I love this image so much because was very spontaneous. The prison cell had been rused up with a chair, a desk, a newspaper and a paper weight. We are not even allowed to be there photographing her as a model (against policy), but hey sometimes life is too short to follow all the rules. I asked her to go into the cell and “do something interesting” in 10 seconds and she did. It worked for me, the image of her in the cell with the decay in the background, the beauty, the tattoo… it was a lot of fun and “in the moment.” One of my favorite images of 2014 and I wish this girl never drifted away from me. She was the most spontaneous model I ever met.
So it’s off to ESP for a fun personal project shoot tomorrow. Personal projects can be so much fun. If done right they can prepare you for bigger and better things. It’s that “you don’t know till you try” method of learning. I have many personal photo projects planned for the autumn season involving the fall colors. But my personal projects will fall between paid work with the high school seniors/sports portraiture. There will be more outdoor shoots and now that I have found a team of models with different looks and color I can get to work on the Photoshop composites and that is where the real fun begins. In between all the photography and working a job and running a catering business I will travel to Southeast Asia (Thailand/Laos) to visit family and look after the construction of our house there. Of course the shutter will not stop, the shutter never stops.
My knowledge of photography and Photoshop comes from those who arrived before me. Some are great photographers and photoshoppers/retouchers. You have to pay homage to those from whom you’ve leaned. Some are unknowns and others are greatly known. I have read book after book and more books on photography & Photoshop and Lightroom. I have sat through hours upon hours of online classes, course and interviews. I have traveled to seminars and meetings. I have an continue to do all of this and it is not so I can be that photographer who is “just so much better” than all the others. That does not happen to anybody. The only photographers who are better than everyone else are the “legends in their own mind” and there are many. But here again I have learned from the greats like Joe McNally, Peter Hurley, Lindsay Adler, Glyn Dewis, Woody Walters (oh Woody is the man), Cliff Mauntner and even studied the legalities of photography and registering your work taught by Ed Greenburg. And these are just a few, then there all the friends I have online whom I have never met but we share advice and techniques. I hold back very little when it comes to sharing. I can’t give all I know away for I have spent countless dollars and hours to gain the knowledge I feel others who are serious should do the same. With that said I still love the joy of helping others move forward with projects & photography.
So off to ESP I go tomorrow in hopes of capturing some great images and having fun with new friends… crazy artists that they are.
While doing research for a photo shoot project I came across an idea for another project. It was actually more of a “stumble upon” type of thing. As some of you who read my Facebook page know I had went to Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia a few weeks ago. I went there to scout locations within the prison to photograph a model. I accidentally came across the ESP website while looking for locations in Philly’s Fairmount section. I noticed that the site had a listing of event and seen that August 19 would be the last of three photographer’s only events. After they close to the public at 5:00pm they open the prison to photographer who wants to shoot without the public in the way and you can bring models and shooting equipment. This is totally prohibited during regular hours. So I thought what a novel idea and decided to think more about it.
So the project has now been in the planning for a little more than a month. I upped it a little when I decided to contact a local Philly designer Lisa-J and ask her if she wanted to come onboard with my project. She is an up and coming clothing designer and I had seen some of her work and we had talked about shoot prior to my idea but nothing ever came to life. So I sent her a text with the question and I had to laugh at her reply “yes, yes & yes.” We met at the prison one morning and walked aimlessly around and talked while I photographed potential location. I told her I had a model already picked out who was also jumping at the chance. But I still needed hair & makeup. Well… wouldn’t you know Lisa’s aunt who is a hair stylist and was actually scheduled later that same day to do a shoot with me and a model. Wow small world in the city of brotherly love. So it was a done deal and I told Lisa she should bring a model as well and we’ll shoot two.
Now prior to this I had asked Bethlehem, PA model Reese Maddox if she wanted to do a shoot at ESP and her face lit up, I didn’t need to hear her answer, her look was the answer. Funny!
So now we have a plan… well sort of. Next thing is; how the hell am I going to shoot in this prison. My goal… yes I have a goal. My goal is to try and I emphasize “try” to get a shot that has not been done before. Not easy considering this place is one of the most photographed places in Philly and the USA. Rock performer Sting shot an album cover (All This Time) there. I’m going to make one more trip back to the prison to check locations and get detailed info of what I can & cannot do there. Hopefully they won’t kill my project before I get started. ESP is really strict about their rules. While there with Lisa, my camera in hand, an employee came up to us and said “you do know you can’t shoot models here during regular hours.” Not to worry your little head there scooter we’re doing research. And he eased off.
So that is where the project is at this point. How do I pull this off? Flash, softboxes lens choices? There are many things to think about. I want to go light on the gear; I was thinking one softbox 2 radio flash, 24-70 lens and possibly the 70-200 lens.
What kind of shots will they be? I’m hoping for some nice photos of the models with emphasis on the wardrobe and capturing the decrepit-ness of the prison. Easier said than done, but I’ll give it my best.
Part 2: So for this particular shoot it started off as an Urban Exploration shoot of some sort, but ended with more of a “Street Photography” feel. Finding this location was rather easy as Reese (model) and her boyfriend were very familiar with the Moravian ruins in this park because this is a place they have frequented many times. This obviously made finding the location almost too easy. Key thing here is many people sometimes overlook the obvious. Many times we have great locations to shoot all around us and close to us, but we fail to see it or realize it because the “everyday” can seem so common place. I say “kudos” to Reese and her boyfriend for seeing this location for what it was. The crumbling plaster, stone & bricks made a wonderful setting for this type of shoot.
Now another “must” have for and urban shoot is a model that is not afraid to get into it and climb up, over or on stuff such as walls & windows. Reese is just that. Without asking she will find a spot and I just let her do her thing. I don’t want her to get hurt of course, but she is in great shape and takes it all in stride. The goal when setting up your shot is to try and get something different. With that I mean; most any place you go on the planet earth has already been photographed with or without a model. So try to get a different angle, look or feel. Go and do an image search on Google for “Golden Gate Bridge” and see how many images come up that were all shot by different photographers at different times/years and they all look the same. So getting that unique shot is the goal, but not always easy.
Now as I said this photo shoot started off as an Urbex style, but after taking a short lunch break we found ourselves in the streets of historic Bethlehem, PA. See the location of the Moravian ruins was located just a stone’s throw from all the activity of the city. So now we move along to locations that again were very familiar to the model and her boyfriend. Once at a location I look for even light and a nice background. Maybe some texture to the background or color that will play off the models wardrobe. With the shots taken at the ruins the orange in the broken bricks played well with the colors in the model’s skirt. Sometimes things work out this way and other times not, but great when it does. So as we moved around, keeping in mind to stay rather low key because after all we are in public and at any time a policeman could nix everything and chase you away. Key thing is be courteous, polite to the public and non-intrusive. We shot at the Sun Inn, a location that has a lot of history dating back to George Washington and other notable dignitaries. Moving on and suffering from the heat of the day I could see Reese starting to melt and I know when the model melts it’s a “wash” and you call it “a day.” But before that happened I look across the street and seen a cigar shop in shaded/even light. And it just so happens I had my cigar props with me. So now it’s “game on” and we’re going to shoot a model in front of a very well-known cigar shop, with permission of course. So I go in and meet with Nate and tell him what I want to do and I show him my fake hand carved wooden cigars. He is so impressed and we joked and talked a bit. Of course I offered to give full credit to the cigar shop and I will send them some photos.
Out front, shooting from a tripod I captured some really great images of Reese with the cigar in hand. With people walking by looking at a very pretty young lady with a lit cigar, it was interesting to see the looks on their faces. I was extremely courteous and stopped every few seconds to let people pass by; I really don’t think we bothered anyone at all. Total time spent was seven minutes although it seemed a lot longer. Then we moved on and I did have one micro intrusive moment when I see a senior couple getting ready to dive into a gorgeous lunch at a street side café. I asked for permission to shoot the food and not their faces. The lady was happy and agreed, the man looked as if I was going to eat his lunch, and he looked mortified. But I shot two clicks and moved on.
So now the shoot is winding down we’re headed back to the parking area and I see a window. I think by now you what is going to happen… sure Reese is up in the window and we get a shot that got raved reviews from the Facebook crowd. I posted from the camera to Facebook with no edits and people loved it. I loved the fact the model had that much energy at the end of the soot on a very hot day. Reese you killed that soot for sure.
Urbex Photography. What is it? Urban Exploration photography has a few definitions but for the most part it is the exploration of decaying and aging man-made structures. It can also be places were the everyday person may not travel such as under bridges, inside tunnels and the list goes on and on. In all my photography I had never really traveled down the road of this genera in a meaningful way. Sure I have photographed ruins and burned out houses and the like, but I have never put a model in the scene. I have seen it and admired it on 500px.com and again never really gave it a thought. That is until recently when I met a model who unknowingly steered me to this rather unique style. I love street photography and again street has a few interpretations but it is basically capturing life, not necessarily always shot on a street but in the streets is where a lot of life is happening. Urbex is kind of the opposite, there is not much happening. So when you incorporate a model into the scene you have something happening. The biggest thing you have going on is the contrast of the beauty of your model (you do have a pretty model… right) playing off of the decay or whatever the situation is around you. Now contrasting a model’s beauty against something plain, uninteresting or deplorable looking is not a new concept by any means. We have all seen what we may have deemed a “crazy” photo of a model in a Victorian style dress and she is in some sort of horrible background. The background by its self would most likely not catch our eye, however the beauty of the model would catch our eye or if it is a couture fashion shot her dress maybe the focal point. But put that beauty against a decrepit background and we get a contrast going that really sets things apart. Apart to the point that now we may even notice the background more so because of the beauty that is playing against it.
Where I was shooting yesterday in the historic section of Bethlehem Pennsylvania there were these Moravian ruins. If I had walked past and stopped to look at the location where I was shooting, and I was not there with a camera… I would have thought “just another old building in decay” and I might have wondered as to the history of the building, but other than that I most likely would not think any further. Now change things up… I approach the scene with a model (the beauty part) and it changes the whole game. Now I’m looking as to where and how I want to shoot her… with a camera of course. So now instead of just hiking along looking at old ruins, I have a reason and can turn it into a project.
Keep in mind it is not always about shooting a vast scene with a model in the middle. As I was shooting yesterday, we were under a huge and very high arched cement bridge. It was cool and there was a very nice breeze coming through, a nice place to take a break from the heat of the day. I looked around and noticed a cement wall that had several things going on. There was the age of the cement; there were huge water stains that were rusty colored to varying degrees, faded paint from old graffiti and mold. Looking at this I said to Reese (my model) “some photographers would give anything to have this background in their studio” and she agreed. So she went to work right away posing and we captured a nice series with this one of a kind background. Only thing I did wrong was I did not shoot the background by its self to use in Photoshop later. Oh well, now I have a reason to go back there.
Let’s talk about the camera & lenses; Ok so for this kind of photography I like to use available light when possible. I feel it gives a feel to the whole photo. I guess you could say it adds to the patina of the scene. But with that said, there are times when I could see myself setting up a 5 foot softbox for lighting the scene in a particular way. But available light is what I shoot most. I try to keep ISO in the 50 to 100 range when at all possible, although the newer cameras are really improving with a whole lot less grain in the higher ISO ranges. Just a few years back if I had to go to ISO 800 I would cringe. But now… last year I shot a bride in a hotel room at ISO 2000 & 5000 and had beautiful shots to work with and not much processing. The key to high ISO shots is; you must crop in camera, period. If you crop in camera the noise is to a minimum. As for lens choices; if I was just shooting the scene of the decaying building I would most likely shoot wide. But for faces, my 70-200mm is my favorite choice. I can zoom in for nice face shots of the model and if I want wide, I zoom back using my feet. …can you believe that “zoom out using your feet” what a novel idea? And lastly I must say I like to use a tripod whenever possible. The tripod will increase your score on “in focus” shots. Being on a lot of uneven ground and strange surfaces, it only makes sense to steady the camera the best you can.
In part two, I’ll talk more about an actual shoot, finding a location and more.