personal work

photography: the progression of an idea – Regal Portrait with a Ferret

While on a trip to Denver, I had some time free to meet up with my friend, Lynn Clark, one of the best boudoir photographers in Denver. I had asked her to be a subject for my next book, 60 Portraits, and she indulged me. I want each portrait to reveal something of the person I am photographing, and also have some interesting snippets of info for anyone who dips in the book, and of course, for anyone who follows the Tangents blog.

So while Lynn is an accomplished boudoir photographer, I didn’t want to go with the obvious idea of doing a boudoir photo session of her. I met up with Lynn, and our mutual friend, Petra Herrmann in Lynn’s studio. (You may remember Petra as a recent guest on Tangents - increase your sales in boudoir photo sessions.) Lynn’s boudoir studio is home-based, with two large rooms that had been converted in shooting space. I spent some time looking around, and figuring out angles and lighting and backgrounds. The usual things we need to juggle when we consider the setting for portraits.

I liked the one direction where I knew I’d be able to compress the perspective with a 70-200mm lens, and shoot from the adjoining room. Then I could use the red drapes in the background, and throw the chandelier and the rest of the room out of focus. So far, so good. This would be good for a basic portrait. Solid, but not engaging yet. Lynn and Petra and I bounced some ideas around.

Lynn and her husband runs a Ferret B&B in Denver , CO. They take care of ferrets when their owners are on vacation. Lynn and her family also keeps 6 ferrets. So there are ferrets … and they are adorable. In chatting with Lynn and Petra, they mentioned that Queen Elizabeth had been fond of ferrets, and there was a portrait of her with a ferret. And then the idea clicked!

Throwing the chandelier out of focus and keeping it in frame, we’d have a glowing halo of light above Lynn. The red drapes worked too. Then … the costume. We didn’t have anything nearly as ostentatious so we went for a tiara and some bling jewelry.

And then we added Elliott, the energetically curious ferret you see in the photo.

The final portrait of Lynn is whimsical. There’s an absurdity about it. Hopefully the portrait is also quite cute and amusing. I do think it shows that playful aspect of Lynn, though she insists she’s actually a serious person. This impromptu homage to the portrait of Royalty with a pet ferret, was certainly fun to shoot.

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photographers – when was the magical moment when you first got hooked?

I’m sure we all have similar stories – how we got hooked on photography, and it became less of a mild interest, and more of an over-riding fascination. A fascination bordering on compulsion, where you felt you just had to take photographs of everything around you. What was the moment where you realized you’re hooked on photography?

Let me kick this off then – My own interest in photography started somewhere during high-school years. I was an avid nature enthusiast as a child, devouring anything to do with animals and nature. From this I was also a keen bird-watcher.

My dad had a Praktica camera. In fact, it was the Praktica Mat model. Praktica cameras were made in East Germany. Solid in every aspect, and not as sweet and lithe as the Japanese cameras. But as a first camera, I loved using it. My first proper camera that was mine, and not just borrowed from my dad, was a Pentax ME Super, but I digress. My dad also had a Tokina 300mm f/5.6 with stop-down metering. This clunky old lens was my first step in trying to photograph animals and birds … and I soon realized that photography was far more interesting than passively observing animals.

That’s where it started for me. I steadily became more and more interested in photography, but there was one moment where I knew this is it, WOW!

I was kneeling on the bathroom floor, the windows blacked out with towels in a make-shift darkroom … and I was developing my first B&W print from the first roll of B&W film that I shot and processed myself. As that first image sprang to life and that white sheet changed into a black-and-white – an actual photograph! – that was it. Pure magic.

That first photograph I printed was of a Dalmatian we had as our family pet. I loved that dog! Disney had it right in how wonderful Dalmatians are. While I still have that original B&W negative, it is in deep archive. And by deep archive, I mean some random box deep somewhere in the basement. Instead, here is another photograph of another Dalmatian I had years later.

The photograph at the top is of Brakko, who was one of two dogs that I owned way back when we lived in South Africa. (This is from early 1990′s.) I used him as a test subject when I tried out my brand-new used flashmeter that I had just bought. The light is from an off-camera speedlight diffused through an umbrella that I lay on the ground.  Very simple lighting.  That guarded look on his face is because he wasn’t sure about an 80-200mm lens pointing straight at him.

Of the photos I took of him, I loved this very tight crop, with his eye the only bit of color in the frame .. aside from him not having had a bath in weeks and weeks.

Ok, your turn. Let’s hear about your moment when it just hit you that photography is something I just had to do.

 
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photographing a vintage motorbike on location, with Profoto lighting gear

I’m getting to meet so many people while photographing interesting subjects for my next book, 60 Portraits, that I was bound to meet some truly interesting characters. John collects vintage … oh, everything. His entire house filled with collectibles – it is like stepping out of a time-machine into a different era. I joked with him that the only two things in his house from the 21st century is his fridge and his dog!

Most impressive in a way, is John’s workshop where he maintains his two vintage era motorbikes and a Model A Ford. The tools in his workshop are all authentic to the era … and they work. The way John describes it, it actually makes sense in the way he maintains  everything with hand-tools and lathes and such.

His one motorbike is from WW1 era, and the other is this 1928 German-built Triumph. The sidecar was made by Hindenburg Metalworks. Yup, the zeppelin guys. John’s friend, Barbara, frequently accompanies him to shows and rallies, and came along for this photo shoot. After all, there is a side-car!

I photographed a few sequences of John and Barbara with this motorbike, using different setups. I liked this dramatic series the most, with the light from behind casting a shadow in front of them. I wanted the light to etch the frame of the motorbike and side-car, without revealing too much detail – I wanted this to be a portrait of John and Barbara. However, I took a number of other images, where the motorbike is better lit. Just to have the variety. Such a unique opportunity doesn’t come along that often, so I had to make sure I got variety in the images.

Now, the techie details about the photograph:
camera settings were 1/250 @ f/14 @ 200 ISO

As always, the pull-back shot to show the lighting setup …

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Nelson Mandela / Madiba

To celebrate Nelson Mandela’s birthday – July 18th – here are two images from my archives. I had the pleasure of photographing Nelson Mandela, then president of South Africa, at a function in March ’98. I was one of several photographers covering the event where he addressed people attending a function.

The challenge with this photo-shoot was that no camera flash was allowed. Which is especially tough inside a dimly lit marquee tent in early evening. This no-flash rule was an attempt not to aggravate eye problems the president experienced. So all photographs were taken with ambient light alone. I remember being the only photographer there with a tripod.

date:  March ’98  -  Johannesburg, South Africa
camera gear:  Nikon F90x;  Nikon AF-D 80-200mm f2.8
camera settings: 1/15th @ f2.8
film:  Fujicolor 800 Super G Plus

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Instagram

July 8, 2013

Instagram

Looking up in this hotel courtyard,  this symmetrical pattern was revealed. But it was only when I rotated the image on my iPhone, that it became a touch more surreal. Up became forward. Forward is up.

I still enjoy Instagram for it’s immediacy. I also like the challenge of coming up with interesting images even with the obvious limitation of shooting with a camera phone.

So if you use Instagram, you’re welcome to follow me at neilvn. I don’t post photos of my lunch or my coffee. Well, I did post that one photo of my lunch a while back, but it was really interesting.

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your personal photography – aiming for more than just snapshots

This just might be my most favorite photo of my daughter, Janine. It’s from 10 years ago (2003), and she was 9 years old at the time. I was trying out my new Nikon D100, reveling in being able to instantly see any photos I took. We were outside in the garden area of the apartment complex we lived in at the time. With a long focal length, I concentrated on capturing her expression, and a little some of who she was at the time – that interesting blend of confidence and shyness … and a fortunate dose of just indulging her dad with the new toy.

Simplifying the composition, the photo is all about her expression and those soulful eyes. She still has that. But she has grown into a confident young woman.

She’s currently studying to become a Chemical Engineer and doing very well at university. Yup, she’s bright. That obvious intelligence is also blended with an amazing confidence now. She always was independent; even more so now as a young adult. There’s an individualism there that I can see others are drawn towards. Magnetic. It’s astonishing at times to watch her interact with other people with an assuredness I didn’t have until much, much later in my life. I’m very proud of her, and in a large way also in awe of who she is. She’s an incredible person to know. Even more so as her dad.

It’s interesting to look over the older photographs now, trying to recognize traces even then of who she is now.

And if I sound a little nostalgic, I am. She moved out of the house when university started last year, and she has gained momentum with her own life. So we see much less of her now.

While all the memories are intact, the photographs I have of her have an even more powerful resonance now. And I wish I had more photos of her.

Like any new parent, I shot rolls and rolls of film of her as she grew, but this tapered off as she grew older. In a way , as the “newness” of the baby was shed, we became more used to her as being part of the family. She’s just *there* with us; part of us.

Now I wish I had many more photos of her taken during later stages. And not just camera-phone snapshots, but more carefully crafted portraits like this image.

I think there is a danger there – if danger is the proper word – that we reach for our camera phones more readily than before, instead of using a “proper” camera to record events. Make no mistake, I do value having a camera and video-camera as capable as the iPhone on hand, everywhere. In fact, this weekend I surreptitiously recorded a 10 minute video clip as she railed about something. The gestures are amusing. Not that I’d show her now, but to her mother and I, this is an incredibly endearing thing to have. It’s very much her.

While having an iPhone / camera phone on hand is just dandy, I think that as photographers we easily become a little too lazy over time. We gradually start to neglect to properly photograph those who are dear to us with better cameras than just our phones.

So this post is a touch self-indulgent as I reminisce, it’s also a gentle reminder to everyone that there is real value in taking the extra bit of time and effort. We shouldn’t stop taking careful, meaningful portraits of those who touch our lives. With time, we’ll be ever more glad we did.

 

To counter-balance the sweetness of the photograph at the top, here are a few anecdotes from the past year …

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what are your personal photography projects for 2013 ?

This photo shows me setting up to shoot a time-lapse clip of the New York skyline from Brooklyn. The bride is a model being photographed by someone else. She just looked good as part of the composition of this shot. (photo by Peter Salo) The motive behind shooting time-lapse is no more than it’s just to do something creative. You know? Something for the soul. Something to keep the interest in photography alive, and to remain motivated to create something new and interesting.

For those very reasons, I think it is essential for any photographer – in fact, any artist – to keep exploring ideas and avenues.

As this year winds down, and my workload eases up a bit, I’ve decided that 2013 is the year where I want to devote more time to personal projects of various kinds. I do want to explore HD video further and shoot some short clips. In fact, I’ve been talking to Anelisa (my favorite model), about doing a video clip centered around her, in a music video / Fashion style. I’ve also discussed with a friend who does boudoir photography, to do a promotional / instructional clip with her.

I have this intention that during December, I’ll figure out a plan – a schedule for 2013 to be posted in my calendar – where I work on several projects during the course of the year. That’s the grand scheme. To do more stuff!

let’s make it interesting … 

With that, I’d like to hear from others what they have been contemplating or are planning to do as personal photography projects for 2013? What has caught your interest and what has intrigued you enough that you’d like to get into? What themes or ideas or techniques do you want to explore?

So let’s make it fun, and inspire each other.

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Amsterdam – a short travelogue shot and edited on the iPad 3

While isiting Amsterdam for a few days with my daughter, I decided to see how well it would work to shoot and edit a video clip on the iPad 3. In fact, do it all on just the iPad 3.

Even though I had my Nikon D4 (B&H) with me – a camera which is far more suited to shooting video – I decided that it might be fun to shoot and edit on the same device. While I could’ve shot the video footage more easily on my iPhone 4s than the clumsily large iPad, I wanted to edit on the same device, and the iPad offers a lot more real estate when you edit the clips in iMovie.

The iPad 3 was … interesting to use as a video camera. Even though it offers stabilization of the image, I think the shape of the iPad just means it will be more prone to camera shake than a D-SLR that you can cradle in your hand. There’s no easy way to brace the iPad.

Then also, I think I looked a bit of a dork shooting the video on an iPad. Especially with the Nikon D4 dangling off my shoulder.

The real limitations of the iPad came in that you can’t control exposure or focus. Also, you have a single focal length. Even with that, it was a fun challenge to work around these limitations to come up with a short clip that stands on its own. And for me, it is a wonderful reminder of the few days during which my daughter and I explored Amsterdam.

related link: workshop view: Amsterdam, July 22

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finding that photo opportunity

November 24, 2011

finding that photo opportunity

We stumbled upon this opportunity for this portrait of Jessica, my infamous assistant with an attitude. The reception room for a wedding we were photographing had several large boxes of lights against the walls as a kind of light mural, with baubles inside that were lit up. And the back of each of these displays was a mirror …

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personal work – Manhattan cityscapes

It’s been a long cold winter without much chance to roam around and explore with a camera. The past weekend it seemed like the weather was finally relenting and becoming warmer. Taking to the streets to shoot for myself a bit with no purpose in mind, I ended up with three images that I liked – all deserted New York city scenes. Or in the case of the image above, nearly deserted.

It felt good to let my thoughts roam for a while, getting some exercise and listening to music … looking for anything that visually appealed to me in the camera’s viewfinder.

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