photographing portraits with a personal connection

One of the portraits I’ve taken over the years that I am most proud of, is this of my friend Petra Herrmann. This photograph, for me, shows her strength as well as vulnerability.

I’d mention her sense of humor, and her warmth and kindness .. but she’d just tell me to fuck off. So there’s that. But it’s true. She’s a remarkable person and friend … and I am glad she’s going to be around much, much longer.

Petra is a well-known boudoir photographer in Kansas City, who also co-maintains the The Business of Boudoir site. Somewhere late in 2014, Petra was diagnosed with breast cancer. Even though she is still going through the second round of chemo, the good news is that it looks like she is bouncing back from it, with the prognosis very good.

This photo was taken in March 2015, while at a photography convention in Las Vegas. Catching up during a long afternoon of conversation and laughter, I asked if I could take photographs of her. I felt it was important that we capture this. This time in her life. I loved the series of photos then, and even more so now. There is a quietness and strength there – and as much as friends can rally, this is a solitary battle.

Perhaps with portraits where there is connection and intimacy, it becomes this transaction between the photographer and subject – a deeper, unspoken conversation taking place during the taking of the photographs. And it has more to do with your subject giving you those more revealing moments, than it has to do with your technical skills as a photographer. Then the existing friendship and trust can fortunately take precedence – and with a little bit of help with the photographer’s personality to elicit some response – create an evocative portrait. In other words, the success of this photo has much more to do with Petra ‘giving’ me this photograph, than me taking it.

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hot-air balloon ride

August 26, 2014

hot-air balloon ride

During my visit to South Africa, two of my friends, Jerry & Linde, arranged a surprise for me – an early-morning ride in a hot-air balloon in the Magaliesberg area. This was a first time for me – and I have to wonder now why I had never done this before – it is exhilarating! (This must be old news for those who have done this before.)

With this entire 2-week visit to South Africa, I decided to forego all the heavier, bulkier camera gear, and only take my Fuji X100s (vendor). It’s a specific decision where I forego the versatility of getting every angle from super-wide to tele, and just accept the single 35mm-equivalent lens.

So that’s all I had with me – just this one small camera. Within the limits of that single lens, it became a fun challenge to still get meaningful and interesting images.

Here is the slideshow with 24 images, from the start to a few seconds before touch-down. I hope it shows some of the beauty of this winter-time landscape in the Magaliesberg area. There was a certain 3-D look to the scenery with the early morning sunlight coming in low over the horizon. You can see various antelope dot the grassland by the shadows they cast.

The one thing missing from these images is the sheer stillness of gliding over the landscape, with just the dogs barking way below, and some cars driving by. Oh, and then the rushing sound of the burner filling the balloon again to remain buoyant. This experience was a high in every sense.

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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 2003 when she was 9 years old. 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 some element 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 (2013) 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 in 2012, 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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on top of the world

October 31, 2011

Oct 31st was A Big Day for me. Today, after nearly 12 years here in America, I finally became a citizen of the USA.

To encapsulate how I felt at that moment, I asked my wife, Sara, to take a celebratory photograph of me near the top of the red steps in Times Square this evening. I really do feel on top of the world.

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inspiration from movies – a visual feast for photographers

It would be a rare photographer – in a fact a rare person – who isn’t fascinated by other forms of art, whether music, dance, various visual arts, architecture and everything we surround ourselves with. I just can’t imagine a photographer not finding inspiration specifically in other visual art forms, whether cartoons & graphic novels, all the way to the classic painters … and of course, movies.

Last night we watched Micmacs, another of the surreal hyper-kinetic movies by director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Every frame of that movie is a beautifully composed. A work of art. Afterwards I felt that push again that I need to be more creative with my photography.

Micmacs was released in 2010, but before investigating that movie, I’d have to urge you to first watch Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s masterpiece – Amelie.

The screen-capture at the top is from Amelie. No words can quite describe what a joy ride of a movie it is. Emotionally over-powering. Exhilirating! With that, I’d also like to mention 10 other movies, all personal favorites, that are visual feasts for photographers …

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photographing on location: photo permits in Hoboken, NJ

Photographing a model in Hoboken can be complicated. A few weeks ago in October, a friend and I arranged to photograph Kerri, the model shown here. My friend had just bought a Nikon D3s and some serious glass, so I thought that instead of me just telling her about the camera’s functions and settings, it would be more interesting to hire a model to photograph. Then we get to play with the new toys, and get some photos. More fun than just being lectured by me.

So the two of us picked Kerri up along the way to Hoboken, to shoot there. Why Hoboken? I struggle with this question every time that I hit the traffic going into the helix at the Lincoln Tunnel. I hate the traffic by now. And then the traffic in Hoboken is just as bad. But I like photographing in Hoboken. There is a lot of variety to work with. There is the Hoboken waterfront with New York as the backdrop. You have urban areas, but you can make it look park-like by turning your camera the other way. There is the train station nearby, and two blocks up there is a long stretched-out alleyway.  So I can’t think of any other place really in New Jersey that offers that diversity within a few blocks … and have parking garages available.

At some point we ended up in the (very well-known) alley in Hoboken, photographing Kerri. My usual off-camera lighting setup at the moment is the Lastolite Ezybox, held up by a monopod by an assistant, or in this case, my friend. It keeps everything mobile and fluid. In particular, another reason why I use the softbox on a monopod, is that I often shoot in Manhattan. The New York City Hall has clear instruction as to when you need a photography permit, and when you don’t. If you don’t use a tripod or light-stand while shooting in New York, you don’t need the photo permit. Great! But we’re in Hoboken in New Jersey.  And this is where it gets complicated …

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personal photos from the archives – South Africa

Digging deep into the archives, here are some of my favorite images from way back.  These were all shot on transparency film – Fuji Provia RDP being my choice of film at the time.  And as usual with personal photography, there are memories and stories attached to these images.

To get this photograph above of the DC3 flying over Johannesburg, I had to wind down the window of the WW2 vintage Junkers I was flying in. Because there was no window glass in the way, I could get a crisp photo of this DC3 following us.  The golden glow to the photograph is actually the way it looked.  The air pollution is more pronounced in winter due to the fires that burn on the Highveld of South Africa.  And here we have the setting sun back-lighting the dust and air pollution particles.  Combining all of that with the way that the late afternoon light flared on my lens, is where this photo got that beautiful warm look.

[ Pentax Z-1; Pentax-FA 28-105mm f4-5.6 // Johannesburg, South Africa // June ’94 ]

And no, I don’t miss film. Really.  I wish I had all my slide film captures as original digital captures.  But that’s another discussion entirely.

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