New boundaries

This has been a long time coming. As you may have figured out, I’m all about telling stories. I’m driven to find elements of other peoples experiences and find a visual way to connect the viewer to my subjects. Yet at the same time, I personally get to go interesting places and see interesting things that are not directly part of my assignment work. I began to feel that these experiences, especially my love for adventure motorcycle travel, would be in some way inspirational to people. I thought that maybe I should be sharing these trips using the skills that I have.

So after all this time being behind the lens I’m going to be in front of it. This is odd but I think that it will be cool. I spent quite a while pondering how to pull this off as a one man band, doing all my camera and audio work, while on the road documenting my travels in the manner that I almost could if I was telling the story of someone else. Then I had to practice because having the skill set and mind set to video a subject is different than when the subject is yourself. And I had to start somewhere!

Thus I put together the first piece of an ongoing set of observations based on where my motorcycle takes me both physically as well as internally.

Chickens!

Anyone who spends time with my wife and I know that we have a real, weird, thing for chickens. We totally love the funky little buggers. We think that they are cute, hilarious – especially their odd vocalizations, noble and super tasty when stewed with dumplings.¬† We can be mid sentence in a very serious conversation but if we find one of those feathered guys in our vision somewhere we will promptly proclaim: “Chicken!” with a huge grin on our stupid faces. Yeah, I warned you about us.

So when I got two assignments lately to photograph chickens I was thrilled. The first was a story about the people at a small farm in Berthoud, not that far from where I live, that teaches people in the burgeoning urban homestead movement how to process their poultry. It’s usually chickens but lots of people are keeping ducks and turkeys too. This day it was just chickens. It was great to see that there was a whole family who was learning how to embrace the circle of life.





It’s been very important to me to know where my food comes from and to respect the sacrifices made for my dinner table. Seeing how the Rameys honor the birds was great to see as was the way that the people taking their class did as well.

Later on in the summer I did work on an article about a family who owns Cottonwood Creek, a pasture chicken farm out on the eastern plains of Colorado. Pasture raised is when the birds have full time access to open land to scratch, peck and eat anything that their little hearts desire. That means lots of bugs, worms and plants: a properly balanced chicken diet the way that nature designed. If you get your eggs at the store and it says “free range” that really is just a marketing term that says that the chickens live in doors but have access to a space outside the huge building for them to walk around in. It doesn’t say how big or wild the space is or much else. “Free range” is essentially the same as “never having seen the sun” chickens only you pay more for the label.

 

Matt Kautz and his family own about 60 acres where their hens roam in rotation so that now mobile roost stays on one plot for more than a week or so and many plots stay fallow to allow the vegetation and bug life to recuperate and be ready for the next roost to roll in.

The children regularly help out taking care of their 5000 hens along with collecting the eggs every day. The kids think that they have 5000 pets to cuddle with.

The hens quickly learn that they roost is where they sleep at night which keeps them safe from predators.

The best part was being able to watch all the hens just being, well, chickens in their natural environment. If you have never seen this you are missing out. Chickens are essentially forest ground dwelling birds and to run around in the grass and brush hunting for bugs is what they are meant to do.

Getting down to chicken level to photograph the hunting hens was amazing. Since they are the descendants of dinosaurs it wasn’t hard to lose sense of scale and see them as tiny dinos making their way through primordial forests. I refer to the above image as “Jurassic Chicken”.

The end of summer

Wha? It’s the end of fall you dolt! True enough but let’s be nostalgic for a bit. I mean that’s all the rage innit? Here’s a frame that I got at the local end of summer fair. Not much to say here: I just like the framing and moment. The tool of choice here is my Fuji X100s. The perfect camera for invisible in plain sight work.

Fair

Grab the pitchforks …

… the President is coming to town! Well it really wasn’t that bad at all. Last week President Obama made the first presidential visit to Boulder Colorado in something like 60 years. That made it an even bigger deal ya know? I was given an assignment to help cover the hub-bub and happily I got to photograph the protests. Ok I would have loved to be pointing my lens at Obama but all that stuff is so clean and staged that it’s more like shooting a stage producton or some kind of celebrity thing. Yeah there are some good moments that happen but it’s rarely my thing. I prefer photographing regular people being their unconstrained selves. Thus my afternoon with the protesters was far more interesting.

I gotta say again that Colorado people are almost too nice. I am not really complaining as I love where I live. But there was a distinct lack of, well, venom that would have made for much more dynamic photos that day. Screaming and carrying on as uncivil as it is simply makes for more energetic images. Alas who should turn out to express their displeasure at their leader? Nice people. Gad! The photos were better than I would have thought and the best part was that all these pleasant protesters, is that an oxymoron?, made my job easier as none of them gave me any guff about being part of the, what do they call us, “the lame street media”?

Obama rally 2012

Playing with fairies

I was given an assignment to photograph Betsy who publishes a magazine called Famazon for and about gamers, fantasy, sci-fi, horror and tv/literature from the female perspective. So after a phone call to her it was obvious that she's the kind of sweet and goofy person who makes photography easy. "Do you want me and my daughters to put on our fairy wings and run around the house?" I mean how can you say no to that? Oh no mam, we wouldn't want the photos to be fun … can you instead just stand there with a blank expression while wearing a grey sweatsuit? (duh!)

So I fell in love with Betsy and her fun family. They live in a lovely home in the mountains that is filled to the brim with just about every classic/important/cool sci-fi, horror and fantasy novel ever. So long as you are not uptight their energy is infective and their sence of fun delightfull. The deal is that they really didn't just play dress up for me. They do this alot so it's actually kinda normal for them. I wasn't sure what I was going to need so I brought my case of lights and such but they never left the car. I shot for two hours with just my D700 and AF-S 28-70 f/2.8. Light and simple.

Here's Betsy trying on one of their costume hats. It ended up spending most of the time with her 7 year old Sylvie.
Fairy1
 

The youngest, Bella, was constantly getting into my frame and making faces, sticking her head/hand
way into the lens, and in general doing silly things. Here Betsy is
adjusting Sylvies wings and Bella is doing whatever Bella does. It was
hard not get a kick out of the whole deal. Yes Betsy has a leather
winged helmet on.
Fairy2

Except for the snow boots the girls have on this almost looks like a
scene from some funky fantasy movie but no, they are just playing
around in the snow outside their house. The swingset and grill are just
off to the right. Man, who needs "reality" when really odd is so much
cooler but just as true?
Fairy3

Bella became my friend and kept wanting to hold my hand, give me
things, scream that happy little kid scream at me or sit in my lap. So
I had to take a frame of her on my lap with her funky eyewear.
Lookit

I gotta tell ya, meeting such honestly neat and different people is one of the true joys of this job.

Making sausage

Being a "foodie" I get a big kick out of photographing the people who grow and craft our food. Cooking is the only art form where all 5 senses are taken into account so in lots of ways I'm jealous of chefs but don't tell them that, ok? They say that the test of a chef is to have them make you soup. It's something where most of the fancy techniques a chef learns, especially those for presentation, can't really be used and none of it matters a whit if the soup isn't tasty. Give a chef a lovely fillet, some foie gras or a lobster and they are hard pressed to botch it. Then there is the task of taking scraps, odds and ends and making something yummy out of it. That is the beauty sausage: turning things that you would throw away into something that is superb. A staff photographer for Associate Press once referred to news photography as a sasauge factory: making something good out of bad situations.

Well I had to photograph a chef/owner of a new place that is about to open and when I arrived what I found was this:

Arugula interior

Well they said that they were finishing up construction but I didn't believe that it would be that rough. I couldn't take him outside as it was snowing and the whole place was a construction zone. Mmm, ok … give me a dude and some space and we will grind it up into something usable. Light is the seasoning that's the easiest to use, yeah I'm still using culinary terms, so I tried to find a space to use. There were about 6 construction dudes running about so I needed some place that let me set up lights without being in the way. So I took this hall way and moved the baking racks out of the way to give me access to the tiles that would break up the scene and give something more interesting than a seamless background. However the hall is only 7 or so feet wide. Gad!

Arugula hall

Alec the chef was super nice and accomidating. I sent him to the storage shed to get some kind of cooking impliment so that he'd have something in his hands.

Arugula lighting

I put a small Chimera softbox high and over his shoulder at camera left very close to him so that it would quickly fall off his face. I also pointed it away from the wall as best as I could to minimize it's spill as it was only about 3 feet from the wall. I aimed a light with a grid about 20 feet away at about waist level so as to light the tiles with extreme side lighting for maximum texture and dialed about 2 stops below "normal". When Alec brought out a long French wisk, yeah I actually know my wisks!, I knew that I wanted some sparkle on it but the main light woudn't be enough. So I pulled out my 3 degree grid spot so as to just add a bit of light to the tip of the whisk without hitting him or the wall. The softbox did spill onto the wall but I didn't expect that the line created would be the same as the line of the whisk – when I saw the first test shot I just smiled and went with it. Why not?

Arugula

Snow is my blanket – death the lulabye

One of the reasons that I quickly decided not to pursue becoming a conflict zone photographer was the same reason that  I couldn't let myself become a psychotherapist: I feel too much. I can't be fully objective, clinical or detached. I'm pretty good at putting on my professional mindset and being fair to a subject that on my own time I wouldn't want to be around. I've had to photograph people who I don't at all care for but I can reserve my opinions and treat them professionally and decently. Once I get home I'll make whatever quiet commentary I want about the scumbag but never when I'm working.

The difference to me is not people who are mean but people who are suffering. Animals in pain and neglect bring me to tears. Pain is something that I never ever want to either get used to witnessing or worse learn to ignore. Humans do so many horrible things to each other and the world in general that it's hard to not notice. That's why I try to focus my work on the positive things that people can do. We need to know that there is good in us even if there is a distinct cruel and destructive streak in our species.

That said my wife and I live with 3 predators – the cats. I love them dearly but every so often when I see them beating the stuffing literally out of one of their toys I think about the power and ferocity of those soft, fuzzy, purring death machines. I wonder about the abject terror that a sparrow or mouse feels when faced with a pouncing tabby. It must be like what a small child would feel if a tiger decides to "play" with them. House cats are about the only animal besides humans who kill for pleasure. Despite that I still love our kitties.

We have a large bird feeder that attracts lots of sparrows and finches and they delight the cats. We call it the "Feline Entertainment Center". A while ago my wife noticed a little field mouse eating some of the seed the birds knocked out.  She thought that the little guy had made a nest at the base of the bush. I had pet mice as a kid and have a soft place in my heart for little furry whiskered things.

I went out this afternoon to refill the feeder happy because of the beauty of
the fresh falling snow. But then I noticed two dead mice on our porch. When I saw them my heart felt like lead. If finding a dead mouse makes me want to cry it's a good idea that I didn't try to cover a famine.

I didn't
know what to do so I took some photos of them as they lie. They are so
small and fragile – the snow flakes alarmingly large. It made me think
of how sudden yet inevitable the end is for any of us – person, whale,
mouse. All I could think of was to make a photo of the tiny guys in
memory of animals I've never met before who were just trying to survive the Colorado winter.

Snow My Blanket 1

Annabel

Hey everyone, meet Annabel Lukins. I had to do photography of her for a profile piece that was going on the cover. She is an organizer of major music festivals around the country and her energy is contagious. I got to read the story about her before I called her to set up the photos which is always a good thing. The story focuses on her tenacity and positive attitude. She had a hard time being in the music industry since it's not only a man's world but it's often a mean world too. Well she hit her stride, even winning a major award for her work, and things are dandy in Annabel's world.

After reading the story I thought "She works in Colorado for a company in Florida that does big events around the country. What the heck am I going to photograph?" No location, no "product", can't show her at work, her family isn't a part of the story. Duh! Shoot her.

As I mentioned the other day, even in my portraiture I want the image to be about the subject and that as a photographer I'm not getting in the way with my techniques, tools, toys and big ideas. So with Annabel I didn't want to anything that would get in the way of her and her effervencence. Simple was the key. I decided to use one light for everything. Yeah, no grids, no multiple lighting setups sculpting the subject, no softboxes. I wanted it natural, open and free … just like her. Oh and everything ended up being shot with my 50mm. Yeah, no joke.

For the intended cover shots I set up a white seamless in her living room and a monolight going into my big 5 foot shoot
through umbrella. I saw a little beat up kids seat that had faded
bunnies as legs and had Annabel sit on it. I sat on the floor and we
talked about music and things and just let her be herself.
Annabell 1 small

Annabell 2 small

Annabell 3 small


The above shots were done with my Nikon D700, ISO 200, custom WB and a Nikon AF-D 50mm f/1.4 1/125th sec @ F/11. Alien Bee AB800 monolight into a Wescott 5 foot transparent umbrella and triggered via Pocket Wizard.

Next I got her outside for a change of pace. We had gotten a light snow fall the day before so we went to the local park and played around on the jungle gym.

Annabell 4 small 

 Here she's technically backlit but I used the wireless high speed sync of my Nikon SB-800 to let me shoot her @ f/2.0 with a shutter speed of 1/8000th to under expose the ambient light by about 1 1/2 stops. Again this is my Nikon AF-D 50mm f/1.4.

That done we headded back to her place. Her husband was finishing remodeling their kitchen and I loved the look of it. A rough but elegant work in progress. I saw it as a metaphor for Annabel. I'm serious here so stop giggling.

Annabell 5 small

Still only one light brought into the scene. The neat-o lights over the counter are giving her hair that red separartion and the rest is my SB-800 with the dome diffuser over on camera right high up near the ceiling. Still the 50mm lens. I had her just jump up and asked her to peel me a clementine as I was getting hungry. Everything else is just her.

Moral of my story: if you have a great subject you don't need to do much to bring them out. If anything you need to stay out of the way of the photographs that are in front of you. One light, one fixed lens and a spectacular gal with boundless energy.

Party pix

I was sent to cover the hub-bub at the Colorado State Republican Victory Party on the 4th. Anyone who has done this knows that it's usually boring as all get-out. A bunch of candidates, their families and policy wonks milling about drinking heavily – you hope! – and watching tv. Oh yeah!  THAT'S going to make for good photos. Even if yer candidate looses he's not going to openly weep into his scotch so that you can get an good emotive photo. Nope. But then trying to make something visually interesting out of the painfully boring is usually our/my job.

I was initially to follow 3 candidates in hotly contested races but, to my delight, two didn't attend the event. That left me following only Nick Kliebenstein. That's a great thing as these guys don't hang around in a tight group and making my way around the Marriott in the dozen or so small party rooms and the big ballroom filled with about 400 people would be awful. As I said: sometimes a boy gets lucky.

Nick was not as prompt in getting there as I was so I wandered about and just shot stuff to keep me from getting bored. Yes I said that out loud. Once he got there I was just in "hang out" mode. Nick's a great guy and his wife, and aide Matt were delightful to spend time with. Makes my job even easier!

I brought a fair amount of gear because I didn't know what I would need. I quickly found that with just my D700 and beloved AF-D 28mm f/1.4  I had the ticket for this kind of chaos: wide enough to give me some air around my subjects but that fab f/1.4 gives me an amazing separation between the subject and the stuff around him. It's like how you use a longer lens to separate the subject from the background but with a wide angle view. Man-alive I'm glad that I kept this lens during the DX chip era.

So here are some snaps from that night. All of these except for the last one was shot with my D700, ISO400, Tungsten WB, AF-D 28mm f/1.4 @ f/1.4 around a 1/90 sec.

Ah the glamorous side of being an on air tv personality!

DSC_1424

Watching the results trickle in, I was echoing her sentiment.

DSC_1429

Oh come on! If you saw this kinda light tell me that you wouldn't shoot it too.

DSC_1445

Here's Nick telling some supporters that he had essentially chewed off all his fingernails in anticipation of the results.

DSC_1521

Aide Matt, Nick and Nick's wife Krista kept checking Nick's Blackberry for more up to date results than was coming over the 8 bajillion tv feeds that were going on. It never looked good.

DSC_1548

"Hey why don't you go make interesting photos of people waiting around and watching tv?" Gad! Well that's what it was all about. I must say that this is the shot that makes me love that 28mm f/1.4: the catchlight in Nick's eye is perfectly sharp but look at the lovely out of focus background that is a cluttered mess if sharp but isn't so it doesn't.

DSC_1579 

Now this one was done with my AF-S 17-35mm f/2.8. In these situations when there is a scrum you tend to do a "hail Mary" overhead shot. After a while of doing these you get to know kinda where you need to point you lens to get a usable framing realizing that you need to shoot wide to allow for the necessary crop to level out the nearly always tilted horizon you get when not looking through the lens. Well I have one of my control buttons on the D700 set to activate the Live View mode and since I do a lot of "No-looky" shots this function is just the bomb. I was able to shoot Senate candidate Bob Schaffer talking to the press after his concession speach and see exactly what I was aiming at. This is a full frame shot – no crop. Man I love our tools these days!

DSC_1604 

Well as we all know the Republicans didn't do very well so the Republican Victory Party was neither Victory nor Party but I actually had a good time. I didn't get anyone crying into their Martini's but we will go through the whole excercise again in a few year so who knows?