A Summer That Won’t Suck, Outing 3


Yesterday we logged just under 100 miles in our adventure down south to San Clemente. This is when we’re happy to have such a fuel-efficient little vehicle, even if Anthony is starting to have difficulty fitting in the back seat. He’s a tall kid.

Today, we headed the opposite direction and hit a few places we hadn’t been to in a long, long time.

First on the list: the historic Original Farmer’s Market in Los Angeles, which was and still is a place where Hollywood luminaries spend their day. It’s not like I would recognize any of today’s stars but it’s cool knowing that folks like Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, and The Beatles strolled through there.

And remember when I said we hadn’t been there in a long time? Here’s a shot of Anthony I took the last time we were there. I was testing out a film camera I had recently acquired.

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He doesn’t even remember being there. Honestly, I’m not quite sure it was even in 2009 but I do know it was a long, long time ago when you compare it to the picture I took today:

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A little difference, no?

At any rate, we had planned to arrive at their opening time of 9am. Amazingly, we did just that. If fact we were so early that we parked in the regular parking lot and not the structure at The Grove, a stretch of stores located next to Farmers Market. There aren’t many there that interest me and it’s nowhere nearly as interesting.

Farmers Market, on the other hand, is a photographer’s dream.

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There is color and interesting subject matter everywhere you look. In addition, it’s a place where the art of the hand-painted sign comes alive.

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I love typography and art, so seeing all of these signs is always a real treat. And if the sign wasn’t painted by hand, it looked like it was a remnant of a time when there was still a sense of pride in sign-making, even if machines were starting to have an impact.

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Look at that sign. Those letters look like something from the credits of Gilligan’s Island and they might just serve you drinks in a coconut with a straw. I absolutely love this stuff.

Then, of course, there’s the food.

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We bought a handful of meringue cookies from Normadie Bakery along with a fresh baguette. It was about the cheapest transaction we had while there because most of the other stores are pretty expensive. You know, tourism and all.

Pizza, seafood, Chinese…you name it, they have it. In the end, we opted for Mexican from a place called Loteria Grill. I almost had to – their booth is decorated with the likenesses of cards from the famous game, some of which I’d never seen.

And the food wasn’t too bad, either. Did someone say chicken tacos?

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We stayed just long enough to do a bit of shopping, take an abundance of photos (sorry, my fault), enjoy our lunch, and just be a part of what’s made Los Angeles famous since 1934. But it was getting hot so we decided to move on.

I had asked the family if there was anything in particular they wanted to see in the Hollywood area. They didn’t so with me being familiar with the area, I just went in whichever direction I thought would be interesting.

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Taken by Ann, this shot is of the Jim Henson Company lot. Before that, it was home to A&M Records which was co-founded by Herb Alpert. And while the list or artists who called A&M their label was impressive, this lot was also home to Charlie Chaplin Studios before that. If walls could talk, indeed. (Granted, Chaplin’s films were silent…)

As we meandered our way through Hollywood, the family caught a glimpse of the Hollywood sign and even though we were still way down the hill, they’d never seen it that close. I had to change that.

I kept driving and pointing out places such as Hollywood High School which has its share of famous alumni. Then I got to Beechwood Drive and made a left. That’s the main way to get up there.

And the streets are super-narrow and filled with tourists and people walking/hiking. That’s fine. I knew where I was going.

Once I got to Ledgewood, I made a right and took it as far as I could go which has been a dead end for years. You could once park and take pictures but residents put an end to that a long time ago, so I made a left and wound my way around to a decent vantage point.

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Taken from Lake Hollywood Park, this is about as close as anyone can get (legally at least). And what, you didn’t know there was a lake up in those hills? Silly you.

This was about it for the day. I still had to head over and help Mom move some stuff around her place since they are remodeling her apartment complex. So we hopped on the 101 and headed back home – but I made one more stop.

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Located in Downey, CA, this here is the oldest operating McDonald’s in the country. It was dangerously close to being demolished after the Northridge earthquake but fortunately, was saved. They have menu items most other locations don’t have and their food seems to be better. Must be that oh-too-cool retro vibe.

So by the time we got home, we had logged about another 90 miles in this, A Summer That Won’t Suck.

And so far, every single one has been worth the effort.

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 Quality Not Quantity 


As my restraint from posting on Facebook continues, I’m realizing that I’m not missing it a whole lot. That’s mostly because I grew tired of idiotic stories that local media thinks I should be paying attention to, like the woman who took a selfie in what she thought was her daughter’s dorm room — only it wasn’t.

That’s apparently “news” in this day and age. Before social media and the importance of taking a selfies, it would have just been a campfire story handed down from one generation to the next.

“Did I ever tell you what your great-grandmother did when I was in college?”

There’s a lot to be said about having a personal story to tell rather than watch it become a viral sensation that shifts our focus away from more important matters of the day.

You now, like the Running Man Challenge.

But meaningless stories aside, I’ve also come to realize that there’s a good chance that my friends probably don’t really care about what I’m eating or where I am at the moment. Many of us have become so focused on the immediacy of sharing the moment rather than taking the time to live and enjoy it.

That’s the point I’m at now. We no longer need Big Brother because we’ve become him.

For example, yesterday we went for a little road trip to the local beach community of San Clemente. That’s the birthplace of Rainbow Sandals, a high-quality flip-flop that will last you longer than you’d ever imagine. I own about four pairs and ended up bringing home another pair today as did Ann.

After buying our Rainbows, we did some shopping at the new outlets around the corner.

And during that whole time, I didn’t use my phone to take a single picture. That’s because I brought my camera with me.

My reason for doing so was simple: instead of just instinctively (and more often than not, thoughtlessly) taking a picture with my phone, the camera makes me think harder about the composition and in turn keeps me focused on, and honest about, the moment.

I find my subject. Compose the image. Check my shutter speed. Zoom in as I see fit. Grip the camera tight, hold my breath, release the shutter.


The moment, captured, with me in the middle of it.

There’s no “Share” button. No hoping I have a strong signal on my phone. No selfies with cans of chili in the grocery store. Just me and my camera taking the time to enjoy life and, of course, me writing about it hours later.


The moisture on this flower didn’t go unnoticed. It adds detail to the image. Was it hit by morning dew or did the sprinklers do this? Who knows for sure.


The Rainbow Sandals store has natural light beaming throughout which makes for excellent shooting conditions without a flash. Just a picture of footwear? Not really.

In the end, yes, I did share these moments after all. But it was much, much later in the day.

Because to me, being a part of and savoring the moment is much more important than having them posted to your timeline seconds later.

While I’ll still visit Facebook for pages I follow (that I have mostly in my Feedly feed anyhow), it isn’t for an extended period of time. Along with those “news” stories, there’s only Snapchat videos and/or face-swaps I can handle.

Wordless Wednesday: Tied Up


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Monte.

2014: My Year In Review


I know it’s a few days late but I like to wait until the year is over because hey, you never know what can happen, right?

Anyhow I bid you a very Happy New Year. And in keeping with what seems to be a new tradition since I’m always taking pictures of even the most minor event in my life with my phone, I’m going to share with you my photographic year in review* as I did last year. I enjoy doing these posts because I throw in a lot of crazy little things that I saw along with the big things, plus add often sarcastic commentary to go along with all of it.

Will 2014 compare to 2013? Will it be better or worse? You be the judge. So grab your choice of beverage, sit back, and enjoy the (possibly bittersweet) ride.

January 2014

We were invited to go to Disneyland and took the first of what would be, quite honestly, too many trips to Walt’s Magic Kingdom.

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I found a wallet and tried to return it, which turned into one clusterfuck of an ordeal. (Note that the term “clusterfuck” may appear many, many more times in this post – you’ve been warned!) The coins were found in the parking lot next to the wallet but I kept them. Half-dollars are cool.

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We made another trip to Disneyland a few weeks after the last one. It’s already too much.

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I had two of my photos posted in the local newspaper which recently shut down after only 20 months.

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February 2014

I discovered that the local church has parking dedicated to corpulent parishioners.

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In an effort to cut costs due to unemployment, we cut the cable cord and bought Roku boxes and digital antennae.

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Speaking of unemployment, I got a job the day after my birthday at a local grocery store where I tend to take selfies in the freezer.

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And speaking of birthdays, I turned 45 without much fanfare as don’t have my birthdate visible on Facebook. (Those who know, know.) I’m not a big birthday person and only posted this cryptic image on Instagram for people to figure out. I think only one person did.

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I celebrated Chinese New Year the way I did last year, by riding in the Chinatown Firecracker 30-Mile Bike Ride. It’s one of my favorite events but sadly, due to my part-time status, all of my events for 2015 have been put on the back burner. I may not do any if I can’t get the money together for them.

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March 2014

I participated in my second Coaster Run but only the 5k. It rained for most of it and was probably the most fun I’ve had doing an event.

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I witnessed one of the most amazing sunrises in recent memory.

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We switched from MetroPCS to AT&T using my new Corporate Discount through work. That, of course, required getting new phones.

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I decorated (read: wrote on) my first cake while working in the Bakery.

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After around a week of building, I completed constructing The Simpsons LEGO house.

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We celebrated Anthony’s 10th birthday at a local pizza place where his grandfather showed him how to score a bunch of tickets playing the Blackjack game.

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April 2014

While out for a run, I saw the Amityville Horror house being built in a local park.

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You know. Korean Doritos.

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We took one of two trips to the tide pools, one of our most favorite local spots.

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Sadly, on my Mom’s birthday, my Aunt Mary (seated) passed away. This was taken a year earlier at Mom’s surprise 75th birthday.

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May 2014

We were invited to go to Disneyland’s 24 Hour event and I was the only person in our group to make it to sunrise on Saturday (after arriving around 4pm Friday). I didn’t blog about it; I only posted my pictures on Instagram.

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June 2014

We discovered that there’s a Hello Kitty wine, but we don’t like Chardonnay. I’m more of a Merlot person now that I occasionally drink wine.

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We took our final trip to Disneyland.

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July 2014

I got this really creepy lenticular Jesus picture sent to me from a church that was begging for money. I was on their mailing list for a while and got all kinds of weird stuff sent to me, including a communion wafer.

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The door of the baler at work came down and smashed my fingertips. They were numb for about a month or so but are fine now.

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In an effort to earn a few bucks since I was (and still am) only working part-time, we sold our extra refrigerator. And you know what? That turned out to be a big clusterfuck as well!

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Only 17 months into our lease, we had to say goodbye to the Kia Optima. Working a minimum-wage, part-time job just wasn’t enough to make the payments anymore. It felt like a kick in the gut but it has turned out to be fine in the end. It also gives me yet another opportunity to say that Kia financing is the worst on the planet. Read this post for more information.

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The day we got rid of the Optima also ushered in a new day of motoring for me: I bought my Yamaha Zuma scooter which I still love. Payments are 1/4 that of the Optima and it is ridiculous on gas (between 65-80 MPG), meaning I’ve never put more than $3 in it since I’ve owned it.

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I applied for a job at Disneyland. I had the interview and was shortlisted then later offered a position. I turned it down for many a good reason.

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I got a second job someplace near and dear to my heart, which I quit after only one day of training. I’ve never seen the paycheck. I quit for many reasons, the main one being their ultra-strict policy on personal items and phones. It pretty much granted them the right to search my locker, backpack, and phone any time they wanted with no reason or cause. I’m an honest guy but their policy was way overboard for me, so I left.

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After a month of studying, I took the written exam for my motorcycle license and got my permit.

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August 2014

Anthony got his parakeets.

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I hit 100 miles on the scooter.

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We took a trip to Mattel, across the street from where I used to work.

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We paid a visit to the Queen

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…and her neighbor, a Russian submarine.

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My friend commissioned us to refurbish the sign for his restaurant. Here is the Before shot.

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September 2014

My “promotion” at work became official. But I still take selfies in the freezer.

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I was reunited with some friends from my old Catholic school whom I hadn’t seen in over 30 years.

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Remember the sign we were working on? Here’s the finished project.

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How YOU doin’?

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October 2014

The job allowed us to root for our favorite local team in the MLB playoffs, so naturally I did.

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My mad art skillz came in handy at work once again when I was asked to conjure up a sign for a our seasonal caramel apples.

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Catastrophe. Just a few days before participating in another event, I dropped my phone and rendered it useless.

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That same day, my scooter was vandalized by local school kids who don’t understand what it’s like to have their property willingly broken.

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Anthony ran in his second Aquarium of the Pacific Kids Run

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..and I did my second duathlon the following day. I did it last year and rode the bike tour the previous four years.

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I replaced my broken phone with this, the Samsung Galaxy Skyrocket II. It was such a horrible phone that I returned it the next day.

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It was replaced with the HTC one M7, an absolutely amazing phone.

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November 2014

I got a new camera and started shooting quality photos again. My first trip was a Dia de los Muertos event.

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A few days later, we made another trip to the tide pools where I messed with the different settings on the camera.

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Anthony and I took the train to the L.A. Auto Show where the camera performed well in every lighting condition.

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December 2014

Well, outside of Christmas, there wasn’t much to speak of in December so I don’t have many pictures for that month. It looks like 2014 had its share of highs and lows but naturally, I took the good with the bad and moved on.

By the way, I’m still on Facebook Vacation and enjoying it. It’s amazing how much you can do with your time when you don’t give it so much attention.

Anyhow, there’s my second annual Year In Review post and I hoped you enjoyed it. Here’s hoping my 2015 is less phone-breaky, scooter-pushy, and wallet-findy and that yours is everything you wish it make it to be.

*Selected events, of course. You don’t need to know about my doctor’s visits.

Back to Shooting


A few days ago I wrote about how my muse seemed to be stuck somewhere on the 110 near Staples Center, a metaphor implying that my creative side is just waiting for her to show up so that I can carry on with whatever I was meant to do on this cruel material sphere.

By the end of the post I decided that I can’t wait for her to show up; I had to be the one to make the move. And on Saturday, I did just that.

I was perusing the website of the Evil Empire for some reason or another, perhaps because I had been approved for one of their credit cards and was looking for some last-minute Christmas gifts. That’s right – last minute in October. We are DONE with our shopping before November as is always the case. We are by no means a Black Friday shoppers regardless of the bargain. Even better, we are not Thanksgiving shoppers because that shit’s just not right.

At any rate, I was looking at cameras because, above all else, I really miss taking great pictures with an DSLR. I had bought an Olympus EVOLT E-500 back in 2007 and I used it for the longest time until a little baby Monte decided to get all rubby against my wide angle zoom a few years ago, knocking it to the ground and pretty much destroying the insides. Digital cameras and lenses are nowhere near as durable as old film cameras. I’ve learned.

From that point on, although I still had a zoom lens, I gave up on DSLRs. It’s hard to shoot with only a zoom lens and most were out of my price range. The 8MP Olympus – the company has since trimmed down their camera line to only a few models – cost me well over $600 at Circuit City, a kit that came with the body and two lenses. Granted, you can now buy cameras of greater caliber for less than that but, as always, money was the issue.

But this time I had my Wally World credit card and was hoping to find one on the cheap. HA! How silly to think I could.

Or was it?

I came across one, the Nikon D3100, on clearance for $319: body, wide angle, and zoom lenses included. Even so, I debated about buying it because, you know, credit cards and all. I debated so long that by the time I threw it into my cart, I got this message.

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Aw man. I was crushed. I was this close to having the thing and missed out. Oh well, I guess it wasn’t meant for me to have another DSLR right now.

But I didn’t give up. I shopped the Walmart app which had several different models marked down for even cheaper, despite them only having one lens. I screencapped them the few I wanted and drove over to my local store to see if they had them in stock.

They did and I was happy. But when the associate was flipping boxes around in the storage cabinet, I noticed something: the Nikon D3100 set I had been looking for, the one that was supposed to be sold out online and in-store. No. Way.

I asked the associate if he could look up the price of the set and he told me that it was over $500 the last time he checked. If so, I would have to settle for the Canon Rebel T3i that he had in his other hand.

He scanned the Nikon D3100 bundle and *BOOM* it was $312, $7 less than the sold-out online price.

I’ll deal with the ramifications of credit card payments later. We normally pay them off each year once we get our tax refunds anyway. I whipped out my card and happily signed the cardholder agreement. I was officially back to shooting with a DSLR.

Of course, shooting it wasn’t immediate. I was going from one brand to another and naturally there is a learning curve with all the new bells and whistles that go along with it. Not only that, button placement varies from model to model. What was once the bracketing meter button is now an Info button and so on. I opened the box and gingerly unwrapped each piece of my new toy. I found the battery and charger and immediately plugged it in so that it could get a decent charge and I could test the camera.

About an hour later I put the battery in and went outside to see what it could do. Shooting in Auto mode, here’s one of my first decent shots.

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Why yes, it is an image of fall colors in the gutter after a small rain storm.

I continued to shoot in Auto until I could get a feel for button placement and functions. I tried a handful of lighting situations and most of the shots I took were mediocre at best because, well, Auto. But I have to admit that this takes pretty good shots in low light. This was with the candlelight and a small red bulb to the left off-camera.

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I was already feeling the creative juices coming back and I was so happy to get back to shooting with something other than a crappy smartphone camera because, let’s face it, they are all crap when compared to a device dedicated to doing only one thing: taking pictures.

Sunday came around we had some errands to run, namely buy groceries. You gotta eat. On the way back from the store, we passed Forest Lawn cemetery where Ann’s grandparents were laid to rest. I noticed that there was banner outside for a Dia de lost Muertos celebration happening at 4:30 that night. I thought it would be a great event to shoot and also experience something we’d never seen in person before. Ann, who hadn’t been there since her grandfather’s funeral, was reluctant but I made her go and see them. She needed to.

Before the event I could see her already tearing up with memories of the time she’d rather forget. I saw myself rolling her up the ramp in a wheelchair – she was on doctor-recommended bed rest while pregnant with Anthony – like 2003 was yesterday. It was getting harder for her as we got closer to the mausoleum where her grandparents rested.

But we made it and shed some tears and memories – and a few laughs knowing how mad Grandpa would be for her waiting 11 years to come see him. I can see him sternly standing there like a rock, at ease, shaking his head in disappointment. Once a Marine, always a Marine.

With our visit over, we headed outside and found seats for the event. It was, for all intents and purposes, a bilingual Catholic ceremony as I expected it to be. That meant it would be extremely long as Catholic ceremonies usually are. Plenty of time to take pictures, right?

One of the beautiful things about Dia de los Muertos is that it is a colorful event even with its somber tone. It’s a day when the wall between the spirit world and the real world are torn down and the living spend time with their loved ones who have gone before them. Food, music, and the deceased’s favorite items are shared and displayed on an altar built by their relatives. I couldn’t think of a better place to take pictures, and nowhere I would have rather been regardless.

Before the ceremony began, the audience could leave the name of their loved one on a tree for them to be included in a prayer service. And although I’m no longer Catholic, the feeling I got knowing that this was part of my heritage was overwhelming so I added Dad’s name to it and shed a few more tears.

(Note: In my haste, I seem to have forgotten that Dad was born in 1933. I’ll chalk it up to emotions. Sorry, Dad.)

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Once the event began, Anthony and I left our seats to stand near the altar and take pictures of the Aztec dancers and with the sun setting, the lighting was darn-near perfect.

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The dancers were amazing in the celebrating life/death cycle. Again, I’m proud to call this part of my heritage. Once they were finished, a priest took over the microphone and pontificated, in English and Spanish, about the usual Catholic theme: “Are you ready to die?”

I’m ready to live, thankyouvermuch. We made a hasty retreat to walk around and take more pictures.

By now, I was feeling comfortable with operating my camera and decided to take it off of Auto and go full Manual. Not only that, but full Manual with an external flash. Here’s how that went.

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In my eyes, few things are more beautiful than religious imagery and symbols. Although my beliefs have changes, I still find a bit of comfort looking at these objects. These were on a table under a canopy and I aimed my flash to 90 degrees to have it bounce off of the canopy, gently lighting up everything. Any other flash setting would have been too harsh for the subject matter.

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The priest speaks from the altar. I was at the last row of seating for this shot and the external flash did a nice job illuminating things just right.

And finally, this last shot of the night seems to be my favorite.

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The seated men are Forest Lawn officials and something about their chairs’ shadows struck me as I was wrapping things up. I couldn’t leave without this shot which was taken with no flash, using only the available lighting. They are listening intently to the priest, the sun is still setting, the colorful altar paying tribute to souls lost. This one pretty much captures the spirit of the entire event.

Oh and Anthony? His old man is teaching him to shoot with his old camera so he gets used to a DSLR which I gave him. He’s only 10 now but by high school, he’ll have more experience than I did at his age. He’ll be a pro.

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Here’s one of his shots from that night.

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I give him credit: moving objects aren’t always easy to capture but he did a fine job because like me, he will learn.

So with all that said, I made the decision to forget about my muse ever showing up at my door for tea and going right for the throat by making things happen on my own. I can’t recall the last time I felt this creative or artistic, plus showing Anthony the ropes of digital photography is something I’m really looking forward to.

And for what I’m already getting out of it, this may be the best $312 I’ve ever spent.

You can see the complete set of photos at this Flickr set.