Friday, March 25, 2011

Published at last!

Forbidden love, originally uploaded by ZERO CEM.

I remember a couple of weeks ago I was contacted about giving some of my photos from the dress rehearsal of "Don Carlo" a performance of "Opera in the Heights" and I agreed hoping to be published at least electronically.

This past Monday and Tuesday, the dress rehearsals for the new performance from Opera in the Heights (The Pearl Fishers) took place, and one of my photos has already made it into a review of the Opera!

That reminded me of the photos I've sent for the soprano singer from Don Carlo (Emily Newton) so I went to her page and sure enough there are three of my photos published in her gallery along with the corresponding attributions so I couldn't be happier (well, probably I could be if I had made some money out of this but, this is happy enough for an amateur =D).

By the way, the opera "Pearl fishers" was really good. The opera by Georges Bizet, the great performances by the singers and the bright colors from the stage and the costumes all work together to make it a great season closer for Opera in the Heights.

If you are in Houston (or can get here before April 3rd) and like Opera -or at least are curious enough to try it for the first time- I would really recommend going to this show.

More information on tickets and performance times can be obtained at the Opera in the Heights website.

Just in case you missed the links above, here are the links to the pages I have photos published (they say if you're going to do flagrant self promotion you should do it right):

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Great concert... and camera

Linkin Park @ Houston, originally uploaded by ZERO CEM.

Last Thursday I had the chance to experience one of the best concerts I've ever been to thanks to Linkin Park (It was originally scheduled for Feb 15 but had to be rescheduled) and for me it worked perfectly!

I was bummed to hear that my Nikon D5000 wouldn't be able to join me for the concert and I didn't though a point and shoot camera would be able to do me much good (specially, since I was sitting in the nosebleed section) but luckily for me, I found the Nikon Coolpix S9100.

Now, I honestly don't get a cut from Nikon and I usually do not even mention the gear I use but I truly believe I wouldn't have been able to shoot this images nor the videos without this camera.

First of all, the "night landscape" mode it's great for dark places. It has two modes "handheld" and "tripod". In handheld mode, it'll try to raise the ISO (noise) and keep the shutter speed fast enough so it won't be such a blurry image and once it's shot it will do some in-camera post-processing to bring more light into the picture. In "tripod" mode, it will raise the shutter speed and AFIK it is not doing post-processing.

There is also a "night portrait" mode that uses the flash to light your subject and it also takes a few shots without flash to capture the bakground, then it mashes everything togheter in camera post-procesing and voilĂ  you get your image with a foreground and background as you see it, and not as the camera does.

One nice touch that I think it's worth mentioning is that the flash does not rise itself. Maybe some people won't like it, but for me is great because now I know exactly when the flash is going to shoot and when it won't.

Another thing worth mentioning, is the zoom. It has 18x optical zoom and it starts from a "wide" angle so you get the equivalent to 25-450mm zoom range in a traditional camera. You could see it best on this video, I believe at the end I do a zoom out but in the start you can really see the band in stage as if I was just a few yards away from them:

The video quality it's great (if I do say so myself) it records full HD 1080 video and it fits roughtly 30 mins on an 8Gb SD card and it also has very good stereo sound (I've had comments on the video mentioning the jealousy that my audio sounds better than other people also recording).

Unfortunately I had just bought it the day before so I didn't got a chance to read the manual and didn't know you could have autofocus during video as well, so I was forced to split my videos to have one part zoomed out and another with the full zoom, but now it's already enabled and ready for my next video ;)

The best part? That I was able to get it in the concert of course! It fits right in my pocket so I just took it out for the metal detectors and that's it, no need for a bag, special lenses, etc. I'm not saying this camera will replace my D5000 (though I think maybe in the specs my D5000 it's starting to lag behind) but there is just too much creative control you lose with the P&S. However, for those times you can't take a DSLR or you just wan't to capture something in a pinch, this is a very worthy backup.

I was lucky to find this camera at a local Best Buy for $329,99 since I believe the official release date is Mach 17 (here's the link to amazon ) but if you're in the market for a portable high quality camera and particularly if you take low light photos, in my humble opinion, this is the best there is currently in the market.


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Surprising news

OH_Don_Carlo-1496, originally uploaded by ZERO CEM.

A few days ago, I was contacted by one of the lead singers of the Heights Opera Don Carlo about the possibility of adding some of my pictures to an online gallery in her website.

Obviously, I accepted! At this point this is nothing more than a hobby for me, but the fact that some of my pictures might be considered as material for an online gallery it's very flattering.

I am well aware that it's possible that I'm not the only photographer that was contacted about this, but still. Just the fact of being considered it's a huge step forward for me and I'll be getting public credit for it.

I'll try to update with a new post if/when I get a link to the online gallery when it will be official that I'll become a "published photographer" =D

Also, I believe the Opera in the Heights will be having a last show this season: Georges Bizet Pearl Fishers, on March 24, 25, 26 and 31 and April 1st and 2nd. I'm hoping they'll give us another chance to photograph the dress rehearsal once again.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Where to now?

Where to now?, originally uploaded by ZERO CEM.

Boy, t feels like weeks since I last blogged... maybe because it's been. Work has been crazy lately, and I've been going out to shoot on weekends so no time for blogging... until now. This entry is about the last days of Forbidden Gardens.

The museum is already closed at this point, and last weekend they had a sale on the items from their exhibits. Pictured here is the almost empty pit from some of the terracota warriors that were for sale.

It was really a sight. People coming out of the museum carrying building replicas, huge soldiers, U-hauls being filled with multiple statues, and a waiting line so long it merit a panoramic made.

I got there early on Saturday to try to get a soldier for myself, and after about and hour and a half waiting in line and another hour to find the best pieces and pay; I ended up owner of two soldiers and two soldier heads as souvenirs.

On sunday, I made a last visit just to get a last look at how the place was and... for the hype and line I had to go through on Saturday, I was surprised there were so many soldiers still, though I believe many of them were stuck to the ground so they couldn't be moved.

What will happen with Forbidden Gardens and the leftovers now? I've no idea. There have been no announcements, and from what I could see, there are still plenty of items left with a deadline to get the place cleared just around the corner so I guess I'll find out later if it was bulldozed over or whatever happened.

For my part, I got a couple of keepsakes to remind me of the lost museum:
The spoils

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Moonrise, originally uploaded by ZERO CEM.

This is an old photo from my days in Southwest Florida.

It was starting to get to the time of year when the sun will set earlier and I wouldn't have enough time to go out to shoot in daylight and I was trying to plan a sunrise shot for the next morning using TPE when I noticed the moon would rise around 8:30 pm.

So, I got my gear ready and set out for Fort Myers beach pier (Lynn Hall Park), payed for my parking and ran off to the top of the bridge to make it on time.

Funny story though... I knew at what time the moon was supposed to rise, and I was trying to locate the exact point so I noticed a little glow in the horizon and I focused my gear and attention over there.

I pre-focused, took a couple of test shots and patiently waited... and waited... and... when at looked at my watch... the moonrise time was already gone... and still only glow and no moon... so I looked about 30 degrees to the right and there it was, already a little high in the sky: I had missed the moon rising! So, I aimed my camera and focused as fast as I could to take this shot!

All in all, it came out pretty nice, but I was hoping to get the moon lower in the horizon... so I guess I'll have to wait until the next chance I get to capture a moonrise (it's much easier near the coast to avoid running into problems with the skyline of the city or a tree line getting in the way)

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Jade Dragon

Jade Dragon, originally uploaded by ZERO CEM.

This little dragon it's a little souvenir I picked up at Forbidden Gardens, a Chinese museum-attraction at Katy Texas that, amongst other things, includes a 1/3rd replica from the tomb of emperor Qin Shi Huang-di along with his terracota warriors and a 1/20th replica of the Forbidden city in Beijing. Unfortunately, this place is about to disappear.

It's a shame really how sometimes progress gets in the way of beautiful things, yet we see it ever day: parks transformed into stores, historic buildings turned into parking lots and in this case, museums turned into highways.

It is sad, but I also understand need for new developments (I think the people that are going to save hours of comute with the grand parkway expansion might not miss Forbidden Gardens all that much) and I understand that everything happens because there's a reason. It's justified, but sad nevertheless.

So, today I went to pay my respects and say my final goodbyes. It is only the second time I visit (I wanted to video record the great explanations from the tour guide) but already the place seemed so different: doors closed, items on sale, statues missing, etc.

The final date is set: February 18th 2011 will be the last "regular day" of operations, followed by a 3 day "giant garage sale" to get ready to leave the place.

I took a bunch of pics that I haven't had time to process so this won't be the last time I write about this place. It was something really unique that will be missed and at least I'll try to help keep the memory of some of it online.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The snow that never came

That explains the blackouts, originally uploaded by ZERO CEM.
It was everywhere... in the forecast, the news, the clouds, the precautions taken by everyone... but it just never made it here. We were 24 hours under a Winter Storm Warning, I've even got to work from home today... but there was no snow.

Not here anyway... I believe Dallas did got some inches of snow today, not to mention other parts of the country, but here we had to settle with some icy rain, which made the roads hazardous, but without the added visual appeal that snow brings.

Regardless, I took a little tour of the nearby zone and did found a few frozen things: cars, signs, grass, plants, door knobs, even the floor! But this one caught particularly my eye. It seems to be a power generator with icicles growing out of it.

Luckily I didn't experienced the power outages firsthand, but I saw in the news that there were rolling blackouts scheduled to minimize the load on the power grid at a state level.

It was rather a disappointing morning (I actually woke up at the break of dawn just to go out to shoot some snow before work) but at least I found something to shoot at, because even the sunrise was out the question (too cloudy).

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Happy New Year!!!

Heavenly temple, originally uploaded by ZERO CEM.

Yes, I’m well aware that we’re already a month into 2011, but that not the new year I’m talking about, I’m talking about the year of the rabbit, according to the Chinese calendar that just stated today (February 3rd 2011).

I’ve never really pay attention of when the Chinese New Year was. I’ve usually only found out right after it had passed (if ever) and... well, dismissed it just as easily since it was already too late to do anything about it, therefore I never noticed it’s not always on the same date.

According to wikipedia, the Chinese New Year may fall any day between January 21st and February 20th since it’s lunisolar based and it depends on both the winter solstice and the moon cycles; with the New Year usually being on the second new moon after the winter solstice (although it could be the third new moon on rare occasions).

Also notable is the fact that the celebration itself, which is referred to as the Spring Festival; lasts for 15 days (16 if you count New Years Eve) and has many different traditions for each day, ending with the Lantern Festival on the first full moon of the year. I wish I’ll be able to go there one of these days, on the meanwhile... I have to settle with the things I have nearby.

For instance, today’s image is courtesy of the China pavilion on Disney’s Epcot center in Orlando. It’s a replica of the Temple of Heaven, a Taoist temple in Beijing which represents the connection of Heaven and Earth. It’s not much, but it brings a little taste of the Chinese culture for those of us that cannot make it all the way there (just yet).

Here are some of the references I read in case you'd like to keep learning:
Wikipedia - Chinese New Year - Festivals
Wikipedia - Lantern Festival
Wikipedia - Temple of Heaven

Friday, January 28, 2011

Historic Houston Majesticity

Majesticity, originally uploaded by ZERO CEM.

The Majestic Metro. Currently, it's a venue for weddings, parties and corporate events; but long ago it was a silver screen era theater (and I believe it's the only one of it's kind still standing in Houston).

I was "on assignment" on downtown Houston exploring Main St (when I say "on assignment", I mean trying to get pics for one of my favorite flickr groups, Assignment Houston), when on my way back to the car I stopped at the Majestic and started shooting some pics. That's when the manager stepped out.

At first, I thought I was going to get the "sorry sir, no pictures please" but to my surprise he was a very nice person and actually allowed us to go inside to know the place and let us know some of the history of the place.

Unfortunately for me, I'm still working on my people skills... and I was too shy to ask for permission to take some pics of the inside (not to mention I was worried they wouldn't come out anyway because of the low light) so I know I miss a chance there, but is just one of those things I'll need to work on.

Still the outside was nice and I got a nice story out of it so all in all it was a good experience. I was going to elaborate on the history of the place but Cinema Houston has a very comprehensive history so I've better point you that way in case you're interested.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Heights Opera

Halt!, originally uploaded by ZERO CEM.

Opera. I can't say I'm a fan... in fact, I've never been to the opera before... and I probably wouldn't have gone unless I got invited to take some pics at the rehearsal of the current performance being presented by Opera in the Heights: Don Carlo, from Giuseppe Verdi.

I have to admit I liked it a lot. I couldn't follow all the plot because I was a bit to much looking through the viewfinder instead of looking at the captions, but I got the gist of it and it was a wonderful show, with great music and very good performances from the singers so I would really recommend it if you're in the Houston area on January 27, 28 or 29, and February 3, 4 and 5 at 7:30 pm on Lambert Hall in the Houston Heights area.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Carnival times past

Hidden, originally uploaded by ZERO CEM.

On November 2010 I was in Florida for work reasons and I was on my way back from my usual sunrise sessions I sneaked in before going to the office when I noticed the carnival setting up and not just any carnival, but the nation’s largest traveling carnival: Reithoffer Shows.

I obviously got excited thinking of the opportunity to shoot something different than the beach while in Fl, but then I noticed the dates and my excitement turned to disappointment: The carnival's first day was the afternoon when I had to head back home. Bummer right? Well, not entirely.

I thought to myself: I might not be able to come when it's open, but I might be able to take some shots from the street. So I went there the night before I was meant to go, I parked on the parking lot, got my gear and... well, I noticed there were no fences, no entrance, no gate, no "no trespassing" sign...

So... I started to get close... slowly at first, I took some shots from the parking lot (this included), then a little closer, a little more... until I found myself in front of the ferris wheel. Then I started wandering about (not to far though) and I started to enjoy the advantages of being on the Carnival when it's "off duty".

I wasn't alone though. I never really asked who they were, but I saw some people walking around as well. Most of them ignored me, but three guys (separately) walked up to me to ask what I was up to, and I explained all three how I was there for work reasons and I had to go back before the carnival opened but I didn't wanted to miss it so, I at least took a look at the carnival one night before.

In a way, I think it worked out wonderfully. I got to photograph a carnival in a way I'm not used to seeing it. And it wet my appetite for carnivals so I ended up looking up a local carnival in Houston to which I could go while it was open so I got both points of view.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Time to rock!

Here we go, originally uploaded by ZERO CEM.
I just got my tickets for the Linkin Park concert on the mail today! Granted, they might not be the best tickets you could find (as a matter of fact they were the cheapest tickets I could find), but let's just say that when I realized the concert date and when the tickets went on sale I got really happy about still finding this tickets.

This will actually be my first mayor concert, and by that I mean in a big venue (like the Toyota Center). I've been to some concerts here and there, but they were usually on more modest locations (and they were not for a band like Linkin Park!!) so I am pretty excited about having the chance to go.

I'm hesitant about checking the camera policy for the Toyota Center since I think it will be just deluding myself to think that as far as I'll be from the stage, as dark as it'll be and with the energy, excitement and... well, the crowd from the concert I could capture any photos worth posting but... still, even if it's just with a point and shoot I'll try to get some pics to capture the moment.

I know I've seen some articles on DPS (Digital Photography School) about taking pics of bands during a concert but... I won't be reading them for this concert. I do believe the chances of me getting some sort of upgrade to a seat that might get me close enough to the action are astronomically small... but I still have my hopes though =)

Keep on rockin'!!

Dew catcher

Dew catcher, originally uploaded by ZERO CEM.
This photo takes me back to the good old times... when I got to fly to Florida for free and I could use the free time I could find to go out and take some pictures at the beach. Those days might be gone, but I still have a lot of unprocessed photos to take me back there.

This particular picture, was taken on Sanibel Island. I planed to go to shoot a sunrise from there, but unfortunately, the weather had some other plans. There was a very dense fog that morning, which prevented me from actually taking the shot of the sun rising in the horizon, but since I was already there I wandered about and noticed some strings of web with some dew droplets in them, so I switched to my macro lens and I started shooting.

I have two words to describe the experience of shooting a spiderweb, on a windy, foggy, morning at the beach while handholding your camera with a macro lens... NOT EASY...

I had to manually focus each shot, because the autofocus wouldn't lock on the droplets and I had to be chasing the image because the air kept moving the web all over the place.

I had to increase the ISO speed to 1000, because I needed to take the shots fast (before the wind moved it too much), there was low light, I was using a very narrow aperture because of the macro and I had to work from a distance because the web itself was behind a "restricted area" so I couldn't get closer to it.

I must have shot around 100 pics and I believe this is one of the few shots that could be salvaged from that day, but still, it was a fun experience with some very rewarding results (if I do say so myself).

Had I been more prepared, I might have read this article from digital photography school FIRSTand maybe I could have walked out with a better shot: How to Photograph a Spider’s Web

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Rock on

Rock on, originally uploaded by ZERO CEM.
Pictured here, is the entrance to the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster (feat. Aerosmith) in Disney's Hollywood Studios.

I took this picture on my recent trip to Orlando, but I'm sorry to admit I didn't actually got on the roller coaster this time.

This coaster is particularly special to me. It's the first coaster with inverted loops that I ever rode. Before that it was just regular wood, boring coasters (well, I actually know some pretty awesome wood roller coasters, but go with me on this ok?).

This year, instead of riding the coaster, I had to settle with picture taking and a very nice Turkey leg (sold conveniently nearby) but fortunately enough, I've already moved on to other (dare I say better?) coasters... but that's a story for another day.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Ladders, hoses and little firemen

Future generation, originally uploaded by ZERO CEM.
Last Saturday January 15 2011, the Bellaire Fire Department held their first Open House since the station was renovated after the demolition of the old fire station on November 2009.

The morning was not all that nice (it was a gray cloudy day with a little threat for rain) but the warmth in the fire station made up for the weather (pun intended)

There was a little bit of everything, the fire trucks and ambulances were out in display, with the opportunity to actually get inside and know the insides of many of the vehicles (if the little ones allowed you of course), we got a tour of the second floor/living quarters which is a rare treat and we got to ask any questions we could thing of to the station staff.

We even got the chance to learn some history by examining the contents of a time capsule for two generations: the original time capsule was made on 1955 and on1983 when the Fire Station was modernized the capsule was opened and some extra items were added.

It was all in all a very pleasant and educative experience that will certainly keep me looking for more local open house events that might provide good opportunities, not only for photography but to learn about new things.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

It's a girl

It's a girl, originally uploaded by ZERO CEM.
Recently, a very good friend of mine has been blessed with the birth of a beautiful baby girl and I just had to make a post on it.

Congratulations and I hope the best for you and your family.

Friday, January 14, 2011


Magical, originally uploaded by ZERO CEM.
Hogwarts Castle! Stands tall at the far end of Universal Islands of Adventure in the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter section of the park.

The place is really magical, realistic and very well made... and also extremely crowded!! When I was in line to enter, I thought I was in line to enter the attraction that is inside the castle but nooo... I was only in line to enter to the Wizarding section, there was an extra 110 minutes wait to go into the ride, not to mention even the shops had lines just to be able to go into them.

Eventually, I did manage to get into the shops, the ride, try butterbeer (frozen and cold), pumpkin juice, the whole experience and I had to admit they were all worth it... once... I hope the hype about this section of the park really goes down by the next time I go to Orlando so I can at least go to take pictures without needing to wait in line first.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Back in time

Dragonflies on lily, originally uploaded by ZERO CEM.
Today's post is an "oldie but goodie". It's actually from the first photos I took when I received my DSLR and started going out just to get pictures.

I went out that day to a nearby lake because... honestly, it was the only thing outside home that seemed to be any interesting at all.

I went there and I noticed the lily ponds and as I started approaching them I saw that some dragonflies were going from flower to flower so I did my best to get as close as possible without scaring them away to get a nice shot and here's the best one I got (with a little editing done).

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

French snack

French snack, originally uploaded by ZERO CEM.
Here's another pic from my holiday trip to Orlando.

This time it's a tasty pic of the Boulangerie Patisserie in France pavillion at Epcot center in Orlando and also one of my favorite places to eat at Disney.

The line is always lengthy for this small bakery in the middle of the streets of the artificial France but it's always oh so worth the wait to indulge yourself.

My personal favorites are the palmier (Elephant ear), Napoleon and the Rustic ham and cheese tartine (the later just discovered on this trip) but I've had very pleasant experiences with everything I've tried.

If you stop around Epcot and you like to indulge yourself this should be a must stop.

Also, if anyone reading has already eaten here you could share your personal favorites with us.

Here's a sample of the Palmier and Napoleon:
Sweet treats

Monday, January 10, 2011

Cool cats

Cool cats, originally uploaded by ZERO CEM.
Past saturday (January 7 2010) I stopped by the Magnificent 7 Ice Sculpting competition at discovery green in Houston TX; where 7 of the nation best ice sculptors turn some boring piles of ice into beautiful sculptures.

Pictured here is part of the winners sculpture along with the model used for inspiration. The only title I could find for the sculpture is "Tiger Chasing Rabbit" (rabbit not pictured) and the artist responsable (and winner of the competition) is Buddy Rasmussen from San Antonio, TX.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Mischief of ballons

Mischief of ballons
Originally uploaded by ZERO CEM
I had the opportunity to play with a Borrowed Fisheye lens during my last Disney vacation so I tried to get a different perspective on some of the disney parks icons and, here's a good example: a fisheye view to the mickey mouse balloons in Main St USA.

The wind was blowing the ballons down so that allowed me to be close enough to get this shot with a Sigma 4.5 fisheye.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Super Holiday Present

So... the 2010 Holiday season is over and it seems that I might have done something good last year :D
First of all, shortly after starting this blog with Zero my Canon Powershot G3 died somewhere between Florida and San Antonio TX.
We went on a trip to Six Flags a week before Halloween and when I took out the camera to shoot some pictures of the park I noticed every single shot I took was somehow.. completely... white.. at first I thought I must have set something wrong so I started messing with the configuration and since nothing was fixing the problem I switched to the old trusty Auto mode but to my surprise nothing happened... after a while I found out the diaphragm was no longer closing correctly causing every photo to be over exposed.
Being and old camera from 2002 with very low specs for today's standards (4 megapixels) I did not even tried to check how much would it cost to fix it, I have the feeling that it would be cheaper to buy a new point and shot with higher resolution (which we already had).
Well that was it for me and my photography hobby, I tried using the point and shoot a few times but the camera was doing it's stuff and the results were not what I wanted..

Goodbye old friend
Fast forward to Dec 2010, I got a very very very interesting present courtesy of my parents, a new DSLR that would help me continue with Photography.. I'm very exited with the new gear and I will be trying to make the most out of the camera, although in this case the issue is the other way around, the photographer might not be good enough but I'll try to change that.

Xmas & more present
I had to by a few things for the camera, a new bag, a lens hood and a filter but that's the way things are; I still need to get a new tripod, my old one is not made for a heavy camera and maybe a lens or two, if Zero is right this might be the beginning of an spending spree. hehehe..