Monthly Archives: October 2010

Arvada, CO | Documentary Portraits | Family Pumpkin Picking

Halloween is here again! I hope you have your pumpkin picked out.

Below are some documentary pictures from our pumpkin picking adventure this fall. The whole crew went over to my Mom and Dad’s place where Dad has a big garden with a small pumpkin patch. The kids all got to pick out a couple of pumpkins and there were still a few left over to give to some of the kid’s friends.

I really like these pictures for a few reasons… first is the light. We did this in the late afternoon, so the light was warm and directional, perfect for these kinds of pictures. If you are scheduling a family event that might provide good photo-ops, always try to take advantage of the light at the end of the day.

Another thing that I like about these pictures is the authenticity. Everyone looks real. Julie and Luke just got out of work, so they are wearing their work clothes. Dad is pretty much always dressed just like this – jeans, pocketed t-shirt and a big hat (in the winter he adds a flannel shirt). It’s the end of the day, so the kids hair and clothes are messy, and they have stuff all over their faces – just as you would expect. These pictures really document our family, not some idealized version, our real family.

This kind of authenticity is what I always strive for in my documentary portrait sessions – family fun, real locations, natural light, comfortable clothing – perfect. So if you have a family event coming up that could benefit from some authentic documentation, give me a call.

You can click on any of the images to see them larger. Enjoy…

Tech Info:
Late afternoon light
Nikon D70s
Nikon 35mm f2.0
Adobe Camera Raw

Posted in Portrait | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Arvada, CO | Documentary Portraits | Jaxon Playing Outside

This is Jaxon. He is truly a boy’s boy. He is happiest when he’s eating, sleeping, or playing outside. He loves to run through the rocks, weeds and grass. He loves to play with sticks. And most of all, he loves to push his jeep.

These are documentary portraits of Jaxon doing his thing. For this set of images, I really wanted to show him in his element, so we went outside in the morning, when the light is good, and before he has a chance to get tired and cranky. I pretty much just followed him around and waited for him to do something interesting. He didn’t need any direction, I would occasionally say his name, just to get him to look at the camera.

My camera selection was based on my desire to place Jaxon in context. I wanted it to be obvious that we were outside running around and playing. So I went old school – these were shot using an old fixed lens rangefinder camera from the 1970’s. Notice the soft corners in some of the images. That is one of the great things about using old film cameras and lenses, they each have their own unique look that can really add to the feel of the shots.

One thing I especially like about this particular camera is the fixed 40mm lens. It is close to a standard 50mm, but just enough wider to give more context to the images. However, it is not as wide as a 35mm, which can show distortion in portrait images. 40mm really seems to be the sweet spot, at least for me.

You can click on any of the images to see them larger. Enjoy…

Tech Info:
Canon Canonet QL17 GIII
Fixed 40mm f1.7 lens
Legacy Pro 400 (AKA Fuji Neopan 400)
Ilford Ilfotec DD-X (7min @ 20C)

Camera Scans
Sigma SD9
Sigma 50mm f2.8 Macro
Photosolve Xtend-a-Slide

Posted in Portrait | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Denver, CO | Byers-Evans House | Wet Plate Collodion Demo

Last weekend I went to a wet plate collodion demonstration at the Byers-Evans House Gallery here in Denver, CO. Leading the demo were Mark Sink & Kristen Hatgi. Mark is a well know photographer living in Denver, who currently has a show hanging at the Byers-Evans House (highly recommended). He and Kristen have been collaborating on fine art wet plate projects for a few years and they share their expertise through demonstrations and workshops.

Wet plate collodion is an antique photographic process that was in popular use at the time of the Civil War. If you have ever seen an old Tin Type, you have seen a wet-plate image. The process is pretty complicated and involves:

  • Setting up a portable darkroom
  • Coating a sheet of glass or tin (they now use aluminum with a black enamel coating) in gun cotton
  • Adding silver halides to the plate (in the dark)
  • Putting the plate in a “film” holder
  • Composing the portrait on a large format camera
  • Locking the camera down and inserting the “film” holder
  • Exposing the wet plate for a few seconds (the sitter has to remain motionless)
  • Processing the wet plate in the darkroom
  • Waiting for the plate to dry
  • Varnishing the plate to protect it

Why would anyone go to all this trouble? The number one reason is that the resulting images are beautiful, with great tonal range, swirly out of focus backgrounds, and interesting imperfections from the totally hand crafted process. Another aspect that makes these images interesting for fine artists, is that the resulting images are one-of-a-kind originals. They can sell this original image like a painting, it is totally unique. Of course it is possible to make a scan and create reproductions, but there is only one original.

It was really exciting to see the process unfold. I don’t know that it is something I would start shooting, it uses some potentially lethal chemicals – 100% pure grain alcohol, gun-cotton, ether, and cyanide – but it certainly inspired me to think about ways to improve and expand my own portrait work.

This week, I pulled my old 4X5 camera out of storage and started brainstorming ways to incorporate it into my arsenal. That led to thinking about the pinhole photography work that I did back in college. Now I have at least two new projects to explore. That is something I love about photography, there are always new things to learn and new paths to follow. I will put this new work up on the blog as I experiment and test.

Below, I have added a few documentary images from the demonstration. If you scroll all the way to the bottom, there are four cellphone snaps of the tin-types that Mark and Kristen created during the demo.

You can click on any of the images to see them larger and view captions that explain what is going on. Enjoy…

Tech Info:
Canon Canonet QL17 GIII
Fixed 40mm f1.7
Legacy Pro 400 (AKA Fuji Neopan 400)
Ilford Ilfotec DD-X Developer (7min @ 20C)

Camera Scans
Sigma SD9
Sigma 50mm f2.8 Macro
Photosolve Xtend-a-Slide


Tech Info:
Cell Phone snaps with my LG Dare
A lot of Photoshop work to make them presentable

Posted in Personal Work | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Documenting Your Family | Photo Tips | It’s Your Frame, Use It

  Probably the most famous documentary photographer of all time was Henri Cartier-Bresson. He was best know for images that capture the “decisive moment” (a phrase that he coined). And while his images certainly embody this idea, I think there is another aspect of his work that is too often overlooked – his conscious choice about every element that was included in (or excluded from) his frame. He typically worked with a Leica rangefinder camera, meaning he was not looking through the picture taking lens, but he was still able to beautifully frame his photographs. Neither leaving in extraneous elements or omitting important aspects of the image.

When you are out making pictures of your family, it is important that you be conscious of what is in your frame. Notice that I wrote making pictures, as opposed to taking pictures. That is what you are doing, you are making the decisions about what you include in your frame. Include elements that add to the story or give context, exclude elements that are unnecessary or distracting.

In the two pictures above, you will notice that one works and one doesn’t. The person walking through the background in the second image is distracting and really should not be there. For these shots, I had made the conscious choice to stop the bottom of the frame on the black rubber of the swing and not include Molly’s legs. This did a few things, it helped center her face in the frame, it allowed me to add a lot of the chains to help explain what is going on, and it shows a lot of the climbing wall in the background, adding context to the image. Now it takes a lot longer to write (or read) all of that than it does to actually come to the decision. After you start thinking in this way, it becomes pretty instinctual.

So what went wrong with that second frame? After I had made my decisions and framed the shot, I could only shoot one frame every time Molly swung into the proper position. In the first frame it worked perfectly – Molly swung into frame, I clicked the shutter – bang! – properly framed and focused image. Immediately after I made this image, a woman walked into frame from camera right. I was so busy concentrating on Molly’s position, I didn’t even notice… Until just after I pressed the shutter. No great loss, it was only one frame and I could even crop it to a square and exclude the background if I wanted to. Also, this was a pretty complicated situation. Normally it is pretty easy to look over your entire frame before clicking the shutter.

The trick to nailing this technique is simply to make it a habit to look around your frame before making the picture. I always start by deciding what is my center of interest (the most important thing in the picture) and then placing it where I want it in the frame (generally NOT dead center). I then let my eye do a clockwise lap of the frame edges. This picks up anything weird going on in the rest of the image. I am especially watchful for things that might be cut-off or jutt into frame.

The above process will seem slow at first, but as you get used to it, you will pick up speed and before long it will become a habit and you won’t even realize you are doing it. This habit should really improve the quality of your pictures, especially if you are using a point-and-shoot digital camera where everything is always in focus.

So give this technique a try and let me know what you think.

P.S. Here is the second image cropped to exclude the distracting background…

Tech Info:
Nikon F100
Nikon 50mm f1.4
Legacy Pro 400 (AKA Fuji Neopan 400)
Richard Photo Lab

Posted in Documenting Your Family | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Westminster, CO | Documentary Photo | The Kids Are All Wet

Here is a fun documentary photograph to kick off the weekend. Back in September, the family and I went to a free concert at the Westminster Promenade in Westminster, CO. While following Emma around to make sure she didn’t cause too much trouble, I noticed the kids playing in this fountain.

As the sun got lower in the sky the light got better and the scene got more interesting. Also, most of the kids started to clear out, and I was able to get this one frame with a couple of kids in just the right spot. It was really an exercise in anticipation and patience.

Wait for the light to be low enough to back light the water and silhouette the kids – Wait for just a couple of kids doing something interesting – Make sure no one is walking through the background – Anticipate the moment when the water is shooting to its highest point – CLICK! One shot, one good frame is all I was able to get. In the next frame, the bright sunlight was gone and the kids had moved together to make one black blob instead of two distinct silhouettes.

I guess this was one of those times when a snap-shot wasn’t really a snap-shot.

You can click on the image to see it larger. Enjoy…

Tech Info:
Nikon F3
Nikon 50mm f1.4
Ilford HP5 Plus
Ilford Ilfotec DD-X (9min @ 20C)

Camera Scan
Sigma SD9
Sigma 50mm f2.8 Macro
Photosolve Xtend-a-Slide

Posted in Personal Work | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sterling, CO | Documentary Portraits | Bye Bye Summer

Last night, we had our first frost of the season here in the Denver metro area. I thought I would take the opportunity to look back at some fun documentary portraits from the summer. These were photographed at my grandmother’s house in Sterling, CO. The girls wanted to go out and play in the sprinkler and I wanted to get some pictures of them, so it worked out for everybody.

As you can see, they had a great time and I really like the pictures we were able to make. This was a great location for the shoot because I remember doing the same thing in the same location when I was a kid. It has meaning for me, so it adds something special to the images.

We had nice late afternoon light that I was able to use to rim-light the girls and back-light the water droplets. This makes for really interesting light in the images – soft on the skin and faces, but nice and contrasty on the edges and in the background. Also, because I was shooting black and white film, I was able to retain detail in the bright highlights and in the sky. If these same pictures had been shot on a digital camera, there is a good chance all of the highlight detail would have been lost.

The setting, the light, the “props”, the “wardrobe”, it all screams summertime and fun. This is what I go for in my documentary portrait shoots. Capturing a great memory, not just what the kids looked like at a certain moment in time.

You can click on any of the images to see them larger. Enjoy…

Tech Info:
Nikon F100
Nikon 50mm f1.4
Legacy Pro 400 (AKA Fuji Neopan 400)
Ilford Ilfotec DD-X Developer (7min @ 20C)

Camera Scan
Sigma SD9
Sigma 50mm f2.8 Macro
Photosolve Xtend-a-Slide

Posted in Portrait | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Boulder, CO | Chautauqua Wedding | Quiet Bridal Portraits

There is a trend right now to turn bridal portraits into edgy fashion shots. While this works for a lot of photographers, it is not really my thing. I really prefer quiet, authentic bridal portraits like the ones shown below.

We made these portraits after coming in from the rainy bride/bridesmaids portrait session before Kate and Brandon’s intimate wedding at the Chautauqua Community House in Boulder, CO. I had Kate sit down in a chair next to a window in the little cottage where the ladies got dressed. This gave me beautiful soft window light coming from camera right, a nice gradation of tone on the simple white wall in the background, and just a tiny bit of rim light coming from another window behind Kate’s camera left shoulder. This is very traditional, and beautiful, portrait light that was achieved simply by looking around and placing the subject in the right location. No artificial lighting necessary.

I shot these images as Kate sat and chatted with her bridesmaids. This kept the situation light, and made for authentic and interesting expressions. I really love the shot that shows Kate’s wonderful profile. The perfect hair, translucent veil, and lace shoulders of the dress combine to lend the picture a sense of delicate beauty. It has a timeless quality that will keep it from looking dated in the decades to come.

You can click on either of the images to see them larger. Enjoy…

Tech Info:
Very soft window light coming from camera right + subtle rim light coming from back camera left
Nikon F100
Nikon 50mm f1.4
Legacy Pro 400 (AKA Fuji Neopan 400)
Richard Photo Lab

Posted in Wedding | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Documenting Your Family | Photo Tips | Back-up Your Images

In Sunday’s Denver Post, buried at the back of the A&E section, was an important article on the challenges of archiving our audio history – http://bit.ly/cmPHOe. These are very similar to the challenges that we all face in archiving the digital images and videos that we are creating to document our families.

In my post last week, I talked about the importance of making prints. Of course, prints are the safest way of archiving your photos, but they don’t do much for videos or if you may want a larger print at some point in the future.

So, in addition to prints, it is imperative that you make digital back-ups of your images (videos). When you shoot pictures on your digital camera or cell phone, the images are saved on relatively stable memory cards. But these cards do “go bad” with no warning. Also, while these cards are in your camera, they hold the only copy of your images. This can be dangerous for a few reasons – loss, theft, breakage & card failure come to mind, so it is a good idea to get the images off of your memory cards as soon as possible. Don’t let them languish on the cards for months at a time.

As you copy the images from your memory cards, remember, you always need to have the digital images stored in at least two places at any given time. Digital data storage is a tricky thing. Drives can just fail with no warning and recovering the data is very expensive (if it is possible at all). Below is a look at my typical back-up workflow…

  1. Shoot, shoot, shoot – I rarely delete anything on the back of the camera. You never know when something in a picture may become important.
  2. Ingest, rename, and add ownership meta-data (I will cover this in a future post) to the images from my memory cards using PhotoMechanic. PhotoMechanic actually ingests the images to two different hard-drives (my primary “Images” drive and my “raw file” archive) at the same time. Automatically ensuring that I have saved the images to two different places – obviously, this is something that you could do on your own, PM just makes it really easy.
  3. At the end of my day, I kick off a system wide back-up. It makes a complete back-up of my entire system, including my “Images” drive. This ensures that I have updated back-ups of all the images that I have worked on that day. So, when this process completes, I have the images that I pulled off of my memory cards saved on at least three drives – raw file archive, Images drive, and back-up drive.
  4. The next morning, I come in and check that the back-up ran successfully. If it did, I go ahead and re-format my memory cards. Note: It is not good to have half used memory cards laying around. If you grab one and load it in your camera, you won’t know whether the images on it have been backed-up.
  5. A final step to consider is “off-site” back-up, which will cover you in the event of a fire or theft. There are a couple of ways that I handle off-site back-up. I upload a lot of our personal images to a Flickr account. This lets me share the pictures with friends and family and also lets me quickly order a bunch of prints. I also like to make CD/DVD back-ups of my “raw-file” archives and store them at a different location.

I know that the above series of steps seems like a big undertaking, and is probably overkill for many people. Documenting families and special events is my job as well as my personal hobby, so keeping those memories protected is something that I am passionate about.

For the average person, a few simple steps may be all that is required to keep your images safe…

  1. Get the images off of your camera and onto your computer
  2. Run a system wide back-up (you should have this for all of your valuable data, not just your images)
  3. Load your favorites to a photo sharing or printing web site
  4. Make prints

How are you protecting your images? I would be interested in hearing how others are working through these issues. Also, let me know if you have questions.

Tech Info:
Sigma SD9
Sigma 50mm f2.8 Macro
Natural light coming through an open door
f3.5 | 1/60 | ISO 100

Posted in Documenting Your Family | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Northglenn, CO | Documentary Portraits | Playtime Pictures

Here are some fun documentary portraits from a trip with Molly to E.B. Rains Jr. Memorial Park in Northglenn, CO.  I really like these pictures because they feel authentic, with great expressions and an interesting environment that adds to the image. The pictures were captured using just the available light, with no posing necessary. I really prefer to work in this way, especially with kids. Interacting and moving around beats sitting and saying “cheese” every time.

To get kids looking at the camera, just wait until they have slowed down to focus on something (like playing the “piano” below) and then say their name. They will look over, and you can snap the picture before they realize what you are doing. Once they realize, they may put on the big fake smile, or look away. It depends on the kid… and the day.

You can click on any of the images to see them larger. Enjoy…

Tech Info:
Nikon D70s
Nikon 35mm f2
B&W conversion in Adobe Camera Raw 5

Posted in Portrait | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment