Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Omitted tidbit from last night's post...

I failed to bring up an egregious flub made while shooting the burlesque show after party in Baltimore. Something many photographers have likely goofed on before, but speaks highly to the versatility of RAW shooting.

At some point in the night my thumb must have plunged the E-M1's wheel mode switch down and then ticked the white balance adjustment wheel a step clockwise because in the middle of the set of party shots white balance went from a temperately warm ~5200 degrees kelvin to a fixed (and super cool) 2800 degrees. Far too cold a color temperature for the ~5500 degrees kelvin flash, certainly too low for the hot lamps acting as stage lighting. I don't often fiddle with white balance in my work, auto settings have always done well for me and any minor adjustment is easy to achieve in Lightroom or DXO. In this instance, however, I was crossing my fingers in hopes that colors weren't inherently ruined on account of the cool recording color temperature. It merited a sigh of relief to find that they corrected rather well. Granted, my corrections were all remarkably lazy and still a little too on the cool side of the color spectrum for my liking, but they look well and above the harsh blue mash the unedited RAW files displayed.

On a similarly interesting side note, I just received a photo job a hop, skip and a jump away from Deale, MD, the town where the supposed panhandler I dealt with on Saturday and handed $120 to lives. I have it in mind to apply some morbid psycho stalker tactics and see if I can, in fact, find this woman, if only to say hello and see that she made it home safely. This is, of course, assuming she was honestly trying to get home and not simply scoring an easy $120 from a naive, optimistic kid with a hangover. The peninsula of Deale could stand to be a fun area in which to shoot for the afternoon, anyway.


Going through old photos taken around this time frame last year, I landed in an archive of shots from Skyline Drive. I am reminded that I am late for my annual introductory pilgrimage to the promised land of scenic overlooks, dreamy feels and curious black bears. I'm ready to head back this very moment.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Party Photography and a Weird Weekend

What a strange weekend.

Last week proved to a test of mettle inasmuch as it applies to my office life. Times have grown tumultuous and I suspect need for my employ in the realm of the traditional 9-to-5 may have finally run its course. Granted, I could be reading the cards all wrong, and the natural cycle of contraction in business may overlook me entirely, but I've been unable to entertain anything less than a weirdly optimistic demeanor at the concept of my formal unemployment. Plainly stated, I am excited to pursue photography as a full time endeavor, and the mere notion that my otherwise congested schedule may suddenly open up to indulge more photo work, perhaps even enough to realistically sustain my day to day living, excites me.

Instead of remaining realistic and appropriately cautious, I felt like celebrating. And as luck would have it, I had been invited out to enjoy and photograph one Baltimore's more risque fringe artistic franchises, the burlesque show.

I've always had an affinity for event and party photography. The energy of the dance floor compounded by intoxication and comradery functions as fuel for in-your-face approaches for photos (in contrast to the otherwise mousy demeanor of introversion I often default to in heavily social situations). If the show itself wasn't such an enjoyable degree of awkward disarmament itself, the intermission and after party certainly sealed the deal for a remarkably fun night. With reckless abandon, I took to the arbitrarily designated dance floor of the venue and proceeded to make a fool of myself, camera in hand raised well above the crowd to capture the mood and environment for the aimlessly good time that it was.

Historically my chosen kit for such venues has always been more diminutive, typically the E-P3 and 17mm f/1.8 with a YN-560 and a couple hard settings such that I could let loose and allow post processing to make up for whatever shortcomings from shot to shot. The approach Friday night wasn't all that different, only with the added versatility of a usable ISO 1600 to ISO 5000 on the E-M1 and TTL metering of flash with the FL-600R. From standpoint of experience, the two approaches may as well have been interchangeable. With the bulk of flash added to the mix the size and handling differences of the E-P3 and E-M1 were negated. Greater challenge presented itself in managing my own level of drunkenness in the high energy party atmosphere than any technical challenge presented by a camera. In general, I was able to partake in a great show, a great party, make it home (somehow) and have a collection of terrific photos to share.

Unlike other such events of which I've attended, I passed out a lot of business cards this time around. Quietly, I'm hoping that produces a benefit of sorts in the invitation to photograph future events of the like. And even if the invitation isn't openly extended, I certainly intend to participate in events of this very Baltimore sort more frequently because I found a curious comfort in the company attending. Retracted as I may become in heavily social venues (or at least retracted in respect to putting up a defensive front), I do enjoy meeting strangers and getting to know people, and when the venue inherently breaks down all traditional defenses by virtue of absurdity and forward openness, it's worlds easier to speak to people, engage them, actually utter the words "Can I please take you picture". I'd like to think of it as a coming-out-of-your-shell party.


The next day proved strange in different ways.

I was invited to tour the venue of a couple whose wedding I'm slated to photograph in June. A small wedding of maybe some 40 attendees, and of more the traditional arrangement than my previous wedding for a lesbian couple merging Catholic and Jewish families. Their chosen marriage grounds are on the site of the old Charles Carroll House in Annapolis, a pre-USA mansion of a place with an elaborately decorated church connected to its structure. Based on the tour, it should be a ton of fun in which to shoot, with plans in place for the entire reception to be lit by nothing but candlelight.

When I first arrived, however, parallel parking in a tight space squarely against the curb (real estate shooting on weekends in the city has augmented my parallel parking skills tremendously), a woman knocked on my window with a smile. I rolled the window down to have her gush in amusement, "That was perfect, I ain't never seen anybody park like that before". I couldn't help but laugh in response at being complimented on my parking.

She proceeded to recount a sort of sob story I've heard from panhandlers for years. Her kids were dropped off at a sitter in Annapolis but she needed to get back to Deale, MD, her hometown, to collect her car and other son, and her ride was nowhere to be found. Her request was for help getting back to Deale via cab (the only way to get down there from Annapolis without one's own car), and needed money to afford the trip. Based on an experience years back taking a cab back to Deale, the end tab for the ride would be $120. No small sum.

I've denied panhandlers many times before. I'm used to a Baltimore class of homeless, and with rampant heroin addiction plaguing the city it's often easy to recognize addicts looking to fund their next fix. However I've always indulged a history of sitting down and talking with homeless over the years, listening to stories of how and why situations became desperate, whether real or contrived. With this woman I was rather on the fence in all honesty. She didn't have the appearance of homeless or drug addict, yet I wasn't entirely confident in the truth of her story. Since meeting her on Saturday, I've been recounting the encounter, trying to narrow down to an underlying reason why I did as I did with her. Whether I allowed myself to be hustled in avoidance of conflict in denying this woman or perhaps feeling a desperate need to make a clear difference in someone's life in the heat of the moment. The end action remains the same. We walked down to the bar 2 blocks away, I pulled $120 out of an ATM, handed it to her and said "Have a nice day". She wasn't even particularly thankful. Just awkward, but clearly with her own business in mind. She did ask for my number and speak of paying me back, but I opted instead to simply end the encounter there and part ways. Either I genuinely made her life easier or I gave a stranger $120 for no reason.

I should have asked to take her picture. I'd say I'll remember that next time, but I'm not so sure I know how comfortable I feel with the notion of a next time in regards to such an encounter.

My real estate shoots later that Saturday and the following Sunday played in line with the weirdness by feeling similarly awkward and unconventional. One client was clearly in the business of running illegal hotels in DC, still not entirely sure how to reconcile that or what to do about it. Another I never met, but was rather let into the house by his children, never to share words with him before, during or after the work. I shot for a political consultant who seemed like a great person but with the same kind of awkwardness I often present in cold turkey one on one encounters, with mixed up speech and clearly unsure posture and movement. The last shoot of the weekend was nice, at least, with a client who had listed her home for rental many times before but never had professional photos of those properties taken. I let her sift through the RAW images on my camera before leaving and she gushed in excitement and gave me a high five (probably the first one not forced by managers in my office trying to seem likable and down to earth). What little remainder was left of that Sunday was spent trying to recenter, and oddly I found myself thrilled to have work in the morning as if it were an anchor upon which I could settle both mind and spirit. I hate admitting that it helped in both regards.


This week looks to be theoretically light on office obligations, and appropriately I have filled that void of pressing matters with photo work to which I will retreat in the early afternoons and return for a late evening at the office. Arguably I'm sitting on a generous stack of time off I could be spending to go out, enjoy life, enjoy my time, but with the begrudging return of cold weather I find myself more inclined to wait and suffer the boredom until warmer days make themselves apparent. I owe far too many people a photo outing. I owe far too many friends the light of day I've denied them under self-imposed pressures of weekend photo work. I owe myself some time and experience not dedicated to demands of other peoples' dollars.

I'll learn this work/life balance thing soon enough.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Travel, Auroras, and Disappointment in the Internet

It's been a weird week-and-a-half for me. After departing on a business trip Monday of last week I've only now managed to settle back into the safe, familiar routine I often loathe but often enough pine for. And tonight feels like an arbitrary exclamation to the series of uneventful events that sum up that strange period. One could postulate it's the Saint Patrick's Day fanfare speaking, but alas, I'm in my living room, sober, pensive, and with a lot of my mind. Not a bad way to spend the holiday at all, simply different.

From the beginning.

Last week I spent a short stint in New Jersey for graphic design work, the other odd creative labor for which I've somehow shoehorned into a legitimate business practice (especially odd given that I do not feel anywhere near as skilled in that medium). I've made the trip many times in the last year, and its execution felt enough like routine so as to not befuddle my mind with panic over making my train on time or not having enough cash on hand for a cab. Like those other tenures, time on the train was spent quietly listening to ambient post rock and idly chatting with friends on my laptop whilst omitting the clutter of vocal business people around me speaking in corporate tongues (I shouldn't begrudge them so, really, they are of course just doing their jobs). Work days were a solid 12 hours of unrelenting, productive creativity, with the final 4 spent cramming overpriced hotel bar beers down my gullet so as to sleep in an unfamiliar bed without the comfort of my partner or my pets to settle an active brain.

When I took these trips in the past it was during my infatuated period of time lapse creation. I intentionally arrived to the train station early both coming and going to run 400 frames in a 20-minute period. They were fun to produce, but this time around I stuck to my small PEN kit, E-P3 and 45mm f/1.8, and passively took photos in the few minutes I expected to have waiting for the train. Heading north, there was little in the way of inspiration, but coming back south involved an elaborate jump between trains and stations until the final departure to home. Taking the airport tram over Newark Liberty Airport, I was engrossed by the landscapes seen through the tinted windows, of planes taxiing and taking off with an industrial backdrop of cranes and freight, itself against the backdrop of nearby New York City. Funny thing, having stayed at a hotel right on the airport loop in the past, I never realized the city in the distance was Manhattan. I'd always assumed it to be a distant portion of Newark itself. During sunset last year, capturing a time lapse from the top level of the airport parking garage, the glimmer off one particularly tall building caught my attention and I recognized its shape to be that of the new World Trade Center. A strange moment that caught me off guard. Even from the far off view, I'd never expected to see such an infamous urban center in person.

The last train I would take on this trip heading back to Baltimore wound up being delayed by an hour. A combination of fog and an earlier accident on the railway happened to interrupt the evening business line. All being professionals and held with tight reigns to our schedules, the masses due to board flooded the indoor seating area until the seats were all taken, those remaining left to stand or sit and sigh as they waited to return home to families or work. They brought out laptops and cell phones and resumed business as usual while they wait, surrounded by the more casually dressed frequent fliers of the commuter train system equally engrossed in handheld technology. It's something we're all used to seeing at this point, the masses with their necks crooked to gaze into contact and comfort via glowing screen.

Newark Penn Station features many countermeasures to dissuade the roosting of birds and invasion of wildlife. It makes sense to do so given the cost and effort of cleaning after such interlopers, and in my past trips they'd done their part in keeping such animals out of the station. This time around, however, I couldn't help but notice a nest in the cracked brick behind a classic analog clock at the far end of the third platform, buzzing like crazy with tiny songbirds behind the florescent glow. I was bored and looking for a more personally gratifying use of my time, so I took to photographing them, following them around the station like a crazed lunatic (and I'm sure plenty of the other commuters took me as such, chasing down veritable pests to urban life). Eventually they were joined by a pigeon, snacking fiendishly on the remnants dropped from the sandwich a waiting commuter had eaten, sloppily, not too much earlier. They were clearly urbanites, not in the least fearful of my approaches to get better framing with each shot. Certainly a daily occurrence, it struck me well enough to focus my attention for some time while waiting for the delayed train. I was happy to think on the experience on the ride back when the train finally arrived.

I give this backstory as context for a circumstance I found myself in earlier today having decided to share one (I think) particularly handsome photo of the pigeon on Reddit. Not often, but from time to time, I like to share a choice image on in that community that has a particularly powerful personal impact as a means to share the experience. They are typically shared links to a Flickr gallery post with its own long winded description to set the stage for what circumstances inspired its creation. In this case I chose the portrait of the pigeon because it struck me as a subtle beauty in the everyday grind (and I know I've overlooked the mundane in daily life plenty, we might madden ourselves trying to focus on it every day). My titling of the post read as "While everyone else was on their phones, I chased this pigeon around for an hour". There are only so many characters one is allowed in a post title, and I assumed further context could be gathered by reading the description on the Flickr posting itself.

This benign title began a mild flame war. Despite the posting's popularity in regard to upvotes, the comment section was suddenly filled with personal stabs. I was accused of judging the people in the station paying attention to their phones, of being a hypocrite for taking the picture with a phone, for trying to paint myself as a "special snowflake" and in general being an idiot for chasing a pigeon through a train station for an hour. Within less than two hours, what I had simply intended as a benign sharing of an experience morphed into a judgment of people for being internet and technology addicted. And the more I thought about it the more I understood their point of view. From editorials to the judgments of our elders, criticism of a "smart phone culture" abound, and it makes complete sense to me how even the mention of the other denizens of the train station being focused on their technologies was an inherent criticism. Ultimately, in the simple context of a picture of a pigeon, it has no relevance. And I never made mention that I am, essentially, just another one of those cell phone absorbed people more often than not when idle time is abundant. But in the spirit of reflex, I insisted on replying with equally irrelevant commentary to make light of the negativity, saying "Crap, you caught me" to those accusing me of being a hypocrite, expanding upon being a "well adjusted adult" by degrading myself for still playing with yoyos and watching cartoons at my age. In the end, I chose to delete the post entirely.

I've question myself over the impact of that single sentence all day. And at this point I remain unsure if my words rightfully inspired backlash or if perhaps those reading that post's title on a cell phone felt directly insulted by the statement. What it has taught me, however, is that communication on internet lacks some inherent mechanism of person-to-person communication, be it inflection or body language, that permits the benign, the inconsequential, to be construed as attack, and that reality rather depresses me. I shouldn't say that it is a new concept or something I was necessarily taught, I've been aware of it just fine and been victim of misunderstanding same as those who felt slighted by the post. It took time and strong influence by a very good friend of mine to learn that often the safest approach is to remain silent when the intent of a statement is unclear, be it in person or text. Reminders come hard, it seems, but I do feel my choice to remove the post and cease any possible out-of-control spin of a comments table to be the best course of action. I'm simply disappointed it ever had to come to that, and so quickly.


Tonight the aurora is supposedly visible at my parallel tonight. I've been looking outside every once in a while, but suspect the light pollution in my area to be too severe to permit such a gorgeous thing to be seen. Were I smarter I would have prepared hours ago, traveled to a mountaintop some 50 miles away, set up camp and waiting for the solar storm to hit its peak. Lesson learned this time around, not everything can be photographed from your own back yard. Writing this post has been my alternative, as I'm sure I won't sleep well tonight until today's experience has been divulged in a sort of venting exercise.

I do have plans to visit a friend in Pennsylvania, perhaps indulge the long lost muse of abandoned infrastructure and again recenter. I've done poorly in the practice of escaping my comfort zones to acquire truly inspiring images, but it is always good to know I have friends out there who help me to find the muse whenever it is at its most elusive. Certainly looking forward to have new stories to share of those experiences within the coming week.

For now, I will continue staring out the window, hoping to catch a glimmer of green.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Mobile Photography Distribution

After last night's bantering of diminished effort put forth toward personally inspired photography, I came to a weird sort of realization. Despite my nigh apathetic chants, there is actually a swelling well of photographic content I have produced unknowingly, one which I am not actively sharing but which, perhaps, merits such distribution.

My lament of an absence of personal work is largely centered on the content of my Flickr gallery. It is my central hub, the successfully recognized portfolio which garners the most attention toward my personal work. And it is anemic, devoid of content compared to the frequency with which I know it is produced. My baseline of its success is measured by activity levels in 2011, when I shared content through that forum with regularity. But as time has passed my self imposed standards of work fitting for display in that gallery has reached levels which serve as a hamstring to my desire to share content, offer my perspective of the world be it relevant or a masturbatory act of vanity.

Where that central portfolio has atrophied, however, my mobile photography library has thrived. Photographs both taken with cell phones and those transferred to mobile devices and edited (however shoddily with campy looks and presets) appear to have usurped the tenacity formerly allotted to my Flickr gallery. My ignorance of this untapped wealth of imagery serves only as a grave disservice to the compelling urge to share my stories. But I am unsure how to go about sharing those stories. I am unsure how comfortable I would be abandoning the organized paradigms by which I have shared those stories thus far.

Of the strictly mobile image distribution platforms out there, I have adopted some comfort in the use of Instagram in line with the popularity it has garnered over time. While still active on Facebook, I would share "throw away" images with friends and family. My desire to share these images extends beyond this very targeted distribution among "safe" parties. Be they the products of photography as an art taken to the greatest extent of my abilities or not, I wish to open these images up for a more global consumption and vulnerability to criticism. Such a thing only threatens to strengthen my grasp of photography as even my namesake's "kneejerk imagery" is bared to such open consumption and judgment. The instinctual course of action is to develop a mobile album of sorts for such sharing on Flickr, which would immediately expose those images to the global attention I seek to subject them to, however mobile photography is a very new medium with its own specialized distribution platforms and I am unsure if this is the correct route.

Mobile image distribution is a vexing issue to me. Unlike my Flickr gallery, matured to the point of leading to paid work, my Instagram gallery is comparatively underwhelming and obscure. Social media platforms have dictated the direction of mobile image sharing and social media is itself a challenging and unforgiving platform into which much time can be sunk to little ultimate benefit. A shoddy Facebook page and even this blog are testaments to my lack of understanding of the methods by which one can properly capitalize upon social networking. Perhaps it is sourced to issues mentioned in the post preceding this one, the perceived lack of available time in which to invest. Both Blogger and Facebook offer avenues by which notoriety can be achieved directly through monetary investment, but, let alone feeling like a cheater's method, I am not confident that the content I provide is worth the investment of others time and interest. Not when so much media with plenty of substance is otherwise available.

No, I do not feel comfortable with the notion of paying for notoriety. I feel that my work should only thrive by its own virtue, by the attention it achieves in an of itself for merely existing. Unfortunately, in a world of globally accessible media of all types, that methodology is likely a losing avenue. Ultimately, the desire to achieve recognition and notoriety is, in itself, too foolish and self absorbed a goal to ever expect accomplished. Even before we were a culturally consumerist global culture, the pursuit of fame, what this inevitably boils down to, is too self serving an objective to ever see accomplished. It is a self aware dilemma of which I am constantly aware. But why else take photographs if not to share them with others?

I spend today locked in my apartment by facet of deplorable weather. Time is unusually available to me to come to a decisive solution on how and what I choose to share with the world. Unreasonably, I expect a decision and course of action to be taken by the conclusion of the day. Inner conflict appears destined to define my gracious four extra hours of personal time. Oh to forever be at conflict with oneself. What's the current meme again? "The struggle is real".

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Lost the Muse

Much as my work has been thriving in the photography field this year, the muse has eluded me in finding inspiration in personal work.

It's a problem that's been persisting since the business picked up to the point of richly blooming late last year. Since the domination of professional affairs and calculated business decisions there has been little room for private outings for personal satisfaction. Frankly, it's hard to focus on the things that once inspired me on the regular. Whereas it was once commonplace to take time out of my routine to capture images over a weekend for no reason but my pleasure, anymore it's a struggle to slow down and catch those little moments and scenes on the drive to the next job. And it is finally a problem I have to admit to, a problem detrimentally affecting my day to day life. It is gravely depressing.

My situation is unique among those pursuing photography as a profession. Those seeing the level of success I've had the good fortune to achieve expand their careers in photography or visual media exclusively. In my case, the road of career advancement is split, multi-pronged. Unlike those able to indulge their passion exclusively, I am fostering a corporate business career simultaneously. The loathed standard 9-to-5 office job. It isn't greed which has me pursuing these two very different career paths, but rather a sense of love and desire to function as a caretaker to my partner. Our household is single income as he does not work, not because he is sloth but because he deals with debilitating anxiety problems which preclude his ability to function in the working environments available to him. I do not hold this against him as he is dutiful around the house, taking care of our pets, cooking, cleaning, and emotionally I am confident of my hypothetical failures were he not present in my life to provide the support I need when life's conflicts, both internal and external, reach the point of overwhelming. But it is undeniable that being in this position, combined with the admittedly selfish refusal to sacrifice the boons this relentless work ethic has enabled in my lifestyle, has finally led to an unsustainable point of emotional exhaustion. Not a quickly descending veil of lethargy, but a slow dissolution of spirit. I am unable to find enjoyment in my day to day life, only finding thrill in the comparatively few hours I spent photographing for clients on the weekends, and it isn't enough to satisfy my needs.

I've spoken with my partner many nights about this issue. We've often returned to the same conclusion each time, that my spirit will not be satisfied until I fully shed the weight of my structured office work for a completely focused pursuit of photography. Despite my penchant for adopting risk in my private photography work in years past, I am surprisingly unwilling to dive so completely into photography as my sole career strictly because I still perceive it as a risk. Photography is a dying industry, with a rare few able to eke the kind of living to which I have grown accustomed solely through its pursuit. Were I only affecting my own life it is a jump I would likely have made 3 years ago when I first found a foothold after 10 years of trying. But such a decision does not solely affect my life. Not for 11 years. Much as he does not want to concede to the fact, my partner's life and well being are as much my responsibility as my own. As such, I cannot fathom adopting such risk when the consequences fall on more than myself. And despite his frequent reassurances and persistent faith in my ability to thrive, I am far less confident in my potential. I've seen far too many others with skill easily exceeding my own sink into the muck in this global society with a grossly diminished attention span and tendency to consume media voraciously for a week, then allow the talent behind its creation fall into obscurity. Culturally, the world is unkind to the artist. Our value is a forever fleeting thing.

My decision has always been to take the long road. Instead of making an abrupt all-or-nothing leap into photography, my intent is to nurture my photography business to the point wherein my weekend work is all but eclipsing the office career. It is a road that is inevitably flawed. As my income from photography augments, it continues to sit on top of the steady paycheck I am already receiving, and thus my lifestyle adjusts to another level of vanity. Going out to expensive restaurants with friends and paying the check without care. I am beyond the conventional concern for budgeting. To combat this trend, I began saving more and more money earned through photography, but it has been an unsuccessful maneuver. My partner and I are living well, living the "high life" inasmuch as is rational given the area we live and our inherent personality quirks. That fact makes me happy, however that happiness is also tempered by the considerable scarcity of time I have available in which to enjoy that lifestyle. A lack of time breeds exhaustion and lethargy in the time I do have for myself, and thus I do nothing with it, or begrudgingly tend to the errands and obligations of typical blue collar life.

Instead of transitioning away from my corporation oriented career, I find myself in a position wishing to move away from the photography career of which I dreamed to achieve for so long. I cannot openly flake on my office obligations, to do so would represent too high a level of risk, but the volume of photography work I endure if fully within my control, and now it is the only time I am capable of reclaiming. But in reclaiming that time for satisfaction with my non-working life, the momentum built toward a viable career in photography is stifled, and in such a depressed industry any loss of momentum will inevitably end the prospects of that career. The rock and hard place into which I am wedged comes to light in that analysis of my situation. Abandon the dream find happiness in my free time and ensure financial security for myself and my partner, abandon the safe and secure career and bring risk and assured financial hardship to our situation, or continue relentless pursuit of both simultaneously and be forced to stomach that stress, hardship and unhappiness with my private pursuits that have endured for 6 months now.

While this introspective self analysis may not speak to it, I am an optimistic person. My decision to continue pursuit of both careers is ultimately made, and I hold out hope that it will change for the better sooner rather than later. Similarly, I hold tight to Hollywood story lines in which those who dedicate themselves wholly to corporate driven lives fall into their own sort of personal hell, full of regret in old age of unaccomplished dreams. Difficult as my chosen path may be, I am truly fortunate to be in a position to realize a lifelong dream without having to step outside the commonly accepted bounds by which society holds the typical person. I can tout myself as living proof one can be both the office slave and successful eccentric artist simultaneously, which is the oddest of marriages. What I'm enduring in this current phase could best be described as growing pains as I learn to manage my life under new circumstances. Perhaps I lied earlier in regard to my partner's faith in me. I do believe I have the fortitude and endurance to deal with this transition and maintain happiness. It will always be a consequence of taking the long road that the struggles presented will be endured over a longer timeline, less immediate and thus quickly over, instead very persistent, like a dull ache or soreness.

After enough years that constant build of persistent aches and pains will kill me, surely. However, I have no intention of maintaining a straight line of a growth pattern in my working life. Big changes come to us all over a long enough timeline. I have the patience, the endurance, to wait for mine.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Professional Portraiture

This lovely lady to the left is Hannah.

I visited her residence late last year for real estate photography, documenting her home and available spaces for rent (it is a very nicely renovated and extra wide row home in Northwest Baltimore City). She also runs her own small (well, maybe not so small) business, with an office on the Inner Harbor. And like everyone in self run business understands, having a good portrait to play strongly in positive first impressions is a rather essential element, an important puzzle piece in the occasional quandary of how to connect with customers.

When I photographed her home we had a small chat about my interests in photography on a personal front. This delved into a conversation about my penchant for decay and abandonment as well as my enjoyment of the portrait process. I suspect a light went off in her head when I spoke of portraits. She asked for my Flickr page URL wherein I have many very candid, informal portraits displayed. They must have made the right impression because she contacted me 2 weeks ago interested in portraits of her own, and offered to pay good money for them. Compensation aside, I was simply thrilled to finally be called upon, in a business sense, to produce professional portrait work. It had always been a tenant of business plan, my personal definition of my own success, to engage in commercial portrait work, and with Hannah's request it finally happened.

Despite never having conducted a professional portrait session before, I often boast about the process by which it should be done and why that method will work better than the emotionally and cognitively divorced department store method of direction. No "Sit down this way, tilt your head this way and look this way", that is not how one elicits the genuine article from a client. It is in connection, in conversation. My shoot with Hannah was an hour long discussion about our industries and our family lives, about the people we interact with on a day to day basis. We talked about our travels, where we've gone and the experiences we keep from those places. Photography was secondary, largely guided by impulse and an autopilot understanding of technical aspects such that adjusting ISO or aperture or white balance or shutter speed did not impede in the slightest on the flow of conversation. The session played out exactly as I imagined such a process to unfold; portraiture is an experience to be had by both photographer and client, not a technically governed process with rigidly defined angles and looks and lighting.

We bounced between 4 different rooms, the only actively considered photographic maneuver, to see how the different lighting in different rooms (with big windows) in her house worked out. Her dining room table worked well for a warm, softly green flat colored background behind her (excellent olive green choice in wall color from the real estate perspective). The home office was surprisingly less useful a setting than expected. My favorite setting (and the one used for the above portrait) was her reading room. A little bit of deception is at play in the final image; the bookshelf was rather small, and so I tried to keep its edges out of the frame to permit an enormous bookshelf to fill in the details within the imagination. We scooted a small chase lounge in front of the bookshelf for her to sit on and I leaned back against the far wall more or less level with her eyes. I was still pretty close to her, but fortunately the macro focus distance of the 40-150mm f/2.8 performed infallibly. The image above is easily my favorite of the set of some 300 frames.

Post processing of the images was a new question in need of its own answer. My excruciatingly hazed and lo-fidelity artistic style did not make sense for this kind of portrait work, it was too punchy and too heavy handed. Instead I kept things fairly simple; I processed the original RAW files in DXO using portrait rendering and tones, exported a DNG from DXO to Lightroom to allow for gentle softening and dodging via local brushes, and a very personalized tone curve to center exposure of the image. Suffice to say I was extremely pleased with the results. And so now I find myself hungering for more portrait work of this caliber. It is a kind of work I enjoy to the point of discarding the label of "work" to it.

After the portrait session with Hannah, I had a real estate shoot immediately following for a repeat client, Esther. She had mentioned to me a need for portraits for personal use, and so I managed to tack on a (shorter) portrait session, just because I was excited about making portraits. Little did I know she was a cellist in the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, a detail that slipped into the open amid our conversation, and easily verified after the fact by web search. I was as pleased with my results with her portraits as with Hannah's, and do hope she passes word among her colleagues of this awkward young man from South of Baltimore City with a good taste for dialogue and a keen eye for "the moment".