2010 Retrospect — Part 1

The year's almost over. Personally and professionally, 2010 was altogether challenging, rewarding, joyful, frustrating — it was another year of living life. I've done a fair amount of reflection over the past two months, but I'm more focused on looking ahead to what the future holds. That said, I wanted to share some of my favorite images from the past 12 months. I'm thankful for everything — every place, every face, every moment — I was able to see and photograph. Hopefully you enjoy some of these as much as I do. Today is a smattering of more photojournalistic images. Tomorrow, Part 2 will pull together some of my favorite images of people.

This first image in many ways encapsulates my approach to life these days: Chasing the light in the darkness.

I kicked off (yes, pun intended) getting to cover the Rose Bowl game between Oregon and Ohio for the newspaper I was with at the time. I'm not really a sports fan, but it's impossible not to feel the adrenaline pumping when you're walking the sidelines of a stadium packed full of cheering fans.

In the 5 1/2 years I spent with The Signal newspaper, the kind of stories I most enjoyed writing were those that cast a spotlight on ordinary people getting recognition. Read the story here of this Vietnam veteran who was awarded the Bronze Star more than 40 years after a battle in the Mekong Delta.

Over the past decade I've spent in California, I've always enjoyed driving through the vast expanses of desert. It's a harsh landscape, peppered with interesting landmarks. One of those is Salvation Mountain. For more than 30 years, Leonard Knight has lived without electricity or running water, east of the Salton Sea, constructing and painting a clay "mountain" adorned with flowers, rivers and Bible verses. This oasis of American folk art stands in stark contrast to the unforgiving terrain surrounding it.

A moment in time along the freeway west of Palm Springs.

Catalina Island sits just about 30 miles off the coast of San Pedro, California, but it feels a world away. It was good medicine to get away from everything for a day and wander the small harbor town of Avalon. At the top of a mountain overlooking the island is the Wrigley Memorial, in honor of William J. Wrigley who did much to develop the island.

In September, I traveled to Washington, D.C. to a help a friend photograph a wedding. It was my first time there in probably more than 15 years, and I fell in love. It's a grand, walkable city with architecture that reminds me of Europe. These were the views as I walked the National Mall one afternoon, ending up at the Washington Monument for a beautiful sunset.

It's been nearly a decade since L.A. County Sheriff's Deputy Hagop "Jake" Kuredjian was shot dead during a shootout, but he was close in memory to his brother on the anniversary of his death. Read the story here.

A few months ago, I dragged myself out of bed in the pre-dawn hours to capture some images of the community's early risers. The Way Station Coffee Shop has been a Santa Clarita Valley fixture for almost 40 years, and is a deliciously textbook example of a "greasy spoon."

That's it! Some of my favorite newsy images from 2010. Come back tomorrow for images of couples in love, bouncing babies, chic ladies and more.

the style council

Recently, I had the pleasure of being commissioned by my friend Josh, to capture some images for his new website. Josh is a very talented hair stylist, and it was great to create some environmental portraits for him.
I usually like to do a straightforward headshot in my sessions, but for this first image I used a freelens technique to focus squarely on his eyes. After all, being a stylist is all about vision.

Like any effective environmental portrait, I wanted to use some of the tools of the trade as details.

Shooting in the salon lent a nice, soft light, but I wanted to also mix things up a bit and shoot a portrait that had more of an edge. That was as easy as going in a hallway of Josh's building and using some directed, off-camera flash. Again, I made sure to keep a comb and pair of scissors in there to give some clues as to his profession.

Josh, thanks again for having me shoot you!

sunlight and shadows.

This post also could have been called, "Sarah, stop being so effortlessly photogenic." Having borrowed a Sigma 50mm 1.4 to test it out, and itching to shoot despite having cancelled (due to a triple-digit forecast) a hair and makeup portfolio shoot, I got Sarah to do some early-morning modeling for me. I like that I have downtown Newhall just a few blocks away and chock full of great, weathered backdrops.
When all was said and done, I liked the lens. Like any photog, I'd take the Canon 50mm 1.2 gladly, but I'd rather spend $300 and change on the Sigma vs. $1,200 on the Canon.
There's very little margin for error when shooting wide open at 1.4, but when the images are in focus they're absolutely engaging.
Enough talk. More pictures. (see captions below images for some technique discussion.)

Sometimes, great locations are right outside the back door. This was not the first time I'd shot in my backyard; in fact, about a year ago I did an entire session there with Sarah. But I didn't really notice this particular composition until the other day, taking note of the lines and how the sunlight and shadows fell. A well-placed gold reflector provided a little bit of fill light.

This is a location two blocks away from my house. I've wanted to shoot there for some time, and this isn't the exact image I have in my head but it'll do for now. Wide aperture, and existing light. That's all.

Even if you're still shooting with a point-and-shoot camera, a reflector is a game-changer. I placed Sarah in a bit of shade, with a bit of sunlight for backlighting, and plenty of fill light from a gold reflector. Much more natural than using flash for fill. I've gotten pretty good at holding a reflector while shooting, but this was one of those cases where I needed an assistant.

When you're shooting on location, always pay attention to your surroundings. This image was shot in a small alcove of greenery along a dirty alley lined by a rusty chain-link fence. The background was shady but backlit, and I used a gold reflector for some fill light. Shooting wide open keeps the background nice and soft.

Once again, an example of letting the sun provide the backlighting and using a reflector to provide fill light.

Having your model pose in direct light, even if it's through a diffuser, can get a bit squinty. That said, look at the light here. Nice and soft. Direct sunlight through a diffuser.

Sometimes the keepers are the ones you don't plan for. I hadn't quite posed the image yet, but while I was getting my settings right I captured Sarah looking perfectly casual. A wide aperture with existing light.

Shooting outside doesn't mean you can't get a studio look now and then. My version of Hollywood glamour came courtesy of a doorway on the shady side of the street, a super-wide aperture and off-camera flash fired from above. Bazinga.

The right image isn't always technically perfect. Her eyes aren't in focus, her hair is. It drove me nuts at first, but I could not get away from this image. That light bouncing off a nearby window lent such a warm emotion to the photo. That's what I value: an emotional image, even if it's not "perfect." Don't be afraid of mistakes and flaws. Learn to give them a second look.

Again, an image that's a touch out of focus in the wrong place (if anything's sharp and in focus, make it your subject's eyes) but the image as a whole is still engaging.

This and the next image are a case study in paying attention. As much as I've walked around downtown Newhall, I'd never before noticed this white metal grating that makes for an interesting yet unobtrusive backdrop. It was the shady side of the building, so a reflector in the right place provided some great fill.

If you buy a reflector, get a 3-in-1. Mine is a collapsible 36" with a gold side, that can be reversed to a silver side, or removed altogether so you have a nice big diffuser perfect for softening harsh direct light. In this case, I used the silver side, providing a nice, cool fill light.

Some photographers are hesitant to talk about technique. I have no problem with it, particularly since, to be honest, I have no super-complicated tricks up my sleeve. If you're serious about getting better at photography, the best way is to keep practicing. The more you do it, the more natural it becomes to look for the light (and ways to control it), look for interesting backgrounds and how to pose your subject. (I lucked out on this shoot, because Sarah basically can stand in front of a camera and know what I'm going to ask (or come up with something better) before I ask it.

as if love was a sword.

i did a bit of experimentation with a tilt-shift lens recently, and was quite pleased with the results. it doesn't hurt when you've got models as laid-back and photogenic as megan and melissa. overall, i do like what a TS can do, though i'm not sold enough to buy one. it's a hefty investment, and i think it's becoming overused in the realm of portrait photography. but it's still a fun effect. the less that can be done in photoshop versus in camera, the better.