Sunday, December 28, 2014

Phil'z Coffee

Photo #1

Philz Coffee had a soft opening for its newest location in San Mateo (Photo #1). It was scheduled to start at 11:00 am, and when I arrived at 11:10, the joint was already jumping. I was hoping for a crowd of coffee lovers, and wasn't disappointed.

Photo #2

There was laughing, drinking, and noshing on a variety of complimentary baked goods (Photo #2). Boy, that traditional Kouign Amann (I read the card) sure looked good, but the last thing any photographer needs is gooey frosting smeared all over his/her equipment. I gotta tell you, it wasn't easy saying "No, thank you", but sometimes you just gotta do it. But if a smile could tell a whole story, this one would write volumes!

Photo #3
Back to work. I noticed that I could bounce my flash off the wall behind me, so after adjusting the camera (1/160, F 2.8, ISO 800) I made a "hand selfie" to see how the light was behaving. I could tell that my current settings (1/160th of a second, F 2.8, ISO 800) that the ambient light was strong enough to come within one stop of proper exposure, as can see by the young man in the background behind the counter. The problem her is one of flash power: If I used wall bounced flash as my key light, it would add to the abundant ambient lighting, which would result in some blown highlights, as you can see on my hand. If I stopped my aperture down to F 4.0, the background would have gone darker, but I might not have had enough speedlight power to make the shot. I would also have lost some of the ceiling "twinkle" of the lights. Instead, I positioned myself so that the window light would illuminate Phil from the side, rather than from the front. Moving Phil farther from the window would have done the same thing. But this little tableau was playing out in front of me, so I decided to make the shot where they stood.

If you compare Photos #2 and #3, their eye level perspective allows for a good deal of the ceiling to show. I would have pursued this eye level perspective if I wanted to emphasize the architectural or decorative aspects, but instead I opted for an elevated perspective to include the barristas and the customers in the background. 

I made about six images of Phil, and selected the final image by a process of elimination. Remember that you really can't monopolize too much of your subject's time, especially when he's a businessman, working the room, chatting up the customers. If you're wondering about the sometimes unconventional framing, I'll explain that later.

Photo #4
I rejected Photo #4 because I failed to include is left hand in the image. After I previewed the shot, I suggested that Phil keep his hands a little closer together. By dumb luck, most of the "Philz" logo is visible on the cup. But the disconnected looks of the customers didn't help the image. I do like Phil's expression, as he appears to be singing "That's Amore", or a similar Dean Martin song. He has the look!

Photo #5
Photo #5 would be my ultimate choice. There are few (if any) distracting faces, and the one prominent bystander looks like she just got the punchline of the joke Phil just told. This grounded the image with a plausible story. I cropped the image to clean up the right third of the photo and managed to keep all of the important background. Unfortunately, Phil rotated the cup slightly, concealing the logo from the viewer. Again a reminder that I wasn't able to actually see the image at the moment it was taken.

Photo #6
I moved in a little closer for Photo #6, and as a consequence, brought his hands closer to the camera, making them appear much too large. Imagine a person whose hand spread was actually larger than his head. To top it off, the young lady was now checking her Smart Phone. Not a pretty sight.

Photo #7
For the last shot (Photo #7), I made it a point to get the logo on the cup clearly visible. I rejected the image because Phil is too low in the image. When I at tempted to crop the image, I lost all of the bystanders, and I still had a missing left hand. 

The big takeaway is a repetition of one of my rules to live by: A photograph is a gift. Sometimes you get what you want, and sometimes you don't. From my point of view, I got a pretty nice shot (Photo #5), one that everybody at the Journal seemed to like. So much so that the Editor made a special place for it on Page 6, one of the few times a photo like this appeared anywhere except the Community Section.

"Hail Mary": The "Hail Mary" position, camera held high overhead and pointed downward, is usually an act of desperation. Needless to say, you can''t look through the viewfinder, so you are only guessing where the camera is actually pointed. I'm sure some photographers get pretty good at this, but I just wasn't hitting the mark, as you can see in Photo #7. Had Phil been higher in the frame, the shot might have been saved, but alas, it was not to be. Photo #5 it was.