Friday, October 31, 2008

2 New Portraits

So - something a bit different. I've enjoyed doing portraits for a while now. Before I started this photo thing, I really like painting them. There's just something really nice about working with people and expressions and light, and even though I'm trained as an architect, I find working with people much more engaging than the hard rational line or, for that matter, the landscape . Here's a couple recent experiments:

The first photo is taken with Maria under a tree, back lit by the setting sun, with a bit of on camera fill flash on her face. The ambient is intentionally underexposed, so the flash on her face pops a bit. I used several Photoshop masks/photo-filters to darken and cool the edges of the photo and also to warm the light on her face. My intent was only to enhance the original capture, so the final here is not really unlike the original.

The second image is a studio shoot with Rachel. I lit her face with a single soft-box. The backdrop was lit by a speed-light that was gelled with a light blue gel to give the background a tone similar to her eye color. Overall I like the image, but I was going for a specific look, so the original capture needed a bit more PS work. Take a look at Platon to get an idea about what I was up to. I love the way he lights his subject and the background "correctly". His subjects seem to be enveloped in the light and not just lit by it. My favorite aspect of his work is that he is using a very simple, often single, light set up. I'm really in favor of this non-gearcentric approach and just learning to do a few things really well. I think it allows him to concentrate on his subject and releases him from fussing with his equipment. A couple things that I noted about his images while trying to reproduce the effect:

First, the single light that he uses appears a bit higher, so the light is a bit more raking. This brings out a bit more detail in the skin - not very flattering maybe - and with Rachel's smooth skin it may not have made a difference. I do think the higher light does add some weight to the images.

Second, the light on the backdrop doesn't reflect to create a hair light effect on the subject allowing a crisp line that separates the sitter from the background. I had a lot of trouble getting this balance right in my little studio and still haven't figured out how to spot the background effectively yet. I'm sure that Platon does some PS work to get the final pics, but not what I had to go through. Anyway - love this stuff, and looking forward to doing more of it. Any takers? Drop me a note.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Why I like photographing kids

Last weekend I did my second kid photo session - I think from now on instead of "photo session" I will use the term "kid safari" - so lets start over .. Last weekend I went on a "kid safari", find a kid, travel to an "exotic" location (National Mall), turn him/her loose, and the chase is on! Just change the "big" in big game hunting to "little", and there you have it. Kids are great, and I think it would be tons of fun to do full time.

With this in mind, if there are folks who are reading this with children or who know anyone with children, I'm building a portfolio and am offering my services free - limited time only. All I'd ask is to allow me to use the images in my portfolio, a few kind words on your neighborhood parent list serve, and maybe a free juice box during the shoot.

So a few reasons why I like to take photos of kids:

They always try hard at everything.
Their attention span is comparable to my own.
They are curious about everything.
They eat dirt.
They are drooley and their noses run.
They don't worry about double chins or which is their good side.

Here is a selection of my favorite images from the afternoon: (you can see more totally unedited, bug bites and all, pics here.)

A few things to note in the categories of "lessons learned" and "things to practice". In framing the subject, I think in general it is very important to 1) create space around the subject and 2) get all of the important body parts in the frame. I'm all for breaking the rules, but there are a number of shots that I think would have been nicer if I had gotten a bit more of the foot or the pointing finger or the ear, etc. Initially I think its very hard to concentrate on the entire frame and not just center the eyes in the middle of the picture, leaving off feet or hands. Once the subject is framed I am then looking to compose the picture using other background elements, a ray of light, the edge of a building, a spot of color, etc. Not saying that I always get it, this is a reminder to myself as much as anything that these are things that I want to practice. A few other notes. 1) Get down to the kids level. 2) Kids love to climb up, get down, peak over and around. These are all good opportunities for shots. 3) The catch light is best when there is maximum contrast between shade and sunlight. Most of these shots were done with the kid in the shade and with some aspect of sunlight filling, bouncing, filtering in, etc. 4) Set the camera focusing to continuous, because this might as well be a sporting event.

I shot all of these with my 70-210 lens and with some degree of on camera fill flash.

Friday, October 10, 2008

What are you wearing? A selection of black.

Just a few days after the blue jean fashion show at the Swedish Embassy, Maria and I rented a car, slipped on our biggest, blackest boots and drove out to the not quite anywhere, not quite somewhere of northern Virginia, a.k.a. the burbs, for a heavy metal music review at Jaxx Night Club.

First, let me say that I think everyone needs to fear (and at least be very suspicious of) the suburbs. This goes double when the reason for being there is named the Slave to the Metal Tour. So let's just say that our first impression of the place did little to alleviate this fear, or help us forget the hour we just traveled through rain and rush hour.

Situated between a Lebanese restaurant and a Korean-neon convenience store in one of those totally foreign, oddly similar strip malls, Jaxx, an icon of metal music to those "in the know", was .. well .. smelly (I totally forget what smoke in a bar is like.), a bit torn up, a bit torn down and very well worn. The most solid thing about the club being the pipe metal railing separating the stage from the sunken mosh pit (no glass bottles please), realm of sweat and teens with hawks (and intrepid photographers of which we were several). Not that it was a problem when no one patted me down at the door after I set off the metal detector, but somewhere in the back of my mind I did recall that possession of a fire arm is legal in VA bars ..

Fortunately, it didn't take long to forget the trek. Our initial suspicion, slammed and shaken when the music kicked on (with many thank you's from the bands to the sound technician - always the first sign of a good venue). Really and truly I miss this sort of music. Plus, I was allowed to get up on stage for some close up action shots!

Really, I love shooting in these conditions, when the light ranges from total darkness to blaring spots. I know it throws a lot of people into fits - but with music raging I find it hard to care. I shot all of these in RAW but did little to edit them beyond - what else - bumping up the black intensity level. You can see some of my favorites below - not all the best perhaps - but I'm trying to create a sense of the music and the venue with the set. You can view the rest (500+ images including Maria mugging at the Chinese food restaurant next door) here. My strategy was to move around a lot, try different angles, wait for some interesting light, frame the subject, but also compose the shot with the background in mind. Enjoy - I did.

A very special thanks to Tom and the entire band, DieManic , our host for the evening, who invited us out, and provided us a pair of free passes.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Fashion in the House of Sweden

Another fashion event last Friday night. This one at the "House of Sweden" on the Georgetown waterfront. The featured designer - Nudie Jeans, a Swedish, eco-minded apparel company with a message combining green business practices, human rights awareness, and rock and roll. Take some time out and read about them. They are doing some really cool work.

I arrived just in time to grab some shots of the embassy as the sun dipped low. It's a fabulous building both inside and out and it's in a fabulous location - later it was noted that it was the only embassy with a waterfront view - very nice. If I were an architectural writer and not just an architect, I might be able to speak poetically about it's clean modern lines, imaginative use of materials, and it's open democratic facade. However, that's not my talent, so check out some of the photos. Better yet, go see the building for yourself. They would love to have you I'm sure.

So, cool space + fashion + rock-n-roll = lots of great picture taking opportunities. Here are some of my favorites (the rest are here - er .. not quite yet):

The lighting was really all over the place. On the roof the light was dropping fast and was eventually overwhelmed by some harsh spots (One has to wonder if the neighborhood historic review board (OGB) or NPS forbade installation of lights to keep the light pollution down). On the first level the main space was lit by a gorgeous "light ceiling", a stippled plenum (note geeked out architecture word) that gave the whole space a wonderful even glow - great fun for photos and low enough to bounce fill flash. Also, during the main event the stair connecting the lower level and the first level was used as a vertical runway, and it was lit by some hard video lights - much brighter than ambient. The models would ascend the stair through a glaring spot and then turn into what the camera perceived as relative darkness - pretty challenging (unless your were feeling the rock music, and then it didn't really matter that much).

For all the different lighting conditions I made an attempt to balance the different ambient and flash to give a believable (not necessarily a realistic) look to the scene. In most cases this meant a slow shutter and wide f-stop. I also tried to tune into the different colors of the different light sources - the blue of the early evening sky, the orange video lights, etc. Inside I bounce the flash a lot (even in some cases off of the floor while I crouched down during the fashion show).

During the fashion show, I also took a number of shots out of focus. First because I thought it was in keeping with the presentation of the jeans - tattooed models, rock music, and hard lighting. Second because I was interested in seeing the quality of the bokeh for the lens that I rented. (if you don't know the word bokeh - you should check it out, because its kind of cool)

(note: I promise to make all of your wedding photos very sharp and wonderful)

To the folks at the House of Sweden - tack så mycket! (I learned that when I visited back in 2000, and its always nice to hear the language)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Where's DC (to me)?

Fall makes me restless, very restless. A teasing, tapping, breeze saying, "no time to sit". I let my hair down, do a little dance, and bask in what the summer no longer holds in its sweaty little grasp. At least that was the experience of my youth growing up in a place of sharply delineated seasons. Today DC is my reality, so when September comes and the thermometer still reads "90" I get confused - actually, really confused. (I recently confirmed the effect with a high-school friend now living in Virginia Beach.)

A direct result of my confused state, two nights ago I didn't fall asleep until well after 3am. During the night I began retracing my steps, asking myself how I ended up here and what I had left to see in this very oddly shaped city. Trying to recount my earliest memories from pre-k and asking myself what the meaning of this photographic life I'm trying to create is, a real late night jumble of thoughts to be sure which almost had me biking down to the Mall to watch the sun come up.

When the day finally arrived I grabbed my camera and wandered down to the mall, to search, perhaps, for some evidence of the fall, or at the very least to break out of the house, get away from the computer and make use of a beautiful (albeit warm) day.

I settled on the idea of blocking familiar, idealized views of the capital. ("Hey! It looks just like Where's Waldo", exclaimed Maria.) The idea opened a world of new possibilities. Everything was in play - fire hydrants, tour buses, and parking meters. My inspiration: a friend's suggestion to photography her kid on the mall looming over the Washington Monument. My dis-inspiration (is that a bit like saying ir-regardless??): stock DC images, Jeffer-sun-set, White (fluffy clouds) House, and other idealized riffs(-raff).

Here are my favorites: (See if you can find the Capital building in each of these images!)

More here:

.. and in case anyone is wondering. For these pics I got out my old Nikon AI 28mm manual focus lens (I find that manual, and especially fixed lenses allow/force me to think and move, resulting in better photos. The 28mm being one of my favorite when attached to my old F3, a bit less so with the digital zoom factor when attache to the D300, but still wider than normal) and a polarizing filter to darken the sky (also allowed for wider f-stops and freedom to play with DOF), and on some a bit of fill flash (just from the camera's pop up). I've been spending too much time in front of the computer playing with Photoshop and the like, so here I'm shooting and showing -just a bit of a vignette added to draw the eye into the center of the frame.

I think I may still add to the set - Maybe with a telephoto, maybe some other monuments with some day break mauve or an orange dusk.

.. oh and this from the botanical garden, because I just like the name and that it's from Brazil