Testing produces confidence but also a few gems

Testing is often more than just messing about with new kit, it’s more like finding something new to put new gear to the test with knowledge one already has from proven kit!! Sometimes the results are simply amazing and solidify the addition or frustration may erupt due to unfamiliarity which will spur me to quickly learn to wield it like the rest of my gear— as a master. I thought this background screamed out to my style of shot and it was fitting that my subject was one of my mentors, my friend and soon to be my Rep— Dallas based Commercial Photographer, Lisa Means.

On being a Pro, pt. 1

I am a Professional Photographer and as such, I have my own mantra– one’s real works should be seriously good, but if you want to see how much the photographer really cares about their craft, just take a look at their personal work.  I put my money where my mouth is all day, everyday and in all-weather!!  You can tell so much from looking at the personal images that should give real insight into the Professional.   What’s really cool is when the evolution of the photographer happens right before the eyes of the viewer and I will use myself as the example. I studied the Craft and the Art of photography in college cutting my teeth on the very core and essence of it as I shot.  I learned that there are decisions to be made before one picks up a camera, problems to resolve when the camera is in your hands, moments to select and anticipate, backgrounds (clean or busy, helpful or hurtful to the image), then when to click the shutter.

Those are the items that race through my head or are always whirling about when I am shooting, and when I’m shooting sports it happens so much faster and depending on the sport — much, much faster!! My idea of a snapshot will likely end up as a 20×30 inch print or canvas instead of a phone only/ 4×6 on a fridge thing of old!!

No Ordinary View

I have always looked at things with a different esthetic. I mean, I see what others have done and if I have to make an image in  the same space, I ask myself,  “What will make your images different from those others and do you have the heart to go bolder?” I rarely walk away from a challenge. Early on in my college photography classes, I know I drove a couple of my professors nuts with questions often 3-4 weeks ahead of where we were in the course. It wasn’t that I was antsy or in a hurry, rather I have a thirst for knowledge and information fed by a creative streak that is just natural to me and I’ve accepted the cravings!!

One of my favorite images for a few reasons and the first of which is that the colors just seem to work together on all levels. There is a mood that resonates confidence, coming of age, strength, beauty, protected innocence and accomplishment… all of which is displayed with lighting and the use of a 300mm portrait lens!! Ok so the lens I shoot typically shoot sports action with was an obvious choice for me in this instance because it just felt right and truthfully, we were doing a shot on the track and I wanted to show distance in the frame and the easiest way to make that happen is with a long lens. Plus, I happened to have borrowed it from my mentor and friend, so off I went!! As it turns out, this kind of a thing with me… I dig making portraits with long lenses…!!

This is one of my earliest images and by far an all-time favorite for one reason– ok, well a couple of reasons, but the first is that this my “little” cousin during the pre-game routine and this was the second time I got him on field level for a college football game. Everything about this shot is as magical now as it was when I made this image, let me explain. I shot this with a 400mm lens at 25-30 yards away on the sideline and he is at about the 15 or the 20-yard line which is why the goalpost pad is there as a bit of a reference marker, at this point in the stadium there is a shaft of light striking him from behind creating the most beautiful gold rim or edge light that took my breath away. Then there is the gaze… it looks as though I called out to him and he just turned into me but truth be told, he never new I was down the field much less wth the game shooting until I showed up with this 12×18 inch metallic print that got me the WOW moment of my life. Did you notice the light on the front side and the nonexistent glare on the clear visor ? That’s from the stadium lighting and warm sunlight from behind him. Sometimes the Photo Gods just hand down gifts and you gotta be present to win.

Stopping traffic with WOW factor

I like images that make the viewer stop and just say “WOW!!” Who doesn’t like those?  The question is –” What makes for a WOW experience in viewing images?”  It’s about doing something different.  Thinking outside the box comes naturally and double so when it comes to the imagery I want to produce. I have been taught that the point of making images is not to look like everyone else, but to stand apart from the pack.  As far as the way I see things, its about not only the shot I take but sometimes, its about the way I approach the shot. I look at the colors of the subject and how much of the subject can I fill my frame with and this is my building block. The use of color as a compositional element in this frame take the shot to another level all by itself in that it IS critical to the success of the image as a whole— literally from edge to edge in the frame.  

This is at Turn 9, during the MOTO GP race weekend and its all about color. The composition was determined by filling the frame and the rest is all about rider head position and frame filling color– the speed is truly and quite literally implied and understood on all accounts.  

Sometimes, the racing Gods just offer up a gift and when you are dialed in, all you have to do may just be to focus on the subject, follow them and shoot!! Ok so it’s a bit more to it than that in some ways, but at the base, it is just that simple. I won’t bore anyone with the details like the shooting position I had was on the downward slope of a hill to where I was looking over the top of a black fence and shooting through a grey fence while panning ( a photographic technique for following or tracking a moving vehicle on the track waiting for the optimal range to shoot it), and controlling footing to ensure a stable shooting platform. I really think my reward was worth it !!  

At this point on this track, the guys are tantalizingly close and for the way I like to shoot (with very long lenses, this is almost 1000mm effectively) which brings them right up into my reach and minimizes background interference to allow me to focus my viewers’ attention where I want it— on the action!! Did it work?

How I approach sports action images

What makes a good sports action image ? Let’s ask it another way–“How do you make a good sports action image?” I’ll say that I am a bit biased in that my approach is to create a show stopping image that shows facial expression, solid action, and a clean background as much as possible. Shooting professionally lends to a bit of experience that I often translate to my kids’ sports and totally in my sports shooter for hire life.  How do I get this shot? First thing is to think about is getting into the best possible light, generally this is putting the sun to your back and really illuminating the subjects as best you can. I take a bit of a low angle (often by sitting down– Important tip especially for a soccer/football match) which does a couple of important things for the athletes; 1. Athletes look like super heros, 2. The athlete will fill the frame and totally make a poster ready shot, 3.  When and if you can, get closer to let the athlete and their action fill your frame, 4. Your shots will NOT look like anyone elses’ !!

If you are only paying attention to one player, things get a bit easier, but that doesn’t mean there is much time to rest.  Focus on one play at a time and anticipate when there is an opportunity to get a really solid shot. Patience is what is totally required because it will take time to get the shots because of players body positions changing and its only when they get older and are a bit more in control of their bodies. What do you need to do this? There is a difference in gear but there are lots of options and without taking too much of a technical detailed talking point detour–longer focal length lenses are much more suited for reaching out into the field of play. The downside is that when they play runs at you, at some point they are too close to shoot and typically that is when things get really heated.

Every time I shoot a sporting event, I aim to come away with a handful of large poster caliber images of individual athletes, some really tight intense action, and sometimes if just for me,  an image that I may want just as my own poster.  The reason why this shot works for my style of shooting is that it can be a huge poster all by itself. This is really and truly a stand alone shot that could easily be in a sports magazine or newspaper as well as a life sized poster on a wall in the game-room or even a banner. My style of isolation and individual action lends itself to poster type images and in my opinion cleaner shots to highlight the player.

Preserving Innocence

As a photographer, one of the greatest investments makes is in the amount of time put in learning the craft of photography. I am not talking about corrections and photoshop actions while they have their place and certainly can be irreplaceable tools in the hands of a versed photographic professional. I specifically mean the art of making photographs and why the reward is so great.

I had the opportunity to meet a little boy that solidified for me why I relentlessly pursue mastering understanding of my skills within my craft with such ruthlessness– This little boy suffers with very major heart issues and was almost lost twice this year already ( at the time this image was created, 23 Feb 2014, Chase is 2-years old), and was suffering from a broken left leg. What I can say is that this encounter quite literally notably affected me, to the point that there was no question about what I am meant to do and its value to those clients of mine with my images on their walls. This is more than just a portrait of a little boy – the energy and goodness of this tiny spirit moved me beyond words at the time and emotion was the driving force behind making our images. There is something about the innocence of a child and how they sense comfort and allow others into their space and somehow they seem to offer trust openly, not blindly just freely they give access to them and in turn they feel at home to be themselves with the company they are in. As a photographer, this is the zone in which we aim to operate in and there can’t be any mistakes made because there is limited amount of time you have to work with and you have to know your craft to take full advantage of the gift you have been given. There is no Luck, there is either the knowledge to make it happen without thinking or there is the lack of and opportunity missed. Knowing what to do and how to execute on the idea are two different things, but when they are in sync with each other, the investment of time is being returned. There is no substitute for hard work towards a chosen craft, simply isn’t a shortcut to be taken.

That simple.

I know firmly believe without doubt, that there are Angels among us and if even just for a few moments, when they come in contact with us, everything is alright.

My hope is to photograph this beautiful child as a High School Senior in 16 years.


Dog Day Afternoon

A bright little flame of hope

Theme shooting or self assigned projects or editor assigned projects can be a lot of fun and yield interesting results if you are open to a challenge. I had forgotten what the rush of getting an assignment and having a deadline to meet felt like especially when I have gone out and absolutely nailed it to the mat with what imagery I produced. This is what happened last week and the resulting imagery.

Well, as the title suggests, there are a couple of ways to take this on knowing full well what was expected, images of canines enjoying the last days of summer and the like. I am not one for always playing with conventional ideas, so I went in search of another twist on the subject that would have the same level of impact as what was intended in the title. Oddly enough, I had the movie and Al Pacino stuck in my head with things just not going quite right and well that was the imagery that I went in search of. In my race against the clock, I stumbled upon a scene that was just too good to pass up. I came a cross a woman in distress who had three policemen come to her aide. It was as simple as her vehicle not starting. The issue I faced is that little issue of photographing police officers while on duty… well I knew I had to get the shot so I set my camera to literally be able to raise it to my eye, frame and shoot then move away without being noticed or hassled. I got off 2 frames and moved away wishing my LCD would hurry up and show me some good news. As I literally moved around the corner, I felt a sigh of relief as what came up on my screen was exactly what I saw and wanted to say about the day. This was the first image and the time was T-minus 46 minutes to deadline, I managed to pull this off in 14-minutes, I was feeling like good things were going to happen.

Protect and Serve

As I walked literally 15 paces and turned left, I found the most beautiful light and I saw shadows, lines and a great exercise in composition before me. I did what any photographer would do… braced myself against a wall as tightly as I could and shot 6 frames and continued on with my assignment even more fully charged than I was.

Chasing the Light, 5

I found some canine and well looked for interesting looking things about them to make me drop down on the sidewalk and shoot at eye level with them… being a dog lover, I was not quite inspired to do what I knew everyone else would be expecting, so I went with it throwing myself into the “spirit of things.” I got a few good shots but I heard the words of my Photojournalism mentor start up in my head… “If you got a good frame, look around you for the next one—an even better one is going to be there.” This is what I found standing behind me.

A bright little flame of hop

The most profound thing for me was that even with A Dog Day Afternoon kind of theme, there is always, Always a bright spot that will absolutely melt your heart and often it is right around your last shot if you just look for it.

Photographing People, part 2

After getting the City Hall shot, I felt pretty good but something said there is more to this light than this shot alone and I heard a voice from my past saying “ Keep pushing!! There is always something more!!”  Eastward I marched still with 35 minutes left until my hard stop time to make my deadline.  By this time, I knew the light would be perfect on a spot I knew about and I thought about taking a chance on possibly making something happen and has it would turn out, that was the correct gamble.  As I approached the location, the light was perfect but nothing was happening. The more I paced the front façade, the less I discovered.  However there was an image waiting for me.. Here is what I presented to my editor.Image


Photographing People

I was given a task to go out and make a photograph with the subject being people. It had to be a compelling image and one with impact. I was given a timeframe and a deadline of an hour to make it happen. I figured, no biggie. I am in downtown, I’ve got great people skills, let’s do this. Off I went out into the world to create an image that would make a statement or was I looking to impress myself as well as my editor? I’d say that it was a healthy combination of both.

I knew the light was great so I ran out with two camera bodies one with a short lens and one with a telephoto. The first thought was to look for a “no flash” corner– an area where there is surrounding light that is reflected into the shooting space that beautifully illuminates the subject completely and yet it is about as much the quality of the light as it is the wonderful usage of light onto the subjects. I found what I wanted but there was something else that was calling me so I walked another 3 blocks east and found myself at Dallas City Hall.

I lined up my initial shot on the stairs and flag poles in front of City Hall then it hit me… this may not work as well as I see in my head because there was no wind to bring life into the flags, just the lingering Texas heat that was not only sitting in the air but radiating up from the light concrete.Then I looked to my left– a group of joggers coming… greatness!! As the runner crossed into my frame, I decided to wait until I could not see his face because this would translate into anonymity will allow for a viewer to see themselves in the moment. I thought great, but it did not sit well with me as the jaw dropping image.

I looked to my left and saw a city bus arriving to offload passengers I did not stare or pay close attention but I did hear the sounds of hydraulics and I realized there were multiple riders egressing the vehicle. I looked with intent and saw two people moving my direction; one in a motorized chair with both legs amputated, the right one above the knee and the left below the knee—a woman. The second person was a man walking 4-7 paces slowly ahead. The woman in motorized chair was moving backwards through my frame. Interesting.

The image screamed to me.

So I was in the right place with the light, the shadow, the composition and then the subjects to pull it all together.  The lesson I lived is that go where you are pulled or pushed and do what you know to do, then the rest will happen for you.