Breathe Different Air, Feel Different Light

"We need wilderness whether or not we ever set foot in it. We need a refuge even though we may never need to set foot in it. We need the possibility of escape as surely as we need hope; without it the life of the cities would drive all men into crime or drugs or psychoanalysis.” — Edward Abbey

There is something almost indefinable about the desert. The quality of light and air, and the way it washes over you and soaks into you. The desert can be a harsh, unforgiving place, but it can also be a peaceful, rejuvenating place. 

After a busy week at the desk, pounding away at a keyboard under fluorescent lights and breathing conditioned air, it was enlivening to escape into the wild just a short drive away on Friday and soak in the golden light of the late afternoon. 

An added bonus was getting to catch up with my old friend Sarah, and shoot a few health-and-fitness themed portraits. I've done a bunch of shoots with both Sarah and her brother over the years, and they're good salt of the earth people.

If you're like me and spend too much time indoors working hard, do yourself a favor and get outside. Get out of town and breathe new air. Recharge, refresh, rejuvenate. Repeat. It's good for the body, mind, and soul.


The Snider Family

Better late than never. I didn't have time to blog this great session with the Snider family before my wife and I went to New Jersey for Christmas. I had a fantastic time with Andy (who just relaunched his blog!), Pam and their family capturing some images here in Santa Clarita. Here's a few of my favorites.

It's always the right time to schedule a family photoshoot.
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Summer Gold

Heather and Frank were referred to me by a photographer I used to work with when I was a reporter. On Sunday, we met up in Venice Beach for an engagement shoot and had a fantastic time. Fun people, golden sunlight, crashing waves...what more do you need? I'm seriously stoked to shoot their Marina del Rey wedding next month. 

And yeah, I know...there's a bit of a gap between this post and the last. I've been a little busy this year getting married, and enjoying life and travels with my wife, and building up a backlog of images I never blogged.

Winter Love

An Italian villa. Lots of flowers and vintage details. LOTS of Dr. Who-referencing details. A grey wedding dress. A bride with pink hair. You know, just some of the standout details of Ben and Beck's fantastic wedding yesterday. I've known these two since college, and it was a pleasure and honor to be able to document their day of exchanging vows, beginning a new chapter in their life together and celebrating with their family and friends. Not to mention, Via del Sol D'oro in Sierra Madre is one of the most gorgeous venues I've shot.

Settle in, this is gonna be a long post....

I love moments like this, when the bride's father sees her in her dress for the first time.

Seriously, how elegant and rockin' does she look?

That ridiculously long scarf? One of their purely awesome Dr. Who details.

Did I mention how awesome that dress was?

I loved seeing how in love with each other these two are.

This was such a sweet tender moment between Beck and Ruth, one of her bridesmaids.

There was no shortage of simply wonderful details at the reception, from the little favor bags, to the table settings and everything else. (And not a shabby chic mason jar anywhere in sight.)

Just try to tell me this is not the cutest wedding cake ever.

As first dances go, you really can't beat a room like this.

This one's a bit out of focus, but I can't help it. I love it.

These two know how to dance.

The danced. And then they danced more. And then dashed out in a shower of rose petals and cheers.

Mr. and Mrs. Ross, thank you, so much, for giving me the gift of documenting this beautiful day. 

This week...

No work makes Jack a dull boy. So...the other day I and and a photog friend (and former co-worker) took a few hours to work on portrait technique and, since a photographer should have portraits of themself, shot portraits for each other. I've got a bunch to work through, but here's two of Fran I like very much. I used to be all about shooting with natural light, but in the past year I've started introducing more controlled light into my portraits.

Sight unseen

Sometimes you just know you want to take someone's photo sight unseen. Janelle was telling me about her friend Channapha, and how's she's the director of a nonprofit...and a great cook...and the inspiration struck. I told Janelle that Channapha sounded really interesting and I'd love to shoot some portraits of her. I'm happy to say she was game, and we had a fun time shooting photos in her D.C. home and in the surrounding neighborhood.

This first image is one of the last ones I shot, but I started this post with it because I feel it reflects a lot about Channapha, who I found to be extremely warm and vibrant.

Not only is it awesome when you find two sweet vintage vehicles parked on the street where you're shooting, it's even better when they're next to each other and there's some color coordination.

So, a lot of Channapha's life is taken up by her work as executive director of Legacies of War. The nonprofit group is focused on bringing more attention to the bombing of Laos during the Vietnam conflict. In short, from 1964 to 1973, the U.S. dropped more than 2 million tons of ordnance over Laos during 580,000 bombing missions — equal to a planeload of bombs every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, for nine years. The bombing was part of the United States' secret war in Laos to support the Royal Lao government against Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese Army. Of the 260 million cluster bombs dropped, about 30 percent didn't explode, leaving the landscape littered with unexploded ordnance that has killed at least 30,000 people and inured some 20,000. (Visit the Legacies of War site for more info.)

In addition to her work with Legacies of War, Channapha — who is Laotian — is an absolutely amazing cook. (Trust me. The bowl of nam, a rice dish, I had made me forget all about the photos I was there to shoot.) So I thought it only natural to get a portrait of her in her element.

Annnnd, back out to the street. I love old trucks, especially when they coordinate with the colors someone is wearing.

These last four images I shot at Channapha's house. I loved the way the light fell in the living room.

And there you have it. Sometimes all it takes for an awesome photoshoot is great late afternoon light, sticking primarily with an 85mm lens and having a subject who's fun to be around. (Side note: I was also shooting some film that day, so those images will probably pop up here on the blog sometime soon.)
Channapha, thanks so much for being game to hang out for a while and create some great images!

Small Steps

Last Saturday, I had a great time shooting some promotional photos for Starting Small Fitness, my friend Stacey's foray into personal training. It's always a welcome challenge shooting something a little different than the usual (In this case, fitness photos). It was also a fun exercise (pun not entirely intended) in using off-camera flash to counteract the harsh early afternoon sunlight.

A great way to pump up (ok, that pun really wasn't intended) action shots is to use a slow shutter speed with your flash set to rear-curtain. That way you get motion blur, but still with your subject in focus.

Positive negatives

While digital is my primary form of image capture, I still like to shoot film every now and then. In a society saturated by immediate results, there's something satisfying about capturing an image and having to wait to see the results.
All of these images were shot on a Vivitar V2000 with either a 28mm or 50mm lens. In both cases, the film was pushed, resulting in the graininess. Pushing film can yield some interesting tones. In this case, most of these images had a slight reddish tint. Some of the images have some dust spots. I wasn't going for technical perfection. I knew what I wanted to achieve, and I feel I met that goal.
This first one was Kodak Gold 400, pushed to 1000. I made slight levels adjustments in Lightroom, but otherwise this is straight out of the camera. I love the bokeh on the Vivitar when it's wide open.

This one was from the same roll, but I converted it to B/W in Lightroom. Reflected in the windows of the new LAPD headquarters is the classic Los Angeles City Hall.

This was a film capture from shooting a set of images for my friend Perla (see that post here). Again, pretty much straight out of the camera.

Bare branches in wintry northwestern New Jersey. Kodak Gold 200 pushed to 1600.

Manhattan's Flatiron building, also Kodak 200 pushed to 1600.


I had a great time last month shooting some headshots for my friend Gary Hoffman, host of the Sunday morning news on KFI-640AM in Los Angeles, and all-around good guy with a cool retro vibe. Will a casting director please put this man in some 50s-era films?

Grainy and not super-sharp, but I love the vintage feel of these last two.

Empire State of mind

New York City. Hot or cold, it's one of my favorite cities. On Jan. 4, it was bitterly cold. Still, it was a great day to wander city streets, see the awesome Flatiron Building up close and shoot some wintry portraits with my friend Perla.

This first shot of the Flatiron was a happy accident. A bit overexposed, and a wicked sun flare. Doesn't matter. All the things "wrong" with this image make it for me.

I'm still working on my freelensing technique. It's lo-fi and it's fun. This was shot on the High Line, an old elevated subway track near the Meatpacking District that's been converted into a landscaped walkway. Lots of greenery and places to sit, and great views of the waterfront.

One of the things I love about shooting in cities is the way you find light where you don't expect it. This shaft of afternoon light was like a pillar of warmth down in the cold, shady canyons of lower Manhattan.

The High Line runs right under the Standard Hotel, which makes for a nice, modern backdrop. Add a little off-camera flash, a little angling and a model who's willing to take off her coat on a 30-degree day, and you've got a recipe for success.

When it comes to post-processing, I try to keep things simple. This image is an example of that. Most of the magic was seeing some great, golden light reflecting off buildings and finding the right place to use it.

They take parking very seriously in New York, as the sign indicates.

Sometimes you need to back your subject into a corner. Literally. I couldn't have asked for a better contrasting background.

Speaking of contrast, it makes for great background detail. It's even better when it plays off one of the colors your subject is wearing.

Think you need a tripod to take good photos? Not always. This is a shot at 1/10 of a second, handheld. It was simply a matter of finding something against which to brace myself (in this case a fire hydrant) and stilling myself. There's a nice bit of blur in the foot and vehicle traffic, but the hotel sign is still in focus.

As American as...

Ten years. For 10 years I'd been hearing about this tiny cafe at the small airport near my parents' house that serves up great apple pie. On my recent trip to NJ for the holidays, it was finally time to try a slice.
Jeanne Anderson has been running the Runway Cafe at Blairstown Airport since the mid-1980s, and making fresh pies ever since. The cafe dates back to around the 1940s.
Chased with a cup of hot coffee on a bitterly cold afternoon, the pie was fantastic. Sweet, juicy filling. Crumbly topping. Flaky, buttery crust. The blackboard behind the counter advertises "crummy apple pie." Indeed. The best crummy pie I've had.
In between talking about the history of the cafe and the weekend travelers it used to attract in the mid-20th century, and pulling out some aged, black-and-white photos, Jeanne was kind enough to pose for a few portraits. I worked quickly, shooting with a 50mm lens pretty wide open and, with the exception of the first image, a handheld, off-camera flash for a little fill light.
A delightfully simple little cafe. Fantastic apple pie. And a cheerful, masterful pie maker. Not a bad way to cap off my trip.

And a requisite close-up, courtesy of my Blackberry.