Breaking Out (If our eye/brain sees something that doesn’t make sense it will pick it up.)

Model Bree Arkham. A two image composite from the Eastern States Penitentiary shoot.

Model Bree Arkham. A two image composite from the Eastern States Penitentiary shoot.

This is a two image composite of model Bree Arkham. In this image we see an outdoor shot of Bree as she pulls her arms backwards while hanging from a large gate. Behind her is an image of a cell inside the penitentiary. The cell image is shot at f/4 and Bree was shot at f/5.6. In Bree’s shot her arms go out of focus due to the shallow depth of field.

So using the masking power of Photoshop I merged the two images and blurred the cell to match the DOF of Bree’s hands. Then I used an Emily Soto fashion action to create an atmosphere that would bring the whole scene together. The Emily Soto action is not a “one click” and your done kind of thing. I will actually spend a lot of time working with the various layers of the action and the masks to get the balance I like.

I feel in the end the light coming through the skylight in the cell looks as if it could be spilling on Bree’s back causing the rim light on her arms. When working with composites this is the one element that will be the most challenging… where is the light coming from? The average person is not asking this question when they view the image, however their subconscious mind is asking this question. If our eye/brain sees something that doesn’t make sense it will pick it up. Now that doesn’t mean that our brain instantly says “hey that’s a composite” but what our brain does most often (as my brain does) is give us a weird feeling about it, just kind of “somethings not right” feeling. So this is where certain things need to match or “balance out” between your elements in a composite, things like white balance, atmosphere and most of all direction of light and or shadows created by light. These two images have very different white balances and if I have a really hard time balancing the color I can always “bail out” as I say and pull the ejection lever and go straight to a black & white image. If I go over to B&W I most times by-pass or greatly lessen the problem of matching white balances between the elements.

Once white balance is done I then move on to creating atmosphere to bring the scene together and I do this in many different ways. Today it was a Fashion Action” and it was todays answer. Like most things in Photoshop you need to know many ways to get to the same end point. It is all about practice and that is what this image is… practice. The main element of Bree hanging on the gate is a 100% fine image as it was shot. We worked the pose out I shot it and a few minutes later I had her revisit the gate and shoot it again at a different f/ stop. The first was f/2.8 and the second was f/5.6 and the later was the better image as it made Bree’s hair really crisp. So “no” I never shot her to be a composite. As for the image of the cell that was shot a year before. It is part of my large stock of images I shoot and save for elements.

Creating Images (create an image and slaying the naysayers along the way).

Melina Martin at Eastern States Penitentiary greenhouse.

1/125 sec at f/5.0 ISO 50 130mm

One of the biggest problems any photographer will run into when trying to create an image is that “you and only you” know what you want  to create and you cannot let anyone stand in your way or your destined to fail at creating what you want.

So let me take a few steps back and explain my opening statement. First let me say I am talking about creating an image and not just taking a photo, although the two topics sometimes are the same. Secondly if you are creating anything you are an artist of some sorts on some level, so… if you are the artist how does anyone else see your vision? They don’t, they can’t, they won’t or maybe the answer is all of the above. Get over it, don’t fight it, don’t dwell on it, just embrace it as if it were a mountain and find the road around it or the path straight up and over it. There has never been a mountain that could not be climbed.

Now let’s get back to our DSLR in hand and work our way through the murky waters of trying to create an image and slaying the naysayers along the way (say that three times real fast lol).

I have been sidetracked so many times when trying to create an image and today I’ll focus more on a model shoot then say an outdoor long exposure image. I talk about working with a model because this is the one topic I think a lot of new photographers need to think about and digest.

So at some point you start to get visions of what you want to create, you can see the colors, the particular model you want to use, the pose/s and of course the location, wardrobe and so on. Depending on the depth of your vision you may see everything down to the smallest detail. However… is life going to play along with your finely tuned game? Well most likely not. But this is where you need to muscle up and start smacking heads… well not quite, but seriously that is just how frustrating it can be and you as a person need to understand that nobody can see what you see and most times they don’t even care. Even paid models, hair stylist and makeup artists can be less than caring as to what you’re trying to do. And that’s people that you may be paying, but if you’re a new photographer starting out working with models and you want good images, you need to go to the next level and start designing what you want. Essentially you are just making a plan (you should be writing it down) to get to an end result. But working on a limited budget you will most likely be finding a TFP (time for print/photos) model and this is the first quagmire you’ll be stuck in. Just finding a model let alone one that is coherent and will actually show up and can at least follow your direction. Now please know I have worked with a lot of downright wonderful models who were also wonderful people. But you & I both know that not every single model out there is… shall we say “well grounded.” Did he/she get enough sleep? Is he/she high or drunk? Is he/she even connected to this universe? Again I am not trying to demean anybody, but fact is fact. So how do you get around this problem? “Test Shoot” you need to qualify the model with a test shoot and see what kind of person they are. I do this with paid models if I’m paying the bill. If a client pays and they trust the agency or the source where they found the model then that is on them. So do a test shoot and see how you relate with this person. And really all the above goes for makeup artists and hairstylist too, even assistants or lighting help.

There can be many other road blocks and I could do a single post on all of these but let’s just gloss over them here.

Location; did you scout out the location recently? Are you sure there is not going to be anything happening there the day of the shoot. Do you have permission to be there? Do you need a permit? Sometimes permits are not that expensive at all… I say sometimes, but it’s worth looking into.

Wardrobe; who’s is providing it and where is it. Do you have possession of it 24 hours before the shoot? Have you inspected it? Is it clean, no wrinkles, dust, and lint and so on? Does it fit the model?

Time; Have you checked that everybody is available for the amount of time that you will need? Is the shoot going to take more than one hour, if so you might want to have some sort of refreshments on hand like bottled water and other soft drinks? Sport drinks if it is a hot day and light snacks. Keep in mind if you provide this for everybody it keeps them from saying “I need to run out and get something.” When people leave the shoot it distracts and kills time. Sure this is going to cost you something, but if you’re smart it can be done good for very little amount of money. Always check with all people who will be on the shoot for food allergies and maybe their favorite brand of drinks (Coke, Pepsi, Evian ect…)

When I contact models, makeup artists and stylists I give them my phone number and tell them “texts are ok”, I also give them my email address, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook (business page) and my website address. I encourage them to follow me and I do the same back. I want them to see what I do and I want to see what they do. If they have no interest to follow me it throws up a red flag and I’ll really think hard about shooting with them.

“Stop texting me and pick up the phone.” Yes I am old enough to have grown up before mobile phones, the internet and DSLR cameras. Most of the models I have photographed have never even had the photo taken with a film camera; they have no idea about film at all lol. But so many people today both young and old love their texting and I do too, but at some point there has to be person to person conversation if you’re serious about working with me. And this can be another red flag as to really how much a person pays attention or really cares about what I (you) are trying to do. Remember this is not all about me; the final images are going to be used for the benefit of all parties involved.

Don’t think for a minute that a good or “great” image is going to happen for free. You will be hard pressed to find a model who shows up with hair, makeup and wardrobe worthy of creating great images. I will admit it has happened on occasion and when it did I was shocked… and of course I still shoot with those models again and again, why not. But don’t expect it to happen all that often. Remember you’re a photographer and your world is f/ stops and ISO, focal lengths and lighting. Nobody else lives in your world except other photographers. Models, makeup artists and stylists have no idea what your vision is, you have to be patient with people, embrace their short comings and most of all love people. Be kind, gentle and think of their needs, treat everyone with respect. I’m a lot older than most people I shoot with, sure “older is wiser” but that wiser can sometimes make younger people feel inferior or less confident. Famed fashion photographer Lindsay Adler once said (paraphrasing) she listens to people’s comments and ideas and then moves on. Sometimes using their advice and most times not, but she always listens. I too found Lindsay’s advice to be very useful. Listen to what people are saying, really genuinely listen maybe they have a great idea (for free no less) but then move on. Most times when people offer advice or ideas they are genuinely trying to help you, although they may not have a clue as to what you are doing and how you are doing it. Quick example would be something that happens to me all the time with portrait shoots; client wants photo is a special park or outdoor area. It is 1 o’clock in the afternoon on a bright sunny day and they think the perfect location is right out in the bright sunlight because… well its bright sunlight. I simply explain I need even light and we move to a proper area.

I could go on and on but this is a blog post and not a book… speaking of books there are some really great books on the topic of model shoots Frank Doorhof has a great book “Mastering the Model Shoot”. Lindsay Adler also covers shooting models in her “Designing an Image” tutorials. Both are great sources of knowledge on the topic.


Melina Martin at ESP (…let’s shoot our way out of this prison)

1/30 sec at f/2.8 ISO 1600 70 Lindsay Adler Lightroom preset “Dark Memory”


Model Melina Martin looked fabulous on Tuesday evening for the third and final photo shoot at Eastern States Penitentiary. Yes it was hot and very humid, but we made our way through the old shambles of the penitentiary and captured some nice images. Miss Martin is new and still learning and that is why I asked her to do this shoot. I wanted to give the young lady camera time and really just a chance to work with here again. I shot with her back in the spring time and she was amazing.

So as we entered inside of the walls at of ESP we started at a location I have not used before. I have always wanted to shoot around the old greenhouse, which by the way is in very good condition. I also found a second gate that has a medical cross on it. Located next to the greenhouse it must have been another entrance to the medical ward. The first well-known gate with a cross is located just off of the central rotunda in what would be numbered “Cell Block 3” but as  you head down that corridor about 50 feet you come to a locked gate with a medical cross the has remnants of red & white paint. This as I was always told was the main entrance to the medical area also known as “Cell Block 3”.

Crazy I know but the more I visit this creepy place the more I get to know it… and yes there is always the creep factor when I’m inside the walls of this 11 acre wasteland. The creepiness starts to rise when you have idle time and stop and actually look at any one particular thing. But I think the most intense feelings (for me personally) are stirred up when I walk through the earliest built cell blocks like #1 and #4. Just to think of that concept that once you (the prisoner) entered the cell block and walked into your cell that is where you stayed for the duration of your sentence, in that cell and the tiny court-yard located off the back off the cell. You had one hour a day in the court-yard and the walls are so high all you can see is the sky. And then someone will speak or make a loud noise and you come back to the reality that you here for a photo shoot. But it’s that short time you drift away that you think about the pain of that prisoner living a life of immense solitude. And I also think that maybe it was a fitting punishment for his crime. How many people did he murder? Or was it rape? Did he kill children? Yeah lots of crazy thoughts as I walk through that creepy old place. And then all of a sudden we stop walking and we’re at a shoot location and my mind comes back to f/ stops and ISO settings.

So for this day I used my all-time favorite window location at cell block 3, but I ran into technical problems with my radio flash and not having a lighting assistant of this day was really making me… well let’s just say “troubled” although I can think of a lot worse four letter words to use here. So I sent Melina off to change wardrobe as I worked out the issue and the issue turned out to be a controller not properly fitted to the camera’s hot shoe. Such a simple fix… after you replace speedlite batteries (that were ok to start with), change flash units and maybe ten other things… then you notice the controller is just not quite mounted correctly… duh!

I found a new location under a stairway that had a lot of crackled paint and that made for some nice shots, but very crowded area and that made for a lot of distractions. So at this point I said to Melina “Ok, I think we’re pretty much done for the night, but let’s shoot our way out of this prison, we’ll find other places to shoot as we work our way back to the exit.” And with that statement she busted out in laughter and I had no idea what she was laughing at. She said “shoot our way out of this prison that is so funny.” Then I started to laugh too. It did sound funny when you think about it.

So as we started to so-called “shoot our way” back to the exit I stopped at the junction where cell blocks 8 & 9 separate. There was very nice window light, soft and pleasing natural light. This is where we finished up the shoot and then headed back out through the main gate to Fairmount Avenue.

I look forward to next year.


1/160 sec at f/3.5 ISO 50 155mm

1/160 sec at f/8.0 ISO 50 70mm

1/160 sec at f/8.0 ISO 50 70mm

Final Shoot at ESP for 2015 (…it looks as if heat & humidity will be the arch nemesis.)

1/30 sec f/3.2 ISO 100 160mm

1/30 sec f/3.2 ISO 100 160mm

Tomorrow August 18th will complete the summer photo shoots at Eastern States Penitentiary in Philadelphia. As I have posted in the past these shoots are really a lot of fun because it presents a challenge. Like always there is the challenge of light or the lack of. And again this month it looks as if heat & humidity will be the arch nemesis. June’s shoot was a real sweat box of a time while July wasn’t quite as bad, but tomorrow is going to be… well let’s just say I’ll have a Gatorade IV hooked to my arm. Flying solo with no lighting assistant it will be just me and Miss Martin. Melina Martin will be my model and I am really looking forward to our time together. While Junes’ focus fell on straight beauty in a vintage dress and then July found me capturing images of the amazing tattooed Bree Arkham, August will have me photographing pure ebony beauty at its best.

So let’s see what happens… something always happens… good or bad something always happens.

Photo of The Day (Cellblock 6, hallway of doom. Constructed 1831)

1/30 sec at f/5.6 ISO 2500 24mm

1/30 sec at f/5.6 ISO 2500 24mm

Just a little taste of decay, looking down the corridor of cellblock 6 at Eastern States Penitentiary. One thing the image does not provide is the horrible smell that comes up out of this cellblock. It is a smell of rotting and decaying wood and dirt. So “yes” it smells as bad as it looks.

Bree’s House (After all with a name like Arkham… not only did she feel at home, she made ESP her home.)

You may not be welcome here.

You may not be welcome here.

Looking beautiful and like something that stepped from the pages of a dark comic book, model Bree Arkham arrived to meet my assistant and myself at Eastern States Penitentiary (ESP) for a walk through before the actual photo shoot. Given the fact I had never actually met or spoken with Miss Arkham prior to our meeting I really did not know what to expect, other than I knew I wanted her for this shoot. First I have to back up and give a little history; I never plan a project shoot with a model whom I have not first had a “test shoot” with. A test shoot is more of a “get to know each other” meeting. Maybe we don’t work well together? Maybe we just don’t connect on the same level and that’s ok if we don’t. Not everybody I meet is going to like me and vice versa. In my previous post I talked about the challenges I expected to face for this shoot at ESP and one of them was that I had never met this model before, so “yes” this was Bree Arkham’s test shoot. And well… Bree delivered on que.

Having followed Bree on social media for over a year I felt she was genuine and down to earth, but more so I found her to be very interesting and I mean that in a good way. So yes when we first met it was a little awkward, but we soon got past that and got right down to business. Doing a walk through the old penitentiary was perfect and it gave the two of us time to become acquainted and draw our focus together for the shoot.

My shoot last month at ESP was with Nicole and we came away with some really nice images. Nicole with her natural beauty and the vintage dress was awesome. But this time I wanted to head in a different direction, so enter Bree Arkham, we still have beauty but it is beauty with… well purple & silver hair, lots of tattoos and body piercings.

I’ll spare you the all the details of the shoot, but let’s just say this “Bree was right at home” at ESP. After all with a name like Arkham and an amazing Joker tattoo on her upper right arm… not only did she feel at home, she made ESP her home. She was having a lot of fun and you know that is my number one rule, “If we’re not having fun, then we’re doing something wrong”. She made ESP her stage and like all photo shoots it takes a little time to get into the groove, once in that groove we had a lot of fun and captured some great images.

Heat & humidity were not a big issue, yes I was sweating and who cares? But Bree and her makeup held up great. We didn’t get any “creepy guy” syndrome as I had expected and it’s a good thing we didn’t, because Miss Arkham is packing some wicked guns and most likely would have sent him crying for mommy. Seriously this girl works out and has the body to prove it.

Lighting was a challenge as always at ESP. We are shooting late in the day and behind those huge walls you lose light quickly. My wonderful niece Alyssa was my lighting assistant and using a single radio speedlite and a Westcott Rapid Box I was able to get ample light when needed. Last month I shot Nicole strictly using ETTL, this month I went strictly manual flash. However most of my shots were using available light and riding the ISO into higher than normal ranges. Although I kept my ISO as low as possible I did have two shots at ISO 12800. Are they the best shots of the night? Of course not, but they’re not too bad. With the flash I had my ISO between 100 & 400 and with a full crop sensor they look great.

As for finding good locations; I did use my favorite window and the big gate leading out of the central tower. But I was also granted access to an area not used by the public called the “Officer’s Courtyard”. It was not the most interesting or special place, but it was different so we used it and I did get a few good images there.

When all was done and said, the shoot was a success. Bree’s test shoot yielded some great images. But the bigger story is we will move on to and epic project. Having met this wonderful young lady and seeing how well we connect Bree Arkham will be perfect for a composite project I have planned for later this year and I can’t wait to head to the studio with her.

Thanks for reading and have a great day.

We are so really, really... really cool.

We are so really, really… really cool.



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