Monday, January 4, 2010

Shadows of Splendid China

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My newest series is the “Shadows of Splendid China”. This is my first project of 2010 and was my first serious venture into macro photography. Armed with a Canon 7D a 50mm 1.8 and a EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye lens I approached the “Deco Business” on the far side of Apopka Florida who had some of the remains of the once great Splendid China Amusement Park that I visited in my early 20's near Kissimmee Florida .

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A lot of information about “Splendid China” can be found here & here . It was a $100,000,000 theme park partially owned by the People’s Republic of China. In its heyday it was truly extraordinary with all of the greatest buildings in China built in small scale (most about 2 to 3ft tall). I remember vividly the lush green gardens and the beautiful flowers that were there. The buildings themselves were a model builders dream, all made from real stone and tile and detailed to the highest degree. The Great Wall of China was there, it was about 2 miles long. The park was also filled with amazing Chinese acrobats and magicians that put on a fantastic show each night. I did find an old video someone shot in 1996 of it: (not mine). I was very fascinated with the Chinese Culture so the trip to Splendid China was the next best thing to actually getting to see China at the time.

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Years later in 2002 I returned to the Park and it was a shell of its former glory doomed to close in light of finical troubles and was in desperate need of upkeep. Splendid China closed in late 2003; many of the models were sold the rest of the park fell victim to horrible theft and vandalism due to trespassers as seen in this video found online: also this site has some before and after shots

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The “Deco Business” in Apopka only had a few of the once great temples and buildings but they had a number of the small 2ft tall Terra Cotta Warriors and a few large ones.

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The key to the shoot on this lot was getting low angles. I was using my home made camera support the CCS #1 (Colossus Camera Stand) that allows me to snag nearly any angle and hold it there. It was ideal for HDRI photography that I used on many of the shots as most images were taken just inches off the ground and from the models.

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The Canon Live View was a huge help as the camera angels were so tight that looking through the glass viewfinder would have been next to impossible. The 19 point autofocus of the 7D was a godsend as I tried to pick out my focus points at wide open apertures
Most of the shots were done with Aperture Priority mode since it allowed me easily just to focus on depth of field without worry of over exposure. The majority of the shots were taken at F2.8 down to 1.8 to create the dreamlike depth of field.

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The use of a flash was at a minimum, mostly just to chase away some shadows but occasionally to add a touch of drama. I used an off camera handheld Vivitar 285HV with a sync cord to dial in the light mostly at 1/16th power.

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I shot the entire set with multi-bracketed exposure jpeg files (no raw data) this made it easy to hit the ground running when processing the photos with the latest version of Photomatix. Additional sharpness and mid tone detail was dialed in a bit with Capture One 4 as that program has some amazing dynamic range enhancement tools.

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The final step was defining all the color details with Color Effects Pro in Corel PSPX2 . I did a lot of tweaking with the brilliance and warmth filter and any shot that was black and white was converted with this filter set. The U-point technology in the Nik software made this process quite simplistic.

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I am pretty happy with the set, though I wish I would have had even more subjects to photograph. I am considering trying to contact the landlords at the former Splendid China location but with all the vandalism there I think the experience would be pretty heartbreaking. At any rate this project was a lot of fun and brought back good memories of my time in Splendid China so many years ago.

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The full set can be viewed here:

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Savage Land on Flickr = One Million Views


This is an historic day for me as my all-time Flickr stats broke one million views. I have been watching the number climb into the 900,000’s for about a month. Now there is no grand prize for breaking a million views, National Geographic won’t likely be contacting me anytime soon or anything like that but there is still a sense of personal accomplishment in the fact that a million people took some time out of their busy lives to check out something I created.

This night was the Bomb Diggity

The irony here is that I have done music and sound design for many TV, independent film and video game projects, many of them experienced by millions of people. That is cool but I am only a tiny part in those projects , so small that in fact the majority of those people would never know I was part of one of those projects unless they read each and every production credit (I would likely be toward the end of the credit list). The Flickr stats are more personal because there was no advertising behind it, no reason for people to check out my page, the work had to stand on its own in a sea of millions of wonderful photos in the hundreds of Flickr groups I am part of.

In the wild - The Cheetah

How did it all start? Back in April of 2007 I joined Flickr, my very first photo placed online April 8th 2007 was a panorama of the city of Orlando…I had just learned to do long exposures with a very simple point and shoot Canon S2-IS. Up until late 2004 I had been a cinematographer not a still photographer (and I hadn’t shot a movie for about two to three years at that). I started taking pictures again after I adopted my little daughter because I loved taking photos of her life.


In late 2006 I started taking photography very seriously. I joined the Orlando Digital Photography Group in March of 2007 to learn the basics of still photography and found some great mentors by the names of Spencer Fisher and Charlie House. I learned about Flickr in the photo club and originally became a member just to post in the ODPG Flickr pool after our monthly events:


In December of 2007 our photo club took a trip to the Albin Polasek Museum in Winter Park and during that trip I found myself looking at the world in a whole new way; I would see something as it was and could visualize my impression of it. I could foresee how something might look with the right emphasis on color, lighting, composition; in other words I could see a shot for what it could become. The visual post-production skills I learned in film-making would now be fully used in my still photography.

Albin Polasek 007

In May of 2007 I discovered an extraordinary photographer by the name of Ram Morrison who is from India. I was so blown away by his work I had to write him to ask how on Earth he was able to capture such amazing images. He introduced me to High Dynamic Range photography and helped me learn the skill of HDRI post process. HDRI radically changed how I went about capturing images and really fueled my creative fire. My first HDR image was of Casa Felize a historic home in Winter Park Florida. With that photo-stream post suddenly I started getting comments on my photography. I was so excited to get positive feedback from other photographers that it pushed me to take the skill further.

Casa Felize

From that point on I started spending many hours a week viewing and being humbled by other photographers on Flickr. My mind was racing with new ideas and so many great photographers answered the massive list of questions I started asking online.

Heavenly Glory

In September of 2007 a photo I posted of an Aston Martin got the attention of Makes & Models Magazine and I was offered the chance to become the official photographer for the Festivals of Speed. I always loved automobiles and it was a dream offer. I set down the point and shoot camera and learned to use a DSLR with the help of people on Flickr.

Vantage Point

By February of 2008 I was offered a gallery showing of photography in Orlando. I had come a very long way in a year but I was still in awe of shots that I found on Flickr, I found myself constantly in pursuit of that next level of photography.

Gallery Showing 2

My most successful photos on Flickr (based on stats) was the project based around the video game “The Mirror’s Edge” that racked up an astonishing 407,000 views due to multiple gaming websites featuring the photos; more details on that project can be found here:

The Perfect Weapon

before that oddly my most viewed photo was that of an RX7 that I shot at a automotive event that racked up some 13,740 views and I’m to this day still not exactly sure why?


Fast forward to now and my million views of what is now a photo-stream of 1,010 photographs. I feel my photography has come a very long way from where I started but I am still in awe of so many professional Flickr photographers that continue to inspire me with their creativity. I am finding that the creativity is endless, there is always something new to be found and learned. I still feel I am just getting started.

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So what photos and photographers inspire me on Flickr? Allow me to show you:

I want to thank the 284 photographers that have helped me on my way. The list of names can be found here:

I would also like to give serious thanks to the thousands of photographers who have commented on my work and keep me going strong!

Welcome to the Savage Land