Monday, December 9, 2013

The Philadelphia Beekeepers Project

     After photographing my wife and son conducting a bee box inspection I decided to make beekeepers my new personal project. Philadelphia is a great city for beekeeping due to the large number of trees and gardens in the area, and it is steeped in beekeeping history. L.L. Langstroth, considered to be the “Father of American Beekeeping” and the inventor of the modern beehive was born in Germantown and spent much of his life in Philadelphia. Another reason for undertaking the project is that honeybees are receiving much more attention in the media due to an alarming decrease in their population know as Colony collapse disorder. You can learn more about CCD and what you can do to help by watching this TED talk Why Bees Are Disappearing by Maria Spivak. Thanks to Don Schump, President of The Philadelphia Bee Company for the link.

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Sunday, October 27, 2013


I received a call from Bill Smith at The Mainline Animal Rescue. A puppymill had just surrendered a dog to them and he wanted me to document the animal’s condition. He asked me to meet him at Metropolitan Veterinary Associates where he had taken the dog for treatment.

Bill nicknamed the dog “Shrimp” because he was small, pink and more resembled a crustacean than a canine. He was so emaciated and had lost so much fur, that it was hard to determine just what kind of dog he really was. Shrimp was malnourished, dehydrated, had ulcers in his eyes, mange, parasites and splayed feet from standing on the chicken wire floor in the rabbit hutch that had been his home. Shrimp was surrendered because he was not a good breeder, problem was, at some point he had been neutered!

Shrimp was weak and in need of immediate treatment so I had to work quickly. For the image of Shrimp on the exam table, the main light was a Canon 580EX speedlight mounted on a stand and shot into a silver umbrella at camera right. For fill I mounted a Canon 540Ex on a stand and bounced it off the low white ceiling. Both flashes were set on the ETTL automatic exposure. The 580 was set as master and the 540 was set to slave. Both speedlights were fired by an on-camera, Canon, STE2 infrared transmitter.

This combination works well indoors when both flashes can see the infrared signal from the transmitter and allows using multiple off camera flashes in automatic mode. I used a Canon 20D with a 28-70, 2.8 lens. I set the ISO to 100 and exposure dial to manual. I chose 1/60 of a second to burn in the background as there was some daylight coming in from a window just out of frame. I chose 5.6 as the aperture, to insure I had sufficient depth of field for Shrimp to be in focus but allow the bars of the pen in the background to go soft.


Friday, October 25, 2013

Spirit Photography: The Ghost In the Machine

          In the digital age it is common knowledge that photographs can and often do lie. Whether it’s a photojournalist blending scenes of war to heighten tension or a fashion photographer enhancing a model’s natural beauty, we have learned to view photographs with a touch of skepticism. While digital photography and the software associated with its production has made manipulation easier to do and harder to detect, photo manipulation existed long before the CMOS sensor and Photoshop software. The Two ways of Life, 1857 and Henry Peach Robinson’s Fading Away, 1858, are early examples of the manipulation of the photographic process. While The Two Ways of Life, influenced Raphael’s School of Athens, was realized to be a fabrication utilizing actors, costumes, props and backdrops, Fading Away was perceived to be a scene from real life and as such was criticized as being in poor taste to represent so painful a scene (Newhall 60).

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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Photographing a Bee Box Inspection

My wife and son recently took up beekeeping. Although we’ve had bees for a few months, other than documenting the initial instillation I’ve not taken any bee related photos. I’m not all that interested in taking macro shots of bees, there are plenty of those photos out there already. The shots I wanted to make were of Lori and Wynn as they inspected the hives.  

I knew for the photos to be any good I’d have to get in close and since their hive was being disturbed, the bees would be agitated. We only have two beekeeper suits, Lori was wearing one and Wynn wore the other. Even if we had another suit it would be hard for me to use the camera wearing gloves and a veil so I resigned myself to the fact that I might get stung.

From a technical standpoint it would be difficult to expose for the white outfits and still see detail in their faces under wide brimmed hats and dark veils. I’d start by underexposing the ambient light by 1-2 stops, which would help to keep the suits from blowing out, especially the tops of their hats. In post it's much easier to brighten a dark image than to try and recover blown out highlights. I’d have to light their faces without over-lighting their suits. I needed a light that was directional but as soft as possible so I opted for an 18” beauty dish with a grid attached. I shot with a 24-105 on a Canon 7D. Exposure was 1/250 @ f/8, ISO 100. I used a 1600 Alien Bee with a Fotodiox beauty dish and grid.I used pocket wizards to sync to the strobe.

I had to shoot quickly as a hive inspection is serious stuff. You open the hive, see what’s going on inside then close it up as soon as possible.  I had only been shooting for a few minutes when a bee came after me. I took off running around the yard, ducking under bushes, pulling off my shirt and  self-flagellated as I ran onto the deck and into the house. After I caught my breath I decided to go back and resume shooting. After all, It had only been one bee and I had evaded it successfully.

I hadn’t been shooting long until a bee flew into my hair. I put the camera down and began slapping at my head to try and dislodge it before stinging me. I was able to comb it out of my hair only to have it sting me on the arm.  That was it, I was done, end of shoot. 

 I decided to wait for a few hours for the hive to calm down before taking down the light. When I returned for it I was walking through the lawn barefoot, stepped on a bee and got stung again. Just another painful reminder to respect our new little friends. 

Next time I photograph a hive inspection I’ll be wearing a jumpsuit, gloves and some kind of custom veil that will allow me to raise the camera to my eye. I could try "Live View" but it’s no good when shooting outside in bright sunlight. I’m open to suggestions, leave them in the comment section.

Click to see my beekeepers of Philadelphia gallery

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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

On the Map

          A few months ago I had the pleasure of photographing Charles Branas for Penn Medicine Magazine. Dr. Branas is a professor of epidemiology and is director of Penn’s Cartographic Modeling Lab. He has been conducting research demonstrating that cleaning up and greening vacant lots reduces violent crime.

            I was asked to photograph him alone in a vacant lot, with members of his staff in the cartography lab and to shoot a basic headshot. I had about a week before I had to deliver the photos so I scheduled three separate sessions rather than try to shoot everything at once. I decided to do the headshot first as it would require the least amount of co-ordination and it would allow Dr. Branas and I to get to know each other. In addition I could learn more about his work, discuss the vacant lot shoot, and scout the lab.

            I met Dr. Branas at his office and after moving some furniture I set up a backdrop, two lights and a reflector. We talked about his research as I shot a series of fairly straightforward headshots that could work for the feature but were generic enough to be used for other purposes as well.

            While I was setting up I couldn’t help but notice a large laminated map of Philadelphia hanging on the wall. I knew it would make a good backdrop not only visually but content wise so when I felt I had a good selection of headshots I asked Dr. Branas to sit in front of it.  As the map was laminated placing lights in front of it was out of the question so I used a strip light off to one side and had Dr. Branas turn toward it.  A white wall opposite the strip light ,provided just enough fill that I only needed one light.

            While I’m sure the other headshots will be used somewhere the above photo was used full page as the opener. For my own reference as well as your consideration, here are some takeaways from the relatively simple session.

Shoot what your client asks for first, then shoot what you want.

Study the work of other photographers. The morning before the shoot I had watched a video of Joe McNally shooting portraits with a strip light.

Leave room for type. Like an art director once told me, “Frame it the way you want then back up.”

If you have the time and the creative freedom, why try to cram everything into one session?

Feel free to leave a comment if you can think anything else.

Click to see more of my healthcare photography

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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Forrest Salamida at Steamtown, Senior Portrait

Forrest Salamida at Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton, Pennsylvania
     I don’t do much retail type photography but when my wife’s nephew asked if I’d shoot his senior portrait I couldn’t refuse. Forrest lives with his family just outside of Pittsburgh and we would be meeting up with them in Scranton over the Thanksgiving holiday. Scranton is the home of Mary & Marty Salamida, the Matriarch and Patriarch of the Salamida Clan.

     Forrest leaves the theme of the shoot and choice of location up to me.  I don’t have to think too hard about the location. My favorite place to photograph in Scranton is at the Steamtown National Historic Park. It’s a roundhouse and rail yard full of old steam locomotives and rail cars in various stages of decay and restoration. I know Forrest is a musician and a singer / songwriter and that he never goes anywhere without a guitar. I imagined a young Woody Guthrie, riding the rails during the Depression, writing and singing songs for and about the people he meets in his travels. I get psyched up telling myself “this could be more than just a senior portrait, I could be about to photograph the next Dylan or maybe the next Springsteen!”

     Forrest and his dad, Chris, my wife’s younger brother, picked me up at the hotel. I told them what I had in mind and they liked the idea. After seeing Forrest’s guitar in the back of the Jeep I asked him if he had a case for it. I had imagined we would do shots of him walking along the tracks carrying a guitar case. He told me he didn’t but that he wanted to get one. Just so happened that not only were we going to pass a Guitar Center, but it was Black Friday and everything would be on sale. Chris agreed to buy him a case and he swung the Jeep into the mall parking lot. I thought it would be a quick in and out but anyone who has ever gone into a Guitar Center with a guitar player would have known there is no such thing. While Chris and I were looking at cases Forrest was busy trying out various Martin’s, Gibson’s and Takamine’s.  Some time later we convinced Forrest we had to go or we would miss  the good light. It wasn’t until we were in the parking lot at Steamtown did we realize that Forrest’s guitar didn’t actually fit in the case we had bought.  That didn’t really matter as far the photos were concerned, no one would know the case was empty.

     I photographed Forrest walking along the tracks, sitting and standing on the steps of passenger cars, in front of boxcars and leaning against the walls of various railyard buildings, but my favorite background was the rusted blades of a snowblower car.

Forrests's dad Chris as V.A.L.
     It had been mostly cloudy that afternoon so I used a battery powered Lumedyne in a small softbox as the mainlight and underexposed the ambient light about a stop to act as fill. Occasionally the sun did peek out from behind the clouds acting as a rim light or reversing the role of the Lumedyne from main light to fill, depending on which direction Forrest was standing. Chris acted as a V.A.L. (voice activated lightstand), holding the softbox high over his head for the duration of the shoot. We took short breaks when he complained that his arms were getting sore. I could have put the light on a stand or a monopod, which would have made his job easier but I wanted to avoid stands and tripods as we were shooting in a national park.

     Forrest is a senior at Moon Township High School. He wants to become a chemical engineer and will be attending either the University of Pittsburgh or Penn State in the Fall. Forrest not only sings but acts as well. He’ll be playing the part of Pierrepont Finch in his schools production of How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying. Last year he played Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

"May the Force Be With You"

            Back in July of last year I posted about my trip to Upstate New York to photograph for The Triple Cities Martial Arts Academy’s youth program. You can see that post here, “Karate on the Chenango.” Just so happens I did two other shoots that day, one in the morning and one in the evening. Though successful, they didn’t garnish as much attention as the Karate Kids. No surprise, it's hard to beat kids looking badass. While sifting through job folders from the past year I rediscovered the other sessions and decided to share them here. I'll start with the last shoot first.

          Sensei Rick needed a new headshot for his social media marketing campaign. What I like about photographing headshots for friends is that you can play around more than you could with say, a corporate C.E.O. or a busload of lawyers. I broke from my usual corporate headshot lighting formula which consists of a medium softbox, a reflector and a gridded backgound light. Instead I used an 18” Dynalite beauty dish for the main light, which was boomed over the camera.  For fill I used a Photoflex medium softbox directly behind me. Two small Chimera strip lights were placed on either side of the background paper and pointed back toward the subject for edge lights to separate him from the dark background.
            Rick and I have been friends a long time so I had no trouble getting him to look natural.  I was seeing this Morgan Freeman kind of look and just went with it.  When I was confident we had plenty of usable headshots, I asked him to put on the Anakin Skywalker pod helmet. His son Evan, was having a yard sale the next day to raise funds for a trip to Ecuador. The helmet was with other yard sale flotsam in the garage that was acting as my temporary studio.

           What I found interesting about this series was the juxtaposition of the silly helmet and goofy goggles with Rick’s dignified demeanor.

          After the shoot Rick and I agreed we would try to convince Evan not to sell the helmet. I don't know if he kept it or not, but a least I have this photo.

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