Working on an Editorial Photoshoot in New Jersey, for the State Forestry Service, I was making photos for a public awareness campaign on the importance of Prescribed Burning in the New Jersey Pine Barren Forest. In anticipation of the summer heat and possible drought like conditions, reducing the hazardous accumulation of forest fuels is an annual event in early spring.
For this assignment I carried two Canon camera bodies – one with a 17-35mm lens and the other with a 24-105mm. I certainly didn’t want to be changing lenses with all the floating ash and smoke swirling in the air. Both cameras were mounted to a camera body harness for easy access to keep up with the fast changing scenes.
Photographing a controlled fire requires respect for the forces of nature. It’s one of the few times I have to be more focused on my unpredictable environment than I can be on my subject. The intense heat, the roar of the flames, and the choking smoke and dust in the air, made for a challenging landscape to illustrate the story of the firefighters who protect New Jersey’s forests and safeguard the residents living nearby.
An important lesson I learned is to photograph while standing in the black burnt out ground. It’s hot and smoky, but it’s a place where the fire will be less likely to burn the protective coating off your lens, never mind your eyebrows – yikes!
The best part about being a portrait studio photographer is I can control the creativity in my concepts. As an event photographer, I have to wait and be there at the right moment to capture the image – no second chances. More often, I’m enjoying creating the moment rather than waiting, and hoping, the moment will happen.
To ensure the concepts are realized and the look is genuine, it’s important to work with talented models. An insincere smile or eyes that lack emotion can ruin your shot. Make no mistake, modeling is acting. Telling my models how to stand with verbal cues can be confusing for a model to understand. Visual signals are a much better way to communicate how I want a model to pose.
I prefer to embarrass myself by going on set and posing to show the model exactly what I’m looking for. I look ridiculous when I do it, but when the model mimics me, he or she looks great. I’m always impressed when a model can hold an expression or portray a character so convincingly. Once the model has a good starting point I come back to the camera and continue to use subtle visual cues as needed.
Having said this, some of my best portraits have been captured in those moments between frames when the model thought I wasn’t shooting and relaxed their “pose face” or glanced/laughed off camera. Watch for these moments. They are gold.
Senior Citizen Couple, New Jersey (Steve Greer/Released)
It’s a New Year, and as I watch the first snow falling around me, I’m drawn to revisit a personal project. I’ve been processing some senior citizen portraits for an upcoming photo contest, and I thought it would be worth paying tribute to this generation, in my first post of 2015.
Below is a video montage and some thoughts during the project.
From a photo journalistic point of view, I’ve always been interested in senior citizens. The obvious arthritic hands and weathered faces are just the tip of the creative iceberg to explore with a camera.
This is my visual attempt to share the insight, stories, and “elderisms” of a generation. Not so much for the sake of history, but for the sake of relationships. At this point in their lives, most have shed the trivial distractions of life and have reached a perspective only reached through important lessons learned on their respective journeys.
This personal assignment was a chance to go beyond the pearls of wisdom and clichés like, “life is a journey” or “do what you love”. Deathbed confessions, excerpts from diaries, and sharing old photos from a misspent youth, gave way to an emotional photographic exploration.
Some of these folks I know well, and others through their generosity allowed me a glimpse into their world. Seeing their challenges, and sharing joys, regrets, and values, I learned not all seniors are like Napoleon and Josephine. Or Gracie and George. It was more eccentric, crotchety, but never boring.
Thanks so much for all who revealed their lives and participated in this project. Our time together turned out to be more rewarding and far richer than any image created.
When I was asked to photograph a Division 2 college swimmer, I had visions of the Sports Illustrated magazine covers. But once I saw how attractive she was, I asked if I could introduce more of a portrait beauty style lighting to this sports related photo shoot.
To achieve a high-key commercial look on the athlete, I positioned 2 Elinchrom strobes in strip boxes, one on either side of her. I also used flags to prevent any flare coming back towards the lens. The main light, or fill light, was an Elinchrom strobe attached to a large Softbox, positioned just off camera left and set for 2 stops under the key lights.
Thankfully the cloudy day outside the pool provided the ideal flat light for the indoor pool background. A sunny day would have meant high contrast light coming through the windows, creating harsh shadows and rendering a completely different scene and mood. Using my camera’s meter to expose for the overall scene, I then added 3 stops to overexpose the windows and give the pool a soft white atmospheric mood.
The swimmer was nervous being in front of the camera with all the lights and equipment. To make her feel more comfortable on set, I placed my camera on a tripod and setup a remote trigger. This way I could walk away from behind the lens, talk with the model, and give her a chance to loosen up and relax without me peering through the viewfinder.
After getting to know each other, offering her lots of encouragement, and cracking silly jokes, I could see the beginnings of a genuine smile. The expression and emotion that would make for a captivating image soon followed.
In post-production the model’s skin was already borderline flawless, making retouching easy. And with a little desaturation applied in PhotoShop, the glowing look and feel this athlete evokes is convincing. She could double as a beauty model!
The camera settings were 1/60sec, f5.0, 55mm, ISO320
Adding a Model to my Photography Concepts is the best way to challenge my creativity. And juxtaposing the ordinary with the surreal can often make conceptual images have a strong visual impact.
Recently, ferocious storm clouds raced over my house, offering an exciting heart pounding opportunity to make some dynamic cloudscape background photos. And later, while I was looking at the new images on the monitor, my young son came over and said he wished he could fly. Eureka! My next concept photo shoot was born!
Finding feathers, a trampoline, and a child who loves jumping, was easy. Determining the diameter of the feather shaft to match the model’s hand was more challenging. To solve this, the model held a piece of PVC pipe in each hand while jumping on a trampoline. This meant his fingers would be in the right position, and scale, to match the feathers, that would be later added in PhotoShop.
To complete the illusion, I photographed at a low angle to dramatize the height of the model in the air. For the jumping photos, the camera settings were ISO 100, 35mm, f8, 1/1000sec. The main light was a bright overcast sky. Two Elinchrom strobes in strip boxes rimmed the model to replicate the direction of the light from the clouds. And thanks to Icarus, no wax was required.