Alright y’all. First things first, I have to admit I completely s*** the bed this past year on updating the blog. I always said it was a goal of mine to make sure I was as transparent in my journey as possible so that others could learn from my journey through this crazy hobby-turned-career. I completely failed at accomplishing that goal in 2019 and I am hoping to do better moving forward through 2020 for multiple reasons.
First, writing has always been cathartic for me. It’s a way to process things and understand where I succeeded and where I failed. What I enjoyed about an experience and what I never need to repeat again if at all possible. Second, I like to teach. I love to share knowledge and bounce ideas off of people around me because I tend to learn more and learn better when I’m trying to teach others. Third, and finally, it’s how I learned photography. I learned by consuming every blog, video, and tutorial I could get my hands on in the beginning. I never went to school for it and I live in Texas – not exactly the “photography workshop” capital of the world.
So, this isn’t a Resolution or anything stupid like that. This is simply saying, I’m going to strive to do better and share more with you and that starts by playing catch up over the course of 2019. It was an incredibly different, interesting, exciting, and frustrating year for me and I’m looking forward to telling the story over the course of the next 16 or so blog posts.
Enough of the apologies, let’s jump right in shall we?
It really begins with the end of 2018. At the end of 2018, as I previously mentioned on the blog, I attended a workshop with the incredibly celebrity photographer, John Russo. I flew out to Hollywood and decided to learn something from somebody that was in a completely different field than I had been working in for the better part of my photography journey. Sure, I take photos of people, but they’re all sports and action photos, not intimate portraits of somebody’s soul or personality in the same fashion as a portrait. I figured this would be a great way to better understand how to add that aspect to my toolbox and create compelling images of the athletes I was shooting. Little did I know, it would awaken something in me that I spent the majority of 2019 pursuing. That pursuit started by making the decision to start focusing outside of the Houston market and focusing on New York City and Los Angeles. Those are the cities I want to work in, so I have to show that I’m shooting there.
The first thing I did when I got home from the workshop was start to pursue this new desire that had awakened in me to shoot “celebrity” style portraits. I started texting, calling, DMing, and emailing anybody I could thing of in Houston to try and start shooting while I planned my first trip back to LA at the end of January of last year. It turned out that Britt McGee from the DYI Meditation shoot I had done was up for a different kind of shoot than we had done previously. So, I invited her to the studio and we started to make things happen.
At the time, I was really being influenced by some of the cool lighting tricks I’d seen in the work of Sandro Baebler. He has these amazing portraits that are lit from macro scale in a similar way to how I like to light images, but he does this incredible work with creating catch lighting in the eye and creating a dynamic interest in the pupil. It’s really amazing work and I highly suggest following the link and heading over to see some more of his work if you’re unfamiliar.
I put together a mood board and put in the planning to try some different techniques out and push what I was used to doing. Comfort is one thing, but it can get boring and I really wanted to try and begin to push my portraiture and editing style to achieve that refined look that might get be more recognition as a photographer. It’s the type of work I was initially inspired by (Joey L, Dan Winters, Mark Seliger…) and John’s workshop made me realize where my passions lay.
After pulling the images, I shot them over to Britt and we started to collaborate on what she had in her closet and what we could use to pull of the shots we were seeing. She pulled some amazing outfits and styles and when she arrived at the studio, we were ready to rock and roll.
We started out shooting something inspired by some photos that I had pulled from John’s work, and I utilized a background that my wife, Sam, had painted for me years ago but I had never really taken out and tried to use. It was a matte black canvas made from chalkboard paint with a little white and water mixed in to create some texture in the image instead of just using a flat, black paper drop. I utilized 2 v-flats from Vflatworld and two Profoto heads. The first was the main with the 69” Elinchrom Octa on it, and the second was the 39” Elinchrom Octa. This is basically the only usable BTS image I got from the day (sorry!) but I wanted to at least show you what the lighting looked like for a lot of these initial images.
We shot some images pulled back with a little more attitude into Britt’s posture and face, then I got in close and we tried to shoot something more intimate that could be used for a headshot or possibly even a jewelry company might be interested in seeing. It’s all about shooting the stuff that you want to get hired for, right? Nobody is going to hire somebody that isn’t a sure thing!
For the second look, we traded out the black for another backdrop my wife had painted that worked perfect with a top that Britt had brought from her closet. I wanted to really focus on bringing hands into the image more and keep playing with different light positions to create that interest in the eye that I was seeing from Sandro with the limited lights and modifiers I had to work with that day. Working with Britt was a dream, and I had finally dialed in the settings I wanted to be shooting with on my new Phase One camera body I had just gotten in the day before. (My old one crapped out and the spring busted but a HUGE thank you to Digital Transitions for hooking me up with the new body quickly and fixing my old body for free with the new camera!)
The final look was planned to shoot in front of my Oliphant backdrop and I brought in some old trunks I had found in a shop in Marshalltown, IA while I was home for Thanksgiving. I struggled a bit with trying to find the right pose and wasn’t thrilled with how the floor of the studio was showing up with the whole look mixed in (it would have look 100% better with a wooden floor and I would have been thrilled but, you don’t always have the exact conditions you want to work in.) so I opted for shooting tighter portraits and captured some of my favorites of the day. I’m always drawn to tight in shots of the face and eyes because there is so much story and aura there. Just that extra something that draws a viewer into the image for just a split second longer and keeps them there rather than scrolling through their life on their phone.
We ended the day on a positive and I actually loved the look I was getting by using my Canon 5D Mark IV with a 100mm Macro on the camera. The depth of field and sharpness together with the focal distance is MONEY for portraits in my opinion.
It was an awesome shoot for me in a few ways. It helped me start preparing for some of the stuff I wanted to try and shoot in LA a few weeks out, but more importantly it reinforced the movement I was making in my photography business. It wasn’t a choice that was easy, but it was a step in a direction that lead to me shooting what I want to shoot. I had struggled with being happy and content in what I was shooting in 2018 and what I had been doing prior, and this shoot with Britt solidified the urge I had felt when I was at John’s workshop. 2019 was going to be a year of serious change and redefining who I am as a photographer.