Pittsburgh commercial photographer

Eye See You!

Making a connection with your subject is paramount in creating an exciting and engaging portrait. Sometimes that connection comes from the most unlikely source. 

Commissioned by art director Amy Rajokivc thru the Dymun-Nelson agency, I was tasked to create a series of portrait images for the Heinz Endowments annual report. The job went along well with each person sharing their story and experience. The conversations went back and forth, with rapport quickly established. Then came the library. 

At the Homewood Library, we were photographing children in a reading program with their favorite book. Many of the children were somewhat shy at first, but I'm just a big kid so getting down at their level and letting my inner child take over did the trick. 

Then this little guy came in. From the moment he sat down he was beaming with a smile that could light up the room. Every time I looked into the finder of my Hasselblad, he let out a giggle or a loud squeal. Now, I knew I was good with kids, but he was way beyond anything I ever dreamed! Everybody on set was astonished. The expressions I was capturing were almost too much. The most dramatic reactions were coming every time I looked down in my camera. I was getting confused until he pointed and exclaimed "EYE!!!" He saw my eyeball reflected thru the lens of the Hasselblad, and it broke him up! We all had a great laugh and a great time. 

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Interpretation and dissection of an image

In my photography, I often strike a balance, black and white, yin and yang, positive space and negative. Intricate graphic elements to enhance the overall design of the image. I use a lot of lines and spirals and frame dissections to intensify a sense of movement, even when it does not exists due to stationary subjects or high shutter speed to stop the action. It's the feeling I'm after, and I'll use every tool in my belt to achieve the desired result. 

For me, I do not want to see a picture; I need to feel it. Does it hit me on a visceral level? Does it envoke a response? Is it calming or jarring? Is there a third effect in action?

In this photograph, "Cars," a lot is going on and not much at all. It's almost Seinfeld-ish. An image interpreted in a variety of ways but is about nothing. Two cars, going down the road, photographed thru a highway fence. That's it. Or is it? 

Art interpretation is rarely that easy. 

Compositionally, you have the conflict between black and white. There's a separation of the scene by the pattered fence. The horizontals and slight diagonal lines move through the image but are blocked on one side by the heavy weight of concrete and shadow which frames the image on three sides. And then there's the support for the bridge, the linchpin of the photograph. 

Beyond the dynamic design of the image, either further reach of artistic explanation or interpretation is on the viewer. For me, it was an iPhone snap out the window while stopped in traffic. Did I see the graphic design? Of course, I saw it, that's why I made the picture with the only device within quick reach. It was one and done. The light turned green, and I drove on. Do I see more in the picture? Maybe. Maybe not. How about you?

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The Traveler

As photographers, we write with light. It's the essence of what we do. 

Light shapes, sculpts and envelopes who we photograph. Every form of it has a different effect and sends a distinctive message. With light, you can make your subject appear soft and inviting or harsh and threatening. You can add drama or mystery. Shape it, bend it, diffuse it, reflect it or channel it any way you want to convey the feeling and narrative you desire. 

With light, there is always darkness, the shadow. The two opposites, yin, and yang work together or tear apart depending on your intent.  

In "The Traveler" the daylight is sharp, and the shadow is heavy. Because of the angle of the sun, it appears she's moving in that direction, into the light while the shadow feels heavy, weighing her down. Variations of gray on the wall and the diagonal line from the shadow further enhance the illusion of movement. Questions abound. Why is she traveling? Where is she going? Is she afraid or looking forward to the journey. The two other subject shadows stretching toward her adds another layer of mystery and suspense. Are they merely fellow travelers, protectors or antagonists? 

Success or failure of a photograph depends on many factors. The viewer's interpretation weighs heavy on that decision. But, each person decides for themselves drawing from their life experience and tastes. No one person is correct or wrong. Hence the old saying, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In the end, it's up to you, the creator, to decide if the story you told by writing with light was a tale worth telling. 

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Happiness is the truth

Sometimes you meet people who are plain joyous. They have an inner something that no matter what they do, or their station in life they are happy. Not pleasant smiling, but full on Pharrell Williams "Happy." You can almost imagine them dancing while doing whatever they do. 

"The Ringer" was one of those guys. My encounter with him on a tour of a turkey farm and processing facility was brief, but his personality was vivacious. He was a darn happy guy, proud of where he worked and what he did. He was helping people have a fantastic holiday dinner with good friends and loving family. How can you argue with that logic? 

So, on this hump day Wednesday, remember, no matter what your toil, how stressful the job, or the conditions of your work, if this guy can be happily ringing the necks of turkeys, what's your excuse?

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Sunshine reflected

If you always carry a camera you never have to go out to photograph. All you have to do is see.

Two people walking down the sidewalk by the old Allegheny County Jail added a human element and scale to the textural quality provided by reflected sunshine off the Mellon Bank Building. Photographed at a stop light from my car window with a Fuji X100F. Always be ready, and always carry a camera.

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Welcome to my new website and blog

Today I'm proud to announce my new website and blog.

The lengthy process started a or more year ago with a list of wants, needs, and desires for a showcase of my work, a portal for my writing and, the future expansion into educational opportunities. This site is one I can grow with as the serpentine path of my life and career continues to advance. 

As I said, it was a long, arduous process. Often it felt like I was drinking from a firehose – seemed like a good idea at the time, until it wasn't. In the end, I got everything under control, and I'm happy with the results. I hope you'll like it too as I'm just getting started writing about photography. For your convenience, I've posted everything written since the beginning. 

Thank you and stay tuned! The best is yet to come!!

Building a new website is sometimes like trying to drink from a firehose.

Building a new website is sometimes like trying to drink from a firehose.

Ring of Fire

Sometimes you're just given a picture. 

While working in a fabrication plant, I saw this gentleman whose job it was to take a red-hot hoop of metal from one machine to another using tongs. Each time he passed the hot steel across it framed his face for a split second. All I had to do was make my shot at the right moment to circle the workers face in the Ring of Fire. It was all timing. The glowing metal provided a ring light to illuminate his face. And yes, it was hours before I could get that Johnny Cash song out of my head.

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How I did it: Bethel Bakery

Happy Pi(e) Day!

Lighting in layers is how I approached the picture of Bethel Bakery president John Walsh. The agency needed a simple but somewhat dramatic portrait of the owner for an ad campaign. We started assembling the photo with the props, trays of pie, then rolled in the bakery rack. When the art director and I had a basic framework for the image, my assistant and I started working on the technical aspects.

For this shot, I needed enough depth of field to keep John and the foreground pies sharp, but fading off in the background. Not fading off to total mush, I just wanted it slightly soft, it still needed to read well at a glance. An aperture of f/6.3 did the trick.

My lens would be between 35mm and 24mm. Starting at 35mm, I would slowly get wider and closer as I built a rapport with the subject. I didn't want to charge in and immediately stick the camera in his face, even though I expected the 24mm would create the best picture.

The primary light needed to be directional but not super harsh. We used an Elinchrom 39" deep octa box, feathered, so the light fell just on John and the foreground objects.

The next layer I lit was the background. The oven and pies needed to be seen well but not overpower the primary subject. A 4'x6' softbox set using a C-stand far to camera left at about 45º angle. The light was adjusted to -1 from the primary using a Sekonic flash meter.

Finally, I wanted a slight rim light on John, so we set another flash, far to camera right, hid behind the baker's rack. We used a small Chimera, feathered away from the subject until it just kissed the edge of his face with about a -2 exposure.

We checked and double checked the lighting with a stand-in subject. Never waste your subjects time making adjustments. Have everything nailed down, then call in the talent.

The success of this picture is the result of a team effort starting with a great art director who carefully selected the pies based on size and texture. She then went on to the far background to clean up and rearrange the papers on the wall making the whole image orderly, but not sanitized. My assistant was outstanding, knew my gear well and how I worked through a picture. An extra set of skilled hands and sharp eyes is invaluable in shoots involving lighting. A good assistant is worth their weight in gold. Treat them as such.

It was a good day. We made a series of excellent pictures, had fun and left with a bag of donuts. It doesn't get much better.

John Walsh, President of Bethel Bakery

John Walsh, President of Bethel Bakery

Reflections

While on assignment many years ago for EQT I spotted the oil rig in my subjects safety glasses. It was an easy task to position the man in the right light and maintain the reflection. An unusually tight crop emphasized the rig, his eye and the EQT logo on his hard hat. The three formed a perfect triangle while the oval created by the lip of his helmet added a sense of motion within the frame. As always, geometry is your best friend when building a picture.

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Homage to Ansel Adams

Early in my career, I was fortunate to work for someone who had printed for Adams. He taught me how to craft black and white as fine art. Weeks went by before I made a first print acceptable to the master. As time went on, I became better and better until one day, a year into my employment, he looked at a print I just made and said, “Today the student becomes the master.” He revealed he could not have made a print as fine as I had just presented. 

Fast forward a lot of years. In 1995 I needed a break. I had been working almost non-stop for the better part of two, maybe three years. I needed to breathe, refocus and compose myself. I needed a vacation. Of course, that meant I needed to go somewhere and take pictures. I needed to go to the Southwest and shoot landscapes in the most challenging way possible. So, I left my Leicas behind, packed a single Rolleiflex 2.8E, tripod, an assortment of filters and 80 rolls of Agfa 25. I was off to Phoenix to start a ten-day photo vacation in Arizona. Just me, my Rollei and the spirit of Ansel Adams.

One afternoon I researched where the moon would be at sunrise and scouted a location outside of Page. At dawn, it was just a matter of waiting for the moon to be in the correct position relative to the stone peaks. A red filter darkened the early morning sky to nearly black, setting the bright moon off like a beacon in the distance. Careful exposure maintained detail in both the lunar surface and red rocks in the mountain. The red filter also turned those red rocks almost white, therefore increasing the contrast of the scene, exactly as I had pre-visualized, just as Adams taught. 

I came away with few images from that trip. But my goals of reconnecting my spirit and vision were achieved, and that was far more important than making photographs. Sometimes you just need to be present and experience life without making pictures. Sit and look out at a vista, meditate. Make a photo in your mind’s eye and leave the camera, or phone, behind. 

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