Jimmy's blog
photography, robots, drawings, and other "art"

The Robot Etudes

May 10th, 2010

This blog usually functions as a journal for my photography endeavors, but I’m quite excited about this next project and figured it’s somewhat related that I decided to throw it in.

For the past three months architects and engineers students at the University of Pennsylvania have been working together on building mechatronic devices (think robots) to interact with actors in a play. Etudes were created and are loosely inspired by Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s dream. They will be performed this Saturday by the Pig Iron Theatre Troupe at the Harold Prince Theater of the Annenberg Center.

The very avant-garde Pig Iron Theatre Troupe is highly renowned so we are lucky to work with them and Shakespeare was a rad hipster in his day so brush up on them here and here.

Being a roboticist by day and photographer by night I’m always interested in mixing the art and engineering disciplines. Often though when I look around and find these two disciplines combined it dilutes the two and the sum is less than the parts. The result usually being mediocre engineering and crappy art. It is difficult to find the right balance in which one discipline not only does not take away from the other, but that it actually enhances.

Adding technology may be fun for engineers, but may not work theatrically. What architects want to do, may not work engineering wise. Were we able to additively combine engineering with architecture with theatre? I’ll let you decide for yourself. Reserve your tickets here.

Private Show

March 10th, 2010

Photographers always get front row seats. Or we get to hang out backstage with the band. But what’s best is that sometime we get hired and get our own private show.

Above: Timaree Schmit

The Sastras

January 7th, 2010

Meet my parents and my little brother. From left to right: Budiman, Marijetti and Johnny Sastra.


You must see these at higher resolution: papa, mama, the prince.

kids always steal the show

December 7th, 2009

The great things about kids is that they are so expressive. They seem to be in their own little world. Unlike grownups they don’t mind getting their picture taken. They’re not so self conscious and they’re usually not that shy.

I like to get down on one knee when I photograph them to make myself shorter and see the world from their perspective. This little man below was being spun around by his dad. I tried blurring the background to emphasize that.

Slow and steady sunset

November 24th, 2009

About two weeks ago I went to PDMA, a conference about innovation and I saw Guy Kawasaki speak about curve jumping: adopting the latest and greatest piece of technology to stay ahead of the competition. The analogy in photography is to find the newest piece of hardware, whether it’s a lens baby, some new light modifier, a lens with ultra sonic motor and built-in solar panels, who knows what’s next. It always takes time to learn how to use your new toys, and usually the learning curve is pretty steep. So it’s very tempting to get new toys because it can complete change your photography instantly. However, lately I’ve found it’s more important to be perfecting what I’m already doing.

So in this photo I have no new gadgets. Just trying to perfect this style of one flash to highlight the face, and what I call hyperreal post production. Hyperreal post production is when I load a picture into Photoshop and play around with the sliders for an hour. I don’t exactly understand how they manipulate the bits, but I’m getting a good intuition for some of them. Also my eye gets more sensitive to slight changes. Slow but steady progress.

This photo was taken at sunset. It is considered by many photographers the perfect time of day.


Mechanical Volleyball

November 12th, 2009

The Intergrated Product Design (IPD) program at my school is one thirds School of Engineering, one thirds School of Design and one thirds Wharton business school. To quote their website:

“… an opportunity to manifest a synthesis of art and technology and to push the envelope of design …”

Sounds like fun!

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Pictured above are students from Jenny Buck’s Creative Thinking & Functional Iteration in Design course. These machines are mechanical volleyball players powered by mechanical means only.

Pain for Gain

October 20th, 2009

A very eclectic group of friends stayed at my house this past weekend. My friend Andreas was visiting from Denmark and my roommate Neil had a bunch of friends over from all kinds of different backgrounds: Ireland, Australia, Panama, etc.

Neil’s friend Simon Davis runs a non-profit group called Pain for Gain, formerly known as ‘Masochists without Borders’. He got his friends together to raise money for building a school in Betivatu, a village in the Solomin Islands by cumulatively climbing the Art Museum steps a total of 800 times last Saturday here in Philadelphia. 800 Times being the equivalent of climbing to the top of the Mount Everest. It took this group of 5 heroes (Simon Davis, Neil Beeharry, Isis Philips, Melanie Funken and Dave Walsh) a total of 3 and a half hours to complete the challenge. Random passersby would come in and pitch in. Most notably Brian who is pictured below.

It was a cloudy and rainy day. So the sky was pretty much a giant soft box. No shadows or any interesting light. So I used my bare flash, hand held to cast some highlights and was able to catch Brian mid stride. You can even see a little drop of sweat coming down his face.


Check out Pain for Gain on their website or facebook page.

Snoot Portrait

October 8th, 2009

Andrew Rosenthal lately has me shooting for happier.com. It’s really nice to have shoots coming in regularly. They say the only way to get good at photography is practice, practice, practice and having someone call me on a regular basis holds me accountable to keep pushing that button with my finger. Thanks Andrew!

This time he had me shoot Dr. Martin Seligman, one of the leading professors in the field of positive psychology. This is a portrait I took yesterday that I really liked.

A snooted flash is placed at eye level about 3 meters to the right. Snooted means adding a tube to the front of your flash so the light comes out as a very narrow spot light. It’s zoomed in all the way at 105mm. When the flash is zoomed in all the way the light comes out in a very narrow beam and since all the light is concentrated we can set the power very low, 1/64 if I remember correctly. The exposure is set at the usual 2 stops below ambient. The other light sources are fluorescent lighting inside and daylight coming in through the window from outside. I pulled down the blinds to create a nice textured background and I was hoping to cast some nice subtle shadows which actually worked. Note the shadow lines on the back of his head.

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makin’ it

August 26th, 2009

I’ve been wondering lately what it takes to become a great photographer. I’m not talking about what it takes to do good photography. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with ordinary good photography and there are plenty of good stock, wedding, nightlife photographers out there, but I’m talking about great photography. Work that is significant. Work that changes photography. I’m talking Ansel Adams great. I’m talking James Nachtwey great.

I stumbled upon an earlier post of Chase Jarvis where he describes how to make it in the field of photography. It can be summed up pretty well in these two rules:

1. Be undeniably good.

Rather than asking how do I get clients? How do I meet the right people? How do I do this? Become so good other people can’t ignore you.  When you’re good people will come to you. Much easier than going out to parties and finding people and convincing them to work with you.

2. Dedicate at least 10,000 hours to whatever it is you’re looking to master.

This is pretty self explanatory. On the surface success always appears to happen overnight, but in reality it is always a slow process that gets started years before. We don’t get to see that part so usually people think success is a matter of luck or they look for that shortcut that’s gonna make them achieve overnight. To become so good that people can’t ignore you, you have to focus and dedicate years persevering and honing your skill.

In a separate post but I think it’s related, Chase comments on the video below. He talks about how it’s tough to be the first in any field but especially in the creative world.

It’s tough to be the first to drip paint on canvas and call it art,to be the first to take skateboarding as a lifestyle, invent the “ollie”, to be the first impressionist/expressionist/cubist, to be the first state to legalize gay marriage, whatever. It’s hard work going against the status quo. People will ridicule, point and laugh at you and often that’s as far as you get, but sometimes, sometimes, it pays off and it’s something really beautiful.

That really speaks to me as well and the dude in the video really nails it in terms of being the first, not caring what other people think and persevering long enough through some (if any) pointing and laughing. It only takes one person:

Paul Vernaza

August 22nd, 2009

Today I single-handedly started Paul’s professional photography career. Okay, maybe not really. All I did was buy a print of one of his photos see below. But technically this is the start of his professional photography career.

Here’s a link to his flickr feed. I like the composition as well as the way the light comes from the left and exists on the brighter end of the histogram, then creeps up to the darker end of the histogram on the right side. All that with natural light.


Paul works in my lab. Part of Paul’s thesis is on computer vision which is interesting to keep in mind while looking at his work. Also, Paul owes me $7 from dinner at Tiffin. (Tiffin being my new favorite Indian restaurant in Philadelphia.)