2017 Napa Valley Film Festival

The 2017 Napa Valley Film Festival is in the books. Six days of photographing movie stars, chefs, winemakers, filmmakers, and joyous festivalgoers.

This is the seventh NVFF I've documented. I've witnessed it grow into one of the premiere film festivals in the world. Each year, it just gets better and better.

Don't tell the other events that I photograph, but the NVFF is probably my favorite one to shoot. I don't really get starstruck, but I do get a kick out of talking with movie stars. While I do photograph famous people pretty often, I still can't get used to the idea that I have a job which takes me on such exciting adventures. This year, I met Pierce Brosnan, Lea Thompson, Eric Stoltz, Elijah Wood, Will Ferrell, Dennis Quaid, Jim Rash, Ian Somerhalder, Nikki Reed, Tate Donovan, David Arquette, and Michael Stuhlbarg

With the Napa Valley Film Festival over, that concludes this year's major events. On to 2018...

Review of the Fujifilm X-T2 Camera

I've not been super happy with my Nikon cameras for a while now. Both Sony and Fuji seem to be pulling ahead technologically with their mirrorless systems. I recently had to send in my Nikon D5 and D810 cameras for repair, so I used that as an excuse to rent the Fuji X-T2, the 18-55 lens, the 23mm 1.4, the 56mm 1.2, and the EF-X500 flash.

First the bad:

Battery life. It stinks. Full charge to completely empty in about 90 minutes (about 330 shots). I didn't rent any extra batteries, so this made it even worse. My D5 will last a week even with heavy use.

Focus. Compared to the Nikon D5 (arguably the best focusing camera out right now), the focus is slow, and the continuous focus is strangely bad. The camera can't seem to lock focus even on objects that aren't moving. I was attempting to make a portrait of someone with continuous focus on, and it simply couldn't focus on her even though the camera locked on to her face.

Flash. Lastly, the flash is just not good. Using TTL, it could not get a good exposure. My Nikon speedlights are always spot on. The Fuji needed constant overriding in order to get a balanced exposure. 

Now to the good:

Size. It's small and light. I love carrying this thing around instead of my go-to event photography kit -- Nikon D5, 24-70, and SB 910 (often with some sort of diffusion.)

Mirrorless. I love the ability to see the image before I even hit the button. I'm a fully manual shooter, so seeing the image in the viewfinder is huge. I found that using any of the auto modes simply created images that were too dark or too blue. It's a huge time savings, as I don't have to tweak each image in post to make it perfect. I get it perfect in camera now. In fact, I shot in JPEG and RAW just in case, but I only ever used the JPEGs. And it's silent. I often find myself not shooting in quiet situations, because I don't want to disturb others. Not a worry with the Fuji.

Image quality. The Fuji JPEGs were superior to the default settings in Lightroom and Capture One. The noise control is surprisingly great. Compared to my Nikon D5, it's about the same when viewing images full size on a 27" screen. I reduced the noise reduction in the camera to -4, so the JPEGs actually came out better detailed and with less noise at the same ISO.

Workflow. Being able to share an image immediately is a bonus. Before, I'd have to wait until I got home in front of my computer before sharing any images. I had a client ask me if she could have one of the images, so she could immediately share on Facebook. I had to tell her my $6500 top-of-the-line Nikon can't do that. 

In the end, I really enjoyed my time with the camera. It's a different way of shooting, but one that is great for events. With my Nikons, I'd shoot in RAW, import to Capture One, wait as the previews are rendered, edit images (because there's still some guessing when picking exposure during events and auto white balance never seems to be accurate), then export as JPEGs. With the Fuji, I get everything dialed in before pressing the shutter button and rarely tweak an image in post. I'd guess over 90% of the 2000 images I took this week were delivered straight from the camera. The rest were slightly adjusted and that was just some cropping. It's a huge time savings.

I'm selling my Nikon D5, D7200, and a few lenses that I just don't use very often and can live without. I'm keeping my D810 (until the D850 is released) for commercial shoots. For events, I'm picking up the Fuji X-T2, X-T20 (as a backup), 23 mm f/1.4, 10-24mm, 50-140mm, 18-55mm, the Godox TT685F flash, battery grip, and four extra batteries. Probably grab the 56mm f/1.2 at some point too. 

2017 V Foundation Wine Celebration

The V Foundation raises money for cancer research, and the Wine Celebration is their major fundraiser for the year. The V Foundation gets its name from Jimmy Valvano who lost his battle with cancer in 1993. This year, the Wine Celebration raised almost $9 million for cancer research.

It's a such a great organization, and I'm really honored to play a small role in it. Everyone involved is genuinely concerned about beating cancer. And that includes the guests who not only pay to be there but raise their paddles to give even more. 

It's another one of those events that make me just feel so blessed to be able to make a living through photography. I can't believe the places I go and people I meet because I push a button on a camera. I got to visit Checkerboard Vineyards, Davis Estates, Chappellet, Far NienteSilver Oak, Nickel & Nickel. I got to hang out with Jean-Charles Boisset and Gina Gallo in their home. I got to meet David RobinsonMike "Coach K" Krzyzewski, Michael Franti (didn't really "meet" him but "saw him again"), and lots of local celebrities (winemakers and chefs). I even got cheauffered around in a Bentley. 

I live a life that's way above my pay grade.

Here are some highlights:

Festival Napa Valley 2017

It's a wrap on the 2017 Festival Napa Valley (formerly known as Festival del Sole.) It's a twelve day festival celebrating food, wine, and the arts while raising money for arts and education programs. It's a huge event as each day there's a lunch, a performance, a dinner, and a party. Each event is a treat for the senses. Amazing wines, magnificent food, breathtaking musical performances, and just the pure spectacle of it all combine to create a world-class festival of the arts. 

And I'm honored to be a part of it all. The event planners make my job easy, as each one is a visual treat to photograph. Plus, I get to go to places and meet people I'd never imagine photographing. During the festival, I met Jon Cryer, Illeana Douglas, Mariel Hemingway, and, of course, Bill Murray.

Here are a few of my favorite images:

The Grahams

Abby and Matt are just about the cutest couple you'd ever meet. 

We started out the day getting some images of the first look and bridal party at the Veterans Home. We then headed out to the park for the actual ceremony, and then to a private home for the reception. 

Erin Sanders at BottleRock

While working for BottleRock, I get asked to photograph certain celebrities/athletes/musicians who show up for the festival. Three years ago, I was asked to get some shots of Erin Sanders. She was in front of the BottleRock banner in the media room, so the light and background weren't ideal. I suggested we head outside in search for some better light. She was game and thus started our annual portrait sessions among the 40,000 BottleRockers. 

Here are a few from this year:

BottleRock 2017

BottleRock 2017 is in the history books. Having photographed all five of the festivals, I can confidently say that 2017 was the best one yet.

I love music. When I was only a lad, I was a music blogger for MTV, a radio producer and DJ, and concert photographer. I'd love to prove all this to you, but the Great Hard Drive Crash of 2003 makes that impossible. Anyhoo, BottleRock allows me to get my musical ya-ya's out every year. I basically photograph one concert a year, and BottleRock is it.

The entire gallery of images is on my Facebook page, but here are a few of my favorite (shareable) images from this year's shindig:

Ad for Mercedes-Benz

I was asked to create an image for a new ad for Mercedes-Benz. Not wanting to deliver something ordinary, I came up with the idea of shooting a car with some motion. It's too easy to park a car on the road and grab some images; I needed an unnecessary challenge. And since I'm not too good at Photoshop, I had to do it all in camera. 

I picked a remote road in Carneros, so I wouldn't have to deal with traffic. I picked a time when the sun was low. I picked my brother in law to drive the car while I sat in the open trunk. I wanted the camera really low, so I had it attached upside down to my monopod and kept it just above the street. I wirelessly connected my iPad to the camera, so I could see the image and trigger the shutter. I needed motion blur, so I set the camera to a slow shutter speed (1/100 second.) My brother in law drove about 20 MPH, and let's just say the AMG SL63 had no trouble keeping up with us. 

Napa County Diorama

The diorama in the California State Capitol is all new. After years of neglect, the County of Napa and the Napa Valley Vintners decided it was time to update the county's diorama. The new exhibit features a slideshow of images many of which are mine.

What an honor. Sincerely humbled. 

Jennifer and Peter

I really wouldn't classify myself as a wedding photographer. I do a few weddings every year, and the one I photographed yesterday was my ninth wedding of my (short) career. I only photograph friends' weddings, and Jennifer and Peter definitely qualify as friends.

I've known Jen for a few years, as she's my "boss" at Visit Napa Valley. I know Peter, because, well, Jen. 

We started off the day at Stags' Leap Winery for the first look photos. It was hot and bright, so we just had to make the best of it. We then headed up the hill to Auberge where the actual ceremony took place. It's a stunning venue with one of the best vantage points in the valley.

Here are a few pics of the day:

ENGAGE Art Fair 2017

Here in the Napa Valley, this month is Arts in April. It's a month-long celebration of the Napa county artists who create some of the most wonderful art anywhere. Not sure how I'm an "artist", but I guess that's what I've become. 

The ENGAGE Art Fair kicks off Arts in April with a huge gala then an interactive art exhibit all weekend long. Artists from all over the Bay Area convene at the Calistoga Fairgrounds to display their art and to demonstrate how they create their works. I was there selling some landscape images, but I made portraits of the guests in a little studio created by Rion Designs

Here are some of my favorites:

Where's Bob-o?

I'm not a big selfie guy, but I do have a little selfie game I play when I shoot events. I've never told anyone, but I always include a special photo of myself. Sometimes, it's quite obvious. Sometimes, it's not.

365 Project

For 2017, I've made a goal for myself -- share a portrait every day for the whole year. Since these are a way for me to play, I don't know what I'm gonna do. Some will be colorful, some will be fun, some will be edgy, some may even be good.

If you want to follow me on my photographic challenge, you can check out my Instagram feed.

Wine Business Monthly - January 2017 Edition

The cover and a few other of my images are in the latest issue of Wine Business Monthly. These were taken during photoshoots for John Anthony Vineyards and CK Mondavi Family Vineyards

I love that CK Mondavi chose that image of their winemaker, because neither one of us wanted to do it. We both thought it was too cliché. I told him that marketers and publicists love that shot, so let's just do one really quick. And that's the one they chose.

Review of the Nikon 105mm f/1.4E Lens

Oh, man, I did not want to like this lens. I did not want to spend $2200 on another new lens. But after reading the reviews, I did it anyway. 

I already own the 85mm f/1.4 and the 70-200mm f/2.8, so I worried that it wouldn't be all that different from what I have. I was wrong. It separates people from the background better than any other lens I've seen except for the 200 f/2. Almost too much. Backgrounds turn in to solid walls of color instead of details. Environmental portraits don't really tell the whole story since you can't get any information from the background.

I don't often use lenses wide open since they're often kinda soft. The 200 f/2 and now this lens can be used wide open without the fear losing sharpness. The 105 ain't easy to use at 1.4 as the depth of field is measured in millimeters. It's a little slow to focus, but it kept up with a seven-year-old running right at me. 

Frankly, I wasn't planning on keeping this lens the first time I used it. I took it out again to give it a second chance, and I fell in love with it. Dang it.

Raw Conversion Software

I admit it. I shoot in raw.

I want the ability to really push those pixels to my will, and shooting in JPEG doesn't always allow me to do that. I actually really like the look of Nikon's JPEGs, and when I'm shooting family snapshots, I'll usually just do so as JPEGs. When I shoot for a client, I shoot in raw. Those big ol' .NEF files allow me to fully tweak the images as I want.

For the past few years, I've used Adobe Lightroom for my image processing. While I don't think it produces the absolute best image quality, I can still get through a batch of images quickest using Lightroom. In the past few weeks, however, there's been some new contenders to the raw conversion software battle. They're free to try, so that's just what I did.

I grabbed a landscape photo and a portrait photo and converted them using the different applications. These are all straight from each converter with no tweaks. I've also included the final image I delivered to the clients.

Apple Photos

Apple Photos

Capture One

Capture One



Nikon JPEG/Capture NX-D  

Nikon JPEG/Capture NX-D  

On1 Photo RAW

On1 Photo RAW



Final edited in Lightroom

Final edited in Lightroom

Apple Photos

Apple Photos

Capture One

Capture One



Nikon JPEG/Capture NX-D

Nikon JPEG/Capture NX-D

On1 Photo RAW

On1 Photo RAW



Final edited in Lightroom

Final edited in Lightroom

Based mostly on the skin tones, my favorite portrait is probably from Capture One with the Capture NX-D a close second. I don't know what the heck is going on with the Luminar image. Looking at how the software renders the sun in the landscape photo, I prefer the look of the Capture One with the Apple Photos in second place. I like the quality of the images that come out of Capture One, but I find the software slow to use. Not necessarily slow to see changes when I make adjustments, but rather speed at which I can edit a photo and move on to the next one.

While Lightroom doesn't necessarily produce the best images, its speed and features more than make up for it.


The Macphun folks were very interested in my findings here. They requested the original NEF images for testing. A couple of days later, they updated Luminar and totally fixed the issues I was having. It's obvious that Macphun really wants to compete in this space. Here are the updated images:

Screen Shot 2016-12-01 at 10.04.03 PM.jpg

More Food Photography

"That looks good enough to eat." 

Recently, I had someone ask me what the secret to food photography is. I told him to make the food look appetizing. It ain't that hard. I try to light the food and compose the photo in an interesting and pleasing way. Sometimes I work with the chefs to make sure they plate the dishes in a way that works for photos. Sometimes I straight up tell the chefs that certain foods just don't photograph well. 

I also have to work with the restaurant owners to photograph their food dishes in a way that fits their marketing. A style that works for one restaurant may not work for another. 

Here are a few recent images from various restaurants for whom I've photographed some of their dishes:

Napa Valley Film Festival 2016

The 2016 Napa Valley Film Festival just wrapped up. I started photographing the event during the first festival back in 2011, and I can't believe how much it's grown up since up then. Every year, it gets bigger and better. 

I don't get all that star-struck, but it is a surreal feeling when I walk past Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) in the hallway or run in to Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) backstage. Or turn around at a party and see Cuba Gooding Jr. standing next to me. Or Katie Holmes say "excuse me" as she walks past. I try to be all cool about it on the outside, but inside, I'm all, like, "OMG! It's the king of Middle Earth!"

Here are a few of my favorite images: