Boldly immodest

This was a shoot that I really don’t normally do. Almost all of the people that I photograph I would qualify as normal-ish but in some way exceptional. My subjects tend to live their lives based on what they know/skills or their talents rather than their image. Scientists, artists, maybe the occasional athlete, business people. They are not necessarily uncomfortable hanging out with me and being in front of my lens it’s just that they don’t do that sort of thing very often. Their experience could be a bit off if not handled well on my end. It’s important for me to make them comfortable with me and my goal is to make an image that speaks truly about them as a person while being interesting enough for the average person to want to learn more. “Who is this fellow? … Huh, particle physicist,  … facinating” That sort of thing.

I know from years of experience that asking my subjects to do funny things or to take any sort of direction the way that you would expect to do with say a professional model just isn’t going to work. They don’t know how to interpret my even simple directions such as “turn you shoulder more to me and lift up your chin a bit” will be wildly exaggerated and require me to walk over and physically pose them like a human Gumby Doll. Again making them feel awkward. So, yeah I don’t do that sort of thing very often.

Then I got this assignment and I knew that it would happily be the opposite of my usual procedure. Shinesty makes outrageous clothes for outrageous people. Therefor I knew that their president and founder Chris White would be up for whatever I came up with.  When a subject asks me “what do you want me to wear” and I think that they have a good sense of humor I will reply “Do you have a chicken suit? Ha-ha-ha! Right, just wear what you want” But with Chris I said, go get stupid. He knew what to do.

I got to work: there was a huge American Flag in the waiting room and a crappy couch. I moved some things around and boom! There was my frat house scene, perfect for Chris and his ensemble. The lighting had to be as unsubtle as Chris and Shinesty are so my main light was my 5 foot soft silver parabolic umbrella placed directly behind the camera.

That’s it Chris, more sleeze … more sleeze, make your grandma embarrassed.  Perfect!

The mystery of a moment

Somebody told me once that the real trick to photographing the real world is patience. That if you stand in once place long enough something interesting will happen right at your feet. This is pretty much the basis of all documentary and reportage photography. Only you attempt to figure out where and when that interesting thing is likely to happen then you go there and wait. Street photogs know this too. Same deal. Find a target rich environment and get ready to pounce.

A while ago I was out late and was behind the bar at this cool place talking to their master mixologist about how he comes up with new tastes. That’s “bartender” for you beer-and-a-shot folks. Anyhoo there were a few people seated near me and where apparently good friends from the energy coming off of them. I grabbed this frame:

I almost remember what they were talking about but to me there is so much going on here that I don’t want to.  I want to imagine and let my mind go wild. No knowing in this instance makes the image even more interesting. The gestures, expressions and the oddness of the moment really get me.  This is one of the things that I most love about still images: they hang there forever. We never get to see how this resolves. Come back later on and there is still those two claw like hands, the side-eye and touch of arrogance.

Oh! You don’t want a snapshot?

No, I really don't. Not at all. But I swear that's the conversation that I seem to constantly have regardless of whom I'm on assignment for. For some reason people think that when I show up to make photos I'm going to have them stand bolt upright, put on their best "Olan Mills" fake as hell smile, I'll shoot two frames with an on camera flash and then leave. Wow. I guess if I was shooting for National Geographic they might not think that but in the meantime I have to keep saying "No really, let's have fun with this. Why make boring pictures?"

I was assigned to photograph the Heinritz Brothers, Chris and Mark who for 20 years have owned a historic dive, I mean that in the best way, that first opened in 1923. It's a funky joint with just about every inch of the walls and ceiling decorated in pen drawings and scribbles. It's cool. So when I said that I wanted them over here and over there they were taken aback because everyone, everyone?, gives them the "Castro Special" you know: line 'em up and shoot 'em!

Naw! They are too nice and the place is way to unique to not show off. So I turned it into a shot more about the space than them. Two SB-800's on stands with ZootSnoots, my 17-35mm f/2.8 set to 17mm and f/11 @ ISO 1000 (man is that a total saver!) and blam-O! Not boring.

Sink 1

Oh and I just love this shot that my butt took while I was moving gear around. I should do a whole book of funky butt triggered shots. Ya know?

Sink 2

My right knee

If I'm out working you can tell that I'm a photographer even if I don't have a camera in my hand. Just look at my pants. You will usually see that the knees are abnormally worn; especially the right one. Even if my jeans are only a week old you will see a noticeable wear pattern on the knees from all my kneeling while making photos. A pair of jeans really only last me a few weeks before they are too beat up to wear anymore – just because the knees are gone. This is one reason why I don't wear Armani everyday. But why all the kneeling?

Well I think that many of us photograph makers, even a lot of professional ones, tend to make images from whatever their standing height is. For many images that works perfectly. But for others – not so much. So I get high angles when it works and low angles a whole lot. That means that I spend a fair amount of time on location crawling around and my right knee gets the most amount of abuse in the process.

Low angles have a lot of benefits: they clean up backgrounds, change perspective to that of a child/dog, make things like hands more dominant than faces which is great when your subject has expressive hands, it tends to make things heroic and then there are others which don't come to mind. Anyhoo they are not "straight" pictures which bore me. Sports photographers do a lot of low angles just because they are often photographing people who are wearing hats/helmets which obscure their eyes and sporting environments usually make very very cluttered backgrounds so the low angle shows you more face and less background.

So here is an example. I was photographing Air Force cadets performing a ceremony to honor the loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. In my usual way I got there early, great photos happen when people are preparing or in this case just standing around, and noticed how the cadets were taking turns holding the flag in a fashion that looked like a hug. The area was next to a busy street, there were loads of buildings around and the trees still don't have any leaves so the scene at eye level was not only not interesting but obscured the elements that I wanted to show clearly: the cadets and the flag. By getting in low and tight with a wide lens I got what I was seeing in my head.


Technicals: Nikon D700, AF-S 17-35mm f/2.8 @ f/8, 1/500th, ISO200