. to every RAW file you import. On the Desktop, you can choose from a range of built-in profiles; you can even go as far as to set a specific RAW profile to be applied on a per-camera basis, but this option isn’t available in LR Mobile.

Okay. Stay with me; I realize that I'm off on a tangent here. The preview image you see on the back of your camera when you’re shooting is generated by a built-in, secret-sauce profile that your camera automatically embeds in the RAW files it saves. Why this matters, is because I’ve noticed that sometimes when I import images into LR Mobile, the second I start tweaking sliders and making adjustments, LR’s default profile (Adobe Standard, remember?) gets applied, and suddenly my image looks dramatically different than it did a second ago. Whaaaaat!?

Note the solarization, aka distorted colors, in the performer's face. It looks kinda cool, but that's not what the scene looked like when I shot it.

This happens to me especially with low-light images, with funky lighting—aka concert lighting. As far as I know, the only way to fix it, is to hop over to the desktop version of Lightroom and apply a profile other than Adobe Standard to your images. In the Develop module, scroll down to the Camera Calibration panel and choose something other than Adobe Standard. If I’m using my Fuji X100S (as I was the other night), I usually choose PROVIA/STANDARD, because I believe it’s similar to the internal profile Fuji cameras apply, so it should bring it back to something close to what that original preview image looked like. Phew.

 Lightroom's built-in camera profiles.

Lightroom's built-in camera profiles.

Oh look - no more solarization! 

The good news is, this change in profile syncs back to LR Mobile, so you can continue editing there if you like. I know it makes for a clunky workflow, but judging from the complaints on Adobe’s forums, this seems to be a known issue. I really hope they figure out a way to fix it in a future version of the app.

Wrap it Up

Okay, this turned out to be a lengthy, tech-heavy post, and it has quite a large caveat, so take that into consideration. But I can definitely recommend this workflow as a way to get a jump-start on importing and triaging images while on the go. And it's a great way to quickly share some favorite shots on social networks - as long as they don’t need to have a different color profile applied (which you can only do on the desktop).

Good ➡️ Better: Food Photos by Simon Abrams

I recently had dinner with my wife and friends at a great restaurant in DUMBO, and like basically, everyone these days, I wanted to document the delicious food I was eating. For posterity, or whatever.

That night, I happened to have my fancy Fuji X100S with me, but as is often the case, it was just more convenient to use my iPhone. Here's a picture of my entree:

 Smoked Long Island duck with daikon radish, lavender, roasted apricot and duck jus

Smoked Long Island duck with daikon radish, lavender, roasted apricot and duck jus

It was the duck and it was delicious. You might even actually believe me, just from seeing that photo, but... let's just be clear, here: food photography is an art, and requires tons of skill and preparation, and at minimum, proper, balanced lighting to make it look good. It's really, absurdly easy to go from appetizing to nauseating when taking pictures of food, particularly with a mobile device, in dim restaurant lighting, which is one reason I rarely post my food shots on social media in the first place. Be realistic with your expectations, y'all.

That said, here are some steps you can take to set yourself up for success:

  • First things first: give your lens a wipe with the corner of your t-shirt before shooting. That's an easy win - your image will be much clearer if there's not a schmear of crap on the glass (that's photographer-speak for "lens").
  • Also, know your equipment. I'm shooting with an iPhone, and no disrespect to Tim and Jony, but iPhones (and most mobile devices) are happiest in bright sunlight, not the carefully curated ambience of a restaurant. Because of that, in low light situations, make sure to hold your phone as still as possible to avoid camera shake before tapping that shutter button.
  • Speaking of avoiding blur, make sure your subject is in focus. Soft edges on food = a pile of gross mush. On iPhone, tap to focus and expose a region of your scene; tap and hold to lock in those settings so you can recompose the shot if necessary. You can slide up or down on the screen to brighten or darken your image.
  • Lastly, composition is crucial. Frame your photo at an interesting angle, being sure to keep the clutter out of the frame, and create some depth.

Okay, now that I have my photo, as seen above, there are some basic tweaks to be made in my editing app of choice. If you have an iPhone, you can start with the built-in editing features in the Photos app (bonus: the edits you make will be synced with iCloud, so you can call continue to edit in Photos app on the desktop or other iOS devices).

 Tap here to edit! 

Tap here to edit! 

One of the first things to do is boost the exposure of the image. Almost any image can benefit from a little pop of exposure and/or contrast. Be judicious, though.

The Photos app tries to automatically help you out by offering a "Light" slider that, in many cases will figure out the right combination of exposure, brightness, shadow  and highlight tweaks to make your image look good. Just by moving that slider to the right, I'm already in a better place than where I started.

IMG_2673.PNG

I could stop here, but there's still room for improvement. By tapping the list icon on the right, I can edit individual properties of the image, and have more fine-grained control. Awesome. 

IMG_2674.PNG

Indoor lights — usually incandescent — can make everything yellow, which isn't great for food photos. A quick tweak to the white-balance, or color cast, under the Color slider,  should help.

IMG_2675.PNG

So here we are, just using the built-in tools that come with iOS:

FullSizeRender.jpg

Again, miles better than where we started. Now, because I'm a fancy photographer-dude, I sometimes like to go beyond the default tools in iOS, and use one of the myriad editing apps that are available in the App Store. One of my favorites is Lightroom Mobile, because of its advanced editing tools and desktop-syncing features (the app is free on iOS/Android, but a Creative Cloud subscription is required for syncing and some of the editing tools). Snapseed, free on iOS and Android from Google, is also a fine choice.

 Lightroom Mobile's interface

Lightroom Mobile's interface

Here's where I ended up, after correcting the white-balance, performing a Curves adjustment and cropping out some of the distracting highlights on the bottom of the plate: 

I also messed around with the hue and saturation of some of the individual colors. Another thing to remember is that, much like a skilled chef cooking a meal would never use every spice in their cabinet, we must resist the temptation to be heavy-handed and use every slider available when editing our photos. Less is very often more.

Anyway, still not quite ready for Bon Appétit, and there's certainly areas that could be improved, but I think it's way more share-worthy than before. And before you ask, yes, I did snap a quick shot of my caramelized banana dessert:

So there you have it: while you probably still won't get hired as a food photographer based solely on tweaks like the ones I've made here, these simple steps you can take to get your food pictures from Good ➡️  Better.

Moment by Simon Abrams

I got a nice little surprise when I got home today - the new Moment Wide lens and Photo Case that I backed on Kickstarter arrived in the mail today, rather than on Saturday, as i was expecting.

 Moment Photo Case, Moment Wide Lens (V2) and Moment Tele (V1 with adapter) 

Moment Photo Case, Moment Wide Lens (V2) and Moment Tele (V1 with adapter) 

IMG_2406.JPG

I've only just gotten this kit, so I don't have much of to say in terms of performance yet. I do like the new case - it's slim, and textured on the back, which gives it a bit of grippiness. Once the lens is attached, though, the added weight tweaks the balance of the phone a little, and could make it a somewhat spill-prone. The case does have a spot to attach a wrist or neck strap—several styles of which are available for purchase on Moment's online store—which is something I might consider getting. 

 The V1 Tele lens with the adapter

The V1 Tele lens with the adapter

One other thing: my first-gen Tele lens never fit well on the Moment case I got for my iPhone 6. It always seemed like it was on the verge of falling off, since it never locked into place, but rather kept spinning, as though the bayonet mount was stripped. Luckily, the new adapter that came with my Kickstarter reward (also available at the Moment store, for $5), was easy to attach and provides a nice, firm connection to the case. 

 

 Shot with Moment Wide, V2 on iPhone 7

Shot with Moment Wide, V2 on iPhone 7

I'm looking forward to spending some time with these two lenses, and will definitely post again with updates once I've had a chance to do that. 

2016 Year in Review by Simon Abrams

 The crowd reacts to the Roots' performance during Advertising Week at Webster Hall.

The crowd reacts to the Roots' performance during Advertising Week at Webster Hall.

2016 was a remarkable year, to say the very least. Not only on a national and global level, with events like Trump's unprecedented election victory, Russian hacks, and the Syrian war, but it was remarkable for me personally.

My wife was diagnosed with cancer late last year, so much of the early part of this year was dedicated to her recovery. Happily, she's healthy and cancer-free now, and she'll just have to be vigilant about getting checkups regularly to make sure she stays that way.

Aside from that, we took quite a few trips this year—some smaller trips to visit family and friends in Concord, New Hampshire and Atlanta; and some bigger trips like the one we took to China to celebrate our 10th anniversary. We also did an epic 9-day road trip through Upstate New York and Niagara falls with our nieces Gigi and Leila. It was a great way to experience New York (although I still have much of the state to see), as well as a fun way to spend time with our nieces as they grow into young ladies.

Overall, I'd say it was a good year for me. Professionally, I think I need to get really introspective and answer some questions about where my career development should be headed. As a photographer, I think I need to continue to push myself to make better images, and to keep working to refine my creative voice.

I had fun looking back over the past year while making my selects for this post, and in spite of the challenges that we face with Trump's administration, I feel optimistic about the year ahead.

Happy New Year!

2015 Year in Review by Simon Abrams

Who the hell does a Year-in-Review post in March? I do, that's who. 2015 was a hell of a year, with some big changes - both good and bad - for me and my family. I've referenced some of those changes here, but some of it... well, I've chosen to keep that stuff to the close friends and family.

Anyway, good or bad, my wife and I can once again look back and be thankful for the life we have, and appreciate how fortunate we are compared to so many in this world.

Happy Easter/St. Patrick's Day/whatever you celebrate in March.

Pepperpot by Simon Abrams

I was scrolling through some of my recent pictures on Flickr and came across this:

 Processed with VSCOcam with c7 preset

If you ever find yourself at a Guyanese restaurant and you see pepperpot on the menu, don't hesitate - do yourself a favor and get it. Rich, savory, spicy - this dish defines Christmas Morning to most Guyanese people (although it can be consumed any time throughout the year).

Preparation often begins several days in advance, and the dish slowly simmers until it is ladled out into bowls to be sopped up with fresh, crusty, warm, home-made bread.

There are cloves, cinnamon, and big, bony hunks of mostly unglamorous cuts of meat -- the ones with lots of fat and cartilage, like cow-heel. Of course, as you'd expect, given the name, there's also plenty of hot pepper. But the signature ingredient, which gives pepperpot its rich color and savory flavor is called casareep (we pronounce it "CAHS-rip"), an extract of the cassava (or yucca) root.

It's not uncommon, as the pot begins to dwindle, that it is freshened up with more meat and casareep to extend its enjoyment over the course of several days during the holiday season. It is one of my absolute favorite foods on the planet.

Note: This post would have been best shared around Christmas time, but I think I was too preoccupied with eating this than writing about it at the time.

Flash Photography techniques explained with slow-mo by Simon Abrams

This video from The Slow Mo Guys is cool and informative on its own merit, but it's also one of the best illustrations of how and why some crucial flash photography principles work.

Sync Speed

Have you ever seen a dark strip across the lower portion of your photograph when shooting with an external flash? (There's a great example on this page.) Well, that dark strip is a result of shooting above your camera's sync speed - ie, the maximum shutter speed the camera is capable of syncing up an external flash at. The sync speed varies, and and for most SLRs, is usually somewhere between 1/160th and 1/250th of a second (check your manual, or Google your camera model). Some SLRs won't even let you shoot at a shutter speed that exceeds your max sync speed, but if you inadvertently manage to make it happen, you'll know it from the nasty black bar you'll see towards the bottom of the resulting photo. That black bar is actually that same rolling shutter that's clearly visible in the video, casting a shadow as it passes over the sensor.

So what do you do if you want to shoot some high-speed action, using a flash, at a higher shutter speed than your camera can technically work with? Or if you want to shoot with a wide open aperture to get really shallow depth-of-field in lots of bright daylight? Well, many external flashes have high-speed sync mode, which lets you do just that. This flash mode doesn't actually fire a single burst of light; rather, it fires many low-powered bursts of light as the shutter passes over the sensor, thus avoiding casting that shadow. Cool, right?

 That third button puts your flash in high-speed sync mode, and also toggles and 2nd-curtain sync

That third button puts your flash in high-speed sync mode, and also toggles and 2nd-curtain sync

The down side of high-speed sync is that it's not as powerful as your regular flash output, so you'll just have to move your flash closer to your subject, or use multiple flashes.

1st-Curtain and 2nd-Curtain Sync

 Setting the shutter sync settings

Setting the shutter sync settings

If you've spent any time shooting with an external flash with your SLR, you might have seen these settings on your flash and not fully understood what they do. But if you take another look at that video, from the way the rolling shutter works, you can probably guess that the "1st curtain" refers to that first cluster of blades that passes in front of the sensor, and the second cluster is the 2nd curtain.

What does that mean, with respect to your flash? Well, imagine that you're shooting a moving subject: 1st-Curtain sync (the default mode of the flash) means the flash will fire freezing your subject at the beginning of the shutter's movement, leaving motion trails moving away from the subject as it keeps moving. Conversely, 2nd-curtain sync will freeze the subject at the end of the shutter's movement, with motion trails following behind your subject.

 2nd-curtain sync leaves trails behind your subject, creating dynamic images

2nd-curtain sync leaves trails behind your subject, creating dynamic images

I often use 2nd-curtain sync at parties and events where people are dancing. I'll slow the shutter speed and actually move or turn the camera while the shutter is open to create light trails and blurs in the scene. No joke - it makes parties and wedding receptions look epic.

One thing I should note: all my photos, and some of my terminology might be Canon-specific, but the same principles apply no matter what camera brand you prefer.

There are plenty of articles on the internet that explain these topics in far greater detail, but this video is such a great illustration of what's actually happening in the camera, that I think it should really help to solidify your understanding of these highly useful concepts in flash photography.

Year in Review by Simon Abrams

I decided to do my own Year in Review - one that I think is a little more personal than the one that the Facebook algorithm generated for me - by selecting 24 images (two for each month) that represent my 2014.

I started off the year with a teaching gig at Miami Ad School's Brooklyn outpost, which gave me a good excuse to roam around DUMBO with my then-new Fuji X100S. In February, I went on an absolutely fantastic trip to Morocco with my wife. This trip was one of the highlights of the year for me (another great opportunity to road-test my new camera), and I can't believe it's already been almost a year.

I spent Memorial Day with my family at my sister's place in Virgina. It was right around that time that I noticed a funny, squishy bump on my elbow that turned out to be bursitis. It eventually led to me needing surgery, and being stuck in a pretty gnarly brace for a total of five weeks this summer.

I made my annual pilgrimage to the Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival, which, to my chagrin, moved to Williamsburg this year. It was co-headlined by Jay Electronica and Raekwon, and featured a very special guest named Jay-Z.

In the fall, a group of us rented a place upstate via Airbnb, and went ziplining at Hunter Mountain to celebrate my good friend's 40th birthday. I was also lucky enough to take not one, but two trips to California -- one for the ADCOLOR conference, and one to reunite with my two closest friends from high school.

Overall it's been a good year, and it has ended with some promising developments (more on those later) which should start 2015 off on a strong note.

With that said, here are 24 images that recap my 2014.

Photo Notes: Wiz Khalifa and Nitti Scott at Webster Hall by Simon Abrams

 Wiz Khalifa performs at New York City's Webster Hall - October, 2014

Wiz Khalifa performs at New York City's Webster Hall - October, 2014

I've always loved shooting concerts. It's really satisfying capturing the energy of the crowd and the showmanship and stage presence of great performers. One of these days, I'm going to make good on one of my long-time goals, and get press credentials, or find a way to shoot a concert in an official capacity.

 Wiz Khalifa

Wiz Khalifa

 Opening act Nitti Scott performs at Webster Hall

Opening act Nitti Scott performs at Webster Hall

These were shot at this year's Advertising Week Wrap-up party at Webster Hall. I love the Advertising Week shows, because it's always a great opportunity to get access to incredible performances by some top-notch acts, including N.E.R.D, John Legend and The Roots, Big Boi, Wyclef Jean, and B.o.B. The performances are usually held in a relatively intimate setting, and it doesn't hurt that it's free for us industry types. I've made some of my favorite photographs at these events over the years.

Incidentally, for you photo nerds that like to pixel-peep, here's a 100% crop of one of the above images from the show, which are almost straight-out-of-camera (I think I tweaked the brightness/contrast ever so slightly in the Photos app on my iPhone). If you must nit-pick, yes, you can see a little softness, and yes, the pixels are a slightly chunky, but damn - I was standing at least 40-50 feet away from the stage!

   1/200s, f2.8, ISO6400.

 1/200s, f2.8, ISO6400.

I still can't get over the incredible low-light performance of the Fuji X100S, especially as it doesn't seem that long ago that I was still shooting with my Canon Rebel XT, and never dared go above ISO 800. That's a difference of four full stops of light, which means I would never have been able to make this image on that camera without using a flash or some additional light source.

One other note: in previous years, I would have been fully locked and loaded with my Canon 7D and L-series 70-200mm f/4 lens at these Advertising Week concerts, and as I said, I've made some images that really made me happy as a result of using that setup. Lately, though, I've been scaling back and am happy to take a more minimal approach to shooting - particularly when I'm on vacation, or shooting for myself and not for a paid gig. Not that I wouldn't shoot paid work with the Fuji; it's just that if I'm not being paid, I'm realizing that there's really no good reason to put in the extra effort of carrying all that extra gear. Simpler, most of the time, is better.

Anyhow, I had a great time at the show, despite not being a huge Wiz Khalifa fan. It happened to be my birthday, and there was open bar, so I'd say that worked out quite well.

Wallpaper Wednesday: Midnight Taxi by Simon Abrams

On the way home late one night after working on presentation materials for a pitch. (I don't remember who we were pitching, or if we won.)

The city becomes serene and peaceful, and there's something about observing it through the scratched, streaked glass of a taxi windows that is romantic, mysterious, ethereal. Or maybe I've just watched too many movies.

Desktop iPhone iPad

Wallpaper Wednesday: Lower Manhattan by Simon Abrams

one-wtc-desktop.png

This week's wallpaper is late. Sorry about that. It is a cityscape of Lower Manhattan with some rather dramatic clouds. This is the South view from Deutsch's offices in Chelsea.

iPhone, iPad and desktop versions are available, and as always, don't be a jerk.

EDIT: I just realized I uploaded a low-resolution version of this wallpaper for the desktop size - that's been fixed.

Download: iPhone iPad Desktop

Wallpaper Wednesday: Bamboo by Simon Abrams

bamboo.jpg

I think this is bamboo. I'm not a botanist or arborist or herbologist, or any other -ist that would know what type of plant this is, though. All I know is, it was up on the Highline Park and it provided a really nice textural background for some portraits I was shooting that day. Grab it in iPhone, iPad and Desktop sizes via the links below.

Usage rights: no commercial use, please. Link back with credit if you do use/remix this. Don't be a jerk.

iPhone iPad Desktop