Dancing On An Island (…“it is about decisive moments and interactions” )

These are the moments in life that really turn me on as a photographer. When you look in on a wedding reception and there is all of this chaotic interaction. People are eating, talking, some are outside smoking, there are people drinking and then… you see two people lost in their selves on a dance floor. Nobody else is dancing but just them and nobody is even paying any attention. These are the special moments that some wedding photographers will overlook because they want to stay pinned to the bride and groom for the whole day/night.

Wedding photography in my opinion is so much more than just capturing the beautiful images of a bride and groom on their special day. I once heard New Jersey based photographer Cliff Mautner  say “it is about decisive moments and interactions” and not all about getting technically accurate photos. Essentially at the end of the day you (the photographer) should have all the classic images of things like the bride walking down the aisle, ring exchange, the first kiss ect… Then of course you will have your formals of the family, the wedding party ect… Quite honestly these are very easy images to capture because most wedding flow the same. I say “most”, but not all. Think about it; you’re at a venue the guests are seated, the groom is waiting, the bride is entering and so on. Sure dealing with the iPhone people can be a challenge; weather (if it is outdoors) can be challenging, but after you do enough wedding these challenges become easier to deal with and overcome. This then of course make your job a lot easier and you can go slam out a wedding. But are you capturing the moments?

When we look at some wedding photographers portfolios or look at the couple’s photo books or albums we sometimes see all these great images, but are we seeing the special interactions or those special moments? Seeing the classic shots are nice, however like I said they are relatively easy to obtain. As long as you know and I do mean “know” your entire camera technical you should be looking for the special moments. Think about it; how much more you can do when you never really have to think about camera technical. You walk into a scene and you are the “auto mode” for the camera. You know what ISO, shutter speed, aperture, hell you even know if you should “spot weight metering” for a special shot. I mostly work with two bodies; one will have a 24-70mm f/2.8 and the other a 70-200mm f/2.8. I’ll have an 85mm prime for some special work that I can throw on real quick. And that is it for cameras & lenses, then there is a speedlight on a stick or a continuous light such as a wand light either hand-held or on a stick.

Some special moments take time to evolve and what I mean by this is; the image you captured today might not mean a whole lot today. However we all know time changes everything and what looks like an ordinary image today could mean the world to someone tomorrow. Weddings are the most likely place to find these kinds of shots. But if you’re just there to get photos of a bride coming down the aisle, rings, kissing and hugs you may not be living up to the potential of your job.

 

 

Somebody’s Angel

Angels come in all shapes and sizes.

Angels come in all shapes and sizes. They can often appear in your darkest hours when hope feels like a meaningless word. Keeping faith in all things you do, stay strong and lead others. Faith in your god, your country and most of all yourself is what strong people are made of. You too could be an angel someone and never know it.

Carabao at the Irving Plaza NYC. (They were perfectly loud and I say it that way because …)

So I recently went with my wife and a friend to see Caraboa at the famed Irving Plaza in NYC. Now for my American friends let me give a brief description of Caraboa. They are a Thai rock band that started up in 1981 and continues to go strong today. Their material can be described simply as “song for life.” Their music is fueled by the protest and upheaval of the 1970’s in Thailand. Very similar in some ways as some of the American & British rock bands of the late sixties and early 70’s.

So I know my American musician friends are asking; are they any good? And I can say with a 100% yes. They are a world-class band for sure. They are as tight and on point as any great band I have ever seen. While they are influenced by many sources the overall feel for me personally was very Allman Brothers-ish (without the extended guitar jams). The music is rock driven guitar with prominent keyboard and at times other various instruments. They were perfectly loud and I say it that way because after a near three-hour performance and standing only about 30 feet from the stage I left the show with hearing intact. Their sound mix was perfect too, I could hear every instrument and vocal clearly. There was no fancy gimmicks or stage antics just good ole hard-core guitar driven rock music. At the same time I must point out that they have a strong style all their own and while they come across as a “rock band” on some tunes I hear the influence of folk music with mandolin, flute and acoustic guitar. Most of their songs have a bouncing beat that kept the crowd dancing through the whole show. So I can say “yes” to putting on an energetic show and nobody is falling asleep. Just like Thai food has a signature taste with lime leaf, lemongrass and tamarind. Carabao’s music has a signature Thai feel for the most part. When I visit Thailand I really like the sound of the Isaan/Lao style and I could hear that coming through in some of Carabao’s tunes.

Although I know very little Thai and I did not understand most of the vocals I still enjoyed the event.  Music is universal and being a fan of guitar driven rock I loved the show and I would go see them again.

My only gripe would be the timing of the event. The doors opened at 11:00pm on a Sunday night in NYC. The band actually took to the stage at 12:20am (Monday morning) so yeah… definitely not going to work on a Monday morning. I realize it was most likely due to last-minute booking so they could get a show in on the east coast. And with that said there were fans there from far and wide. I met people from Virginia, Ohio, Georgia, Maryland, Connecticut, Massachusetts and more. There fans are obviously dedicated and not just a bunch of older folks. I saw many people in their twenties attending the show.

About the photography:

I used my Canon EOS M3 with the 18-55mm lens. Small and easy to carry, plus the Irving Plaza does not let people in with professional cameras. I was there strictly as a concert goer and nothing more. I arrived early because it was general admission. I found a spot along the side of the room at stage left. There was a two tier standing bar and I positioned myself at the end closest the stage lower tier about 3 feet above floor level. So I had a great view of the stage, a place to rest my drink, camera & phone. And I was just above the heads of all the fans standing in front of the stage.

Camera settings: All my shot were captured at 1/125 sec in Tv mode. ISO was auto as was aperture. Most times ISO racked out to 6400 that was what I set the limit at and aperture would fall at f/5.6 which is the widest setting for that lens when zoomed to 55mm. If I captured a wide shot at let’s say 18mm the ISO would fall to 2500 sometimes and the aperture would fall to f/4.0.

So yes the shots are grainy with ISO noise but certainly not unusable or un-editable. And “yes” of course I captured everything in RAW. Even my worst image of the night was better than every iPhone or Android shot. I think the ISO grain gives a good feel to the shots.

 

 

1920s Flapper Girl (Soon the project turned into an onion of sorts with many layers.)

Nicole Gallagher 1/160 sec at f/3.2 ISO 320 160mm. Hat by Patricia Josephine Antique Style, Dress & gloves from Unique Vintage Makeup by Ambre Baxter

My latest photography project has many layers to it. It started out as a straightforward project themed around the stereotypical 1920s Flapper Girl. Soon the project turned into an onion of sorts with many layers. I really don’t know where or how the idea it started; but I think it was when I was looking at some old silent film footage and seeing women dressed in the cloche hats and stockings rolled at the top.

In the past I had read much about the women of the roaring twenties. Although it was way before my time, the one thing I always remembered about it was that it was a “time of big change” for our country and women were part of that change. The 19th amendment to the constitution ratified on August 18, 1920 gave women a right to vote. This certainly was a time of change and the “Flapper” came to life. Flappers were already on the rise and there is also much debate as to where the term flapper was born and to what it actually meant. Wikipedia describes Flappers as such; Flappers were a generation of young Western women in the 1920s who wore short skirts, bobbed their hair, listened to jazz, and flaunted their disdain for what was then considered acceptable behavior. Flappers were seen as brash for wearing excessive makeup, drinking, treating sex in a casual manner, smoking, driving automobiles, and otherwise flouting social and sexual norms.[1] Flappers had their origins in the liberal period of the Roaring Twenties, the social, political turbulence and increased transatlantic cultural exchange that followed the end of World War I, as well as the export of American jazz culture to Europe.”

So as I do with all my projects I started off with hours of research and reading, and to some this may seem boring however for me it serves a purpose. It gives me time to relax and read (I love research reading) and while reading it gives me ideas and also helps me solidify my thoughts of a specific look. It also helps me find what looks I don’t want to do. For example I did not want to go with a Gatsby style look. At first I did want the Gatsby look and then as I researched I realized the look would be rather generic at this point do to the movie being out a few years back and… well I just wanted a different look and feel. I think the biggest obstacle was wardrobe. While there is so many websites that offer so called 1920s style dresses, they are not at all 1920s style. Any moron can Google 1920 era images of women and easily see that the wardrobe offered today that is listed as Flapper style is hardly that. Hats were the hardest to find. Finding a hat that actually looked like a true 1920s style is practically impossible if you want “just an everyday” hat. Fancy hats were easier to find. Subsequently I had to compromise; I used three hats and one turban. The turban looked authentic and while two of the hats looked amazing they still were not authentic to the time period. Shoes were easy to find, that was not a problem.

I chose to go with a “day dress” look rather than the evening or party attire of that period. In the beginning I was going to shoot two looks with one model. I then thought; why not add another model and shoot one look on each. As for dresses I found Unique Vintage, a website that had dresses that fit the budget and they really looked pretty close to 20s era dresses. Although the fabric would be different it would not a big deal at all.

As for models; Kallie was my first choice because she is new and I wanted to give her camera time. But when I thought of Smithville Mansion as the location and I also thought of Nicole Gallagher. She is the one who first introduced me to the location and she is perfect for the shoot. Her posing is awesome and she has a rounder face (as opposed to angular) that was classic to the Flapper look. Flapper makeup techniques purposely made their face appear rounder as opposed to most current makeup techniques that give an angular look. So I used both Nicole Gallagher and Kallie Pyatt. This worked perfect because of the hot weather I was able to shoot each model separately without the heat & humidity killing the look. It damn near killed me, but the models did fine.

Kallie Pyatt 1/125 sec at f/6.3 ISO 640 155mm Makeup by Ambre Baxter, dress by Unique Vintage, hat by Patricia Josephine Antique Vintage

For a makeup artist I reconnected with Ambre Baxter and she was amazing. Doing makeup on location in the heat is truly a challenge. However both models looked amazing and again not 100% true to the period, but good enough.

Project goals: This project had several layers to it as I had stated at the opening of this post. First was to create a Flapper Girl look, using day dresses. I wanted the looks to be as if she was a 1920s girl out and about in the daytime. Kallie’s look was a little more reserved than Nicole’s look and neither girl looked as if they were heading to the party or jazz club.

Second goal was to shoot a good portion of this shoot on 35mm film. As of this writing I still have not received my 35mm scans, but I’m hoping for the best. I used CineStill 50 Daylight in two cameras, a Canon EOS 650 film body with an f/1.4 50mm prime and a Pentax Spotmatic with a f/1.4 50mm prime. I also used Ilford Delta 100 (B&W) with a Canon EOS 650 mounted with an f/1.8 85mm prime. I have had the film just waiting for a project and this was the project.

Third goal was that I always wanted to shoot Nicole at Smithville Park because our very first test shoot was supposed to be at that park. However the day we went to shoot there was a huge event taking place and we couldn’t even get close to the park, let alone into the park. We opted for a second location and went on with the shoot. However Smithville Park is a place that is very near & dear to Nicole for personal reasons and I always said to myself “someday we’ll shoot there.” And now we did.

Fourth goal was to give Kallie more camera time. She is new and she is advancing I see her getting better with each shoot. She fun and easy to work with so why not.

Fifth goal was I needed a new cover photo for my business Facebook page and as crazy as it sounds I take cover photos very seriously. Your cover photo and profile photo are your first impressions when a newcomer first visits your page. “First impressions are lasting ones” as they say (whoever they are lol).

Sixth goal was to get at least one portfolio quality image out of this shoot and I can safely say this was accomplished.

In closing I would like to say the shoot could have been better… it can always be better, but I’m very happy with what I did get from it.

I will write another post when I receive my scans and I discuss shooting with film and the techniques I used.

Thank you for stopping by and reading. Have a great day.

 

 

 

Energy Failure (…bounding through the door hyped on two lattes, one espresso and a bottle of 5 hour energy)

Chevy Corvair

“It is all about energy and without energy life is flat.” That statement holds more meaning than one could begin to interpret or write about in a single blog post. Sure you don’t get enough rest and you wake up lacking energy and your day runs kind of flat. But it gets much deeper that; Why I’m gonna bet that if you thought about the most memorable concert or music performance you ever attended, it was packed full of energy. That was one of the key components that made the performance so memorable. Sure you may have like the band or the performer/singer, however if the singer came out on stage and just sat on a couch and performed… well I think you see my point.

On a photography level and speaking in the realm of photo shoots energy is paramount to capturing great images. Even if the mood of the shoot is meant to be somber and there is no smiling, there still needs to be energy. And this is the very reason I have chosen this topic to write about today. Because I feel that energy is the key component (or lack of) that is missing in many photo shoots. The truth be told, lack of energy is missing in a lot of areas of our lives and I’ll talk about that later. But for now let’s break it down by each individual who is part of the photo shoot.

So does the photographer really need to have a lot of energy? Isn’t he/she the one who should be capturing the energy? Ok, so the answer is “yes and yes.” Sure the photographer’s job is to capture the moment (oh god here comes the clichés) but at the same time the photographer is the leader and the catalyst between this world and the eternity of the world where the frozen moment of the image will live. As much as capturing images and the technique of lighting the scene the photographer needs to draw the energy from the talent/model and this is not always easy if the talent is not at a professional level.

Scenario; your hired to for a private shoot, the subject is not a professional by any means. It is a girl, she somewhat shy, she has never had a professional birthday photo shoot before. She looks like a deer in the headlights… what do you do to get energy injected into this shoot? I’m not going to go into a long detailed synopsis, which would be for another post. But rather I just want you to see in your mind how those images are going to look. “Flat & boring” are just two words that come to mind.

Makeup artist… really? They need to have energy too? Sure it is the whole positive vibe thing, you know how infectious a smile can be and having energy to go with that smile will really help any job, photo shoots included. Now I’m not saying the makeup artist needs to come bounding through the door hyped on two lattes, one espresso and a bottle of 5 hour energy drink, that might be a little (or a lot) too much. And I am using the makeup artist as an example for anyone who is working the shoot. So the same goes for lighting assistants, hair stylists, wardrobe, and art directors and so on. I know it sounds hokie , but it is so true, everyone needs to project a positive vibe.

While all this sounds so obvious it still really is in my opinion why many photo shoots fall short of capturing great images. You could have the best of the best camera equipment, lighting, location ect… but if the energy is not there you’re on a sinking ship. And just the opposite; you do not need $10,000 of equipment if you have good energy.

The model; Ok so if he/she is a professional most likely they are bringing their own energy to the shoot. After all I said they are a professional and that is most likely one of the key things that has raised them up to a professional level… they have drive and they have energy. However what if your model is new to this, they are nervous, they lack experience and they just don’t project that energy. Again I’m not going to go into how to solve this problem; this post is more about identifying and understanding how lack of energy is a huge problem. Many new photographers fall short of identifying this missing component in the beginning. New photographers are focused more on camera gear, lighting and just hoping the talent and makeup artist show up on time.

The biggest way I have found to keep the energy level up and flowing is by “planning” and more planning. Having a plan gives you comfort and this will add or keep energy flowing. Many times I will deviate from my main plan, but not by much. Some things are obvious such as everyone knows the time, date and location of the shoot. However it is the little things that can mean big problems. Now I could go on a long tangent of “what ifs” but for an example; the shoot is an outdoor location and we had to walk to it from the parking lot. Only a fifteen minute walk, but what if a rain shower comes? It only rains hard for ten minutes and passes. Where does everyone take cover? If everyone and everything is wet… well I’m betting energy level will be in the negative lol. And again that is just one “what if” that could have been easily avoided with proper planning. There are many things that can tax the energy from the shoot.

How about your energy? Your personal energy level is important. Did you get enough sleep? Seriously for me this is a big one, because I seem to most times stay up later that I should working or just watching Netflix. But when I think about how important the job is and how good I feel when I sleep early and wake early. Waking early after a good sleep for me is such a good feeling, not to mention the fact of how relaxed life is when you’re not in a rush. I have time to sit a drink that morning cup of coffee, maybe walk a little extra with the dogs, rather than racing around with the dogs and drinking the coffee on the go in the car. I never eat a large meal before a big shoot, but I do eat something. A large meal will slow me down and having no meal is even worse. I tend to snack and I try not to drink too much so I don’t have to keep taking bathroom breaks. After the shoot a nice sit down meal is so nice and enjoyable.

Look around and give it some thought, energy truly is the key thing to all performances. And a photo shoot is just that, it is a “performance.” You’ll know you’re doing it right if at the end you are tired, depleted and spent. And that holds true for pretty much anything, whether it be an athlete running a race, a stage performer or someone looking after children all day. To do any job right you need to expend energy, to create something you need to expend energy, both physical and mental. And when you expend energy you project energy and a vibe. Projecting good energy is like projecting a smile, it is infectious and contagious. Or it scares people, positive vibes and good energy make some people uncomfortable and they just can’t handle it, and that is ok. Either they come on board or they leave or avoid it. If your smile can not make another person smile it is ok, maybe they’re having a bad day or they are a miserable person. I have no problem with them personally; however they cannot be part of my photo shoot.

Your energy comes from more than one place or maybe I should say there is more than one kind of energy. You have your personal energy, you slept well, you have a plan for what you’re doing, and you have confidence. Confidence is like a smile, if you are confident about what you’re doing and you’re the leader the vide goes out to everyone. Then there is your reputation and as they say “you’re only as good as your last performance” although I tend to not believe that whole heartedly because we all have a bad day or a bad performance at some time or another. However I think more over it is the fact that others had a good experience working with you and therefore more people want to be part of whatever your next project is. I call it the “Tom Sawyer” effect. Although I am not being punished to do something as Tom Sawyer was being punished to paint Aunt Polly’s fence. I do find that if you project a good vibe, have lots of confidence and you generally seemed happy about what you’re doing, people will join in… Of course money always helps lol. Money is a motivator but it is not an energy maker. Money will get people to show up to work as millions go to their daily jobs every day. But do they go to work with energy? Hell no! People of all skill levels from doctors to janitors (no disrespect to either) go to work each and every day just waiting for the day to be over as soon as it started. While I’m not a big fan of this thing called “work” I am a big fan of feeling good about what I do. Sure I have days when I just feel down and not so… full of energy. But if I have a big job (photo shoot or otherwise) I know the key to completing the job with a successful outcome is energy.

Many times when I see a local band playing I will see a huge lack of energy. They’re playing a good song, they’re all in key and they sound good, but they don’t sound great… something is missing. They lack energy. They lack that pure raw power or energy that a great performer can put out. And again it is not all physical it is also mental in most cases it is a synergistic effect that comes from both. Think of any good entertainer that ever took to the stage whether it be Billy Joel sitting at a piano or Mick Jagger, Steven Tyler and of course the list could go on and on, but you get the point. I am a huge AC-DC fan and I am also a guitar player and I can play a few AC-DC songs pretty damn good. But could I ever project the energy that Angus Young projects while he is performing? Just watching him makes me tired and again I am just using him as one small example. But when I walk into a club or a bar and I see somebody covering an AC-DC song… sure the song sounds good, the singing, the guitar, but most times the energy is not even comparable. This just confirms the difference between one who has learned how to play the guitar and one who has learned how to play the guitar and use it to master the art of performing while playing a guitar.

Ok, so let’s apply this concept to photography. There are millions of camera geeks out there that know all the tech specs of their cameras and their neighbor’s cameras. They can even tell you all the specs of the cameras that haven’t even been released yet. They spend hours, days and months reading the camera gaga on the internet. So while they have this vast data base of knowledge filling up their brain, subscribing to every tutorial site and taking in every camera expo, they still cannot create and to them energy is something that comes from a rechargeable battery. They’ll never “get it” and some don’t really “want it.” “It” being the ability to use a camera to find energy and capture it or to pull energy from the model or subject and capture it. I’m not here to say it is easy nor am I saying I have mastered it. What I am saying is “without it, you’re just another Saturday night bar band chugging away at playing a tune someone else created.”

So I will say it again “it is not about high dollar gear or fancy cameras” but rather the ability to create energy and capture energy. Learn how to use your tools, your camera and your lights, learn how to pose and after all of these things are in place create some energy and capture it.

Thank you for reading and have a great day.

 

Summer Fun (Most important thing was keeping air in the bicycle tire and playing in the creek.)

Summer Fun Model Kallie, Styling by Lenzwizard
1/125 sec at f/3.2 ISO 100 80mm

Nothing says summer in the country like “playing in the creek.” As a small boy I can remember so many good times (and some bad ones) of playing in the creek in the summer time. I can also remember playing in the creek in the winter time, but that is a story for another day.

Ah summer time, no school, no shoes, no shirt, not a care in the world. Most important thing was keeping air in the bicycle tire and playing in the creek. It might be swimming in the creek that would most likely be the case if it was scalding hot and dripping humidity. But just playing in the creek was where all the real fun was at. Walking along the edge or in the water, it really didn’t matter. Muddy legs and little cuts and scrapes that you never realized were there until later that night.

Skipping flat stones, lifting rocks just to see what was under them, trying to catch a fish with your hands… or just walking the creek to see where it goes. Slipping and falling and getting back up as if nothing ever happened. When I think back about it, and I mean really think back, past all the nostalgic surface memories and dig down deep… still I remember it as fun, just good ole fun.

So cut to 42 years later I’m still playing in the same exact creek. I’m at a spot working a project shoot with a model. While she is walking in the water to position herself, my mind is drifting back to how many times as a small boy I waded that same water with my childhood friend. Talk about surreal and “Déjà Vu” to the tenth power… I never dreamed as a boy I would be back there as a photographer. But still the best thing about all today was… summer fun. The weather was absolutely amazing, not too hot, not too many bugs, no snakes… No snake is always a good thing lol. After the shoot I felt just like that little boy who rode his bike there 42 years ago… I didn’t want to go home; I just wanted the day to last forever. But we had the shots we needed and we reviewed them, we were done. I’m sure Kallie will remember this day too. She looked amazing. Here is one of the looks from the shoot.

Thanks for reading and have a great day.

 

Game Changer (5 years ago I never thought I would have a way of capturing images like this… )

Hagedorn 1/470 sec a f/2.2 ISO 100 Mavic Pro

Today was a great day. I had most of the early part of the day free so I decided to do what I almost always do when I have total free time and that is go out and find something or someone to photograph. So today it was something, it was an old abandon psychiatric hospital up on a mountain top. One of those creepy places where people say it is haunted and of course yes I was trespassing there is no way of denying it. And actually that is always my plan of action if the police arrive. I never try to deny the obvious. If an officer/s shows up I (in a natural way) use a lot of “yes sir-no sir” and when asked what I’m doing I just tell the truth. So far when caught I have most times been asked to leave and that’s it. Today I did not venture in the in the building, because that would require another person and would surely not be good to get caught in there.

What was most exciting was the fact I had something new to work with… a new camera you might ask? Well yes as a matter of fact it is a new camera, but it is attached to a drone. This is a true game changer when it comes to photography and video; however I just want to focus on the photos for this post.

Hagedorn 1/900 sec f/2.2 ISO 100

The camera is not all that great as far as cameras go. You can see my video rant about the camera here. https://youtu.be/xx_wBBsx-7E Really it is only two-thirds of a camera because the aperture is fixed. This leaves only shutter and ISO for adjustments. Simply put it is a cell phone camera attached to a really nice gimbal that is attached to really nice drone.

However if you work a cell phone camera well enough you can capture some amazing images. The main thing is “stabilization” and this Mavic Pro drone is utterly amazing how it can hold position even in wind.

So that’s my day, I spent the morning working with the drone taking aerial photos and then editing them. It was very peaceful up on that mountain so quiet, just me and the deer and a buzzard dodging at my drone. 5 years ago I never thought I would have a way of capturing images like this, unless of course I was in a plane or helicopter. Now it is as easy as finding a place to take off and a clear line of sight. I was about ¾ of a mile down-range from the buildings; I never went near them at all. I let the drone do all the work.

I’ll have more drone shots soon. Thanks for reading and have a great day.