Friday, December 31, 2010

2010: In Closing

A year ago, my life was vastly different. While much of my life has been flipped upside down (in mostly good ways) since the end of 2009, my passions still remain in tact. New friends were made and the bond of some old friendships strengthened. 2010 was a year of much growth, and I got to experience many different aspects of photography, the highlight being the opportunity to photograph Tiger Woods on assignment for the Tiger Woods Foundation. It may not be a big deal to some who cover subjects of Tiger's caliber on a consistent basis, but it was an exciting and amusing experience for me.

I have big plans for my photography in 2011, and I look forward to their deliberate and careful execution. I might enjoy living life on the edge and taking unexpected detours, but I don't believe in shoddy half-assed effort. Hope is not a strategy. Sweat is the fuel that dreams are made of.

I recently read the following portion in the book "Fast Track Photographer" by Dane Sanders:

"When a [person] is looking for a photographer, [they] will commonly say something like 'photography is really important to me.' For the vast majority of [people], what that means is remembering the day well is important to them and they see photography as the vehicle for making that happen. Remembering the day well through photographs means they want those images to elicit feelings they want to have experienced or actually did experience on their special day. If the images are bad, of course, this will get in the way of the [person] experiencing those feelings. But this is important to remember: the images do not have to be museum pieces either. The important thing is that they fulfill the function for which they are designed. That is they work for the [client], not for you.

Think of it like a song that brings back a flood of feelings. A $10,000 sound system isn't required to bring those feelings back. The sound just needs to be good enough. And, since most people don't have a trained ear, even if it were on a great stereo, the experience wouldn't be much richer. 

[Most people] know the difference between good photography and bad photography. But very few people know the difference between good photography and great photography. So if your focus is more on being a brilliant photo artist than being a vehicle for feelings, you'll need to do more refocusing."

While I understand the sentiments behind the above passage, I strongly disagree with them. The notion of "good enough" based on the lowest common denominator really doesn't sit well with me. I believe there is honor in honing one's craft even if most people will not be able to appreciate the finer details and innate effort involved. I see absolutely nothing wrong with a focus on being (or trying to become) a brilliant photo artist. As it is implicit in the above paragraphs, I also don't see that the ongoing debate between form vs. function has to result in a mutually exclusive choice. Why not choose form and function?

Ironically, I also think Sanders is far too generous in his assessment of the general population's eye for photography. There is plenty of ample evidence (available for all to see on the web in the form of portfolios and comments) that most people in fact cannot tell the difference between good and bad photography. If the people want Philadelphia rolls, let them eat Philadelphia rolls. I just don't want to be the person peddling them. However, I strongly believe palates and an "eye" for photography can be developed.

Don't get me wrong. I realize this might come off as snooty photographer speak, but that is not my intention at all. I am far from where I want to be but see the path to where I want to go. I think there are too many shortcuts in life, none of them leading to true excellence. With a medium like photography, those shortcuts can appear much more enticing, because most would never know you are taking them. And while there is nothing inherently wrong with a Philadelphia roll, there is definitely a much better Japanese dining experience to be had.

I don't know if I will ever reach my full potential, but I will always strive to be the best photographer that I can be. I am probably the harshest critic of my work (despite the fact that photographers love cutting down the work of other photographers), and I hope to never lose my hunger for improvement.

Cheers, 2010. Bring it, 2011.

Here are some of my favorite images from 2010. It was a good year. It was a fun year. I will miss it.

[Underage Drinker]

[Bon Voyage]

Photographing my 92 year old grandmother is a memory I will always cherish.

[Portrait of an Artist]

I experimented a lot with a lifestyle look this year. Here my young nephew is busy eating snow in the middle of a photoshoot. To me, being a kid in the winter means ample opportunities to eat snow. If you haven't tried it as a kid, I would highly urge you to at least try it as an adult. Nothing says childhood and winter to me like eating snow. Peeing in the snow is a close second.

The following 4 images are from a wedding I was a second-shooter for. The day of this gig, I returned from a weekend bachelor party trip in Chicago. I was exhausted and wondered how I would shoot in such a tired mental state. Somehow I just let loose and got some of my best images that day. However, I would not recommend this approach nor attempt it on my own again, but hey, life happens. After having met Joe Buissink in Vegas, I must have channeled some of his energy. = )

I let the shutter drag at about 1/30. Usually this would create too much motion blur, but because of my external light source, the subjects were captured the way I wanted them to be.

Can you spot Barry Obama with his hand up? = )

There is something I love about trees, especially for engagement sessions. And much like each relationship, no two trees are exactly alike.

No single event of 2010 shook my world as much as the birth of my son. Capturing images of my child was an emotional and amazing exercise in photography. I look forward to documenting the rest of his life.

As my son lay bundled up in bed the morning after his birth, I couldn't help but marvel at how tiny this new fantastic little creature in my life was. Some might find it odd, but I loved incorporating an apple into this picture. His head really was not much bigger than that. And that is always how I will remember those early moments of peace.

The pink wrinkled fingers of my baby boy reminded me of the stitches on a baseball. Not sure why my mind is wired the way it is, but my hands have no choice but to follow and execute my vision.

I didn't think I would enjoy child photography, but there is something about it that is extremely rewarding. It is a bit frustrating since the subject is unable to follow directions, but the end result is always so precious. I also love the creative challenge of using available light and finding clean backdrops to create a studio look outside of the studio. I knew shooting off my flashes would not fly with my wife, so I made do and learned a ton in the process.

[Play That Funky Music White Boy]

That really was the song this guy was singing when I captured this moment. I love coming up with captions for photos, but sometimes they just attach themselves.

There were so many gigs and so many images, and I am certain I am forgetting a bunch of special ones. Forgive me. It is my head and not my heart.

I bid thee adieu, 2010.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Welcome to the 30s: Matthew's Surprise Party

I would start this entry off by saying that I have been neglecting my blog as of late, except that it annoys me when blog entries begin that way. Oh the irony.

A few weeks ago I documented a surprise party for Matthew at the charming Bistro D'oc in Washington, DC. When his wife Alanna contacted me about shooting the event, I knew it would be a special night to remember. I enjoyed operating in stealth mode with her and the rest of Matthew's friends and family in the days before the event.

I knew Matthew's entrance would be the key to documenting this event, so I scoped the scene, set up my lights, and was ready to go in my photographic sniper stance. The rest of the group remained hidden near the back of the private room as Matthew and Alanna made their way into the restaurant.

the moment of surprise

emotions sink in

Hitting the 30s is always an interesting time in a man's life, but I am glad Matthew hit the ground running with a little help from his friends and family. And of course, the thoughtfulness of a good wife is the perfect salve for alleviating the transition into the 30s.

Happy birthday, Matthew!

As the year comes to a close, I naturally think back to everything that went down in 2010. It was a special year on many fronts, and one that I will never forget.

This was my last shoot of the year, and I am excited for what 2011 has in store. I haven't done an official count, but I went on over 50 shoots in the last 12 months.

I hope to compose a few final blog entries highlighting my favorite shots of 2010 and reflecting on the past year and the way forward.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Photography Spotlight: Stanko Abadzic

Photography is a powerful medium; a blank canvas that is rarely utilized to its full potential. Once in a while, I will come across an artist that just blows my mind and inspires me to push forward on the long journey that is photography.

Stanko Abadzic is one such artist. Despite his name being "Stanko," this guy puts out amazing work. I first discovered Abadzic's work in an issue of Black & White magazine and went home immediately and searched for more of his work. I love the strong lines which guide his composition and his masterful and powerful use of the contrast between light and shadows.

Born in Croatia in 1952, Abadzic lived in a number of countries, which surely shaped his unique point of view. Particularly evident in most of Stanko's work is a sense of nostalgia which is deeply embedded in his elegant compositions.

Abadzic's work in many cases appears like a throwback to an older era. He carefully and purposefully tries to engage viewers of his pictures on an emotional level, momentarily bringing them back to a simpler time. Stanko openly laments the unwanted by-products of globalization, in particular as they relate to human "connectivity." As people grow more connected to communications technology, Abadzic argues that life becomes faster and that people grow less connected to one another. Frequency of communication has surely increased since the advent of cell phones, e-mail, and instant messaging, but the depth and quality of interactions has likely eroded.

"The faster we live, the less emotion is left in the world. The slower we live, the deeper we feel the world around us."

This is my favorite Abadzic photograph. The lines and composition amaze me. This piece was wonderfully and masterfully composed. These types of photographs have souls.

"I still believe photography can touch people emotionally. I believe a photograph can be a testimony and a document of its time, and that it can inspire us to talk to each other and make a better world."

"We lose our happiness when we lose our sense of identity."

I have always lived near big cities, so the only jungles I have known are concrete ones. I prefer life at a fast pace, but enjoy the rare moments of clarity that life provides. I hope Abadzic's work was as therapeutic for you as it was for me. I may look around for an old manual typewriter. Ironically, without technology and increasing levels of globalization, I would have never come across the work of Abadzic.

A colleague of mine applying to graduate school asked if I would share my old essays. I managed to dig up the files on an old laptop. As I went through my old writing, I was amazed at how jaded my views are today compared to just five years ago. Granted you put your best foot forward in application essays, but a part of me would be astounded if I truly believed even half of what I wrote at the time of its penning. I guess life has taken its licks, but I am still standing. 

To remain idealistic and hopeful in an increasingly cynical world is within itself a revolutionary act.

I have had Jerry MaGuire moments in my life before, and I hope this is not one of them.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Portraits: Baby Beluga

Life has been keeping me quite busy, and unfortunately I haven't had much time to photograph little Lex. However, as I am in the habit of doing, I like to think about lighting scenarios and where I should shoot even when I am not actually photographing anything.

Generally for portraiture studio setups are nice and reliable, but there is something about natural light that I love. Baby photography is also an incredible test of patience, and so I salute all the baby photographers out there!

Being a dad is quite an interesting experience. I like it a lot more than I thought I would. When I am greeted by this smile in the morning, it really is very difficult to leave for work. Or maybe he is smiling because I am leaving. I'll have to ask him in a year or so.

This is my favorite shot from this set. Smiles are nice and all, but there is something about a person with a pensive look (imaginary or real) that I enjoy. The contrast between the semi-serious face and the unmanageable Alfalfa sprouts of hair always makes me chuckle. 

I got a brief look at Le Tigre. It is a fierce look Lex uses for catalogs and footwear sometimes. I am starting to wonder if I can even handle Magnum. It always amazes me how different children look when you pose them in a different way.


When I look at my sleeping child, it gives me time to reflect on all the big changes in my life. While I may not be in control and have very little sense of where all this is headed, I am happy. I realize that my love for my son is really just an extension of my love for my wife. I love seeing features on him that without a doubt are from my wife's side of the gene pool. And I love him more for it.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Wedding: Jen & Matt

I recently had the pleasure of second shooting for my friend Inhar Chong.

It is always good to shoot with friends, and the freedom to exclusively take photojournalistic shots is always a fun way to capture an event.

Warming up for the big show

Go time

No more pictures!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Two Roads Diverged in a Wood

[Dueling Pianos]

I enjoy second shooting for my professional photographer friends, because it is an exercise that provides lots of leeway for creativity. As a primary shooter, not all the shots you have to take are the stuff dreams are made of, but that is one reason why the lead photographer cashes the check. Financial considerations aside, second shooting is generally much more interesting and stimulating. Since every photographer has their own approach and methods, I also enjoy observing people do their thing. It helps a lot if you like the people you are shooting with too.

My brief stint as Mr. Mom ends tomorrow, and so I feel that it is an appropriate time to take account of the photographer I am today as opposed to the photographer I was when I started down this expensive but rewarding path.

My new iMac is the latest addition to my ever-growing inventory of gear and toys. I love it, but I suspect I will miss my PC the way I miss my old Nikon gear once in a while. I don't think better gear makes anyone a better photographer, but technology is good. I liken nice gear to a wider variety of crayons and a larger sheet of paper. So if you couldn't draw with your little set of primary colors, you're probably not going to be able to do that much more with the deluxe set, just more megapixels of the same crap. I remember shooting my first DSLR (Nikon D50) and loving every minute of it. There was a lot of trial and error in those days, but my love of photography was pure. I am still just as passionate about photography, but I sometimes miss those old days. Sure I was confused, but I was pretty happy to be in a constant state of learning.

With the addition of the little guy in my life, personal time has become a very scarce commodity. Working full-time again in an office that feels like the Italian version of Mad Men (more on this another time) will surely cut down my current levels of dwindling freedom. I am not one to put my dreams on hold, but there is just no way to pursue my passions with the same type of energy and devotion as I did pre-baby. However, I see where I want to go and have a vaguely defined idea of how to get there. I will just continue chopping through the forest whenever I can. I don't mind. I like taking detours. Life is pretty much one long detour. A straight line may be the most efficient way of getting from point A to B, but it is surely the least interesting. I want to see the rest of the alphabet. B can wait.

So the 5DMII has HD video capability. Those features were rarely touched. However, I was recently inspired by a presentation given by Clay Blackmore's video guys, so I ventured out into the world of video. I hope you enjoy my little production: A New Life - a celebration of the birth of a child and the preparation for a new baby

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Thoughts on Fatherhood

I don't want this blog to be about parenthood, but that is consuming my life at the moment. There is no escape. I do however use my son as a subject for photography, so I will continue to pepper my posts with those images and stay within the spirit of this blog.

I didn't have too many thoughts about fatherhood or theories on raising children before my son was born. In fact, I didn't even read the "Baby Book." I think it may have had something to do with the movie Knocked Up. I really didn't like it when Katherine Heigl freaked out on Seth Rogan for not reading the book. As if reading that book qualifies someone to be a good parent. Not the best reason, I know. So, I basically didn't know what to expect while my wife was expecting.

However, I couldn't get Dave Chappelle's take on having a son out of my head.  During one of his better standup bits, Chappelle talks about how moved he was when his son brought home a macaroni necklace he "made for Daddy." Dave was really touched, sat his son down on his knee and commented, "You used to live in my balls! And now you're making me a macaroni necklace?!" The humor of this sentiment aside, it really is mind-blowing. While I hadn't thought too much about being a dad, I really wanted my own "Dave Chappelle" moment. And I still look forward to having them.

I can't believe it has been one whole month since my son was born. I can't believe I have a son. In one furious second, I went from barely being responsible for myself to being responsible for another human being. That is just as scary as it sounds, but like they say, high risk-high reward.

I sometimes imagine what the younger version of me would think of all that is happening right now. These thoughts seem to surface the most during diaper changes. The 23 year old me might say something like, "Wow. You are cleaning your kid's crap? That kid should be cleaning your crap. Let's ditch the diaper and hit up the club, old man!" The new Dad version of me thinks, "Wow. I am cleaning my kid's crap. This is so awesome." Notice there is no exclamation point at the end of that statement. I am human after all. Having said that, I am enjoying things about fatherhood that I imagined I would pretty much hate including, yes, the dreaded dirty diapers. To clarify, it's not the process I enjoy, rather the end result of a cleaner and happier baby.

After marriage, parenthood is about the most unnatural thing in the world. As human beings, I believe we are wired to act in our self-interest. It's a survival thing. Caring for a baby goes against every instinct designed to preserve life. It might not make much of a difference for me to fall asleep in the wee hours while feeding my kid here in suburbia, but if I was a caveman in the woods, that momentary dozing could cost me my life. According to the principles of evolution, bad parents who neglect their children should make up a larger population of the gene pool. They had more energy and were more alert, key factors to survival. Despite these thoughts, when my son flashes me a little smile in the morning, it makes up for everything and my exhaustion goes away. Just kidding. It's just a temporary high, and then I go right back to being tired.

I have enjoyed my time at home with my son, and I feel blessed to have been able to spend every single day of the past month with him. I thought it would drive me crazy, but I am finding that I actually a bit sad to head back to work. After two years of tired trekking, I feel as if I have reached an oasis in the middle of the desert. I have imagined this day for a while, but it now seems bittersweet. The words of Lance Armstrong have stuck with me and encouraged me during the last leg of my journey:

"What you learn in survivorship is that after all the shouting is done, after the desperation and crisis is over, after you have accepted the fact of your illness and celebrated the return of your health, the old routines and habits, like shaving in the morning with a purpose, a job to go to, and a wife to love and a child to raise, these are the threads that tie your days together and that give them the pattern deserving of the term "a life.""

Life is good.


Observing my nephew meet his cousin for the first time was kind of interesting. I think they hit it off and will be good friends. I feel like it wasn't all that long ago since my brother and I used to ride our bikes around the neighborhood and play wiffleball in front of the house. Those were the days. A simpler time, when video games only had two buttons, gas was under a dollar...