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Archive for the ‘Photography’ Category

Who Doesn’t Love a Sale?

I must admit that when I stumble into an unannounced 75% Off Sale at Dillard’s in Prescott, AZ that I cannot resist the urge to shop a little.  It was last year – at the end of winter that I found the Italian wool car coat and the long sleeve, travel guide orange shirt.

It was only this year when I wore that orange shirt that I began to appreciate how much much of bargain the comfortable, linen/cotton blend truly was.  So I decided to wear it out to dinner.

Guess Who’s Shirt is Coming to Dinner!

I do a lot of pro bono photography and videography work for local Yavapai College.  It’s my way of contributing to Yavapai County.  And in so doing, I have become quite fond of the people with whom I work there.  So when I was invited to dinner with a few of my foundation and marketing friends, I was thrilled to go.

It’s funny how you go through life relatively self-absorbed and believing that the rest of the world sees you just the way that you see yourself.  What an illusion that is on many levels!  But even believing that this is illusion, I was surprised when I arrived at dinner to a chorus of voices saying:

“OMG — we were WRONG — he isn’t wearing black!  Bill, that color looks good on you, you should wear more color!”

I made a perfunctory joke like:

“Everything else was clean!”

I thought that my stale attempt at humor would put an end to attentions focused in my direction and I was therefore surprised when the subject resurfaced an hour later at the dinner table:

HOSTESS (Melinda)

“That really is a good color for you!  How come you don’t wear more color?”

KIM

We always thought that he wore black because it made him look thinner!”

ANONYMOUS

“It’s not working!”

Ignoring the sage wisdom that I received from aging producer Leo Taub at my first job at the ‘Old Actor’s Home’ in LA:

“Someday – when you are older, you will learn that it is enough just to say that you like it!”

I proceeded to concoct (what I thought to be) a clever response:

“I can’t imagine a professional photographer not wearing black!”

Turning to my friend, Kim, I continued to be passive/aggressive:

“If I wore a shirt like yours at a portrait session, you would see a candy cane in the subjects eyes!  The eyes will reflect whatever is in front of them and it will appear on the image.  Everyone laughs when I cover myself up in black!  I have even seen portraits where the photographer appears in the subject eyes picking his nose!  Furthermore, this orange shirt in some cases would reflect back into the image and skew the white balance!”

As I noticed Melinda’s eyes start to glaze, I thought to myself,

“I seems like they are reluctantly buying this B.S.!”

I Don’t Need No Stinking Advice!

The next day I had a portrait session scheduled with Kristy!  I felt the pangs of guilt over going too far in my technical explanation of wardrobe at dinner.  So I took the orange shirt out of the dryer and decided to wear it during Kristy’s photo session, thereby ignoring my own tutorial.  ‘What could possibly go wrong?’

When I was developing the images, I saw it.  ‘What is that interesting quality in her eyes?’  I zoomed in closer … closer.

Yep — no mistaking that orange linen shirt:

Two orange sleeves of the photographer’s shirt

I could perhaps strive harder to remember that the three most common words of advice given to actors as they attempt to become successful in Hollywood are:

“Just be yourself!”

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Congratulations!

It’s been almost a year since Samara asked me to photograph her intimate Malibu Beach wedding.  I don’t often have the urge to head out West, but at times like these, braving the traffic is worth it!  Congratulations Troy and Samara!

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Wedding Photographer Blues

I at once chuckle and flinch when I see someone else’s wedding images of the bridal party where some of the people are looking in the direction of a guest with a point-and-click camera and the rest who aren’t blinking or adjusting themselves are looking in the general direction of the wedding photographer with quizzical expressions.  Professional photographers have a number of ways to preclude this from happening, which I will not bore you with now.

I don’t usually shoot weddings — I really can’t say why — I love them.  I must be getting lazy.  Mostly I enjoy photographing people who hate to be photographed.  The late master, Monte Zucker taught me how to be at ease in most shooting situations, so I love being able to delight someone who mistakenly thought that the only way to get a great image was for me to sneak up and shoot before being noticed.

Monte

Portrait Anxiety

When creating a portrait, often family members, friends or partners will insist on being present.  Most professional photographers that I know will impart the sage wisdom of the auto mechanic’s creed to the client prior to the session:

I doesn’t matter — the loved one is going to contribute to creating the image with the best of intentions if not the worst of results.

 

An Evening of Outdoor Photography with Kolten

But last night, I had a great time with Kolten, his family and the family dog.  Kolten wanted to create some images for his high school graduation announcements.

I had talked with Kolten prior to the shoot and asked him what he wanted to do.  He hesitated, so I prompted him:

  • “Is there, for example a special place within 50 miles where you really feel like yourself?
  • Or are there special things that have deep meaning for you that you would like to be in the images?
  • And what time of day would appeal to you?”

Kolten said he would think about it and then contacted me a couple of days later with the specifics:

“I would like to be photographed at night on a street or alley – you know, something urban.  I’ll bring three changes of clothes.  May I bring an animal?”

I loved it!  I knew that I would be shooting in pitch black, freezing December Prescott AZ conditions.  I would most-likely need at least three radio-controlled strobes – probably shooting in manual mode.  So I staged the equipment prior to the shoot so that Kolten would not have to wait around in 32F weather (not that he would mind).

With my sister assisting, we made some fun images including this one:

Kolten

We were nearing the end of the session and as we walked chatting to the third shooting location, we passed through an arched portico into an inner courtyard of a re-purposed church that is said by some to be haunted.

Think of Something Happy !!

I asked Kolten, “If you don’t mind, I would like to do something with this passageway … are you up for it?”

I positioned the strobes, got the tripod situated at the entrance of the portico and asked him to ‘make peace with’ the iron gate.  I was just about to shoot when I heard someone call advice from inside the courtyard that I recognized as his Mother’s voice:

“Think of something happy!!”

My heart sank a little, but I took the shot below anyway:

Happy?

As Kolten heard his Mom’s prescription, his shoulders collapsed, his smile waned and he bent at the waist as if he had been cold-cocked.  I rarely see the principles about which I am writing so quickly demonstrated – although I have seen much worse!

I walked through the portico and pretended to chide the perpetrator:

“When I was his age, most things that I thought made me happy turned out to be failed experiments that led to shame on some level.  If you don’t mind, my I try?”

I thought of Jesh De Rox and the Beloved Movement of experiential photography:

“Kolten, did you have to do anything to get that Letterman’s Jacket other than just show up?”

“Well, Yeah!”

“So there was some play or decision that you made on the field that makes you feel proud?”

“Yes.”

Walking back to the camera I offered, “That’s the guy we are photographing!”

Click:

The Swagger of a Letterman

 

I like the difference in the  images so much that it makes me think of something happy!

—-

 

Technical Details:

ISO 400

f 5.6

1/180 Focal Length 35mm

Main Light: Canon Speed light, guide number 160, 1/8 power, light modifier by Bruce Dorn/FJ Westcott, distance to subject ~ 6ft

Backlight: Quantum Q Flash, 150 Ws Light Modifier by Quantum Instruments, 1/16 power, distance to subject ~9ft

Accent Light:  Metz Strobe, guide number ~150, 1/2 power, oblique angle, distance to subject ~25ft.

Radio slaves by PocketWizard

 

 

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Further Signs of the Aging (Maturation) Process

I guess that I first became aware of what men go through as they age many years ago on the job in a large engineering firm.  Joe, an engineering manager was an overly-wonderful man who showed his age before he spent his years.  He knew this, and used to pull out a picture of himself taken in Italy during World War II in his white Navy uniform.

Looking at the picture, it would appear that in his youth, Joe was vibrant–with a luster of confidence bordering on bravado.  Now, he was portly, balding and over-worked to the point of exhaustion.  He would often repeat:

“I am still that guy in the Navy uniform.  I don’t feel any different now than I did then!  My friends say to me,

‘Joe, what happened to you?  You used to look like a Greek god!  Now you look like that guy who married Jackie Kennedy!'”

Sisterly Advice

I can see now how easy it would be to forget that at some point in time, a man maturing will appear more like an uncle than a perspective lover, because I now feel the same way that Joe did.

Fortunately, while I was in the perspective lover/uncle transition period, my younger sister whispered in my ear as I was joking with a check-out girl at a pharmacy:

“… psst …Billy, you’re not 25 anymore!  You are INVISIBLE to this girl!  Don’t be a perv!”

I could develop a complex by taking some of my sister’s advice, but in this case, I heeded her sage wisdom and have attempted to control the urge to be cute with waitresses and baristas.  In the long run, it seems to bring peace of mind.

” …. And Just Where Did You Meet Her?”

There are, in my opinion, two great ways to distinguish a professional photographer on an assignment from an amateur (or as we joke, a faux-tographer).

Flash-on-camera = faux-tographer

No assistant = faux-tographer

Most of the professional photographers that I know are eager to teach photography or mentor their assistants.  I wish that I had found my mentors, Monte Zucker, Hanson Fong and Lisa Evans earlier in life.  But there it is!

So, at a recent event that I was covering at the local senior center, I went out-of-my-way to offer the assistant’s gig to the daughter of a good friend who is interested in all things media.  She is a natural at lighting.  I guess that I could have done the job alone, but I thought the experience would be valuable for her.

I can’t tell you how many times that I was asked:

“And just WHERE did you meet HER?”

My recent assistant — “…. and just WHERE did you meet HER?”

Of course, I presume that the comments were inspired by her engaging personality, youth, beauty, lighting techniques and nothing more.  The comments most certainly did not reflect on me in any way!

But, (that being uttered), I guess we all get older!

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Monte Zucker

In my opinion, the late  Monte Zucker‘s name should never be far from the mind of any professional portrait photographer.  Monte’s photographic gravitas is like the reputations of  so many inspirational people whose fame and respect only grow larger when they are gone.

I have often talked and joked about Monte’s approach to posing people for portraits — he knew what he wanted.  But the pose,  while resulting in a classic portrait that looks completely natural, often feels really unnatural to the subject.  It’s counter-intuitive.

So Monte would sometimes take matters into his own hands.  He would put his camera down, approach the subject, grasp the neck and render a quick adjustment that resembled the work of an impatient chiropractor.

Joe Bruch

Of this technique, my friend and fellow Monte disciple, Master Photographer Joe Bruch recounts that after Monte administered the first ‘adjustment,’ the subject would most likely proactively assume the perfect pose should Monte begin to approach for the second time.  (I would have opted for the adjustment).

Rod Menzies

Anyway, when director and acting coach Rod Menzies contacted me and asked if I could to do a favor for his friend and acupuncturist, Edward Jwa of the Toluca Wholeness Center, I jumped at the chance.  Edward and his partner, Daniel Cho are well-respected in the Korean Community, but felt that a short video of their new Toluca Lake, California clinic produced in English could interest perspective Western clients who were perhaps unfamiliar with and might benefit from acupuncture and herbology.

At one point while making the video of Edward of Daniel as they were consulting in their office space, I felt Monte’s memory urging me to correct Daniel’s head position.  After unsuccessfully verbalizing the correction, I decided to come forward from behind the Canon camera. I quickly approached Daniel and made the necessary ‘Monte Adjustment,’ as shown in the video clip below.

Now, the astute observer may notice that magic was in-the-air immediately after the adjustment, because  my ‘chiropractic posing’ diploma mystically (and tastefully) appears, thereby appropriately augmenting the Toluca Wholeness Center’s waiting room wall:

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The Crayon Court Comes to Town

Paul, from the college foundation was explaining to me, “Bill, donors to the college make events like this possible. We’d like to get an image that we can use for our magazine — you can do anything you want — make any image you want –anywhere you want.  All the performers ask is that you don’t use any flash during the show.  They are more-than-willing to help you make an image at the end of the program with one or more of the audience.”

So, as the school buses began to arrive, Paul and I were on the lookout for someone who might enjoy getting a picture taken with the cast.

As I was scouting the audience of anxious first-graders, the subjects were hamming-it-up for the camera.  The scene below is typical:

Waiting for the “Crayon Court”

Outside, the students were filing-in and being greeted by the cast members.

After a couple of passes capturing candids, I sat down and mentally ran the checklist for the cover shot that I would make at the end of the show.

  • Canon flash charged, set on manual, soft-box, waiting in the wings
  • Quantum Q Flash charged, set on manual, soft-box, also ready and waiting in the wings
  • Radio slave transceivers set to Channel 1

Suddenly, I realized one of the first-graders had turned around in her seat and was staring at me; she wanted me to take her picture.

“OK,” I said.

“Will you take my picture?”

I showed her the back of the Canon camera.

“How’s this?” I asked.

“It’s OK,” she allowed.

“Really? What would make it better?” (I learned this response from my osteopathic mentor, Hugh Milne).

She quickly answered, ” … if there was one of those crayon people in the picture with me!”

Smiling to myself I said, “I think I can help you with that.”

I quickly signaled to Paul and a teacher to come over.  After confirming with the teacher that she was a candidate in good-standing,  we gave her the news — if she wanted to be in a picture with the Crayon Court, we would get her after the show.

She was thrilled.

So, after what was a really wonderful performance on colorometry and shapes, I grabbed the flashes from the wings and got ready to shoot using the auditorium as the backdrop.  We told the rest of the children if they wanted to be in the pictures, to come to the front of the stage.

I set about making the picture ‘better:’

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Rehearsals

I love watching rehearsals — any kind of rehearsal.  Concerts, plays, public speaking events, sales presentations — you name it.  I’m the guy who would rather walk through the unmarked door next to a gift shop near the Country Bear Jamboree at Disneyland that leads to the utility corridors than go on the ride itself.

When my good friend and director Rod Menzies let me sit in on a coaching session with comedienne, Alice Johnson Boher, I was beside myself!

So yesterday, when I found myself at the Performing Arts Center at Yavapai College, I couldn’t help peeking at the stage.  I rarely lug the Canon camera around if I am not expecting to use it, but yesterday was an exception. So I entered the balcony and saw that there was a little activity on the stage.

An informal rehearsal in Prescott, AZ

The musical chorus director rushed to the stage to send individual groups to rehearsal rooms, leaving two students on the stage (I’ll get their names later for a post script). Since I was accompanied by my friend and fund-raiser for the college, I felt completely comfortable about going up on the stage to get a closer look.

There was a time in my life when the thought of approaching people going about their business would have never entered my mind.  But over the years, I have missed making far too many good images by being timid or worrying about whether or not a photographer would be welcome to over-think taking the shot now. And although I don’t practice the all-out techniques of the paparazzo, I will usually not hesitate to approach people in a scenario that interests me.

So I did not flinch to make this image:

“Let’s take it from the high note…”

This particular image above  would have been very difficult to make several years ago.  Although it does not look like it, there was very little light on stage.  With another camera, it would have been a grainy mess, especially if I had used a vintage digital  Nikon.

I used a Canon EOS 6D with the 40mm pancake lens (great for walking-around) at ISO 3200 (no flash), f3.2 at 1/30 second.

If I had it to do over, I would have done it at ISO 6400 at 1/60.  But I am still learning, after all!

They looked at me with the glory and fearlessness of youth and asked me, “are you coming on March 21st?  We’re doing “Children of Eden“!  You know — by Stephen Schwartz; he also wrote  “Godspel,” and “Wicked!””

Without hesitation, I said, “I’ll certainly try… break a leg!”

“Thank you!” smiling at me as they answered.

A Lapse of Invisibility

They were shortly joined by an accompanist, who upon observing me making the following image

looked up from the piano.  With a little hope in her voice, she asked me, “Are you the composer?”

(She must have been fooled by my Hollywood-actor-style, dress-down wardrobe with the trendy wool scarf and big camera).

I answered, thinking to myself ‘maybe I’m not as invisible as I thought I was,’ “No, I’m just a guy with a camera.”

And I’ve never looked as good as Stephen Schwartz!

Composer, Stephen Schwartz

Composer, Stephen Schwartz

“Oh, OK,” she said without any animus – and went back to rehearsing.

I love rehearsals!

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