2 in 1, or: my visual Gemini life

My work for the last few years has developed this neat-o split personality. I do portraits and I do reportage. Sometimes I get to do that for the same assignment which is to me very cool.

I do a lot of business profiles and to me it’s important to not only make the head dude/dude-ette look cool but also, if at all possible to show the people who work there who don’t wear the fancy suits. When you realize that the big guy that you are photographing has maybe ten minutes to spend with you, ya need organization and the ability to make a lot happen in no time with no fuss. That’s when I drag in all the cases of lights and stands and impressive looking stuff. I make a plan which usually consists of  2-3 different looks in one general area so that I can be as efficient as possible. I usually figure that I really only have five minutes to get “John Bigbooty, President of Megacorp, with their new SuperWidget XL2”. Once that is done I pack up all the gee-whiz stuff and go light and mobile: one body and usually just my 24-70 which which to head back to the engineering lab where they are hard at work developing the SuperWidget XL2 PLUS.

I love these assignments as they very clearly represent my two selves: the lighting it just right meticulous me and the freewheeling “screw the technicals – this is neat-o!” me.

Case in point: I did photos at a Denver company called MMLocal who is making waves with their small batch and rather artisan pickles. It’s run by two friends who are super dudes and they were a lot of fun to shoot for the five or so minutes that I could pry them away from running their quickly growing company. BTW I really lucked out here. They look a bit a like, dressed alike that day so I make the shot sorta monochromatic by shooting them against the side of their big galvanized cooler where they ferment their sauerkraut. Made their brightly colored product stand out.


Then I headed to the production facility and got this shot of one of their guys putting in a batch of pickles into the steamer for canning. Moody!


Case #2. It’s a small world and I was sent to shoot my buddies at Renegade Brewing once again. Brian O’Connor their founder and head brewmeister is a heck of-a guy but with a big expansion under way is the “one armed paper hanger”.

Renegade 1

Then it was back to shoot the pirates in the brewhouse making the end result of Brian’s master plans.

Renegade 2

I love these gigs. It works all of my brain and forces me to be as creative as possible in the shortest amount of time. My head often hurts at the end of the day but I like it that way.

A happy pulp

So I’m continuing to work on my project “After Action Review”: a portrait series of extreme and endurance athletes after they have spent a goodly amount of time and effort wearing themselves out in competition. I’m very excited and happy with this as I’ve put the restriction on the project that all the athletes that I photograph be amateurs: they are doing it for the love and not the money. Which makes you wonder even more strongly “the why the heck do they do that to their selves?”

So I called up a local promoter of Mixed Martial Arts events and asked if I could make photos. He swung the doors wide and gave me full access. What a guy! It’s amazing what a camera and a press pass can do for you. You get to go through the doors that say “No admittance” and “Authorized Personnel Only”. Lawd but I love my job!

I’ve shot boxing before but never MMA although I’m a big fan. I decided to shoot some action for me and my agency but the real reason that I was there was to shoot the fighters. I have deep and intense respect for the men and women who devote their lives to becoming competitive fighters – especially MMA as it’s so complex and technical.

So I head to the part of the building that they are using for locker room/pre fight prep and in the corner set up my white seamless and lights. I’d prefer to use soft natural light but in this situation I had to use strobes. One nice benefit is that none of the fighters had met me before so the studio setup made me nicely conspicuous and that lead to some curious fighters wanting to know what I was up to. The gear helped break the ice because I didn’t want to be too up front initially.

If you aren’t familiar with what goes on behind the curtain at a fight it’s like this: each fighter and their trainer spend just about every moment getting physically and mentally ready. Except for the WHAP! of gloves hitting a practice pad or the THUNK! of a fighter working on their throws and pins on the wrestling mat it’s very quiet. The occasional low voice is heard as a trainer tapes up his fighters hands or the trainer massages his fighters arms/shoulders. There is a reverence there. The fighters don’t speak much as they are focusing their minds for the critical intensity necessary to enter the cage ready for anything that their opponent will throw their way. The Japanese word Dojo means “the place of the way” and were initially parts of temples. That carried over to the modern martial arts studio/Dojo and that temple like feeling is certainly there in the locker room and why I wasn’t my usual chatty self.

But it only took a few fighters to ask what I was up to and I had some volunteers for my project. Now unlike some of the events that I will be covering in After Action, the MMA fight could last a painful 3 rounds with each fighter totally exhausted and bloody, or it could end in 30 nearly sweatless seconds. No way to tell. A few of the fighters came back from the cage looking like they had done little more than jog to their car and back. That didn’t make for interesting photos. Then came Nick who went a very tough 3 rounds in the 185 pound match finally winning by knocking his opponent out via choke hold. This frame is the keeper of the evening!


Oh and I asked the winner of the 125 pound womens title match, tough as nails and rather cute too!, what she got out of all the pain and personal sacrifice that it takes to be a fighter and she said “the satisfaction of accomplishment”. True dat!

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