Got to Have That Big Project

There is no one way to make it in photography. If you’ve ever heard the saying there’s more then one way to skin a cat, well that’s how photography kind of is. There are many avenues that can bring you money and the more of it you have the more time you’ll be able to spend behind the camera. In theory of course. But what about big projects? How important is it to have a photo project that lasts longer then a week, a month, a year?

I’ve been fortunate to have had a couple of these over the short time I’ve been a photographer and I can say that while the results have always varied, the stories that come from these big projects are the ones I tell the most often. From working with African Artisans, to traveling the country with a flying museum, those big projects have made a bigger impact on my life then many of the day shoots I’ve been on.

From a business stand point do they pay off and are they worth investing in? When you have a big project you have to spend a lot more time prepping for it. That’s the big difference I’ve noticed. The benefit is all that prep work can help your photography in all the other little projects you have going on. Whether it’s learning more on the computer, getting better with flash, learning new camera techniques, or working more with people. Whatever it is, odds are it will be beneficial later on.

So yes I am a believer in big projects but like all aspects of life you need a balance between the big and the small. The satisfaction of completing even the simplest of tasks helps make everyday life better. In photography you really really need that feeling of completion to help stay on track because it’s easy to loose sight of why you’re doing all of this.

Matching the Light

When it comes to using a flash I feel I still have a lot to learn. There are some pieces of equipment that I’m better with and others I am not. This comes down to my own experience level as well as my own personnel feelings. I’m sure for many of you out there this is true also. It’s part of being a photographer. We have to keep trying different things in order to grow. The only way to truly master light is by challenging yourself. So here’s the question that came up. Is it better to match the light coming out of the flash to the feeling being given off by the light in the background or to change it?

My good friend Alex needed a portrait taken of him in his lab. Well I had never been to his lab so right there I was walking into the unknown. Thankfully not only was the room really well lit but there was lots of reflectors. Now he works in a greenhouse so naturally it is very warm and as you can see by the overhead lights they are very warm in tone as well as temperature. I did two shots, both simple setups with the D5, 24-70 and SB-5000, didn’t need much. The difference was a dome diffuser and here’s where I bring up that question.

Dome Diffusers add more warmth to the light coming out of the flash. Sometimes that’s good. Sometimes that’s not. In this scenario it matches the feeling and the light already present in the greenhouse but it doesn’t feel natural to us because we know that people don’t look that way. The bottom image had no diffuser and was just a white light. It feels more normal to how our brains would interpret this but it takes away from the environment. These kind of questions and decisions have to go into your thinking before you go click.

Are Photo Contests Worth it?

This is a question I’ve been asked a lot about because there are a lot of different opinions on the matter. Some say photo contests are great and others not so. Like everything else in photography it does come down to your own preference. For me I personally don’t go for contests anymore because I don’t think they are worth the effort. Then as it just so happened, an editor friend of mine turned me onto this one photo contest the Mountain Outlaw Magazine was doing and I was intrigued.

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For those of you that haven’t heard of the publication it’s a semi-annual magazine, one of many owned by Outlaw Partners LLC out of Big Sky, Mt and Bend Oregon. First thing about that is the phrase semi-annual. They have a winter and a summer issue, that means for six months anything published in those issues is on the rack for that period of time. That’s a long time for one image. Whether you win or don’t win being having that much exposure for so long is pretty nice for minimal work. Simple business really.

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One of the major variables in this particular contest is the fact that it is a portrait contest, not something I usually do but I had some candidates for. Next every finalist gets published. My goal has always been to make the most out of every project I do and this is no different. The odds of getting one photo selected are just as good as a photo submission for an article so why not if the payout is six months on the magazine rack. Not bad if you ask me. Sure enough that’s what happened. Finally the images I selected are all about the African Artisans I worked with last year on my trip to Swaziland you are constantly in need of support. With that in mind all the pieces seemed to come together for this contest.

My advice is for anyone out there thinking about doing a contest, to make sure you consider all the variables and all the possibilities that come with entering not just the grand prize. Often that prize isn’t as good as what might else you are able to get out of it if you are creative.

The People Make it Worthwhile

I know today is Thursday and that usually means I talk about some unique aircraft but since this is a very special week where I am currently in the field working with some unique aircraft, I’m actually going to push my usual Thursday post to tomorrow when I can properly explain what makes this week so special. In the meantime I thought I’d talk about something else. There are three types of photography when it comes to the planes themselves: static, ground to air and air to air. Every aviation image can be filed under one of those categories but when it comes to the category of Aviation photography one of the most crucial elements is the people.


People keep these planes flying and it is there love and devotion that allows the rest of us to enjoy the planes. You can’t really tell the whole story without the people that are a part of it. Everyone from the pilots that fly the plane and of course the photographers that the pilots are flying around.AVFOFSC2631

The reenactors that devote their time to their craft in making accurate renditions of what it would’ve been like to witness these planes back in the day when they were flying all over the world.


Most importantly, the men that flew these planes when they were asked to for a cause. Slowly these WWII Veterans are slipping away from us and the need to be included in the story more then anyone else. Like Vic here who flew B-25’s in the Pacific. All of the volunteers, pilots, and veterans help keep these planes alive and that’s what matters.

Astronomy Day

Yesterday was Montana Space Grant Consortium’s Astronomy Day hosted by the Museum of the Rockies. Every year the MSGC puts on this one event that targets K-12 graders that inspires and educates the kids in all matters aviation and aerospace related. Back in 2010 my buddy Ryan asked me to photograph the event and this year I was asked to retain my role. Now if you follow my blog then you know that this type of photography isn’t my usual thing but like any good photographer when a new challenge comes around you have to rise to it in order to get better.


Now I don’t have any numbers yet on how many people showed up in the the three hour session that was going on downstairs, main floor and outside but from what I saw, there was a steady crowd of people the whole time.

Images shot with the Nikon D4, 24-70 AF-S f/2.8 on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

My First Wedding Shoot, Part 2

Yesterday I blogged about overcoming some of the challenges of my first wedding shoot and showed some of the images from just the pre-ceremony, mostly shots of the little details that make up the whole event. Going into this whole project I tried to keep as open a mind as I could not knowing really what I was getting into. As I was told when I was seeking advice beforehand, the best thing to do is to stay confident. If they sense that in you then they will have confidence in you. I have to say for my first wedding shoot, I couldn’t have asked for a nicer family or couple to be working with. Brad and Sarah were easy to get along with and very laid back as I worked through all the challenges that this event had to offer. Despite the actually ceremony only taking a few minutes to take place, it was still hours of shooting before and after.


With the D4, 24-70 AF-S 2.8 and SB-900, I was able to do a lot with the little details, as per yesterdays post. The wedding itself was actually held just 10 minutes away from where I live, which was great. Mostly outdoors with the ceremony at 4:30pm. Not my favorite time for lighting but with the nice open backyard, I couldn’t complain. The whole day I had the camera clicking, trying to capture every moment that wasn’t scripted in between those oh so important ones. Both inside and out it was a matter of capturing the faces of everyone there, while trying to remember everyone’s name. Not my strong suite.


It finally came down to the ceremony itself with me running around both sides trying to capture the feeling of the whole event from everyone’s perspective. Not easy to do. Mostly using the 70-200 VRII and 24-70 AF-S f2.8, I focused on every smile and moment of the ceremony. Now the one thing that amazes me about photography and continues to amaze me was how fast that project can go by after all the time you send prepping for it. The ceremony was over faster than anything I could have predicted but the work was still not done, for all those portraits remained. Every family member and all the newly wed couple shots had to be done.


Even those goofy but fun shoots which you just have to do. You never can go back and do them over.


In the end, after months of worrying, prepping, strategize everything worked out in the six hours of shooting. It of course took longer to do the finishing on the images, making the prints and making the dvds then it ever did to take the images, but it was all worth it. This process taught me many lessons, mostly that something that is as far out of your comfortable zone as possible can be the most rewarding. As photographers we capture moments in time. Sometimes those are moments that only we behind the camera truly realize how important they are while other times it’s the subject in front of the camera that knows it is their moment. Being able to share those moment is truly special and no matter what field, what passion or what reason you are a photographer, remember to always be on the lookout to try anything that might come your way. You never know what it might lead to and who you might meet. For me, I was able to share a very special moment with these two wonderful people and do something that I had never done before. Thanks Brad and Sarah!

My First Wedding Shoot, Part 1

Over the last few years I have learned one very important lesson in photography and that is always to be open to everything that comes your way. A while back I wrote about having to become a general photographer and taking advantage of all opportunities that come your way even if those are outside your comfortable area or don’t fall within your passion. Well if your passion is photography then any photo opp is a good one. I’ve spent a lot of time photographing critters, landscapes and planes but never much time photographing people, so this past project has been quite a challenge for me. Thanks to the mysteries that life bring some friends of mine asked me a while back if I would be interested in photographing their wedding. Well I can honestly say that up till that point I had no interest to do so and even told them that I had never done something like that before. Brad and Sarah were fine with my lack of experience in that field because they knew I would work hard. And boy did I!


Everything was started way back in Winter and the wedding was just a few weeks ago in July. I had a lot of prep work to do before then. Photography is still photography and light is everything, and that’s truly the most important lesson in all this. Getting prepped was more about learning techniques, coming up with creative shooting angles and figuring out the best timing to accomplish every shot. Without an assistant it was all me so I was very glad when they didn’t ask for video with their stills. As I have discovered in the past and for anyone out there that has tried to do both before, it’s really tough!


The technical aspect was the hard part at first. When you spend a lot of time working in one particular field you get used to doing everything that way and nothing else. With my planes I use the 200-400 VRII and 70-200 VRII a lot to isolate backgrounds and focus on one subject. Often times trying to capture as much information as possible in both the subject and the background. That seemed to be so inverted in this field as having shallow depth of field was such a key factor in so much of the shooting, something that I am NOT used to doing at all. Using the 24-70 AF-S f2.8and 50 f1.4 were a big help in achieving some of those shots. Black and White is also a key tool which made a lot more sense afterward as the light kind of sucked a lot of the time, being that everything I shot was during the middle of the day.


The last part of the prep was the inspirational side. The best was to do that I found was to research what other people had done and see what they had created. How they placed their subjects, their relationship to the background and the direction of the light that they choose all provided the answers to those questions in my mind. At Photoshop World this past Spring I spent a lot of time attending classes on wedding photography, like Cliff Mautner’s. All of this research material helped. Of course the only way to get the answers to those questions was to put them into practice.

A really good New Year Read

This is one of the really fun things about photography that sadly not everyone gets to do. Well since I can I thought I would promote my Dad. He has the guest blog spot over on Scott Kelby’s blog today and it’s a really good read if you’re stuck this new year trying to figure out what direction you should take with your photography. It doesn’t have all the the answers but it can be very inspirational. So head on over and give it a read.


The Bonnie Springs Models

I never have been real big with working with models as subjects but ever since I started in Aviation the need arose to get better. It’s a common thread in photography to evolve or parish, thus is the same with life. At Bonnie Springs we had four great models, two cowboys and two saloon girls. The Marshall had his town well under control.

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Melissa was one of our best models at the shoot. In my mind the saloon girls both had a unique side to them as far as where their background came from. Melissa seemed more like the east coast girl that just came out west, while Charmane (below) had already been out west for some time and had a harder life. With Melissa’s fair tone soft light was key. Here it was a diffuser on top to block out the hot spots from the sun and a gold trigrip below bouncing light back in.

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Charmane was a lot simpler to light. She was on a covered porch that acted as our diffuser. With no hard light behind her the background faded away. The only light source that was desired was a simple gold reflector trigrip bouncing more light into here face and hair. The big trick with each of these two was feathering the light on them instead of full beam from the trigrip. It takes a little practice and is far easier with two people then just one.

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The Marshall was the exact opposite of the saloon girls. Edgy, gritty and rough was exactly the looked needed to make the marshal seem like he has seen it all. Getting the desired affect here was real easy, a gold reflector on this backlit subject made him pop out and the background stay dark. All really simple tricks that can yield to some nice results. It’s fun to play with these things.

In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D3, 70-200 VRII, Trigrip Diffuser, Trigrip Reflector on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

Precon Photo Safari

Every time I go out shooting it is a different experience, usually because every time I go out either I get the shot that I wasn’t thinking I was going to get or something else comes up completely that i was predicting. It’s one of the best parts and the most frustrating parts of being a photographer. Well for the last couple of Photoshop Worlds I have been too I have had the great honor of assisting at the Precon Photo Safari with Moose Peterson and Joe McNally.

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What sets this one apart from all the rest is each one is different from the last. It’s whatever wherever we can find. A year and a half ago in Orlando it was PBY’s, Trimotor’s, Mustangs and Jets at Fantasy of Flight and Stallion 51. This past March it was a Civil War Reenactment group at a plantation outside of DC.

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What will today’s Precon be? What will these crazy guys come up with next? I don’t know but I can’t wait to find out and share it with everyone. Stay tuned.

In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D3, 70-200 VRII, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

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