Posts Tagged ‘Monte Zucker’

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.


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:


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:


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?”


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


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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Thanksgiving – A great chance for extended-family portraits.

Kay was looking for a photographer to capture the family on the Thanksgiving weekend. Scotty was sweet. She told her friend, “you’ve got to call Bill.” She did. As we chatted about the potential shoot, she informed me of the 12 to 14 adults, one infant and one 10-year old that would be in the house.

These occasions may have intimidated me once-upon-a-time. But that was before I met Monte, Clay Blackmore and Hanson Fong. Now, groups are opportunities for great fun!

And another phrase crosses my mind as I am talking to Kay on the phone:

If one person looks good in the image, it’s the person … if 14 people look good in the image, it’s the photographer!

We agree on the time and place, and I show. As I unload the lights, I muse to myself, “this is going to be fun.”  I can smell the turkey and dressing still surrounding the house from the day before, and I enter the living room with a large brick fireplace with a rustic feel.  Kay’s husband, John informs me who is there and how it will go. The chairs are lined up like a high school recital is about to begin. With John’s permission I lose most of the chairs and arrange two the way Monte would have: 45 degrees to the camera facing each other. And we begin.

Film and an old joke

First, as the family is getting ready in all corners of the house, I corral Kay and set her in front of the fireplace (before I remove the chairs) to confirm that the settings in the camera are good.  I can hear John, a man who spent 40 years in marketing explain to some of the family that are gathered in the kitchen that he remembers those days in the commercial world when they used to burn one roll of film in every shoot before the models would warm up.  I butt-in from the living room and remark that I agree — “in fact in the old days, I wouldn’t event put a roll of film in the camera for the first 20 shots.”

As Kay waits for me to shut up, I remark how great she looks, and how I only wish that I had put some film in this camera!  A woman accustomed to keeping her composure and determined to keep a smile on her face, Kay falls for the old joke:

Now, we were ready to get started!

Exploring the Concept of Giving an Inappropriate Gift to Grandma

Next, Kay’s sister — Linda … an attractive lady who has been introduced to me as the actor in the family, says that she often appears in print.  She looks like a print model — elegant, well-spoken and open.  She mentions that her latest gig was a gag shot for a famous luggage company in which she was obliged to make an expression that would match the slogan, “Don’t Give an Inappropriate Gift to Grandma This Season ….” “Please, I’ve got to see that pose,” I begged.  She warmly and quickly obliged:

Don't give an inappropriate gift to Grandma!

What a scream! Of course I couldn’t leave it like that; I quickly put her in a basic “Monte” pose and got the following portrait:

I couldn’t help myself. Every combination of portrait that we made was not complete until we had done the “inappropriate gift” shot — culminating finally in the whole family’s credible interpretation:

An Inappropriate Gift for the Whole Family!

This could be their favorite image; it certainly made my day.  (The astute reader will (of course) observe that the seasoned photographer was able to get the baby to perform!)


I was great to see these sisters in love and enjoying their respective families.


Lighting: Westcott Spiderlites.

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