Archive for June 2009

Miguel, shiny wheel vendor

June 30th, 2009 — 12:59pm

I am doing this project on Forest Lane in Garland and I find myself doing impromptu visits to shops. There is plenty of auto-related business, pawn shops, bail bond offices, used RV sales, and many other kinds of small businesses. Sometimes I stop by just to explain my project and ask if it would be ok to come back later. Some of these places are really ugly. I stopped at First Cash Pawn, and this is a pretty unphotogenic place. The manager wasn’t in, so I’ll have to come back tomorrow. I spend some time thinking (normally while driving) about how I could create an interesting picture inside an ugly place, like a pawn shop. Then I let go and my brain continues to work the problem in the background.

Other times I just get the ok on the spot and have less time to think about the possibilities. This is what happened today. I stopped at Miguel’s shop and he agreed to be photographed. But as soon as I got the camera and stuff out of the car, three cars pulled in, he looked at me shaking his head indicating that he wasn’t going to be able to pose. I asked for just a few minutes and that’s what I got. It really helps me to have sample images to show - Miguel was pretty excited about getting an 8×10 portrait, like the ones I showed him.

Miguel has a small shop where he sells and installs those shiny chrome wheels you see some tricked up cars with. He only had 5 minutes for a portrait, so I set up a chrome wheel to serve as a halo and another for him to rest on and took a single picture because he had to go help a customer.

I dont like the squinting, but the sun was not on his face, he’s just a squinty kind of guy. I did some creative postprocessing to bring some saturation and intensity to the colors. This image reminds me of “chicano art” where the Virgen of Guadalupe is depicted with gaudy colors and shiny stuff.

I am not too crazy about the image because I didn’t really have time to think it thru, and the squint is not ideal - although the squint gives him a certain type of expression.

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Why do I make photographs?

June 29th, 2009 — 3:40pm

This weekend we went to a friend’s house in Princeton, TX for dinner.  It’s a house in the country with a small pond and some nice prairie around it.  Our friends have some chickens and a vegetable garden.   They also have some grape vines and a few fruit trees. After dinner we took the kids to the pond to fish for a while.    The first picture below is the pond at sunset with children and adults fishing and having a good time.  I took this image because I wanted to express a feeling or emotion at the time - peaceful, calm enjoyment with those we love.

What compelled me to create this image was the need to express a feeling of beauty and peace in our daily lives.  The second image, below, is one of the sunset sun back lighting some grapes on the vine.  The scene didn’t really look like this at all - this image is a creation, a fantasy, made possible by photographic equipment such as long telezoom lenses and a exposure that left the sun way underexposed.  Why did I take this particular picture.  Because I saw reality through the eyes of a photographer - I knew I could take a thin slice of reality, stop it, concentrate it and present it as a new reality.   Here I was not expressing a feeling as much as a I was creating one thru the symbols and techniques of photography.  But why?  Because I am compelled to communicate my feelings and to create - both images are the result of a creative process, as the real scene was not what I depicted.   I think these are the reasons that make photography so exciting and compelling to me - it is an outlet for both my expressive needs and my creative needs.

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Forest Lane project

June 20th, 2009 — 11:19pm

Today I started working on a project for myself, very different from the technically measured studio images I have done for a while.   I have been thinking about it for a couple of weeks and today finally got the gear in the car and got it going with the first couple of images.   It’s a documentary of people you might find along Forest Lane in the older areas of Garland in Texas, a working class neighborhood in the Dallas area. Why this place? Because it seems interesting and not too far from my work, so that I can add images to the project without much driving or complications.

My intention is to do documentary photography, but I also want to pay attention to aesthetics, I want to control the light and create environmental portraits that say something about the people in an interesting way. Today I started visiting a barbarshop and this used tire shop. My plan is to create about 20 images for a documentary portfolio on this street. The project is just for me, no commercial value. I do plan to give an 8×10 print to Cleveland, the barber and any other person I photograph on this street. I’d like to get it completed and printed by the end of the summer.

The reason I want to work on this project is that I find it more inspiring and rewarding to me than photographing beautiful people. I find great satisfaction in finding the human spirit in less than ideal conditions, and beauty among everyday people. I want to apply my skills and knowledge to create images that are hopefully genuine and also carefully crafted, not just quick PJ style photos.

You’ll see the project progress as I post my work along the way.   I will be placing images here:

Forest Ln. Project -

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Jeremy, bartender

June 17th, 2009 — 1:53pm

The summer is an interesting time for me as a photographer. I am trying to avoid shooting outdoors because I end up soaked in sweat. My studio, with the portable A/C unit I bought is bearable, but not comfortable, and I get tired of the studio. So in my quest for cold and cool locations to shoot I ended up in the local bar :-) Actually I want to get better at shooting on location too.

On Friday I asked Jeremy the bartender if he would be ok with me making his portrait at the bar. He was delighted and the boss didn’t object, so this morning I headed there before they opened to get it done.

There are two things I want to get better at while shooting on location: (1) develop creative solutions on the spot, images that are not your run-of-the-mill portrait. For me this means lighting, but I also need to use focal length and camera position better; and (2) ability to get the job done very quickly, in about 30 minutes from beginning to end;

In the portrait below I give myself a C on creativity because the portrait is pretty conventional. I give myself a B on speed because I did get it done in 30 minutes, but I didn’t enough shoot images to choose from.

Technical details
I used three sources of illumination: (1) key light on a softbox to camera left (a small Photoflex softbox with a SB800 on a stand, with full CTO gel, (2) ambient light as fill, and (3) a SB800 sitting to the right of the bottles, with a blue gel on it to accentuate the blueness of the background. The camera was set to Tungsten white balance and placed on a tripod.

What I think I did right:

  • I had all the gear I needed, I set it up quickly before Jeremy showed up, and I got the shots done in ten minutes or so. I was packed and ready to go 30 minutes after I started setting up.
  • I used flash somewhat creatively to give some character to the bar
  • The image is technically ok, sharp, composed properly, etc
  • I used a wide angle lens, which I normally don’t use, so I am breaking some habits
  • Overall lighting and color are ok, I think, and the use of gels mixed with ambient light gives a natural looking result.
  • It’s obvious he’s at his bar, so an environmental portrait it is!

What I did incorrectly or could have done better:

  • As I mentioned, I was expecting an image with more punch and interest. The small softbox spread light too much, I am thinking that a grid could have been more interesting.
  • Some images of Jeremy with a bottle in the air had some motion blur because I was shooting at a low shutter speed. I shouldn have said “no” when he suggested playing some tricks for me - I was using ambient light and 1/60 sec or so . Duh!
  • I didn’t take enough frames, only about 20 or so because I was tryng to hurry up. Next time I will write down the two or three images I want and shoot 30 frames for each to make sure I nail them.
  • Should have used the circular polarizer as I was planning to, but forgot!
  • I don’t think the blue light on the background worked as well as I expected, as I have a hot spot on a bottle I need to edit out.

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Recent work

June 17th, 2009 — 10:55am
Yesterday after work I got together with this beautiful woman to make her portrait - it was a session just for fun. Because we both had little time we met on location and spent about 30 minutes together. At 6pm the temperature was 98 degrees and the sun was still going strong, but sunlight was starting to have that afternoon golden quality. I decided to do a portrait in full sun, with no reflectors, diffusors or flash. Just make the image be as sunny as it can be. It helped that the model has a beautiful, long neck, so I asked her to pose like you see below.

Data: D700 with 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom, at 200mm, f/8 1/500 s., ISO 200, minor skin smoothing and resized for the web.

More images from this session here. C&C welcome!

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My son’s new haircut

June 10th, 2009 — 3:09pm


My son Paul was pretty happy yesterday because I took him to my favorite hairdresser so that he could get a cool spiky haircut. This morning he spent some time before the mirror perfecting the look of his spikes. Somehow I bribed him into posing for me, and he did. I like this expression, half shy, half proud.

Technical stuff - D700mm/85mm f/1.4 on a tripod, f/2 at 1/13s. with natural light coming from the door as he was leaving for school. Background is the wall.

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2am portrait

June 9th, 2009 — 10:24am

So last night I stayed up late reading in bed. I keep Arnold Newman’s “The Americans”, among other photography books, in a pile on my nightstand, and I was looking at it last night, close to 2am. Newman’s work is just so strong and inspiring that I had to get out of the bed and go touch the camera. Of course the wife and the kids were sleeping and I didn’t want to wake them up.

I mounted a lens on the camera, mounted the camera on the tripod and went back to my bedroom where my wife was sleeping, wondering how I was going to photograph her in her sweet dreams without waking her up.

Turning on the lights or using a flash was out of the question, as she would almost certainly wake up and throw some object at me for being annoying in the middle of the night. So here I am, in my underwear, with the camera on a tripod and no light to work with.

I finally saw the solution. A flashlight. And painting with light.

We have this beautiful Asian drawing on rice paper over our bed, and I wanted to include that in the photo, because there isn’t a whole lot of excitment in photographing a sleeping wife by herself. Also, the painting shows the woman kinda dreaming, and I figure that it would make an interesting picture to show the two women, my wife and the painting. It may tell a story.

I used a 6 second exposure, f/5.6, set the camera to timer mode. I had to use the flashlight to get the AF to work, and this was a good test of whether or not I could use a flashlight on her without waking her up!

So here it is. I am not sure this is a portfolio piece, but I am happy with the process by which this image came into being. Arnold Newman’s images of people in their environment left me with an urge to create, the situation forced me to change my normal approach to lighting, and technology made it possible to actually create the image without waking up the boss.

She laughed when I showed her the photo this morning and said “You’re crazy” - ahh, my reward, it was so worth it! She is a saint for putting up with me.

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Business portraits

June 8th, 2009 — 2:56pm

Yesterday was a busy afternoon, as I had the Indian theme session at 2pm and then a location business portrait session at 5pm. Here are a couple of images from this second session for your feedback.

Quick comments on the lighting for this one - I wanted to make use of the ambient use, which wasn’t much. I had to shoot at 1/6 sec. on a tripod. The flash was mounted on a stand, bounced off a silver Wescott umbrella and set to f/5.6 - the background was translucent and I wanted a blue high tech feeling, so I gelled the key to full CTO and I placed another SB800 behind the glass, pointing obliquely to the translucent surfaces. I used the built-in diffusor. Then I set the white balance to tungsten and got the background to go blue and nice. While I would have liked for the glass to be continuous and not have those horizontal lines behind the subject, I had to deal with what I found there.

The second image was done in a conference room with a table that had a reflective surface, so I placed the light a bit more frontally, on the other side of the table to make sure it was bouncing off the table and creating a reflection. I need to edit out the thingie on his reflected face, probably an imperfection on the table. The necktie could have been better placed, but missed it as I was paying attention to the lighting and pose mostly. Oh well.

There was natural light coming into the room from behind the camera, and I wanted to use that as fill, so I set the shutter speed to 1/20 sec to catch it. Main was the same SB800 on the umbrella with a 1/4 CTO just to warm up skin tones a bit. I also have a second SB00 pointing to the yellow wall to create better separation, I think you can see a bit of a halo around the subject’s head. I took the plant from the hall and put it there as an accent.


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Beautiful Yeasmin

June 8th, 2009 — 11:39am

Yesterday I had the opportunity to create some images with an Indian theme with the collaboration of a beautiful young woman, Yeasmin.  I wanted to show her alluring beauty, but also express inner tranquility.   Here is one image from the session.

Some of you may be interested in the lighting diagram, as I have done other times. Here is it. Note that you don’t need all this equipment to make a beautiful portrait, I just happen to like playing with lights, and experimenting with equipment. My experiment this time was - can a soften a gridspot for the background? see my explanation below.

The key light was a large softbox to camera left, with the light diffused again by using a litepanel. I placed a bookend made of foam coare board between the softbox and the background to prevent light spilling from the softbox on the black background. There was a hair light about 2 feet above and 1/2 foot below the model to provide some separation. There was also a background light as a grid spot behind the model, pointing to the black seamless, just to provide a bit of separation without making it obvious I was lighting the background. I inserted a piece of ripstop nylon fabric(1 square foot) between the reflector and the 10 degree grid to soften the light without changing its shape. The fill is provided by a silver reflection fabric to camera right. In summary:

1 key light to camera left
1 fill provided by silver reflector
1 hair light via a stripbox above the model
1 faint background light provided by a gridspot.

There was one additional tungsten light in front of the model to reduce the size of the pupils, but it didn’t participate in the exposure, so it’s not included in the lighting diagram.


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My son as a photographer

June 2nd, 2009 — 11:46pm

We went to Rome back in March.  We spent a week walking the city and enjoying its many charms.  Our children were really great sports, as we did a lot of walking every day… I gave them gelato as an incentive to keep them from complaining :-)  One day we were at the Spanish Steps and started walking towards Popolo Square - I asked Pablo if he wanted to take pictures with my camera, and well, he loved it.   He was not shy at all about walking up to people to make their portrait.  Here below is a selection of his work.  He was 7 in March and just turned 8.   Really happy with this talent!


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