Alexa Part 2

i L8Kn8h8 L Alexa Part 2

Here’s another shot of Alexa. Let’s talk about gels. Every light in this image are gelled. The background light, the rim lights and the main light are gelled. You can see the way I gelled the softbox in the reflection in Alexa’s eyes. The following shot is a crop of a 3/4 shot. Just put two orange, or CTO gels taped to the front of the softbox. You can also put the gels on the inner diffuser.

i zFsJz7H L Alexa Part 2

I am starting to love these things. What I would like is to get another set so that I can double gel and gel more lights the same color. Anyway, the key to getting a deep color is to set the light to a lower power than you would think. Again if the color is not deep enough, lower the power of the light. If you can’t get the power low enough, raise the power of all of your other lights and raise your f-stop to compensate.

The other issue I had in this shoot is with the rim light set up. Rim lights are a pain in the neck as they will flare into the camera. Grids help, but if you don’t want to focus the light you either need barn doors on the lights or flags in front of the lights. I prefer the flags even though they are harder to set up. In the first shot, we had no flags or grids, so I had to do some post processing work to remove the glare. This was the last shot of the day and I was exhausted, so now I pay for it in photoshop.

Here is the light setup:

i Kb67q82 XL Alexa Part 2

After the shoot, we took the wonderful Alexa to Animazement. She got mobbed by photographers.

Alexa%200861 M Alexa Part 2

That’s my light being triggered by my on camera speed light. The photographers swarmed after I started taking her photo and it was clear she knew what she was doing.
Alexa%200893 M Alexa Part 2
Her’s my shot of her. I couldn’t help myself.
Alexa%200849 XL Alexa Part 2
Thanks to:

Gothic Lolita shoot with Alexa

20130605 234855 Gothic Lolita shoot with Alexa
We spent a weekend shooting Alexa. Time well spent. I absolutely LOVE working with her. She is a great example of what I expect from a model. Pose after pose she gave me slight variations of looks each one a keeper, followed directions to a tee, and just blew my mind. Look at this proof sheet.

20130606 000538 Gothic Lolita shoot with Alexa

How do I even choose? Anyway, enough talking about her, I want to write about the shot. The shot was taken at 12 noon on a bright sunny day. Many people have asked me how to make night out of day. The answer is the brighter your lights, the darker the scene. Add lights to make it darker.

The way it works is that you have to adjust your camera in order to compensate for the bright lights. A higher f-stop makes the whole scene darker, so your lights must be much brighter in order to have the proper exposure. In the image above, the main light is a 1200 watt Elinchrom Ranger in a gridded 2×3 softbox to camera right. My deep octa, which I prefer, is in the shop. The deep octa focuses the light on the subject, but is still soft but crisp. The gridded softbox focuses the light somewhat, but is generally less crisp and I just don’t like it as much.

20130606 001648 Gothic Lolita shoot with Alexa

There is a huge umbrella behind me and I have an Einstein and a ringflash blowing into that thing going almost full power. The two rim lights are gelled blue and have their reflectors pointed toward the model. Full power. Even with all of that light, I had to add a lowly speed light skip bouncing off of a reflector on the ground to give her legs a little light. Edit: It does not appear that the skip worked in this shot.  Sometimes those speed lights don’t go off.

Yikes! Complex and on location. Nonetheless, we did it because we cannot bring a big memorial building into a studio. The whole shoot reminds me of the total eclipse of the heart video so I laugh every time I see the images.

Thanks to Meschantes for the design of the outfit, Gothic Lolita wigs, Denise Hutter MUA, Tommy Gooch -executive photographer assistant, and Paul and Joe from straightline productions. More soon.

Duck face lighting test.

20130606 002529 Gothic Lolita shoot with Alexa

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Dragon Con 2012

See the whole gallery here

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Diablo III – Fantastic

i PZ7SLkh L Dragon Con 2012

Zombie Mr. Rogers

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Iron Man, Black Widow, Thor, Wonder Woman


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Mr. Freeze, scarecrow, joker, henchman, poison ivy, harley quinn


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Zombie Princesses


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The Punisher


i 8LQJt6L L Dragon Con 2012



i qrqK3RK L Dragon Con 2012

Darth Vader and Obi Wan


i C4kwcBc L Dragon Con 2012


i M4vTtgJ L Dragon Con 2012

Disco Fett


i GjtTT7n L Dragon Con 2012



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The Fates


i Nq8KnQr L Dragon Con 2012

Labyrinth – Bowie Bowie Bowie Bowie


i HjS82nw L Dragon Con 2012



i MKHqNhv L Dragon Con 2012

Witchblade and Daredevil


i tVKnVts L Dragon Con 2012



i hN52sXx L Dragon Con 2012



i GvMswcW L Dragon Con 2012

Harley Quinn Leia

Working at sunset

1228718579 SYUBq L 1 Working at sunset
I shot that image close to sunset on a hill by the NC Museum of Art in Raleigh, NC. One light, elinchrom ranger with a a maxilight reflector held camera right and about 8 feet high by my 6’5″ assistant. I shot it with a tokina 11-16 lens on a d300. Like almost all of my pictures I did very little post production. Here is the original.
1219419198 SFQKZ L 1 Working at sunset

That’s straight out of the camera. You can see that I cloned out some of the background trees on the right and added a little contrast to the sky. The key, I think was just getting the right sunset behind her, and the positioning of the ultra wide lens.
For sunsets, I like days where it just might rain, or it just finished raining. I use applications like light trac to tell me where the sun will be setting, direction and time.

As far as the wide angle lens is concerned, you have to make her look like she is standing at the top of the world by shooting from ant-height. You have to get the horizon right at her feet, or you don’t get the drama.

The makeup artist – Anthony Payne helped get her pose, and we just shot from there.
1219419935 sQnTQ L 1 Working at sunset

We shot some other outfits that day including my white shirt. That’s the shirt I use when I can’t think of anything else.
1232331261 kNYNE X2 2 Working at sunset
So this picture was relatively easy because the sunset provided the beauty of it.

Other pictures from the day:

1232327424 BejHM L 1 Working at sunset

Fuji x100 review and tutorial Part 1

IFJX100 Fuji x100 review and tutorial Part 1


It seems like everyone has reviewed this little gem already.  It is a fantastic camera.  I am not going to repeat the existing reviews if I can help it.  I instead want to show you why it is such a good camera.  This will be a multi part review with examples from my recent trip to Edit: Lisbon and Spain where I used the camera extensively and beside my friend’s Nikon D5000.

Here’s what you should know already.  The camera is small and inconspicuous.  Most people who notice it ask if it is an old camera.  I probably benefitted from that, as there are ladrones, or thieves most places you travel.  In fact, one of our friends had her purse and camera stolen off of the back of her chair while we were eating dinner in Seville.  Be careful out there, and keep your camera on your person at all times.  Almost all the other tourists taking pictures had huge SLRs hanging from their necks.  This was much nicer.  The image quality was great, the focus is difficult and it is slow to use.

All the images are straight out of camera except where noted.

My Take:

Here’s why it is fantastic.  Features #1: (yes two features make the top feature of this camera.) high flash sync speed and a built in neutral density (ND) filter.  These two features combined make this a great camera for using outside and taking the kind of pictures I like to take.  Pictures like this:

DSCF6424 M Fuji x100 review and tutorial Part 1

ISO 400 F2 1/2000 ND filter on Direct flash

The ND Filter:

For some reason I had the camera set to ISO 400.  Looks like a mistake on my part as I was trying to darken the sky.  Nonetheless, it doesn’t matter much because the Fuji let me do it.  I will walk you through how the fuji works its magic.  This is a sunny day in Lagos:

 Fuji x100 review and tutorial Part 1

Sunny Day. ISO 200 F2, 1/2000 with the exposure raised in lightroom to simulate f/2 1/2000 without the ND filter

It is a beautiful place, but it’s not quite where I want it exposure wise.  This will be a portrait of my favorite model, so I like the background underexposed to really highlight the subject.  Flip on the ND filter.  The ND filter drops the exposure three stops.  This does several things.  First, it allows me to use F2, or to be wide open in direct sunlight.  Turn on the ND filter.

 Fuji x100 review and tutorial Part 1

ISO 200, F2, 1/2000 ND filter

That’s what I like.  You see the sun is our frenemy.  We want light and pretty blue skies, but we don’t want washed out pictures.  Generally, in the sun our exposure is 1/iso at F16.   The “sunny 16″ rule.  That means at iso 200, the “correct exposure” is 1/200 at F16.  If I want to shoot wide open at F2,  I have to kill 6 stops of light somewhere.  Six stops is way too much light coming into my lens.  To get a correct exposure, I have to raise the shutter speed from 1/200 to 1/12800!  No camera that I know of can shoot at 1/12800.  And I want to underexpose the background by one or two stops so that I can get that deep pretty blue sky that I like.  In order to do so, I would have to raise my shutter speed up to 1/51200.  Rubbish.

So I drop in the ND filter.  Just a button on the camera.  It slides in a 3 stop “darkening” filter.  This filter is in the camera body, and it isn’t something I have to fiddle with or carry with me.  I can then shoot at F2 at 1/3200 to get a normal exposure.  That’s in full sunlight.  Fantastic.  Now I can take normal exposure pictures with shallow depth of field.  And if the sun isn’t blasting, 1/2000 gives me the result above that is about a stop or two underexposed.  If the sun is blasting, I can move up to F4, two stops darker and underexpose that way.

 Fuji x100 review and tutorial Part 1

ISO 200 F2, 1/2000 The subject is too dark.

Flash Sync Speed:

The background is how I want it, but now my favorite model is too dark and does not stand out from the background.  Time for a little flash.  On most SLRs, I am out of luck.  The sync speed on my D300 is 1/250.  Simply, the sync speed is how fast the camera can shoot with a flash and still have the flash show up in the final exposure.  I could explain it all to you, but so many have explained it already.  With my SLR, the solution is to use a ND filter, raise the F-stop until it is dark enough at 1/250, and use a mega powerful strobe to take the picture.  With the x100, there is an electronic shutter that can flash sync all the way up to 1/2000.  That means I can use my speedlight.

Note on High Speed Sync:

Some will say use High Speed Sync or HSS.  That is a special mode on some flash/camera combos that sends out a continuous light pulse so that you can sync at higher speeds.  In practice, this mode weakens the flash so much that it is just about useless for this type of picture. I don’t like it because it is inconsistent and just not strong enough unless the flash is a foot away from the subject.  What I want to do is make my speedlight more powerful.  I asked the mighty (I mean it.  He is awesome.) Joe McNally about this, and he swears by HSS over ND filters.  Nonetheless, Joe can get an assistant to walk over a Ranger from the truck, or he uses four speedlights when the HSS is not strong enough.

With the x100 I can use a speedlight for all of my basic photography needs.

A speedlight you say?  Yes.  Flash exposure is controlled solely by the f-stop.  I am shooting at F2 with an ND filter.  That means I am shooting at F5.6 with the depth of field of an F2 lens.  My speedlight can easily put out F5.6 at a distance.  Compare this with my normal setup that requires that my light put out F22 or F32 for the same effect.  As long as you connect the x100 to a speedlight with a cable, you can easily sync at 1/2000.  That means I can get this out of the x100:

DSCF6945 L Fuji x100 review and tutorial Part 1

ISO 200, F2, 1/2000, sb900 connected by cable set at 1/4 power through a small softbox


I have a slight warming filter on my SB900 for the folks that need all the details.  A 1/2 CTO or CTS I think.  This is a picture that I absolutely cannot get with my SLR and my speedlight.  My Elinchrom Ranger may not even have enough power to get this photo at F2, because I would have to put a crazy dark ND filter to even try it.  (besides, I would not likely be able to focus with a 7 stop ND filter on my camera either.) Fantastic!

The last related feature that I will mention in this post is that you can preview your images through the viewfinder.  That solves one of the biggest obstacles to taking pictures in the bright sunlight.  I can preview my images without using a loupe or covering the back of the screen with my hands.  That alone lets me work faster.

Next sharpening and low light performance.



Filed under Portrait, Uncategorized

How to keep a customer for life

296467516 HpnRg M 1 How to keep a customer for life
This is Scott and his child.  Scott once came out and played music at Finnegan’s wake with me. He was a fantastic musician and played circles around me, but didn’t try to make me feel bad about it like some can do. Scott was killed on his bicycle riding home from school to see his wife and newborn in August of 2008.  I took this picture in May.

I did not know Scott well enough to find his family, however I knew that this picture would be important to his baby, who will never know him.  This picture, a simple snapshot, may be the last picture of him and his baby in existence.  I don’t know.

I do know that it is an important picture.  To borrow an idea from Paul Harding, when we pass away, we exist in this world solely in the memories of those who care for us, and we fade from their memories over time.  Our children and loved ones remember us well, but we become mere ideas in the minds of our grandchildren, and barely shades of colors in the minds of those that come after.

Pictures are important.  Pictures refresh our memories and keep our loved ones in this plane of existence long after they are gone.  Hopefully, pictures will keep me in the minds of my loved ones a little bit longer after my passing.  This picture must be important to Scott’s family and, like all pictures of Scott, will be important to Scott’s child. I wanted Scott’s family to have this picture.  I wanted his child to have this picture.  I might be a little narcissistic to think that the family in their grief would care, but I would care if it was my father.

This picture is why I am a photographer.

I made some weak attempts to find Scott’s family.  Earnest attempts, but weak nonetheless.  I called the school, asked around, and tried to make the connection.   I failed, but part of me did not want to bother the family in their grief, the other part of me did not want to confront mortality again.  So the picture stayed in a public gallery, with other pictures that I took that year.

Someone from Scott’s family did find his picture, and purchased it from my online gallery at smugmug.  I was happy that she found it, but really upset that she paid $10.00 for it.  I felt cheap.  I wanted to give the picture to her, not sell as important a memory as this.  I contacted smugmug through its online support.  I explained the situation.  I asked to pay for the prints instead of the customer.  Here was its response.

“Hi Samuel,

Thanks for contacting SmugMug.

Oh, how terribly sad.  We’re so sorry.  How about this… I’ve voided the charge, so ****** won’t be charged for this order, and we’ll “nuke” the pro sale as well.  The order will process and print as is, but your customer won’t be charged for it, and therefore you won’t receive profits.  The cost of the prints will be on us.
Sound ok?

If you need anything else, please let us know.  :)

Take care,
Support Hero”

Smugmug always has great service.  They respond right away and take care of problems promptly, but this just blew my mind.  They spent probably $5 and won me over forever.  Other companies should take a look at SmugMug’s model.  They are doing something right.



Rest in peace Scott.

Dinner with Tony

20120522 105747 Dinner with Tony
My friend, Tony met Erin, Nicole and me at a random Puerto Rican restaurant. He is an actor in NYC. You may have seen him in the last episode of the Sopranos, Rescue Me, or Law and Order. He was also in a national commercial where he ran around a gym and then was upset that the he did not lose any weight.

We reminisced about old times and made some new times. We are in ways very alike.  It turns out he saw the Avengers in the movies six times already.  The only reason I have not seen it again is because Erin likely would not tolerate it.

I took that shot with a fuji x100 with an external flash converted to black and white in camera. I am liking *loving* that camera. There are some adjustments to how I have to shoot but it makes a nice picture when it wants to.

Portrait help – but what do I know? I can’t even get this picture to fit on my blog.

IMG 4428 Portrait help   but what do I know?  I cant even get this picture to fit on my blog.

A friend asked me for tips on how to make her portrait photography better. I am learning just like she is, but I thought I would pass on some tips I have learned along the way. Above is an example of a great shot. You did everything right here, and it is a good example of how what I will write below can come together to make a good portrait. Your color is good, your composition is pretty good, you are at a flattering distance from your subject, the sun is behind her, and you used fill flash. Good job. It looks like you tried different things until you got here. I want you to take consistently great portraits without happening upon one. So let’s start with the basics.

Use an appropriate focal length for the distance from your subject

First, portraits are meant to flatter the subject or put her in the best light possible. One of the easiest ways to flatter a subject is by getting far enough away.

IMG 4456 300x200 Portrait help   but what do I know?  I cant even get this picture to fit on my blog.

Do you see how big her nose looks compared to the picture above?

You used a 50mm lens on this picture. A 50mm lens on your camera zooms in a little, but not enough to take a picture of someone’s face that close. Try to always stand around 6-15 feet away from a subject no matter how close of a crop you want. Of course this is just a rule of thumb, but generally it makes the most flattering portrait. A close crop like this would probably look best with a 200mm lens zoomed in from 15 feet away. Things that are closer to the camera appear bigger. Everyone’s nose looks large compared to their face when you take a shot this close with a 50 mm lens. A longer lens compresses these features and is more flattering. The closest I would get with a 50mm is a head and shoulders shot. Again rule of thumb.


Your composition in this and every picture that you showed me is great. Don’t change much. Try to be sure not to cut off hands and feet, and keep the person in the frame unless you are trying to cut her off. Also, the straight on, full face shot is generally not as flattering as a 3/4 shot where the face is slightly turned away from the camera. Most people are accustomed to looking directly at the camera. Models know to turn their faces toward the light and look at the camera. Thinner face = more flattering.

Unless it is the perfect time of day, keep the subject’s face out of the sun – USE FLASH

The sun casts ugly, hard shadows on a person’s face. make sure you either put the person in open shade or turn her so that the sun is not directly on her face.

IMG 4474 300x200 Portrait help   but what do I know?  I cant even get this picture to fit on my blog.

Notice the shadow on her face.

Here you just wanted her to turn her face a little bit to her left. You then need to expose for her face and blow out the background, or use flash to “fill -in” her face. Of course, you might want the portrait to be moodier and her face in shadows. Looking at her expression, it appears that was not what you wanted here, so you should direct her and get her face out of that sun. Notice the difference between this one and the top photo. You can see her eyes in the top photo and they are in the darkness here. That was your fill flash and conversely the effect of the harsh sun. The sun behind her or to the side of her face can make a really nice back-light or “rim” light, so use the sun to your advantage. An advanced technique is to underexpose the scene and set your flash to expose the scene correctly, but that is outside of the scope of this post. Just notice how the sun and your flash combine on the first picture and not on this one for now.

Now, you don’t always have to use flash. Sometimes the subject has the appropriate lighting falling on her face at the correct angle and the stars align. The rest of the time, when there is sunlight in the picture, a touch of flash makes a little nicer picture. The two situations where I wouldn’t use flash outside, 1) during the “magic hour” when the sun is low in the sky and you have a pretty orange color and everything is perfect (eventually, you will start using flash here too), and 2) in open shade where there is enough light and you are not competing with sunlight (again a lick of flash also looks good here sometimes).

IMG 4385 300x200 Portrait help   but what do I know?  I cant even get this picture to fit on my blog.

Color – yuck, we all hate color.

Set your color balance correctly

The above picture could stand to be warmer. Most people struggle with this (what I mean is I struggle with this). First, accurate color is not what people want to look like. Morticia from the Adam’s family will tell you she looks pale if you take her picture with the correct color balance. Most fair skinned people want to look a little warm. This means, if you are shooting JPEG outside, you will likely set your color balance to shade, not sun. Why? Because you are putting the subject in the shade to take her picture. Better yet, set a custom white balance. Check your manual.

Also, the green grass reflects green light on the person’s face when she is in the grass.  Remember that.  If you take your pictures in RAW, it is less important to get it perfect, but you want to get it close. With RAW, you can set the color temperature and tint later. Saves a lot of hassle.

Tina – Why does Green Lantern hang out with Green Arrow?

Tina was a lot of fun.  She showed up wearing a vest covered in comic book characters.  We waited for the makeup artist who was running a little late, so we talked about comic books.  She is well versed on Marvel and DC.  I tested her.  Why were there no comic book girl that looked like Tina when I was in high school? . . . Who am I fooling?  I would have not tried to talk to her.  Erin is nerdy enough for me.  (That is, not very nerdy. Pretty though.)

We discussed a few options, but decided on Roller girl.

dsc3592 edit X2 300x251 Tina   Why does Green Lantern hang out with Green Arrow?

This is a good example of an on location shot where we are trying to tame the sun and use the sun for its flare effect.  Takes a lot of light.  I think we had three lights here.  Here is the approximate set up.  I had some with the fountain in them, but I thought it might be too distracting.

DSC3549 Tina   Why does Green Lantern hang out with Green Arrow?

I love doing these modeling shoots because the model is willing to pose for a long time where my friends can pose for at most 3 minutes.  Tina drove up from South Carolina and we drove down from Raleigh.  It’s a long way to go, but we got the shot we wanted.  Anthony did hair and brought Kesha along to do makeup.

DSC3223 Tina   Why does Green Lantern hang out with Green Arrow?

Anthony also did a frizzy style that I liked.  I think it turned out well.

DSC3369 Edit Tina   Why does Green Lantern hang out with Green Arrow?

Last, we went to a back yard with some neat graffiti in it. I am pretty certain I stepped in poop.  So three hours going home smelling my poop shoe.   Tina’s a good model though.   Again we were in the shade, but we used a whole lot’a light back there because I wanted a moody shot in daylight.

DSC3776 Tina   Why does Green Lantern hang out with Green Arrow?

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Animazement 2011

Erin and I go to Animazement every year to see the neat costumes. We try to take as many pictures as we can, but con-goers are pretty shy, so we miss some of the best costumes every year. Good Times. You can see all of the pictures here.

Here are some of our favorites.DSC9677 Animazement 2011

My Niece.  She won’t give me a straight face.  
DSC9607 Animazement 2011

Master Chief from Halo.  That’s Erin’s hand making the lens flare on the right.

DSC9603 Animazement 2011

Final Fantasy Character that I don’t know. DSC9596 Animazement 2011

These two are having a cosplay wedding.  Which is going to be cool.  They should get one of my photobooths.

DSC9590 Animazement 2011

I had her boyfriend blow smoke in our faces for this one.  I didn’t make the cool face like she did.  The Elmo hat didn’t help either.

DSC9560 Animazement 2011
This girl really looked like Chell from Portal.  We love that game!

DSC9572 Animazement 2011

The whole Aperture Science team and Chell.  This was a hard shot to get. The scientists are lit by a different light.  Tricky.  The scientists actually made that gun and Chell’s boots.  I mean really, like in real life.

DSC9538 Animazement 2011

This is a Pokemon.  I am too old to know anything about this.  I know Thundercats and Voltron.  That’s where it ended for me. Thundercats Ho!

DSC9527 Animazement 2011

More Pokemon that I don’t understand.  But my man is rocking the orange suit.

DSC9514 Animazement 2011


Mortal Kombat!  This I know.

DSC9511 Animazement 2011It got spookier as the con went along.  I love these costumes.

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The inhabitants of Rapture.  We had a little sister last year.DSC9495 Animazement 2011

Sid from Final Fantasy.   We also have him as Dexter two years running now.

DSC9491 Animazement 2011

I don’t know who this is, but she is a dead ringer for a lady down the street.  Guns and all.

DSC9487 Animazement 2011

Nice kick. DSC9482 Animazement 2011Radio Raheem?


DSC9478 Animazement 2011

This guy was Kratos last year.  Nice Job. DSC9473 Animazement 2011

Little Mac from Punch Out.  Played too much of that game.  This guy tried to punch me, but I saw him jumping.

DSC9450 Animazement 2011


Vincent.  I don’t know how I know that.

DSC9438 Animazement 2011

LiLu.  We saw her last year as well.  In another costume.  She is also Catwoman below.  The Fifth Element rocks!.  That plastic thing was creeping up her butt the whole Con.  She mentioned it several times, I was not looking.  It looked really uncomfortable.  Chaffing would be my concern.

DSC9432 Animazement 2011


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Siren.  Very nice costume.  I love love love it.   I loved her costume last year too.  She was some Helsing something.

DSC9421 Animazement 2011

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Sailor Moon.  For Jon.

DSC94063 Animazement 2011

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My fine feathered friend again.  I have taken her picture quite a bit in the last couple of years.

DSC93373 Animazement 2011

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No comment. . . OK I will comment.  LOVE IT!

DSC92913 Animazement 2011


Assassin’s creed.

DSC92804 Animazement 2011


The fire truck is real.  The banana is not.  DSC92654 Animazement 2011

Is this perpetuating a stereotype about Italian Americans?  Erin and I are watching the Sopranos right now.

DSC92434 Animazement 2011


Fett?  I can’t tell the Mandalorians apart.

DSC92154 Animazement 2011


Empath – Raven from the New Teen Titans.  I love the Teen Titans.

DSC91864 Animazement 2011

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Is that light firing?  Clearly both of them are.  My assistants.  Erin and Jon.DSC90914 Animazement 2011


Love evil costumes.  Love taking pictures of evil costumes.

DSC90704 Animazement 2011


I probably should play this game.  There were quite a few people dressed like Silent Hill.  It was bright daylight, but it looks spooky when you light it right.

Here’s another link to the full gallery.


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