What Phone Did You Use? (envisioning myself beaten, bruised and bloody in a snowbank at the end of the parking lot)

Nam 1/125 sec at f/3.2 ISO 4000 142mm

What Phone Did You Use?

It was nearly 6:00pm on a Cold windy February evening when myself and a group of friends had finished our joyous dinner and were leaving the restaurant. Earlier I had promised my two friends that once we met up, I would take a few nice photos of them. Nothing special, just a few good photos. Knowing I am a photographer this would be a little treat of sorts for them. 99% of the time I have my camera bag with me and there is always a body with a full frame sensor, a 24-70mm and yes, always the 70-200mm both f/2.8 lenses. Also, there is always a radio controlled speedlite or two, but who the hell wants to use those when there is natural light to glorify already natural beauty.

However, the day did not go nowhere near as planned. I was to leave point “A” and pickup Nam & Kukik at point “B” and return to point “A” to retrieve my wife from shopping and we would all go to dinner. We had also planned that somewhere along the way we would find a spot for a little photo shoot. Nothing particular just a spot with good lighting so the girls could have some nice photos and then off to dinner.

Sadly, the trip from point A to point B involved driving in mid-Saturday afternoon traffic in North/Central New Jersey. When we think of bad traffic, we have visions of LA or Bangkok, however parts of New Jersey are just as bad. I know the area well so I know all the shortcuts and alternate routes. But on this day what should have been a 25-minute ride turned into almost 2 hours, mostly due to congestion and fender benders.

Kukik 1/125 sec at f/3.2 ISO 6400 115mm

Needless to say, I was able to finally get to Kukik and minutes later pick up Nam. However, I knew that by time I got back to point “A” where I had left my wife there would be little time for a photo shoot and dinner takes priority because… well because it is food lol and I know everyone was hungry and darkness would fall soon.

I start thinking to myself “maybe the girls forgot about the photos.” And as we’re eating and having a wonderful time enjoying this wonderful get-together, no one says anything about the photo shoot. I mean it was not etched in stone or anything, it was just me taking a few quick shots of these lovely Thai beauties.

But I was forgetting a few things here; first thing I was forgetting is that the whole point of this get together was because Kukik would soon be leaving to live in California and we would not be able to see her to often anymore. The second thing I was forgetting was the fact I had told two women I would take their photo. So, forget about the first part of Kukik moving away, the big tragedy here is that I told not one, but two women I would take their photo. As you can clearly see I need to find a way at 6:00pm on a cold dark windy winter night to take a nice photo of these to young ladies or I may never hear the end of this.

As we leave the restaurant no one has yet said anything about the photos, but I have this feeling building inside that “what if?” kind of feeling. What if they say “hey you said you would take our photo?” Of course, as a photographer I could justify not taking the photos for many reasons; There is not enough light, it is too cold or too windy… But then what kind of a friend would I be? The core part of my OCD is not letting people down, be it a client or a friend “if I told somebody I was going to do something I will do it at any cost or I just can’t live with myself.” They are very good friends and wonderful people and I know they would forgive me, sadly I would never forgive myself.

Nam 1/12 sec at f/3.2 ISO 2500 150mm

So again, as we walk out of the restaurant, I am scanning the area and I see this wonderful window light coming from this rather large thrift store. Most thrift stores are small and tucked away, but this store is large and has big windows just gushing with light.

We make our way to the vehicle and the moment of truth has arrived. The girls are talking Thai with my wife and I know very little Thai. But I do know enough to know when they are talking about me and more-so I can tell by the “heartbroken” tone of their voices that they are asking about the camera and the photos. As they’re all talking, I’m playing the scenario through my head of me telling them “it’s too dark or too cold” and then envisioning myself beaten, bruised and bloody in a snowbank at the end of the parking lot lol.

Needless to say, by looking at the photos that are posted here I used the window light and I feel it made some really nice lighting for a quick shoot. I pulled my vehicle right up in front of the store and stopped in the “No Parking” fire lane and we all got out and the girls were happy to say the least.

Three things came together (in my opinion) that made these images as good as they are. First was the full frame sensor. It doesn’t matter the brand of the camera, they’re all good, Sony, Canon, Nikon and all the rest. If you have a full-size sensor shooting in low light can yield amazing results. All though it seemed the window light was extremely bright, in reality it is not. It appears bright because everything else is dark, it is night time. Most of the images came in around 2500-6400 ISO and on a full frame sensor that is easily doable these days.

Kukik 1/125 sec at f/3.2 ISO 6400 115mm

Second thing that made the images as good as they are is that the lens was good and fast. I was using my (pry it from my cold dead hands) 70-200mm f/2.8. I had my camera set to manual, shutter at 1/125 sec, f/3.2 and auto ISO. If the ISO went above 3200, I would have the girls move closer to the window or zoom out a bit. If they were too close the shot didn’t look good because the glass would be in frame and it did not look pleasing. Also, most of the photos were shot at 115mm or higher which gave a good compression for the leading lines of the walkway in the background.

And the third thing that made the images as good as they could be on a cold windy winter night was the “even lighting” coming from the store. It was bright and soft. It was not the best lighting, but it was the soft enough and that was all I needed. I started shooting with Nam who has never been in front of my camera before. Next up was Kukik who has been in front of my camera and then of course there is going to be no stopping both girls getting shots together. It truly was one of those fun moments in life that we will always remember. One of the hardest parts of our lives is identifying those moments as they’re happening. As I was watching the girls I realized “this was one of those moments.”

Then the shoot was over in an instant… I seen the flashing lights of the parking security vehicle coming our way and I yelled for everybody to get back to the truck and we pulled away.

But as we pulled away my wife and the girls start commenting on the fact it was a thrift store and they hadn’t gone inside. Yep, I think you can see where this is going to lead. So, I quickly linked my tablet to the camera WiFi and asked each girl to “pick one good photo of themselves” and I would edit it while the were shopping. “one good photo each,” yeah, right, that is like asking a kid to take only one piece of candy. So as the girls headed off to the thrift shop, I stayed behind and using Lightroom CC Mobile I edited a few photos and posted them to Instagram and sent them copies as well.

Nam 1/12 sec at f/3.2 ISO 2500 150mm

Later the next day I did take a few of the images into Photoshop and put them to a better edit. However, the best part of this whole story is; we realized Kukik has a few more weeks here in New Jersey so why not plan another good day to get together and have fun and we did just that. Before I returned the girls home, we all sat looking at our calendars and set a date.

 

Hey thanks so much for stopping by and reading, have a great day.

 

She’s Got It (So in the beginning it is all about building confidence and creating your persona.)

1/250 sec at f/3.5 ISO 50 168mm
Model Jade Gleason

Some photos just resonate and stand out, however like beauty it is all subjective. I’m drawn into this photo for visual reasons as well as emotional reasons.

The visual; is the angle of the face, the eyes are closed; the arms frame the face and the textures of the sweater and the headband all come together to make a visually appealing image. Then there is her youthful & natural beauty with minimal makeup.

The emotional; is the fact that this was Jade’s second shoot with me in two weeks. Her first shoot with me she was “like a deer in the headlights,” very nervous, rigid and just trying to understand the direction I was giving her. She took it all in stride and came back for the next shoot a few weeks later. Now she was eager, prepared and had been practicing her posing. When I look at this shot I see her potential, I see her trying and I see her ‘wanting.” Wanting to grasp it, hold it and run with it.

Remember for a new model modeling is not always about making it to the top and becoming a high dollar fashion or runway model. Most important it is not always about how you look per say. Although when we think of models we think of beauty and often models define what the public thinks beauty should be. However we all know beauty is subjective and because we are bombarded with images of models everywhere we turn we tend to accept certain styles and looks as the norm. When in reality fashion & runway modeling is not about the models looks as much as it is about how the model can pose creating a visually appealing image that will show off wardrobe or design. I really do not think the fashion designer wants you to look at the model as much as they want you to be drawn to their artistic creation. The model is merely the vehicle to carry and represent the designer’s artistic work.

So in the beginning it is all about building confidence and creating your persona. You are creating that person or character who gets in front of the camera and performs. When you step in front of the camera you need to pose, but you also need to convey emotion and energy. It is not always “high energy” but rather a feeling, a mood and a look all rolled into one. I sit here writing about it and I myself cannot do it. However I am a photographer and I know it when I see it. Amazingly enough I seen this moment of Jade as I captured it and what I mean by that is; She was facing me straight on and I was shooting, she for a moment turned to her right for just a second and I caught a change of light on her face. Then she turned back facing me straight on, but I called out to her “wait, turn back just like you were and hold it.” She did. There was this even and soft light on her face and with her eyes closed it gave a peaceful & blissful look. I could see it in the viewfinder and I didn’t dwell on it, but I knew it was special. Not too often do I see it as I’m capturing it. Most times I’m paying too much attention to other things like “is there hairs across her face,” or looking for some other “aesthetic distractions” as I call them. But this time I seen it in real-time and it was such a beautiful moment for me.

If you know me and have read previous blog post you know I really loth photography clichés and the “capturing a moment in time” is one that just kills me to the core. Yes I did capture the magic moment in time with Jade, but it is not the moment in time that makes it all that magical. It is the fact that she improved so much in two weeks, it is the fact she is getting comfortable in front of the lens and most of all she has a drive to learn what it is all about. I am no famous photographer, however I am a very good photographer and I have for the past several years worked with many models just starting out. I have been the “first” photographer for several amateur models. Some get it and some do not get it. Some are under the misconception that they stand there and the camera clicks and “bam” there are awesome images are created. And when this doesn’t happen they don’t understand why not. I explain to all new models that it is about posing, that it is about emotion ect. I explain to them that I understand they are new, but “I am here to work with you and help you.” I explain “I am a photographer, I know how this camera works inside & out, I know Photoshop and I can edit the images to look good, but I first have to start with a good image and that means having a model that can bring a good pose and some emotion.” And with emotion it could also be the lack of emotion that makes the image great. I will offer advice about what makes for good posing like triangles, negative space, lines, and curves and so on. None of this information is a secret, however many will choose to ignore it because now it starts to make modeling sound like work. And it is work, and like anything in this world it takes practice and knowledge of the craft to get better and advance. Even someone who has a natural talent needs to nurture the talent to bring it to the surface. This all leads us to the age-old conclusion that “nothing in life comes easy.”

So who gets it? Who gets it is the model that walks away from the first shoot and listens to my advice, but doesn’t just stop there. They dig deeper and deeper, searching on their own. They are the one who learns to pose for the camera and not for the photographer, the one who realizes right up front that this is going to be work and starts working at it. They are the one who realizes they need to give up some free time to get something in return. That’s who gets it.

Jade https://www.instagram.com/p/BgAahCUg_UP/?taken-by=writingawayy_

 

The Sinister Clown At ESP (I want him to scare the bejesus out of you, but do it without holding a half-eaten arm in his mouth.)

Sinister Clown 1/125 sec at f/14 ISO 50 123mm Model Nicole Gallagher, SFX Makeup by Jade Alexandra Brown

Sinister Clown 1/125 sec at f/14 ISO 50 123mm
Model Nicole Gallagher, SFX Makeup by Jade Alexandra Brown

It’s autumn, the smell of fallen leaves fill the cool morning air, pumpkins & corn stalks decorate doorways and porches… apple pie and ginger snap cookies all add up to Halloween is coming soon.

So as Halloween draws near, so does my self-imposed deadline for having completed the edits for the “Sinister Clown” project shoot. Here we see a third edit that I have just completed and I’m very happy with it. This particular image also has a sub-edit where I have cropped in extremely close. If you have followed my blog over the years you know I have a passion for close up “in your face” edits. However usually they are images of a beautiful female face and sometimes a male too, even dogs. But today’s image is that of “Sinister Clown.” And speaking of “Sinister Clown” I wish I had a name for him… yes the clown is a male character although there is a beautiful female playing the role behind all that amazing makeup. If anyone has an idea for a name please contact me.

So for this edit; the cropped version came about because I wanted to showcase Jade’s talent up close and “in your face” and the second reason (as previously mentioned) I love tight cropped face shots. However the full size version of this edit I wanted to put my clown in a decrepit, disgusting, smelly setting. Now of course you can’t “smell” an image on a screen, but I wanted that feel to come through in the edit. So I literally spent hours and days sifting through stock images that could be used for a background. All the while I am going from photo to photo I keep telling myself “you have the image you’re looking for” but I just did not know what. Let me clarify; while I am looking through stock images with my eyes and mind focused on a computer screen, another part of my mind is working diligently sifting through places I have been over the last few years, then of course there is that third part of my mind that thinks of over-throwing the world, sexy women, money and so-on. Funny how much can get done with only two brain cells, but the inside of my mind can be almost as scary as this clown lol.

After days of this… it hits me. Cell block 5 (1829 Creator: John Haviland, Eastern State Penitentiary.) Yes Cell Block 5 is a disgusting mess. Visitors to Eastern States Penitentiary are not allowed to enter into cell block 5. When you stand at the locked gate and look down the cell block, you get a true feeling of the horror that once was ESP in its hay-day. The place looks frozen in time, like an old closet that hasn’t been opened in 200 years, it smells like a grave. The smell is because (no joke) the place has been untouched for decades and has a smell of dirt, cob webs, mold and rotting wood.

While doing a photo shoot there in June of 2015 with Nicole I had stuck my camera inside the gate and captured some really decent images. I have edited one as a cover photo for the Reckless Pixel Facebook page (but is no longer in use). So this was the background that would work perfect for this edit. Not to mention the irony that Nicole is the clown and the background image comes from another shoot she did with me over a year ago.

Now I feel I need to explain that in the beginning I had envisioned this clown being scary, but in an organic sort of way and not in a generic “blood & gore” kind of way. In the first making of the movie “IT” which was actually a TV mini-series the clown Pennywise was never really seen devouring the little children of Derry. It was implied that the clown ate the arms of children… after all it was a movie made for TV. So I wanted my clown to have that same vibe. I want him to scare the bejesus out of you, but do it without holding a half-eaten arm in his mouth. So instead of putting gore props in the images with the clown I would rather put the clown in an evil setting. Now with all that said the average viewer of the image is never gonna know the significance of the background and I’m ok with that. Most of all I’m happy that the background is one of my own images and not a stock image.

I will have more edits of the Sinister Clown up in a day or so and there will be a video blog post too. Thanks for reading and have a great day.

Sinister Clown 1/125 sec at f/14 ISO 50 123mm Model Nicole Gallagher, SFX Makeup by Jade Alexandra Brown

Sinister Clown 1/125 sec at f/14 ISO 50 123mm
Model Nicole Gallagher, SFX Makeup by Jade Alexandra Brown

“Capture the moment” (…there still is a craft to be learned and honed to a finer edge.)

 

1/125 sec at f/5.0 ISO 100 70mm

1/125 sec at f/5.0 ISO 100 70mm

“Capture the moment” it is so cliché when we hear photographers talk about it. I read blogs and watch vlogs, have sat through countless hours of seminars and classes and I have that statement so many times I want to puke. Some photographers are like chefs in that they feel so passionate about what they do they think there techniques can cure cancer. “It’s a camera everybody has one” or in the case of a chef “its food… and you cook it.”

However with all that said there still is a craft to be learned and honed to a finer edge. This is what will rise you up above the average completion in whatever it is you do. Example; world-renowned photographer Joe McNally has risen to a level of success because he has honed his craft over a lifetime. So Mr. McNally can take a photo of someone changing a lightbulb and it becomes an iconic image. I know you’re thinking “but it is just someone changing any ole lightbulb” it is the red light on the antenna on the very tippy top of the Empire State Building. I guess you just have to be different!

So at the wedding I was photographing the other day I see all these people with their mobile phone camera capturing their images and I’m thinking (as I always do) “there they are all standing in group capturing pretty much the same exact image. Sure each will be a little different given the quality of the device they have and some might even edit their images to look even nicer. Meanwhile they are all in the way of the photographer the bride has hired and they are in the way of each other. While many photographers will complain about the iPhone worms I have learned to live with it and work past it. The biggest thing for me is I know full well I will come away with shots the average camera phone photographer will never be able to capture. Now I know I am no Joe McNally, but I do know that you need to “capture the moment” and you need to be a little different about it.

In the image above we see the bride looking at her groom who is holding his daughter, a very touching moment to say the least. However by using a 70-200mm lens mounted on a camera body with a full crop sensor (which by-the-way costs a tad bit more than even the most expensive iPhone) and standing in a spot where nobody would expect to stand I captured a very wonderful moment, and pretty well I might say.

The wedding was a lot of fun and as always to see two families come together and have so much fun is always an awesome thing.

Till next time… Thanks for reading.

Double Exposure Fun (…getting accidental double exposure would almost always upset me)

Double exposure created using Analog Efex Pro 2

Double exposure created using Analog Efex Pro 2

Double exposure photography can be fun and creative and something I like to play with from time to time. I remember back in the day getting an accidental double exposure with a film camera would almost always upset me because the image I wanted was ruined. Imaging somebody posing in front of your camera and getting the prints back only to find a double exposure of your intended photo, but with a bridge or building or birthday cake exposed into the image. Sometimes it was like this prolific image that everybody was amazed by, however most times the image was a flat-out mess.

Now back in the film days I knew a few photographers that actually loved to create double exposures and they did it quite well. For me it was a nuisance.

Cut to today with Photoshop and software like Nik/Google Analog Efex Pro 2 you can control your double exposure to maximize you creative power. Also most DSLR’s have a double exposure mode that many photographers never explore.

I leave with a double exposure created in Analog Efex Pro 2. I used two images of Kendall that were actually shot on film and then scanned.

Google Makes Nik a Free Download (…for those who don’t know the original Nik plugins were the “cat’s meow”)

B&W conversion using Silver Efex Pro 2

B&W conversion using Silver Efex Pro 2

Final edit includes adjustments performed using Color Efex Pro 4, Tonal Contrast, Pro Contrast and more.

Final edit includes adjustments performed using Color Efex Pro 4, Tonal Contrast, Pro Contrast and more.

As many photographers may have heard Google has just made the Nik Collection a “free” download. Many photographers already know about the Nik plugins, however I personally have met many photographers who never heard of Nik plugins, even after Google acquired the Nik collection from Nik. I guess I was naïve to have thought everybody knew what they were. I have been using Nik for many years now. I had purchased Color Efex Pro 3 and Silver Efex Pro 2 from Nik and then after Google acquired them one day out of the clear blue I received an email from Google giving me a link to download the whole collection and this in turn moved me up to Color Efex Pro 4. Google stated because I was a current Nik Customer they were dishing out the love and it really was a beautiful day for sure.

Now real quick for those who don’t know the original Nik plugins were the “cat’s meow” especially Color Efex Pro and Silver Efex Pro.

I fell in love with Silver Efex Pro 2 (SEP2) for making black & white conversions. Although I have several methods for making B&W images SEP2 is by far the best and most creative. I love my color images, but at the same time I can get lost in playing with SEP2. Most important to me when working with images that have a face, is being able to see the zone mapping so I can apply my personal recipe for zone mapping human skin. I’m not going to go into all the details about the zone system, but for those who know about Ansel Adam’s zone system… well you know what I’m talking about.

Most important (in my opinion) is that if you want to create amazing black & whites you need to first create a great color image and then move into SEP2. So for those of you who have Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom, you need to get these plugins and get started learning how to use them. For me… if you asked me to choose one tool or plugin for Photoshop and nothing else. Hands down the Nik collection would be my choice, mainly Color Efex Pro.

Another source that increased my wanting for using SEP2 was famed photographer Vincent Versace’s book “From Oz to Kansas” but you must first read “Welcome to Oz” because it is all about making cinematic edits that can stop at being beautiful color images or… move to the next book “From Oz to Kansas” and that is taking those awesome color edits and moving to black& white. The books truly are worth reading, however so many people I meet who want to call themselves a “photographer” want instant gratification and reading a book is just too much trouble, or so it seems. Sometimes I will mention that I learned “this or that” technique from a book I read and I get looked at like I have two heads.  I want to be the best photographer I can be and when I look at anybody who has ever succeeded at anything I many times see people who know their craft inside and out and many will tell you that part of knowing your craft is studying the people who have traveled the road before you. When you think about it it’s a “no brainer,” but seems many have no brains. Every photographer out there in this big ole world wants better images and the Nik collection will get you closer to that holy grail, but do yourself a favor and read a book or take a class that is written or taught by a true master of the trade/art. Fuck those stupid Facebook advertisements and find somebody who is a master. I live in NYC/Philly area and when I know Joe McNally or Cliff Mautner or Lindsay Adler are in town speaking or teaching… well you bet your last dollar I’m gonna be there. And those are just a few of the masters photography has to offer.

So down load the Nik collection from Google and let your creativity move of to the next level. I did!

Dark Days (when the creative light weakens)

Dark Days make you create what you feel.

Sometimes you just create what you feel… literally. Mood is the major factor in “what, when and how” most people are able to create. Stresses (or the lack of) from the outside world help set the tone or kill the creative spirit all together. Internal stresses are just as incriminating because we all know demons never sleep and they rarely take a day off. But for the strong healthy minds and souls demons are kept at bay, although there are those times we let our guard down and the demon within will rise up unexpectedly and quell your ability to create.

For me right now it is the outside stresses of the world that have all but extinguished my creative fire. You cannot control your outside world. We try to and we feel we can, but as we all know life can really come down on you sometimes and like a rainstorm it can be hard, real hard and when it’s real hard and you’re hurting from the rain… it gets even harder and yet again harder.  You feel as though you’ve done something to make God angry with you. When in reality you really cannot complain. For if you wake up breathing with two good eyes, legs, feet, hands and arms your still in the game. You just need to be stronger. Love the most those who love you back. Most of all love God and yourself.

I could list my problems and try to invoke drama but my problems are mine to solve. After all what is life? Just one problem after another, they key is to “solve the problem at hand and wait for the next one.”