The Jones Family

Last month, I had the pleasure of taking some family portraits for the Jones family. Previously, I had taken some graduation photos for Joy and, by some miracle, her mother liked them so much that she wanted some of the entire family.

First and foremost, I had so much fun doing this. The Jones family was so delightful and it made shooting their portrait extra fulfilling. Second, I was scared out of my mind. Most portraits I take are of a single person. Occasionally, I'll do some engagement portraits. But, this was my first time taking portraits of five people. It forced me to slow down my process and examine the entire fame before taking a shot. I also worked a lot in burst mode knowing that it's difficult to catch five different expressions perfectly. On the whole, it was an excellent learning process and experience for me and I think we made some good photographs. Here are some of my favorites:

Special thanks to Jill, Jerry, Jerilynn, Jan, and Joy for allowing me to capture their beautiful family. 

Practicing, Retouching, and Making Old Things New

This month marks one year since I started taking photography seriously. I used to believe that with a better camera I would take better photographs. In some small way, this is true. Having a DSLR allows me to take photographs that a point and shoot or camera phone wouldn't allow. But, in reality many photos straight out of a camera look terrible (sometimes worse than those taken with an iPhone). 

There are two truths to photography. First, it's the photographer that matters when it comes to making a good photograph - not the camera. Second, photographs aren't taken. Rather, they're made. That last one always sounded a little pretentious, but the more I explore post-processing techniques, the more true it becomes. Having spent a year retouching photos and watching hours of tutorials on image editing, naturally I'm far better at post-processing photos than when I started. 

Looking back at photographs I took a year ago makes me wince. Not because the composition or lighting was bad (though in many they were), but the retouching was lousy. 

Retouching or "Photoshopping" has a negative connotation and in many ways it deserves it. I tend to take two approaches. People think that the image out of a camera is truth, but that's not actually the case. In fact, the camera does a fairly poor job of capturing what your eyes see. I try to create an image that looks like what I saw (or felt) standing in that moment. The second, especially when capturing portraits, is to try to make the subject appear like what they'd look like on their best day (if you can write that last sentence better, please email me). The portrait should always look like the person. 

So, this month I've been going back to old photos and revisiting my post-processing workflows. Some changes in images have been dramatic. For example, here is a photograph I captured of Kristen 8 months ago.

Kristen (edited November 2015) 

It's not terrible, but it's not great - in fact, it wasn't even a select from the session. However, below is the same photograph I retouched this month.  

Kristen (edited May 2016) 

Clearly, the second is a more interesting photograph. But, it also does a better job of capturing what I saw standing there.

Other edits have been less dramatic, but make the photographs work. For example, below is an engagement photo of Anne and Ryan that I took back in January, straight out of the camera (left). I liked the composition of the first photo, but didn't realize that Ryan's face was out of focus. Looking back through the series, I didn't find one that I liked as much. However, I did find a second shot that was similar where Ryan was more in focus (right). 

Through Photoshop, I was able to align the two images as layers with my preferred photo on top and added a mask. I placed the second image with Ryan in focus below it and made a hole in the mask (top photo) to reveal the part of the image below where Ryan was in focus (the way my content management system down-samples photos probably doesn't do this justice).

Anne and Ryan, engaged (May 2016)

In the past, I would have tried to selectively sharpen the image, likely causing more damage than good.

Similarly, below is a picture of Will and Chelsea. I love this photo, but in the original Chelsea was out of focus - I was young and naive and misjudged the focus depth. But, I was able to find another photo in the series where Chelsea was slightly more in focus and used the same technique to composite a better image. 

Will and Chelsea (edited May 2016)

I'm glad I saved all these old images from previous sessions and had the awareness at the time that one day I might be able to make them even better.

Feeling, Not Knowing

The chasm between "what I think is good" and "what I know is good" might as well be a canyon. I found this covered bridge at Lanier Point Park and waited for the sun to set. I set my camera up on a tripod and took 3 exposures - one appropriately metered, one over exposed, and one under exposed. 

Dynamic range is a big deal. My camera has about 11 stops of dynamic range (the range between the brightest and darkest part of an image). However, your eyes have about 19 stops of dynamic range. Those additional stops make a difference. When I got my images out of camera, they looked nothing like what I saw standing there. The camera exposed for the sun and everything else went dark. So, I started to see what I could make happen in Photoshop, but the more I edited the photo the more surreal the landscape became. At some point, I gave up on recreating what my eyes saw standing there and focused more on making what I felt standing there. The image went from documentary to art.

I like that idea. I'm creating art. But, don't be deceived. The romanticism of "art" comes with the realization that certainty is an illusion. For me, this is a problem. I made seven different versions of this photo and over 100 edits. Some more vibrant, others more moody. Some with atmosphere, some without. I sent messages to my dad, I posted options on Facebook. 

This is where I landed. Not because it's done or because it's the best version, but because at some point you have to stop. Historically, artists have always made several versions of their works. I have no idea how they settle on one. Perhaps, it's apparent when they look at it. Perhaps, they simply move on. 

I don't know that this is good. I think it is, but I'm not certain. Technically, perhaps not. But from a "I want to stand there" perspective, I think it works. Regardless, it's time to put it to bed.

Joy

Last weekend, I was fortunate enough to meet up with Joy to take her Georgia Tech graduation photos! Unlike past subjects or commissions, I didn't know Joy - she was referred to me by a mutual friend whose engagement photos I took a few months back. We met a couple days prior to the shoot to discuss what she was looking for and to get to know each other a little better. Not only were we able to get all the awkward silences out of the way, but it gave us the opportunity to get more comfortable with each other. It certainly made shooting easier. Joy knew exactly what she wanted and required little direction when posing. I was a little nervous that I wasn't getting the shots I was hoping for, but once I got into post I realized that there were so many excellent candidates! Below are some of my favorites. 

Katie

A few weeks back, I tried to take a portrait of Katie. It was terrible. My fault, no hers. I didn't have a clear vision and, in addition to the photos just being technically poor, they did little to capture her personality.

This past weekend, I was doing a photoshoot with Joy. She wanted some graduation photos (more on this later) and we found ourselves in this beautiful, open space where the grass was incredibly well-kept. I had this idea of her laying down on the grass and taking her portrait from above. It was terrible. I don't think either one of us were prepared for the awkwardness of it. And, in addition to already being nervous, I didn't have a good idea of what I wanted. So, I took a few shots and I moved us along as quickly as possible. As you might expect, they weren't great.

But, as I was thinking more about the photo, I thought it might work well for Katie. So, I told her about my idea and we went back and forth about what might look best. The result was the portrait below.

When on a photoshoot, I typically end up with a lot of good photos, but not a lot of great photos. In part, it's because I don't have a sense of what shot I'm trying to capture until I'm in that moment. But, looking back over the last year, my best photos (or rather, the ones I like the best) are those where I had a clear vision of what I was trying to capture. It's a good lesson. You can take a lot of good photos with little planning, but it's rather difficult to take a great one.

Self-portrait

This weekend, I started reading a book titled "Studio Anywhere." It's a good read regarding how to use your environment to take interesting portraits. Concurrently, I was also taking a course on lighting and tried to put what I learned into practice. I upped the difficulty considerably by making a self-portrait. It's hard to critique a photo where you're the subject, so I'm just going to throw it up here with little else. The goal was to make this work using one light (and the desk light) so it's a pretty low-light photo. I tried to embrace the noise. 

Try not to get distracted by my handsomeness. 

Cheesecake Ice Cream

This past weekend, I made some Cheesecake Ice Cream. I'm a regular Martha Stewart. My mother gave me the recipe and she did not disappoint. I was fairly displeased with my last attempt a photographing food, so I decided to give it another shot. I took a Lynda course on food photography prior to doing so and I think it (obviously) made a big difference. Drool away.

Cheesecake Ice Cream 01

And, because I know some of you want it. Below is the recipe.

Ingredients
12 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup sour cream, room temperature
1/4 cup mascarpone, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup whole milk, room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Instructions
Put the cream cheese into the bowl and mix until smooth. A mixer with a paddle works best. While mixing, slowly add sugar and salt. Add mascarpone and mix until well-combined. Slowly add the milk and vanilla and mix until smooth. Fold in the sour cream. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Pour the mix into your ice cream maker until the consistency is to your liking. I like to put it in the freezer for a couple of hours before serving.