DANO Pendygrasse

odds and ends from an unusual life

On luck.

Hi friends,

I think that if you are tall, naturally thin, or super handsome/pretty, then you are lucky. Also, being born in Vancouver is lucky, (of course, I’m biased). What these things have in common, is that you have absolutely no control over them. Good genes? Sure, but you don’t get to make that call in utero, it just happens, and you are lucky. Here are some things that are not lucky:

-Nailing a picture of a snowboarder in mid spin as he stomps a trick first try in fresh powder.

-Getting a job with a fearless company, doing something really unique and interesting.

-Spending time in a tropical destination doing things that you love.

These are all things that have been part of my life, and time and again I’ve been accused of being extremely lucky. I will concede this: I was lucky to be born where I was and I was very lucky to move to a mountain town just as snowboarding was gaining traction. But you know what? 2 thousand people moved to that town that year. Not to mention the hundred other ski towns that thousands of people moved to that season. And that many again the next. Were we all lucky then?

Good luck is when something positive happens TO you, and you have absolutely no control over it.

When something really positive happens in your life, and it is a result of planning, preparedness, and foresight, that isn’t luck. I think that “unlucky” people have often been right in the crosshairs of “luck”, but failed to be “lucky”. Why is that? Because “lucky” takes balls.
Often times, six months before you become “lucky” you are presented with a decision that is “terrifying”. The difference between the people who find the luck and those who don’t then, is often intuition and courage. It takes a lot of nerve to take a chance on something instead of sticking with what is time tested and proven. It takes a different kind of thinking to drop everything to chase a dream for a while. You have to be prepared for the worst, have a good plan, and then work like your life depends on it. Just to be lucky.

People often remark to photographers “you must have a really good camera.” They have the best intention, but this is pretty insulting to us because it equates the quality and value of your work to a purchased item of equipment. Professional photographers have professional cameras, but often that is a function of durability and ease of use as much as anything else. These days there are hundreds of consumer cameras that take pictures as good as professional cameras, they just may not last as long.

That’s why I find the “lucky” tag to be insulting.
I’ve taken so many chances in my life, and some of them have worked out spectacularly, but sometimes I’m unemployed, running out of money, and feeling creatively bankrupt. Nobody is calling me lucky then. I have been told time and again that I’m lucky to spend so much time in Roatan, diving several times a day in a tropical paradise. Well that luck has come with a price tag too, (try to maintain a normal career when you disappear for months at a time!) but I just nod and suggest that “you should try it, all it takes is to go there.”

With the exception of where I was born and a few other minor details, I’ve made my luck with risk taking, hard work, and a self reliance and intuition that I value more every day. Finally, a quote attributed to the American film producer Samuel Goldwyn:

“The harder I work, the luckier I get.”

Right time, right place? Sometimes you just have to be in the right place and hang around long enough for it to be the right time.

Switch: Canon G9 to Panasonic GF1

From Canon G9 to Panasonic GF1

warning: this blog contains photo geekery, pictures of flowers and real opinions.

I loved my Canon g9. I shot the hell out of that camera. In fact, I bought a spare, that’s how much I loved it. I walked around with it all the time, bought an underwater housing for it and found myself falling in love with photography again, largely as a result of having a very versatile and capable camera with me at all times.

After a couple years of non-stop use though, I started to see some of its limitations and when I started to see the reviews of the micro four thirds cameras, with their relatively large sensor and ability to use high quality lenses, I felt the very real pangs of camera envy growing.

I read review after review, dug out my old Contax G2 with its 45mm f2 and 90mm f2.8, read reviews of all the adapters, looked at shots and video clips and opinions on message boards…I obsessed. Then after I got home from Sweden this year, I pulled the trigger. I ordered the GF1 with the 20mm f1.7 and the 7-14 f4 from
“The Camera Store” in Calgary. I like supporting a small non-chain camera shop, and the fact that they support my friend Mark Gallup clinched it for me. The price was as good as I could find in Canada and from the time I hit the “buy” button until the time it was in my hands was about 4 days. My review of “The Camera Shop” is 10 out of 10.

So you get a new camera…what next? Charge the battery, read just enough of the manual to take a picture, and shoot the first thing you come across. I walked out on the deck, cranked the 20mm wide open and shot the garden. Then I shot the dog. Then I took some video. I’m sure you know this story. I worked my way through the ISO settings, shot inside and out, checked the close focus distance and started to download the shots to take a peek.

The 20mm, wide open at 1.7, 1/1600th ISO 100. Looks pretty good eh?

100% crop of the above image with no sharpening, noise reduction or whatever. Hmmm. Nice.

This is what my patio looks like with the 7-14 on 7mm, f4, 1/2000. Note the interesting distortion and fabulous teak patio furniture.

My computer didn’t recognize the rw2 files. I use CS3 and bridge. I like it, don’t try to convert me. I’m happy. I used to be able to download, rename, convert to .dng and add metadata all in one step, but obviously I was going to have to change my workflow. After some tinkering I figured out how to convert to .dng, and realized that for my needs, mpeg was going to be way easier to deal with than avhdc codec for video format. So now my downloading takes a little longer. The “Silkypix” included software has a smattering of followers and supporters so I downloaded it, but the UI turned me off. I might get there eventually, but I’m too impatient to learn a new system right now.

Eventually I ended up with the .dng files that my computer knew what to do with and I was ready to get started. And the files were good. First the 20mm lens. It’s sharp as shit. Wide open sharp, stopped down sharp, really good. It’s also fast, and that, combined with improved performance at higher ISO compared to the G9, makes this setup a killer in dim light. Which is good, because I’m not that enamoured with the GF1 onboard flash.

The 7-14 is not as fast, but it’s a really nice lens. It’s expensive though, and I probably should have thought about some longer lens options before I got something so specialized. I did however, have to shoot some house photos for a Real Estate listing the day after I got it, and found it to be pretty much the perfect lens for the job. No barrel distortion makes for a nice open room without the freakshow angles. I haven’t really done a ton of walking around with it yet, but I liked it for landscape and environment shots when I was

Shows the whole room without the crazy distortion of a fisheye.

I didn’t use this one for the listing, but I like the symmetry.

So one of the things I was most excited about with this camera was the ability to use some of the lenses from my old Contax G2. I read extensively about the pros and cons of all the adapters, and it sounds like some of them were evolving as I was reading, but I eventually settled on the Metabones because of its large focusing ring. (Bought on ebay, shipped from hong kong, took about ten days -ish)

After it finally arrived, I was back out on the patio, shooting the garden, checking out the specifics of the lenses and trying to get used to manual focus with and lcd and 90mm that is equivalent to 180mm on 35! Here is what I have to say about all that. Handheld is really hard with the 90mm. The GF1 helps you to manual focus by zooming in on the screen, and it’s really effective, except that when you are using such a long lens any minute movement from your hand translates to a drastic shake on the screen. Is it impossible? No, of course not, and I have used the 90mm quite a bit, but it is difficult. So I mentioned it. You could easily solve this problem with a tripod, but then you’re carrying a tripod. The 45mm was quite a bit easier to focus because of its shorter pull and it is a pretty amazing piece of glass. I leave the adapter on it most of the time.

Back out to the garden with the 45mm. OOOOooooooo!

100% crop. No processing.

The process of shooting slows down with the manual focus prime lenses, and for some this defeats the purpose of a small, high quality camera. I admit, when I’m out walking the dog with my wife and she’s just trucking away, I often have mere seconds to compose, focus and shoot before being left behind. In that situation the Zeiss lenses aren’t my go to choice.

No chance I’d be pulling out my DSLR in this situation. 20mm, 1.7, 1/25th with +2/3 stop exposure comp

I found the autofocus to be extremely fast and accurate, catching moments like this where the g9 would have lagged.

So here is the crux of the issue; when does your small camera become too big? That’s obviously different for everyone, but for the GF1 to be truly portable for ME, the 20mm is the lens I’m working with. When you start using the other lenses it becomes a whole different class of camera. And that’s not bad, because the quality is in a whole different class. But I miss the versatility of the G9’s zoom relative to its body size.

I went by the Monster office the other day and there was one of the MTB athletes in there. They needed a quick portrait for the website and I had my GF1 and 20mm. In 5 minutes, with ambient light, I had a shot I was happy with. To me, that tells the whole story. Could I have got it with the G9? Well sure, I mean, they’re all just cameras, but the quality of the image with the GF1 is better and I feel way more confidant pulling it out to get the job done.

This isn’t the shot, but you get the idea.

There have been lots of times when I have wished that I still had the G9 in my pocket, but so far I still reach for the GF1 when I’m walking out the door. I have lots of opinions and impressions, if I haven’t covered something that interests you, leave a comment.


GF1 Pros:

Image quality
Lens quality and variety.
Speed of operation

G9 Pros:

Camera size

Everyone loves sunsets

Long exposure with the GF1 balanced on a mossy rock and 2 sec. self timer. 1 sec, f22.

The 7-14 excels at this sort of thing.

Nice light in the woods.

Black and white? I hear the black and white mode that’s built in is nice. Haven’t tried it yet.

tough week

One of the weird things about theft is the unforeseen consequences that go along with it. My truck and snowmobile were stolen from the front of my building this week. This in itself was devastating but pile on top of it the fact that I was on my way to shoot for a job that I really need to finish, and as result, I missed the best day of the week. That's not the end of the world, but it stings and puts me even further behind on an increasingly huge workload.

I lost that whole day. I lost half a day dealing with ICBC and police. I have lost my ability to get to and from my work at a time when I desperately need to be mobile. But worst of all is the fact that I am mad and disheartened and I have no ability to be creative when I am angry.

I tend to portray myself as a pretty happy guy on this blog. For the most part that is true, but I am a reformed cynical punk rocker angry kid mad at the world, and that guy is lurking just below the surface at all times. When he gets out, I tend to not be very fun to be around. He was knocking on the door with a crowbar this week begging me to come out and play.

I took a few days off from blogging because I didn't want to vent here, and I'm glad I did. There have been a couple of really generous people who have offered to help and that has been a little bright spot in a dark week. I have about six weeks left in the season and I feel like I am at square one. I've been trying to be a better person in the last few years and to have this shit come down just days after raising a bunch of money for my favourite cause is one of those things that makes you scratch your head.

The things I don't know.

I might as well admit right here and now that I don't know squat about photographers. I mean, other photographers. Well, that's not entirely true, I've learned a lot in the last couple years, but for the longest time I didn't know any important photographers beyond Ansel Adams. And that was just fine with me. I lived in a bubble and I liked it. When my shooting started evolving from pure "action sports" into something a little more advanced, I wanted keep the process as untainted as possible. I was really afraid of being overwhelmed by an influence and becoming derivative as a result.

In the last few years I have seen young action sports photographers take unique ideas and recreate them, and pass them off as their own. I think it's totally reprehensible, but the shots are getting published, so I guess I have a higher standard for originality. There is a lack of shame about it to, as if the copyist is entitled to the concept simply because they've seen it with their own eyes. The entitled generation has an entirely different value set and it's interesting to see how they interact with the establishment. I'm sure that at some point I'll see the bigger picture, but right now I just see selfish kids who only know how to take.

One day about a year and half ago, I was showing my friend Tim Zimmerman a bunch of my older non-action sports shots as I scanned them and put them online. He said something like "whoa, Jay Maisel influence eh?" I said: "Who?"

This is exactly what I was trying to avoid, and it didn't work at all. Without ever having seen the man's work I was being compared to him, and I was pissed off. Well in a very short time I completely changed my tune. I stopped being afraid of influences and started to embrace them. Of course, I'm not interested in recreating anyone's photo, but I've gained a lot by looking at peoples' process. In fact that is what led me to finally take a workshop last spring after avoiding them for 15 years. And of course, I learned a ton. Maybe not just from Heisler, but also from some of the other people involved. Just watching other people work changes how we work. We see solutions to problems we've been having. We learn little tricks. Questions that we have are answered and inevitably we have that moment of "Ah Haaaaaa!"

During the Heisler workshop I met Jay in the flesh, his unmistakable marble mouthed commentary sharing the little bits and pieces that make up who he is. It was a brief encounter and he wouldn't be able to pick me out of a lineup, but it completed the transition out of my bubble.

Yesterday Jay shared a little bit more at Scott Kelby's excellent blog and it's worth a few minutes. In the end, I don't want to take Jay Maisel's pictures, I just want to make pictures like Jay Maisel does. The way he works suits my style perfectly. However, I fear that he is last of a breed and we're less likely to see his kind of work much from my generation. (Although I'm sure a few of the entitled kids are walking around his neighbourhood looking for his shots and trying to identically recreate them to call them their own.) I understand that there probably isn't much chance that this body of my work will ever have a showing at the VAG, but that's not the point. I am compelled to shoot like this and have to keep doing it.

Here are a couple links to things about the show this weekend. See you there:

The Pique



A portrait of a friend.

Today I'm posting a picture of my friend Jon. He will inevitably hate the fact that I chose this portrait, but everything he hates about it is why it's going up. I don't get to shoot pictures of my friends nearly enough, and some simply despise having their photo taken, much like I do. Jon is different, he loves being in front of the camera, becomes a total ham the instant a lens is on him, and the results are always amazing. He however, feels like the morning after a one night stand, with lots of hand wringing and "i can't believe I did that". Within minutes of taking this shot, Jon was down to his cherry red Y-front undies, and everyone in the studio was on the floor laughing.

Jon can't make it to my wedding, we haven't seen each other in a couple years now, and I miss him like a brother. This picture makes me feel like I do when we're hanging out. I'm pretty much always smiling around Jon.

Thanks buddy.


Shoes from heaven

Sometimes I get packages from manufacturers. This is one of the strange and wonderful things about being a photographer in the action sports industry. I almost never ask for things, because I feel really fortunate, and I don't like waste, so I don't want to get a lot of stuff that I don't really need in the first place. When I do, I can always find someone who needs it, so it never goes to waste, but still, I don't like to ask.

Nike 6.0 has been sending me stuff on a regular basis, and at this point, with the exception of my slip-on Vans, flip flops, and New Balance dog walking shoes, I pretty much rock Nike 6.0 all the time. I like almost everything they send me, with very few exceptions, but sometimes they just get it so damn right that it is like they are reading my mail. I just got another package, two hoodies, super subtle logos, in black and green. My favourite shirt colours, and then there are the shoes. Black and white and red as far as the eye can see, and hightops.

Life is so sweet. Now if I could just get all the people who owe me money to pay up, everything would be perfect.


Meltdown and rebirth.

Sometimes I get in so deep with all the things that need to be done, that I stop taking pleasure in anything. I’m literally checking things off a “to do” list from the time I wake up until the time I go to sleep. That’s when I usually end up exhausted, on a couch, feeling like death warmed over and wondering what the hell is going on.

The other day we shot a really long day, and despite the crazy weather, I managed to get some really good action, as well as some other interesting stuff. (more on that in a second)

So in this long day, I was mostly cold, didn’t eat or drink enough, and when I finally got home after midnight, couldn’t sleep. I woke up the next day feeling like I had been run over and couldn’t do anything. I just sat there, unable to find motivation for even the simplest task. So I threw in the towel and called it a recovery day. Just what the doctor ordered.

The next day I woke up and had a whole new attitude. I spent all day
building, which I enjoy anyway, but I took an enormous amount of pleasure in simple things. I slowed down my life a bit, hit the reset button, and started to like doing everything.

It’s not easy to stay positive when I feel overwhelmed by work or whatever, and lately, with all the bad weather that this spring has brought, I’ve been pretty frustrated with the job part of my job. The shooting part is a
welcome relief, but the work part is getting less and less rewarding. When that balance gets out of whack and there isn’t enough creative and too much office, I’m ready for a change.

Anyway, this is a long ramble that essentially says; take a day off, reassess, and try to find pleasure in the process. The exciting and rewarding parts of life can seem few and far between, so for now, I’m looking for more fulfillment in the mundane.

And now for a shot from the other night. After setting up our shoot, the fog rolled in and shut us down for a while. Walking around the lights that were set up for the film I saw my shadow projected onto the fog bank. It was pretty cool so I shot it for a while. Then I used it to do some cool portraits with Mathieu Crepel. But you’ll have to wait for those.


parking lot gold

Driving home from California this past December, I stopped in Roseville, or Rosedale or some other “Rose” town in Southern Oregon, to meet Colin and Livi for breakfast. It was a gloomy day and within the next several hours I would encounter some of the fiercest driving conditions I’d ever seen, torrential rain of biblical proportions.

We stopped at one of those “family restaurant” type places that are everywhere out there on the interstates. As I got out of the truck, a fleck of colour on the pavement caught my eye.

Remember back in school, picture day? Remember how you would choose the package of pictures you wanted and when they came, you would cut out the wallet sized ones and write something on the back and share them with your friends. It became a big deal if you got that certain girl’s picture and if she wrote something flirty on it you would read it several times over the next week to try to distill new meaning from it. Maybe that was just me.

So I glance down to see one of those pictures, a girl, ground into the dirt and the wet of the parking lot. I didn’t think too much of it, but while we were eating it sat there in my mind and I mentioned it to Colin and Livi. I decided I would have to take a picture of the picture, so after breakfast, there I am in the rain, down in the wet dirt trying to take this picture. I wonder what the story is behind that picture. I wonder how she ended up discarded in the parking lot of some generic freeway diner.

As I was pulling away, shaking the rain out of my hair, Colin phoned my cell. “Hey man, did you take a picture of that picture?” Yup. I did.