Rolling With The Punches / A Vintage Themed Portrait Session with Sylvia Elizabeth

I travel quite a bit for my day job, which affords me the opportunity to work with models from all over and see the vast amount of talent out there. Last year in September, I attended an industry conference in the Tampa, FL area and took my camera along under the premise of an agreement with a model that proved to be a flake once I was there. After sending a series of messages of desperation to a number of models in the area for help, I was pleased to get a response from one of the most talented models I’ve had the pleasure of working with, Sylvia Elizabeth.


When scheduling my trip to the same conference this year, there wasn’t a question about whether or not I’d reach out to shoot with her again, but only a matter of whether or not she’d be booked while I was there. Luckily, we set on a date and time, and her friend Nicki, who is a hair/makeup artist with equal talent, would be coming along. We decided on shooting a vintage themed shoot and couldn’t wait.


The day of our shoot, I would have conference meetings to attend to, but I’d get things ready before I would leave in the morning. I would go down the checklist and make sure that I had enough batteries to power my flashes, had my main and backup memory cards handy and make sure I put my camera battery to charge. Ummm, I said put my battery to charge…. WHERE THE HELL WAS MY BATTERY CHARGER?!?!? Well, it appeared that my battery charger for my Canon 1D Mark IIN was sitting at home while I was in the Tampa, FL area. So much for a photo checklist while packing! Wait a minute, I don’t have a photo checklist while packing either!! Damn… and that’s why everyone needs a checklist, folks.


What the heck would I do? I can’t cancel the day of the shoot. Not only is that really unprofessional, but a total douche move. So, I would take inventory and see what I could make of the situation. I had a dead digital camera with no chance of finding a local photo shop with a battery charger for that particular battery. Trust me; I called everyone in the surrounding Tampa-St. Petersburg area. BUT, I had brought along my Pentax 6X7 medium format film camera for casual shooting and plenty of film to shoot a few hours worth. My initial thought was, “I’ve been meaning to shoot an all film portrait session, so this is perfect!” Hardly!! I didn’t have a flash meter on me and didn’t have the available cash to go out and buy one at $300+.


However, I could always use the meter built in my Pentax. That would mean that I would be dependent on ambient or available light and not use my flashes. I did bring along a couple of fluorescent clamp-on lights that I was planning on using for focusing aid, but it appeared that they would then now be my may light sources. No light modifiers, no flags and no white balance adjustment capabilities. I can do this, right?!?! Just rollin’ with the punches… and keeping my fingers crossed.


She showed on time, I explained the situation and we got to work. She was ready to go in half an hour and we shot for about an hour and a half longer. In that amount of time, we had three wardrobe changes and I managed to shoot three rolls of film at 10 exposures per roll for my 6X7 format. In comparison with my digital format and the comfort level of shooting with my digital setup, that’s a huge difference. In that timeframe, I could have shot about 250-300 digital images versus the nearly 30 images I brought home on film.


I developed the B&W film first and later the color film when I received my C-41 color home developing kit. I carefully inspected the images and was not impressed one bit. Why was that? I always love to look at my negatives with astonishment of reliving the moment of taking the image. Yet, I was disappointed. Not at all with Sylvia’s performance, but with my own. Imagine how wonderful it would have been had I remembered to bring the camera battery charger…


It wasn’t until a few days later that I swung by Adolf Gasser’s in the city and was talking with one of my buddies at the video rental counter that he gave some very valuable advice. He said to give it a few days and go back. He assured me that there would be a few gems, and my response was “yeah, right!!”


I waited a few days and came back to them as he said. I needed to get the images scanned and sent over to Sylvia, as per our agreement. I would brace for her to tell me that they were all crap and I would have to profusely apologize. As I sat there scanning away, the images would pop up on the screen and I would think “that’s not bad at all.” Then I started working on a few and I understood what I had been told.


Here are a number of my favorite images. Because of the color of light from the fluorescent lights used, the daylight color balanced Ektar film I was using picked up a lot of yellow tones. I decided to leave the yellowish tones in tact since they gave the images a little more of a vintage vibe. The B&W images were shot on TMax 100. Not too bad for my unexpected film portrait shoot and rollin’ with the punches.

The takeaways here should be that Sylvia is awesome and always double-check your photo gear to ensure that you have everything you’;ll need before you head out the door.


No Pressure At All, But We Need You To Be The BEST Photographer You Can Be!!

Let’s face it, folks. The title of “photographer” carries a HUGE burden. Why? Because the moment you declare yourself a “photographer” you are held to the highest of degrees of performance and are usually shown very little pity when you crash and burn. So, why is that? This is a question I have asked myself many times before. Do I have the answer? Absolutely not! However, I have formed an opinion that I don’t mind sharing and would even welcome it challenged if someone felt differently. Let’s explore…

In today’s social media and technology scene, we must realize that we are all photographers. Every day, you walk around with a cell phone that has some capacity to record images in digital media to be uploaded to any number of social media sites. Whether it’s your daily selfie or the cutest video ever of your cat chasing its tail, you, my friends, are all photographers. So, where is the difference between the every day selfie queen and the professional photographer? It’s as simple as realizing that anyone can take a image, but a photographer MAKES the image.

Keep in mind that shelling out $6,000+ for the latest and greatest “full frame” camera that the big guys are throwing in your face as if saying “buy this and you too can be a photographer” does nothing to get you closer to becoming a photographer. I have had acquaintances that fit the profile and couldn’t figure out how to snap a picture, let alone make a beautiful image, if they took their camera off auto settings. The photographer’s gear is simply the tool that he/she uses to record the image, but the photographer him/herself MAKES the image using the tool in their hands. Medium is irrelevant, autofocusing is just an aid and Photoshop is just another tool in the arsenal of the trade. The photographer relies on NONE of his/her tools alone as the make or break in the creative process of this art form.IMG_20140304_0003As a photographer, it’s easy to start obsessing about your equipment. It’s in every magazine, every online article and every “unboxing” video on YouTube. There will always be someone out there with deeper pockets that has to have the very latest and show it off. It’s also easy to get caught up in the marketing hype and jump on the “I need better gear in order to become a better photographer” bandwagon. I’ve been there and have been lucky enough to not have the deep pockets to entertain such notions for a long enough period of time to do damage. And the best part is that unless you are another “photog”, no one really gives a CRAP about what kind of camera you have or what it can do. Well, maybe the guy across the room that’s been eyeing you and figuring how much he’s going to get online for it knows what camera you have… 🙂

Making my way back to the point of this blog entry, the question you should then be asking yourself is “why should I try to become the best photographer I can be?” As a photographer, you have your whole life to perfect your art (or until you walk away from it) as long as you understand that you will never get to the finish line. Practice makes perfect, and photographers practice their whole lives to only come close to perfection or are fortunate enough to be celebrated as one of a few contributors to the art form.


If you never reach the finish line, why is it worth pursuing this hobby or career? Because people are depending on you. Perhaps it’s your friends and family that designate you as the official photographer for the day. Perhaps it’s the family that picked you out of a line up and are paying you to capture a family portrait to hang over their mantle. Maybe its the casual window shopper that walks by and is moved by the image you captured enough to pay their hard earned money for it. The reality is that as a visually dependent being, people are moved by images that trigger a memory, a feeling or a longing.

As a photographer you carry the responsibility to be the very best you can be at your art because others recognize that you have an “eye” for what makes a moving image and creates the desired emotion. Come to think of it, when a baseball player lays off a bad pitch, folks scream out “good eye, good eye!!” Why shouldn’t photographers receive the same??? “Hey, great image!! Good eye, good eye!!”


What keeps me in the hamster wheel, you ask? Every so often, I have the opportunity to be part of someone’s life, someone’s memories and am honored to have been chosen to share that moment with them and record it for all time while praying to God and thinking “don’t fuck this up!! don’t fuck this up!!!” I owe it to them to be the best I can possibly be and always strive to become better.

The images I’m sharing today were taken back in Mar 2013 for a friend I happened to work with at the time. There was no doubt from the start that she and her then boyfriend would transcend the friend/coworker barrier. Today, I consider them family and would be honored to record all the special milestones in their lives for as long as they’ll continue to have me.

When she first came out that she was pregnant, I offered to do a “baby belly” shoot and was given a look of “are you crazy?” Months went by and I had forgotten about the offer when she came around and brought it back up. I jumped at the opportunity knowing that I was being asked to be part of something incredibly special while they awaited the arrival of their first born.


We knocked out the shoot in about two hours and then had lunch. I brought along both a digital and film kit and tried to shoot both mediums. If you must know, I shot the 1st, 2nd and last images on a Pentax 67 with a 105mm f/2.4 on Ilford Delta 100 and the 3rd and 4th images were shot with my Canon 1D Mk IIN. The negatives were scanned with my Canoscan 9900F MKII and all images were tidied up in Photoshop.

The takeaway is simple: if you are going to call yourself a photographer, you have a duty to be the best photographer you can be for the people depending on you with their recorded lives. Whether it’s a little league game, a majestic shot of Yosemite or simply a group shot of friends holding up shot glasses after your 6th tequila, people are depending on your to be the best photographer you can be regardless of the equipment you have at your disposal.


Nuff said…

Photographic Composition in the St Paul Churchyard in Lower Manhattan

I decided to take the subway down to lower Manhattan in hopes to visit the 9/11 memorial and pay my respects with it being my first trip to NYC since 1997. Unfortunately, I didn’t know that you have to reserve your tickets to view the memorial with a LOT of advance notice online. So, I had to forego visiting it this time around, but I promise you that I’ll head back next year and will plan better. In the meantime, there was plenty to visit and photograph while down in Lower Manhattan.

Almost right across the street from the 9/11 Memorial Visitor’s Center, there stands the oldest surviving church building in all of Manhattan. St. Paul is an Episcopalian church that has a small cemetery that can be visited during the daytime and I spent over an hour wandering around and photographing. While the church itself was closed, I had plenty to photograph in the cemetery yard.

Old cemeteries are some of the most interesting places to practice photography. Whether you are into color or black & white, you can find a myriad of interesting tombstones or mausoleums with all sorts of interesting textures that cast shadows. If you happen to be at a real old cemetery, then you have the added factor of aged pieces that may carry a history all to themselves. I find cemeteries like St. Paul’s as some of the most interesting, as some of its inhabitants have been there since the mid 1700’s.

I was still working with the Tokina 16-28mm wide-angle lens that I mentioned in one of my earlier posts. Even though it was a wide-angle, I was trying to show that even a wide-angle can be used for things other than wide-angle shots. Luckily, this lens allowed for a minimum focus distance of 11 inches, which means that it could focus on anything 11 inches away from the lens or further. Granted, this isn’t a macro lens, so I can’t get much closer than a foot away, it still did a great job of capturing a number of rather up close shots that I was going after.

I enjoyed playing with the aperture to go after increased depth of field when photographing tombstones that were in a row. One technique that I will do, as in one of the first photos where you see three tombstones in a row, is that I will set the lens to the largest aperture setting, which in this case was f/2.8, and will focus on the tombstone closest to me. Next I will take a somewhat identical image while focused on the second tombstone. Yet again, I’ll take another with the focal point being the next tombstone in line. I usually don’t go too overboard, but I will come back home with a few images that are similar since I can’t really view the image as I would like to with only using my little 2.5 inch LCD screen on the back of the camera. I’ll get home and absolutely love one of them, while the others are just bound for the recycle bin. But, I came home with all the shots for me to choose once I was able to look at them on my computer screen as a large image. I started doing this when I thought I was being all badass and had the perfect viewpoint only to find that I had messed up the image and didn’t have anything else to work with. The lesson learned that time, is not to come home with just one image of something that captures my interest. Hell, sometimes I’ll go buck wild and set the shutter speed to high-speed priority and will shoot off a series of up to 6 images in under a second just to have several of the same to view later on.

Another thing I do as I walk around is to look at how the light and shadows are behaving. There is one image below that I loved because the tombstones were getting the hard, warm sunlight hitting it directly, while everything else was caught in the shadows or shade. This brought out the detail in the tombstones and made them pop. In one of the pictures, you can even see me as the photographer. While I don’t usually like this kind of photo, I found this one especially hilarious since at quick vision it appears that I’m trying to pull my hair out. I promise you that I still have all my hair and it was the shadows of my holding up the camera to my face.

I did shoot one photo from the outside of the cemetery after it had closed where you can see that I’ve shot through two of the steel bars in the fence. One thing about composition of photographs is to keep in mind which way you are holding the camera (whether in landscape or portrait mode) and the direction of the shapes being captured in the image. In this image, the composition works cause I am holding the camera in the portrait mode (vertical) and the tombstones and fence bars that I’m shooting through are all in the vertical mode as well. Had I shot this image while holding the camera in the landscape mode (horizontal), the image may have still worked, but the flow would not have been as good since your eye is drawn more to objects that would run the length of the image and not straight up and down. But, the good thing is that there is no right or wrong way of doing things. So, I would recommend to experiment with different positions and find what makes you happy and gives you the most pleasing image.

Go out and photograph something!!!