Some of my favorite things in 2009

I thought it might be fun to wrap up 2009 with a couple of lists of my favorite things! So here goes…

My 5 favorite songs of 2009
Based on number of plays in iTunes….

  • Brand New Day, Ryan Star
  • New Day, Tamar Kaprelian
  • Right Now, Ryan Star
  • Honest I’ll Wait, Lovehammers
  • Neverfall, Lovehammers

My favorite blog posts by other people in 2009
A very long list….

And finally, my 5 favorite photos of 2009
Based on how I feel today, it could and probably will change tomorrow…

Snow in Idyllwild // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Wiltern Theatre // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsWiltern Theatre // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Mount Rubidoux // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Nathan // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Merry Christmas, 2009

Christmas AngelHope everyone is having a joy filled Christmas! With loads of homemade cookies, a Christmas ham with all the trimmings, and maybe a candy cane or two…

See you next year!

Lake Elsinore, California

Lake Elsinore, California

Crescent Bath House, Lake ElsinoreI’m a fifth generation Californian on one side of my family, and a fourth generation on the other side – and I grew up in San Diego County – but there’s still a lot of Southern California that I’ve never seen – like Lake Elsinore!

I’d always heard negative things about Lake Elsinore – over the years I’d heard that the lake was drying up, that it was polluted, that the fish were all dying and floating on the surface of the lake, that the population was made up of drug dealers and gang-bangers, and finally that the city itself was really ugly and should be bulldozed. Well guess what? All the rumors were WRONG!

I needed to get from Riverside to Orange County a couple of months ago, and Google Maps suggested the Ortega Highway – which sounded great with me! It’s this little two lane highway through the mountains – meaning you get to skip the freeway, and it’s much quicker, and it’s beautiful – lots of oak trees up there!

It was a Sunday morning, and I was looking forward to the drive, but the biggest surprise was when I got to Lake Elsinore and spotted Main Street – vintage buildings, most from the 1920’s and one really special big Victorian building on a side street, with spires on top. I didn’t have time to stop and explore then, but I was thoroughly intrigued! So when I got home, I Googled! Turns out Lake Elsinore is a lot more interesting that I was led to believe!

The big Victorian building with the spires on top is actually a local landmark – it’s the old Crescent Bath House – there are hot springs all over Riverside County, and the town of Elsinore sprang up 1883, because it was the location of one of those springs.

Crescent Bath House, Lake Elsinore

Crescent Bath House Porch PostCrescent Bath House

The Bath House was built in 1887, and enough of it remains as originally built, to get a pretty good idea of what it was like 122 years ago. It’s really fun to see! There are a series of small rooms, each with a small rectangular pool – totally unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Most of the pools are covered over now, but one remains in fairly original condition, and you can peak in and imagine what it must have been like to bathe there, in the naturally heated 132° mineral water. Must have been great! And maybe it can be great again? The building is for sale, so maybe someone with some vision will buy it and open a really upscale yet vintage day spa, with natural mineral baths!

Lake Elsinore, CaliforniaOther interesting facts about Lake Elsinore? It was originally named after the Danish city of Elsinore in Shakespeare’s Hamlet – the name was officially changed to Lake Elsinore only recently. The lake did actually go dry for most of the 1930’s and the 1950’s, and there was massive flooding in the 1980’s, but they monitor it now, to keep the water level constant. At one time it was a weekend getaway spot for Hollywood celebrities and one very famous evangelist – Aimee Semple McPherson – who built a castle up on one of the hills overlooking the lake.

And now? Well there are some nice restaurants downtown, a couple of clothing shops, a few antique shops, and a variety of businesses you’d find on any Main Street – a locksmith, real estate office, an accountant, a florist, and an ice cream shop – totally Main Street, America!

Oh, and there are a few dive bars around town – part of the charm of any place that gets tourists, is in the dive bars!

One final note… these images were shot yesterday, and yes the sky really was that blue and it really was that sunny and beautiful. Tomorrow may be the official start of winter and the shortest day of the year, but it’s been 80° and fabulously beautiful here all week! Couldn’t ask for anything better…

Concert Photography: Catch Flash & Light Trails

A concert photographer I follow named Todd Owyoung made a post today referring to “catchflash” – I’ve never heard of it referred to in that way, but I definitely use it! I would bet that every concert photographer has taken advantage of it, at some point.

It’s when there are lots of fans with point-and-shoots flashing all around you, and you catch some of that flash in your own shots. The longer your exposure, the more likely you are to catch some of those neighboring flashes. Usually I shoot at 1/80th or faster at a concert, so the timing has to be perfect for it to work – the fan and I both have to press the shutter at the exact same millisecond – so rare, and definitely not expected, but not impossible.

For me, “catch flash” usually just provides a little extra light from the front – and if the band is heavily backlit, that can be a really nice thing once in a while. But I like it even better when the “catch flash” comes from a fan on the side, and gives me a bit of unexpected rim light.

Quietdrive at The Glass House // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Here’s an example from last year that shows not only the effects of that rogue flash, but also the flash itself! I sort of like the burst of white light as a compositional element, but I really like the rim lighting it provides on the guitarist! You can see the rest of that concert – Quietdrive at Pomona – it was good lighting overall, but getting a little extra rim light once in a while is a nice bonus – especially since I like a lot of variety.

But it doesn’t have to be an unexpected bonus – you can court “catch flash” – just by using a longer exposure. If your exposure is half a second or longer, and if the fans are going mad flashing, it’s very likely that you’ll pick up some of that flash activity – you might even get multiple flashes from different directions. It’s an iffy process, since you have zero control – you have no idea when those flashes will be fired, or how strong they will be, so you just have to shoot a lot, and hope that some magic happens!

Thinking about “catch flash” today reminded me of how I used to chase light trails…

In the mid-1990’s, right when I was starting out, there was a big trend in concert photography – mostly with grunge bands. You’d load a roll of 400 ISO B&W film, set your shutter to one or two seconds, and set your flash to maybe half-power? I played around a lot with the settings – there was no one right way – especially with a process this experimental. Then you’d hit the shutter right when the guitarist was whipping his guitar around, and you’d freeze that initial moment, and then get wonderful light trails from the guitar head and any other highlights during the remaining second or two that the shutter was open. It was frustrating at times – sometimes I’d get nothing worthwhile on an entire roll of 36 exposures – but when it almost worked, it bordered on magical.

I never totally mastered the whole grunge/flash/light trails process – and I tried! I used so many rolls of film trying… But I knew then and know now, how much chance comes into play with a process like this. It does take skill and knowledge – absolutely! But yeah, luck also enters into it, when you’re dealing with a moving subject! Part of what makes a good concert photographer is knowing the exact right moment to squeeze the shutter – the peak moment – it’s a gift and a skill and it’s necessary to get really fabulous concert shots. But no matter how good you are at anticipating peak moments, that still doesn’t guarantee that the second or two after that peak moment will be interesting, and provide interesting light trails. So yeah, a lot of luck, to get that one perfect shot.

It’s been a long time since the mid-1990’s – so maybe it’s time for me give it another try? One of the benefits of film over digital, is that it handles over-exposure better – and when you’re dealing with super-long exposures and trailing highlights, you need that margin. But, film was also limited to 36 exposure per roll, and consequently I typically shot fewer frames than I do now with digital – and with this process you definitely need to shoot a lot, that’s the only way to get the odds in your favor!

I think maybe I’m going to court a few light trails the next time I shoot a concert…

Silver Elements Collection: The Fall Line

Back in September I did a session with Marty Casey in West Hollywood for his Silver Elements Collection – the fall line – and the images debuted on his site a few weeks ago, but I’ve never shared them here, so here’s a taste!

Marty Casey for Silver Elements // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

I love this scarf! It’s asymmetric and sort of intentionally frayed on one side, and has silver running through it – very very cool! And I love the shot as well – possibly my favorite image from the entire session…

Marty Casey for Silver Elements // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

This image was actually from an earlier session – also for Silver Elements – but it just debuted last month, so I figured I’d share it now too, since I love it so much! There’s no jewelry in it – but it’s beautiful, so I can live with that!

There are a lot more images at – you have to click on “more views” to get to see all the images – so a little extra work, but it’s worth doing! And if you’re in the holiday shopping mode, I’d definitely take a look – everything from the collection is really beautiful, and beautifully made, and distinctive – in other words, they make great gifts!

Blog Redesign & My New Feed

A few months ago I redesigned my main site – but I left the blog as it was – since I still liked the design, and it was working well. Why change what wasn’t broken?

But then I started to want some new features – like a list of my most popular posts – I’d seen that on other blogs and thought it was really cool and interesting. I want to know what’s most popular on other blogs, so why shouldn’t I showcase that on my own blog as well? And I really really really wanted comments to appear on my blog, right on that same page – I had begun to hate that a user had to click and go to in order to read what others had written. Those were my big two desires – a popular posts feature and embedded comments – but there were smaller desires as well, like wanting the flexibility of having both categories and tags, instead of just labels…

So it was time to migrate from Blogger to WordPress! But I have one minor glitch that I can’t seem to figure out? My old feed was at feed:// or feed:// – but the new feed is at a different location, and I can’t seem to figure out how to make it all work together…

What that means is that if you subscribe to this blog, using the old feed, it will no longer be updated. I may only have 23 subscribers, but I don’t want to lose a single one because I didn’t leave a bread crumb trail!

So please, if you’re one of my 23 wonderful beautiful fabulous subscribers – please update my feed address to the following!

And if you’re not one of my beloved 23, feel free to feel the love and join up!

Edited on 12.20.2009 to add: I think I finally figured this out! The old blog feed is now redirecting to the new feed, so all is well again. Yay!