My weekend in the Civil War

A few weekends ago I was helping out on a video shoot that would play at the upcoming American Advertising Federation D.C. chapter’s Addys Awards gala. No spoilers here, but the video tells the story of one brave lady’s journey through a Civil War reenactment. During some down time I had the opportunity to make some images of the re-enactors. I was incredibly impressed with their attention to detail, ability to take direction and do the little things to make the scene better, and their overall joy with what they were doing. If you ever find yourself with the need for Civil War or just period actors, talk to Guy over at Old Timey Casting.

Shooting Notes: The conditions on shoot were all over the place. We started with snow on the ground and uniform cloud cover. Over the course of the day, the snow melted, the sun came and went (and came and went some more), and the wind picked up. The only consistent element was that it was chilly! All images were made with either a Canon 5Dmk3 or 5Dmk4, and the Sigma 35mm ART, Canon 85 f1.4L IS, or the Canon 24-70 f2.8L. Some of the portraits benefited from a Profoto A1 shot through an umbrella. I had dreams of using the B1’s with a bigger modifier but the weather conditions were uncertain enough that I didn’t want to risk it without an assistant. All of these images were imported into CaptureOne Pro and “mussed up” in Nik Analog Efex Pro 2. If any of these make it to my portfolio they will likely get further worked in Photoshop.

Climbing with Outward Bound

Earlier this fall I was contacted by a private school in Baltimore to make some images of students undertaking a multiple day hike in southern PA with the Baltimore Chesapeake Bay Outward Bound chapter. In the last year or so I’ve been focusing on kids’ science and exploration (hey, look here!) and this fit nicely into that niche.

We decided to shoot the rock climbing day at Shaffer Rock, in Michaux State Park, as it provided many opportunities for great images, unique angles and chances to show teamwork. This was a last minute shoot and we didn’t have the final go ahead until 3 pm on the afternoon before the 8:30 am shoot. This made things a bit tricky: there was no opportunity to scout the location and no budget for an assistant. And, because the kids were already on the trail by the and out of cell phone range by the time the shoot was formalized, there was no way to contact the trip leaders to ask any questions or work out any details. It was pretty much a show up at the rock face and hope for the best.

Luckily, I’m always up for an adventure.

Here’s a glimpse:

Special Thanks & Shoot Notes: (cause people always ask.)

First thing I have to do is give a big high five to Ben Worden and the Outward Bound team for being so professional and accommodating every step of the way. (Pun intended.) I’m very attentive regarding the safety of all of participants in a shoot like this (less so my own) and the trail leaders did a masterful job of managing the needs of one pesky photographer (me) while shepherding the kids through a life changing experience. Next time I’m stranded on the side of a mountain with 60 lbs of photo gear I hope they are there to rescue me.

Second, thanks to Subaru for making such great cars. The trail to the base of the rock face was closed, requiring a somewhat convoluted detour on some unmarked park roads to the top of the rock. My Outback isn’t a city car, but Roo just ate up the crunchy, gravelly, winding road. He seemed so… happy.

Gear Notes: I’m a prime lens fan but because of the uncertain location and weather conditions Canon’s phenomenal 24-70 f2.8L II and 70-200L f2.8 (v1) carried the majority of the weight this go around. I also used the 16-35 f2.8L to get into some tight corners. I shot on a 5Dmk3 and 5Dmk4. Oddly enough when I shoot the two cameras side by side I like the color on the mk3 better. Anyone else?

Scouting via park maps the night before revealed that the face was on the north (shadow) side of the hill so I lugged a Profoto B1 up and down the trail in a Pelican case, along with a big ol’ light stand and collapsible beauty dish. Everything is processed in Capture One 11.

Shoot: 2017 Addy's Winners with AAF-DC

I’ve been a member of the D.C. chapter of the American Advertising Federation (formerly the Ad Club) since I moved to D.C. in 2010. Joining an organization that is adjacent to, and often interacts with, your own industry is an easy way to understand how your own profession fits into the greater scheme of things. I personally love elegant communication strategy and execution in all forms whether it’s written, visual, aural, or all of the above.

I was (and am) a member of the committee that promotes and puts on the yearly “Addys” awards banquet, held each spring. One of our goals is to raise awareness of the awards and encourage more agencies and groups, of all sizes, to enter their work. One of the strategies we came up with was to interview previous award winners and make engaging portraits. The results would be shared on the AAF-DC blog and social media. Through mentions and tagging, our strategy as to get each subject to help us in spreading the word using their own social media channels. As past winners, they served as our evangelists.

The trick with this shoot was to come up with a studio set-up that I could drag, alone, into different agency offices. It had to be small, easily replicable, and have few moving parts. The theme was “unexpected” so we also needed a mechanism that allowed people to be fun and unique, but not so much that it required an intricate production. After some experimenting, I came up with the idea of a white (light gray) background and a white tabletop. I would intentionally have the subject on a low stool so they would be forced to interact with the white/off-white line formed at the intersection of the two. That was it. Everything else in the image would be up to the subject.


First a Few Self-Portraits to Nail Down the Lighting…


And, a few of the resulting images… . (Click for larger images.)

The Technical Stuff…

The set was pretty straightforward. I had picked up a Lastolite Hilite a few days earlier and that, with a Profoto A-1 inside, gave me a fairly uniform front. The key light was a Profoto B2 with a 22” beauty dish directly over camera. The white table top doubled as a bounce. This way the subject would have pretty much unlimited movement within the space and still be well lit. Everything was shot with a Canon 5D Mark 4 and a 50mm prime, tethered to Capture One Pro. Everything was around f7.1. Black and White Conversions were done in Capture One 10, using my own secret sauce.

Michael Douglas for Science News

No, not that Michael Douglas. 

Here are some outtakes and "sketch" images (see below) for the last of a three part shoot I did for Science News earlier this spring. Michael Douglas, who was adopted, has a genetic disease called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. As a result of this, his blood vessels don't constrict properly and he has had a constant migraine for over years. Using three different testing companies and some sleuthing, he found his birth family in southern Maryland, and was able to learn more about his family's medical history. We shot these images on a perfectly cloudy day on Solomon's Island.

I like to "sketch" images from shoots. These are basically just quick stylistic treatments that aren't necessarily how I imagine they'll be used by the client, but nevertheless provide a good way to explore different "feels". Increasingly, I am previsioning shoots with different post production styles in mind. (Look at me getting all artsy!)

Most often for these sketches I'll use Analog Efex Pro 2 by Nik software (recently purchased by DxO). I rarely save recipes because I want to avoid being in a rut, utilizing the same "tricks" time after time. Having said that, I do have a few basic recipes that I start with as a base and I will individually salt to taste each image afterwards.

Big thanks to assistant Steven Wesley for humoring me, arriving 2 hours early to scout the location and listen to me mutter, "it's gonna rain any second now..." Also big thanks to Erin Otwell at Science News for the assignment and for being so open to creative interpretations on this and the first two parts of the assignment.

Tech specs, because people ask: All of the portrait images were made with a Canon 5Dmk4 with the amazing Canon 85mm f1.4 IS L series lens, EXCEPT for the first image, which was made with Sigma's 35mm 1.4 ART lens. Both of these lenses are really really pretty in their own way. Lighting was via a Profoto B1 and their collapsible 22" beauty dish. The latter of which, while it feels flimsy, is a pretty nice little modifier. All images put through CaptureOne Pro and processed in Nik Analog efex Pro 2. I don't think any of these ever hit Photoshop.