Friday, March 17, 2017

Almost Famous

See the guy in at the bottom of the photo? That's me at the NCAA Men's
Basketball Tournament after getting run over by a Florida State University basketball player who came running towards me with a full head of steam. He wasn't able to stop and literally went right through me as I was sitting on the baseline shooting Florida State's first round game.

It all happened in Orlando, Florida last night . I'm here traveling with Florida State as team photographer. Midway through the second half of the game against Florida Gulf Coast, FSU took off on a fast break and one of the players attempted to thread the needle with a tough pass that was beyond this player's reach. Rather than try to explain what happened, here's the CBS broadcast of what happened....

Right after it happened, I made sure the player was OK and then checked my camera gear. Everything was unscathed which let me breathe a sight of relief. I was unhurt and my equipment survived a pretty scary moment.

I then decided to see if I had gotten the shot I was trying to get just before the incident. When I looked at the back of the camera to preview whatever I had gotten, you could have knocked me over with a feather when I saw this...

The CBS cameraman to my left saw the image on the screen and asked me to keep it there so he could broadcast it. That turned into a novel segue for CBS to go to break and then show what happened once again as they came back from break - repeatedly showing me getting run over, and then showing how I got the shot.

Well, it didn't end there. ESPN then ran a mini feature on me getting run over on Sports Center this morning and articles are now popping up on Internet sites. This must be my 15 minutes of almost fame.

The moral of the story is no matter what is about to happen, keep shooting.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Smoke It - Creating Smoke In Photoshop

Creating a smoke effect in Photoshop - the final image
If you've ever attempted a studio photo shoot with a fog machine you know very well what a challenge it can be to create the mood you're after. Unless you're a glutton for punishment and have the patience of a saint, using a fog machine requires an assistant, someone to operate the fog machine while you concentrate on posing and shooting. That person must learn to divine how much fog to inject into the scene without overpowering the room with too much smoke. When that happens, if the studio is not equipped with a good ventilation system that can clear the smoke, you're in for some serious down time as you try to get rid of it. Then there's the challenge of making sure you're subject is in focus as your camera fights through the haze to correctly lock in on the subject and not the fog in front.

Before adding smoke (Left) and after adding smoke (Right) - 

While I'm a big believer in doing as much as I can in-camera as opposed to doing things in post processing, Photoshop can sometimes be just the ticket when you want to add a smokey mood to an image without the challenges of using a fog machine. Here's a step by step process that you can try, and it's not limited to portraits. You can use it on landscapes or anything else that tickles your fancy.

I've opened the RAW image in Photoshop after running it through Camera Raw and made my basic adjustments.

Since it's a portrait/beauty shot, I've touched up the skin and put the image through my usual beauty/portrait corrections. Now, for the smoke.

Step 1 - Create a duplicate layer of the background

Step 2 - Create a New Layer (click on the 2nd from the right icon at the bottom of the Layers box on the right of the screen). A white box will appear above the duplicate layer.

Step 3 - Change the Blending Mode from the default Normal to Soft Light

Step 4 - Click on the Quick Mask tool (2nd tool from the bottom in the Tool Menu at left, or use the shortcut - press the letter "Q")

Step 5 - Go to the Filters drop down menu, move the cursor down to Render, and then click on "Difference Clouds" when that menu opens

Step 6 - Don't freak out when you see your image covered in red blotches. When you remove the Quick Mask (click on the Tool again or press the letter "Q" again) the red blotches go away, replaced by marching ants in the pattern of the now-gone red blotches.

Step 7 - Go up to the top and open the Edit drop down menu. Click on "Fill" and then select "white" as your color. This will fill the areas delineated by the marching ants with white, but blended in a soft manner since your layer is set to "Soft Light" blend mode.

Step 8 - Generally, the "clouds" you have created will have to be made larger depending on the size of the Background Layer. If you want to make the "clouds" larger, make the image smaller in the Photoshop window and use the Edit - Free Transform Tool to enlarge the clouds as I've illustrated in the two images above.

Step 9 - Create a Layer Mask in the Clouds Layer (click on the 3rd icon from the left at the bottom of the right window while in the Layers Window). Using a brush set to a 10%-25% opacity and 0% hardness, selectively brush out those portions of the image in which you don't want there to be "smoke". In this image, I've brushed out the clouds from most of the face, less on the hair.

The final image
You can repeat this process as many times as you like depending on the look you are after. In the case of my final image (above), I created six different "clouds" layers of different sizes while brushing them out in different areas as I deemed desirable. The final step was to flatten the image and make final adjustments using the Camera Raw filter to adjust contrast, highlights, whites, shadows, blacks, and exposure.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Fields Data Recovery - The Biggest Scam On Earth

As much as it pains me to tell this story, I'm doing it in the hopes of saving anyone who reads this from being scammed by a company that preys upon people who are in a state of panic and are ripe for the picking - like I was a few months ago. And, if you're reading this, please share it any way you can. You never know who may someday be in need of data recovery from a computer, a phone, a hard drive, or anything that stores data and they should be aware of what a loathsome scam Fields Data Recovery is perpetrating on the public.

I had the misfortune of having a hard drive crash. It started to make funny whirring and clicking noises and like an idiot I had not taken the time to back it up. I panicked. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, this was a 3TB hard drive that had all of my images from the last couple of years. Everything.

Two years of work gone in the blink of an eye.

Fields Data Recovery Facebook Ad

I freaked out. Then, as if by divine intervention, I saw an ad on Facebook for Fields Data Recovery, a data recovery business that seemed to be exactly what I needed. I immediately went to their website and poured over the pages. The testimonials were music to my ears. Everything I read turned panic to hope.

Fields' Website. The testimonials are written by their own people.

I contacted them and spoke to the most pleasant young lady imaginable. "I'm so sorry to hear about your drive, but we've got you covered", she said. "Just ship it to us, our team of experts will inspect it, and within a few days we'll be in touch. While I can't make any promises, you're not the only one who we've helped and you stand a great chance of getting all your images recovered and transferred to a brand new hard drive. Did I mention there's no charge until we determine what needs to be done? You're under no obligation to pay us anything after we diagnose the issue and we quote you a price. From what you've told me, I'm guessing it will probably cost around $400.00 or so to recover your data, and that includes a new hard drive onto which your images will be transferred."

She was so reassuring, so nice. How could I go wrong? A new 3TB hard drive was $150.00 alone. $250.00 to recover my images was a lot of money, but well worth it. I shipped the drive off immediately and waited. 

A week later, Kris Nordberg from Fields Data emailed me in response to a call I made trying to find out if there was any news:


Hi Miguel,
Sorry, I was unable to call and reach you for a follow up. Our technicians have recognized a clicking noise- just like how you had described. We currently have your drive mounted a data extractor that can tell us what faults the drive may be experiencing (sic). I will let you know as soon as I have more updates. Please feel free to email or call me if you have any questions. 

Kris Nordberg 
Fields Data Recovery 727 N 1st St, Suite 320 St. Louis, MO 63102 

The next day, I received another email from Kris:

Our technicians have identified a mechanical fault with the drive. The drive is being moved into our clean room. I would assume that the drive will be needing a head swap. I'll let you know as soon as I have another update.
Kris Nordberg  
Fields Data Recovery 
Account Manager 
727 N 1st St Suite 320 Saint Louis, MO 63102 Phone: 866-879-1281

I replied, asking how much a head swap would run. He said that they typically start at $650.00 and go up from there. Ouch. This was way more than the nice lady had told me she thought it would cost to recover my images. And I still didn't know if the images could be recovered. So, I waited.  

A couple of days later, Kris called back. He said the drive needed the new parts. Before they would order them, I needed to pony up a $400.00 non refundable payment. As soon as I paid that, they would order the parts, install them, get the drive running and then perform a ghost image of the contents to see if any data was recoverable.

What could I do? If I didn't authorize the $400.00 payment, I would never know if the images could be salvaged. I agreed, and luckily (you'll see why in a bit) I made the payment over the phone using my American Express card. 

Time passed. I had heard nothing. Then Kris emailed me again. The parts had been received and the head swap was complete. Most important of all, the drive was running and Fields was conducting an imaging phase to ascertain what data was on the drive:


Hello Mike,
I hope you're doing well. I wanted to let you know that we are still going through an imaging phase with your drive. The drive itself is no longer making any clicking nosies (sic), and it spins at a healthy rate. We have identified that some of the storage regions (sectors) are being read at a slow rate. Once we have completely read the sectors we will be able to tell what information is recoverable. 
Kris Nordberg 
Fields Data Recovery 
727 N 1st St, Suite 320 St. Louis, MO 63102

A few days later, Kris emailed me and said that the imaging phase was almost complete and that he would let me know the results as soon as it was complete. I was so close to getting my images I could taste it. Then I received another email from Kris:


Dear Miguel Olivella, 
The lab process on your damaged device was completed. Unfortunately, even after the advanced work no functional data was recoverable. The negative results were confirmed with further review by a senior-level engineer.Conclusion: No recovery possible.
Should you have any further questions regarding the specifics of your case please don't hesitate to call me direct at 866-879-1281, or email me at 
Please accept our apologies in this instance and we will return your device ASAP. 
Kris Nordberg
Fields Data Recovery
727 N 1st St, Suite 320 St. Louis, MO 63102


I was devastated. Clinging to any shred of hope I asked Kris to return the drive as well as the parts that were replaced. He eventually replied that the old parts had been tossed but that the drive would be shipped to me with the new parts installed.

A few days later, the drive arrived. Thinking that since the drive was now supposedly operational with new parts having been installed, perhaps a local computer place could try to run some data recovery software on the drive and find something. I took the drive to a local shop and it was plugged into a computer. You could have knocked me over with a feather. It was making the same whirring and clicking noises it had made before I had sent it off to Fields. Further, the techie said he could find no evidence that the drive had been opened, which Fields would have had to do in order to install the new parts.

I sent Kris an email:


From: Mike Olivella 
Sent: Tuesday, August 23, 2016 3:34 PM
To: Kris Nordberg 
Subject: RE: Tracking for Hard Drive
Kris, I’m extremely disappointed with your firm. I have taken the drive to another computer company and they said that the drive was not repaired as you said it was. It still makes the clicking noise that it made when I sent it to you which tells me nothing was done by your firm. I paid $400 to have it repaired. You said in an email (that I have) that the drive was repaired and running. It is not. 
I expect a reversal of the charges to my American Express in the amount of $400 immediately. 
Mike Olivella

One of the images Fields sent me of "the" hard drive and "replacement" parts
Kris responded promptly. He said, "A head swap was completed on your drive, please see the pictures attached. The other party would probably find that to be the case because the head swap was unsuccessful. The money upfront (sic) for parts and labor was a non-refundable fee. I cannot authorize any refunds."

I guess they thought I was born yesterday. Sending me generic images of a hard drive was supposed to defy logic? I replied, reminding Kris that in several emails, he had assured me the drive was repaired and running. Apparently, he decided to turn the matter over to his branch manager who sent me the following email:

Mr. Olivella, 
Thanks for your emails. I hope you saw the email sent on August 10, informing you that the data was unrecoverable. Unfortunately even though the drive was not clicking for some time, the replacement read-write heads again failed - this is why your drive is now clicking, again. I'm a bit surprised you expected a working drive after knowing the recovery attempt was unsuccessful, I'll make sure Kris is more clear about this if a similar situation arises in the future. 
We are very sorry that the recovery attempt was unsuccessful, but Kris made it clear there was risk and that we could make no guarantees to success. We acted in good faith throughout, I'm sorry you feel otherwise. 
Todd Taylor  
Fields Data Recovery  
Branch Manager  
727 North 1st St  
Suite 320 
St. Louis, MO 63102
Seriously, dude? Did you think I just fell off the turnip truck? You charged me $400.00 for replacement heads and these brand new heads you supposedly installed just happened to fail in a matter of days? Or maybe, just maybe, you charged me $400.00 for doing absolutely nothing.

I Googled Fields Data Recovery, something I should have done before pinning my hopes on a company I knew nothing about. My jaw dropped. I was not the first person to have been duped by Fields. The first thing I ran across was this YouTube video from a German guy that got fleeced by Fields:

Then I found page after page of reviews slamming Fields, with many of the comments describing a story that was eerily identical to mine - people sent a drive off, got calls saying parts were needed, they paid a non refundable $400.00 charge, were told no data was recovered.

I went to Yelp. Fields has a one-star rating because of all the complaints. The Better Business Bureau's web site specifically disclaimed Fields as not being BBB accredited and listed 31 customer complaints and 35% of customers lodging complaints.

But wait, you say....that means 65% of the people contacting the BBB had a positive or neutral experience with Fields. Sure, except those 65% later turned out to be shills for Fields.

Some further digging revealed that after being lambasted with so many negative reviews on the BBB site as well as others such as CNET, Fields began to create its own fake testimonials and having surrogates sing its praises on web sites:

Now I was really ticked off. You've heard that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned? That's nothing compared to the fury of a Cuban that has been fleeced. 

I started with a bit of restraint, choosing not to cut off my nose to spite my face despite every fibre of my being wanting to rip Mr. Taylor a new one. I took a deep breath, counted to 1,000 and emailed him back advising him that what he said made no sense; that obviously no replacement parts had been installed; and that even if the replacement heads/parts failed it was ridiculous for Fields to expect me to eat a $400.00 charge for parts that failed within a matter of days. Mr. Taylor responded sarcastically, basically telling me to kiss off. There would be no refund.

Mr. Taylor didn't know that he was screwing with the wrong guy. I told him I would immediately contact American Express and have them reverse the transaction, a service AMEX provides for its customers when they've been charged for something that smells to high heaven. Mr. Taylor scoffed at my response, saying:
"We will provide American Express with all documentation regarding this transaction, including all emails of the receipt that while you did not sign, you viewed (with IP logs) and discussed with Kris. We will also provide the photos you have viewed showing your drive (with serial) open in our clean lab, during the head replacement procedure."
My next move was to call AMEX. No sooner had I told the representative why I was calling, he interrupted me and said, "Is this about the charge to Fields Data?" I said yes. He said that I was not the first person to contact him about a problem with Fields. He had dealt with several other AMEX customers who had related virtually identical stories to mine, and further, that AMEX was well aware of Fields and their scam.

In cases like these, AMEX notifies the vendor of the dispute and solicits a response before deciding whether to honor the charge or reverse it. Despite Mr. Taylor's bravado, Fields did not respond. I received a notification a month later from AMEX advising that Fields had not responded, the matter was closed, and the charge was reversed.

Suck on that, Mr. Taylor. And now for the next step - exposing Fields for the scum suckers that they are.

While I'm not out any money to Fields, I fear that others in my position may not be so lucky. That is why I'm asking anyone who reads this to share it, post it, pass it along, and do anything you can to get the word out about these dirtbags. They are bottom feeders and should be avoided like the plague. They routinely advertise on Facebook and are able to suck people into their scam, take their money, and laugh all the way to the bank.

Don't let them do this. Let's do what we can to get the word out. Please pass this along.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Making Time For Some Wildlife Photography

Northern Pintails feeding in a fresh water impoundment
Earlier this month, I had the chance to do something I haven't had the time or opportunity to do for a while - wildlife photography. I spent some time at the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge on the East Central Florida coast photographing waterfowl and wading birds. It made for a memorable morning as my visit gave way to a lot of new images.

Flock after flock of Pintail flew in from the east, circled, and landed in the water within 100 yards of my location
My morning began well before dawn as I wanted to be on site before the sun rose. The drive to the Refuge took me about a half an hour and once I arrived I made  beeline for one of the freshwater impoundments so I could catch flocks of pintail and blue wing teal coming in from their roosts for their morning meal. I was not disappointed. As soon as the sun began to rise, I could hear the splashes of waterfowl landing in the water. All I had to do was wait for there to be enough light to start shooting.

As soon as I arrived, I made some gear decisions. Assuming that my subjects would be some distance away from me and wanting to get some tight images, I opted for my DX-sensored Nikon D500 camera body with its 1.5X crop factor. In conjunction with my 400mm f2.8 lens and a 1.4X teleconverter, I would be able to shoot with a focal length of 840mm at f4. I attached the teleconverter to the lens, the combo to the camera body, and the setup to a monopod. I was good to go. 

As the sun began to rise, I started to shoot. I took some shots of the flocks as they flew in as well as once they were on the water. As soon as I knew I could push the shutter speed to a fast enough setting that wings would be frozen instead of blurred, I tried my hand at trying to capture individual ducks as they swooped in and landed.

Not long after the pintail arrived, blue wing teal began to show up in greater numbers. Teal are much smaller than pintail and have a reputation for flying fast as they buzz an area. I was ready for them and they did not disappoint. After getting shots of them feeding, swimming, and landing, it was time to catch them in flight. It was challenging but I had some success.

With my main waterfowl targets in the can, so to speak, I shifted gears and began to search for wading birds. The Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge is home to several species of wading birds, including Great Blue Herons, Little Blue Herons, the endangered Reddish Heron, Ibis, Egrets, and Roseate Spoonbills just to name a few. Going from pond to pond, I found a few of each. My first priority was a nice portrait of a Snowy Egret. I found one in a perfect location, back lit by the sun and standing in front of some brush that served as nice, dark backdrop.

Next up was trying to find a Reddish Heron. As if on cue, one was in a nearby pond and it was putting on quite a show as it began to feed.

Reddish Herons have a unique way of feeding. They spread their wings in order to create shade on the surface of the water so they can better see their prey. They then dart back and forth in what appears to be a frantic, schizophrenic manner and when they isolate there prey they pounce.

With just about everything on my wish list checked off, I was ready to head out. As I drove out, I passed a few more impoundments and stopped when I saw something of interest. A Great Blue Heron napping on a mangrove caught my eye, as did a Little Blue Heron feeding in a large group of wading birds that include just about every conceivable species.

My day was complete and one that was way more productive than I could have hoped. I plan to return on my next trip to the East Central Florida area and can only hope that I am as fortunate as I was on this particular day to have the cooperation of so many birds.