Photo Lessons by Joe McNally

I took a break from designing and sketching ideas for this weekend’s event setup to check the web feeds. Had a good laugh when I came across this napkin art. I’ve had some pretty cool photography instructors, mentors and inspirations. Still nobody illustrates his or her work as simply and geek friendly as the famous Joe McNally. What do these scribbles equate to for a photo?

Joe McNally photo school

Check out his workshop post HERE

Instead of “light modifiers” I will probably start to refer to our lighting kit as the photon force field.

Keep the creativity cookin!

Seeing Something Invisible

If you’ve looked at a photography magazine or seen any photo-centric websites or forums you know there’s been a tidal wave of new digital SLR cameras flooding the lineup of already pretty awesome cameras out there. Newer, faster, shinier, a couple extra megapixels… it’s crazy how quickly new cameras are being introduced!

This summer it was time for us to retire the second Nikon DSLR that helped start our business. I bought the Nikon D70s it back when it was introduced in 2005 and it has helped to photograph over 70 weddings since then, not including tons of engagement portrait and senior shoots. Hokey smokes I’m exhausted just counting up all the shoots since 2005!

The improved controls, response speed, and feel of the D200 and D300 had me hooked, but I didn’t want to try and sell a very used D70s when I could instead use it to see invisible light for a new take on some interesting photographic art.

Walnut Tree in Infrared

Southside Welcome in Infrared

For all the “how’d they do that” check out the conversion and technique at LifePixel.com

Trash the Dress – Sand Dune Style

On our way up to Lake Michigan I wondered if in fact we wouldn’t also be getting a bit messier than usual at a location shoot. Thunderstorms were in the forecast and we hit a good drizzle as we neared one of my favorite beaches, Weko Beach in Bridgman, Michigan. The rain was gone when we parked but there was lightning in the distance so I opted to keep the light stands and tripod in the car!

We started with some test shots and walked a ways down the shoreline when our brave trashee model noted the rain coming across the Lake. I saw clouds across the Lake and mentioned it would add a nice touch to the sky when I noticed what she was talking about. You could literally see the storm front’s edge as the calm water in front of us was quickly turned to splashing ripples of rain. I got cameras in the bag and threw the top closed as the wave of rainfall swept up the beach and soaked us and everything uncovered. Didn’t quite expect we’d be getting pretty trashed by weather while trashing a dress.

The sudden rain stopped as quickly as it arrived and the rest of the afternoon was dry and the sunset evening’s sky was filled with dramatic clouds.

Dune grass trash the dress

It wouldn’t be a summer Saturday night if I wasn’t skimming photos and posting a favorite before bedtime! Enjoy! (Many more to come!)

Endeavors in Illumination

“There are two kinds of light–the glow that illuminates, and the glare that obscures.”
– James Thurber

It’s hard to say when it began to stir, but I welcome the nudge to do something new, to try new ideas, to expand on proven practice of what I understand in lighting.

The changing of seasons always seems to inspire me. New years has its resolutions and new start, spring breathes new life into the frozen, summer lets loose with bare feet and the smell of cookouts with friends, fall paints the landscape and gets out the warm fuzzy clothes as winter returns and the circle completes. Even while this current year’s winter inundated us with shut-in, bone chilling days, I do enjoy the seasons in Indiana. There’s something inspiring about the changes happening.

Weather patterns aside, it’s easy to get in a creative rut when you stick with what you already know and don’t get to try new ideas. It’s safe, but reliable, predictable but repeatable. Peppered throughout last year’s wedding season’s celebrations were so many photos that just popped. A new look, a different angle, a moment where everything just worked the way I hoped it would come together. It is in the pursuit of these dramatic, creative photos that I find myself wanting to do more with what I’ve learned and try new ideas. Inspiration can feel dangerous.

This March especially I’ve had a lot of ideas running through my mind’s eye. It is, in fact, some of those same creative brainstorms that kept me from returning to sleep early this morning. Watching the sunrise, even if I’ve been up most of the night leading to it, always sparks a bit of creativity and refreshing. As we count down till April 26th, the start of our spring wedding season, the stirring to hone my use of lighting has been growing.

To explain what has been stirring reminds me of the first few rolls of film I shot through my first SLR. What a sound as the shutter snapped! What a feeling to hold a manual 35mm body, focus a 50mm lens, and see your ideas in print. In 2003 when I checked out some photography books from the downtown library I was surprised to find a sticky note with my handwriting on it stuck inside some of my favorite books I read over and over when I started off with my 35mm camera.

Minolta X-370 35mm film camera body

Everyone needs a creative outlet, and more so, I think, when you use your creative outlet for work. When I was so busy with photo work last summer that I didn’t get out much to shoot on my own I picked up a Holga to try new ideas and get away from the things I did for work. I loved the break from the digital realm and really love the funky photos the Holga makes. It was a shot in the arm for creativity. I even snapped a few photos with this $25 plastic gem while at “work” with $10 grand around my neck and waist in optical Nikon stock. That’ll turn some heads!

Short story long, I ran across an impressive photography and lighting blog that has really outlined this quest of creativity. The Strobist Blog outlines The Lighting Journey as such:

  1. Ambient light is best. (I love working with great ambient light and using minimal extra gear! It is, however, only one of the ways I light a photo.)
  2. Competent on-camera flash. “It is comfy and predictable – which is not necessarily a terrible thing. Warm milk is not a terrible thing, either.” Eesh.
  3. Overdone off-camera flash – going nuts with lighting setups, “nuke it till it glows” (not a problem I’ve run into, thank goodness!)
  4. Experimentation – while the other stages are “comfy and predictable, experimentation is error-prone, and sometimes random in its quality. Which I will take over predictable and boring any day.”
  5. The Bag of Tricks – knows what works, versatile and flexible, knows what will sell. Hey, can hear a camera shutter and know if it’s too slow for a sharp shot, or see a flash / lens combination and know if there’s enough range to get a good exposure. But then again, I should know it that well when I rely on reflexes to catch fleeting moments. I have a good bag of tricks techniques I use very well.
  6. Personal and Unique Lighting Style – Often with this style comes huge financial success – and rampant, blatant imitation from others. (Not there yet on either account.)
  7. Subject-driven Lightdefined by absolute mastery of the craft to the point where it transcends into art on a regular basis.

    The command of a wide array of techniques leads to a pure versatility unmatched by other shooters. The key is a variety of styles – singular or combined – from which to choose The Appropriate Response to a given challenge.

    It’s the difference between a very good cellist playing a piece, or that same piece being owned by the late Pablo Casals.

    It is being so far beyond the mastery of technique that “how-will-I-light-this” is replaced by sheer, instinctive vision. It’s craft to the point of genius. It’s Dean Collins in his prime.

So much to ponder. The sun’s bright in the sky lighting the overcast morning sky, coffee’s done and I’ve got music streaming. This day is looking pretty inspirational.

familiar f-word… film!

film flower

I love eBay shopping. Random, unpredictable, spontaneous, competitive shopping. After getting a gem of a low tech camera – the Holga – I looked around on eBay for expired film. Wacky color shifts and even more unpredictable photo outcome. Here’s a sampling of the slide and print film from the mid 1990s that should have some fun outcome!

Want to shoot some old film in a cheap plastic camera too? Pick up a Holga on eBay or Amazon. If you like what you’ve read here, buying through these links drops some change in the photo supplies jar. Thanks!