I just had a wonderful exchange with the owner of a studio lighting company. Many will know who I’m referring to before I type his name. A proud American company building and selling quality products with a bullet proof reputation.
Known for his White lightning and Alien Bees mono-lights Paul Buff Inc has been based in Nashville Tennessee for quite a few years and I have a small collection of Buff’s lights and various accessories.
I signed onto the Paul Buff Inc. technical forum yesterday to ask about a light trigger I bought from them 5 years ago. Just looking to find out if an intermittent problem could be resolved somehow.
Not totally surprised – Mr. Buff himself responded to my question. His suggestion (after one last bit of troubleshooting) simply contact the service department and send it back for a replacement. This is not an expensive part. Shipping and handling and his time are probably worth more than their cost of the part! But having dealt with Buff’s company before, I know cost isn’t the point – Buff is known by many to send replacement products or parts out assuming the customer will return the item when a problem is resolved.
THIS is the type of customer service I want to be known for… and I try. When a sports team photo isn’t right – I fix it without question. A print might show up out of tolerance.. in the trash it goes. A frame gets delivered with a problem. It goes back to the manufacturer. It all seems simple enough. Do things right and always try to over deliver.
I should add that working with top notch print labs like American Color Imaging, White House Custom Color and St. Louis’ own Diversified Lab makes resolving problems easier than I would have ever expected.
Thanks to Paul Buff Inc for reminding me what customer service should look like!
We’re fresh from one of several sunrise shoots in Monument Valley and “refreshed” by a quick visit to Sonic (that would haunt me a bit later).
Not quite a zoo, the small parking lot was full of exuberant sightseers with cameras in hand. We go up a mildly steep hill then down a long half mile slope to the edge of the canyon – the edge of the canyon.
Like most of these natural wonders visitors can get as close to the edge as they’re comfortable. Here, the river’s surface is 1000 feet straight down so of course to make a memorable photograph you need to be on the edge… and if you’re hoping to create a PPA caliber image… your tripod needs to be on the edge.
Umm.. the edge. Ask Paul Rogers my traveling companion on this trip and he’ll vouch for the fact I am not fond of the edge. Not at 10 feet or 100 feet and I’m especially not fond of the edge at 1000 feet.
Once near the edge I’m not in any hurry to remove my backpack full of gear. That would require me to move and bend down… and remember, there’s a 1000 foot drop.
Paul’s ready to shoot. Hoorah. Paul’s a proud member of our US Army and seems not to notice the edge or more importantly the drop just beyond the edge. Since the lens he’s planning to start with is in my bag and he’s itching to start shooting, its my turn to unpack near_the_edge.
After I finally warm up to the idea of working sort of close to the edge I get my first series of images. Very cool. Pose for a snapshot – me and my gear on the edge.
Then Paul asks a favor. Would I mind going over there… on that ledge to pose for a photograph. Graciously he adds… you only have to get as close to the edge as you’re comfortable. Apparently he didn’t realize I hadn’t been comfortable since we left the air conditioned car…. but I load my gear and head out for the edge of his ledge. I could be immortalized as the unrecognizable photographer in one of Paul’s award winning images. How could I say no!?
After I got there it really wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be. This was very cool indeed (even though that tingly feeling always returns as I near the edge.)
One last cool snapshot Paul needs to document our experience. But this time the table’s turned and he wants me to photograph him as he sits on that ledge… down there! Um. No. Seriously. No…. Yes? If you’re going down there somebody should document it right?
I’m safe and sound on the edge (where I was previously very unnerved) but now I’m nearly coming unglued as I watch him negotiate down to the next ledge.
Um. Paul? (trying not to sound like my own nervous mother) Paul? Maybe you should not… maybe… ok. Smile. Click. Smile. Click.
Paul climbs back up uneventfully and we pack to hike the half mile to the car. I don’t take many steps up the rocks and up the sandy incline before I remember the Sonic pretzle dog, onion rings and milk shake.
A chocolate milk shake.
Who in their right mind has a milk shake before launching out for a (short albeit) hike up a sandy hill?!? Hoorah. I’ll be the first to admit I’m out of shape (who would have guessed with that meal selection?). But we hike on and Paul only needles me a bit. Hoorah. I breathe. No. I pant and pant and breathe. But me and my lean mean Sonic meal make it back to the car laughing through the pain. That’s what you do when you push your own limits and experience something as incredible as the landscapes of this state of Utah.
Now? I’m on the plane headed home from this trip and can’t wait to see how the Horseshoe Bend images turn out. Thinking about brushing the dust off the treadmill in the basement too
I should note — earlier today I read a report of a man who did indeed fall to his death as he explored too close to the edge.
After shooting one of the most awesome moments of my life in Monument Valley, my travel companion Paul Rogers and I make the drive up to Natural Bridges National Park to photograph a few of the natural bridges that have been eroded out of solid rock over the eons.
It’s just after noon, not exactly golden hour but we descend the trail toward Owachomo Bridge. Very cool. These are huge natural sculptures that we have the pleasure of seeing and documenting. At the trail’s end we set up and make a few images.
Back to the car and a short 40 minute drive to the closest town of Blanding Utah for lunch. Yes, we should have come prepared but we’re just on an adventure. No plans to speak of.
Blanding Utah. If you’re ever in the area on a Sunday afternoon and think you’ll find a delicious out of the way eatery to enjoy… think again. We did find a gas station convenience store bowling alley sort of restaraunt that seemed…. it was open. Nuff said.
Back at the bridges… we stand at the view point of Sipapu Bridge and normally I would have been quite content to stand and look in awe at the great hole in the ground with this massive 500 foot tall bridge. Not today. Not with Paul. Hoorah.
I’ve read lots of trail descriptions in hiking guides and park maps… Never have I seen one that listed ladders and this one had three! Turns out they weren’t as bad as I imagined -and way better than climbing down a tree as early visitors had to experience.
Down. Not really the most challenging direction to hike – however – knowing that the getting back will ultimately require the 500 foot assent with a pack of gear is.. something to look forward to… or not.
Finding the perfect vantage point at this bridge is a challenge and I’m never quite content with my location, the light, the setting. But today isn’t just about making photographs. In between all those shutter clicks and camera settings there is plenty of time to sit in awe.
At one point I see Paul looking over at me. I’m just taking in the scene as it unfolds before me. A veteran of both the military sort as well as previous trips to document our country’s great landscape it seems Paul is better able to stay focused on the task… me? I have to remind myself that a photographic master’s degree from the PPA is within reach and I’m sitting in front of a very merrit worthy subject.
Time passes and photos are made and now is the time. Assent. Up each of three ladders. Up the steel steps bolted into the otherwise impassable gaps in the natural trail. Across a fantastic ledge large enough for a wedding party.
With a bit of (or maybe lots of) heavy breathing I follow Paul (at a distance) and make it to the parking area. I should have been in better shape coming into this trip but this has been a trip never to be forgotten. I’ve never been so up close and personally challenged by these type of trails and views.
I am full of gratitude to my wife and family who only mind a little when I’m not there. I am fortunate indeed to have a good friend in Paul Rogers to have shared the experience.
Consider me blessed.
I went to the Monument Valley area for a long weekend of photography recently with photographer and friend Paul Rogers. If you’ve ever seen a John Wayne movie or countless other western movies you’ll probably recognize these scenes.
After driving up from Albuquerque we arrived just in time for a lovely sunset at The Monument Valley. The sun setting to our backs lighting up the clouds overhead, it was really cool to see and capture an image that Grandpa Ansel Adams created nearly 70 years ago. (I’m sure he would have adopted me as his grandson if he knew how much I revered him).
Knowing that morning’s first light on these great rocks would be worth the effort, it was decided. The next day, just as twilight was breaking we arrived at furthest reach of the park aptly named: Artist’s Point.
Backpacking our gear we hiked a bit further and found two perches on which to sit. Then all we had to do was set up; camera on tripod, remote trigger and enjoy a light breakfast and not forget to capture the most memorable scene either of us had ever witnessed. (Speaking for Paul without permission and yes, our respective marriages and childrens births were really cool too).
The predawn light gradually illuminates everything with a gentle wash of light as you’d expect. Then the first rays of warm and direct sunlight kiss the Mittens as an unmistakable sign: THIS is it. THIS is the moment you came for.
For the next few moments we sighted and framed and bracketed this inspiring scene.
In our media saturated society I think we have been so inundated with spectacular images from the great masters that have gone before us that we tend to trivialize the actual events they captured. Never needing to leave the comfort of our lazy boy and laptop to see anything anywhere. This was the real deal.
Sitting on our tiny outcropping – the two of us shared a view that morning maybe a only handful of people have ever seen. This spot. This scene. THE moment.
I’m writing this at the airport – before I’ve had the chance to even get home and transfer my files. Latent images as Ansel might refer to them and I have the oddest feeling that I might not want to see them.
I KNOW I captured the scene to the best of my ability. But – I am oddly concerned that the finished image will fail to live up to my experience of that moment and somehow diminish that moment.
I’ve been snapping pictures since I was 12. Probably burned through a mile of film by the time I was out of college. Never. Not never in a million years would I have imagined not wanting to see something I’ve captured.
Since I was in 7th grade with my first instamatic and developing my mind’s eye as well as my own black and whites I’ve wanted to go on a pilgrimage – Not to the holy land as you know might know it but to the great southwest that my boyhood hero Ansel Adams knew and photographed.
Spanning across the Utah/Arizona border Monument Valley’s extreme rugged features were well documented by Ansel. ANYbody even SORT of interested in photography would recognize his photograph of the mittons…. or his petroglyphs.
One of my favorite images from his 1958 trip was his self portrait. A simple shadow of an icon – showing us a bit of his personality, his sense of humor and love of these great views that he wanted to help preserver for future generations.
If he were around today I’m sure Ansel would be thrilled to join me with some of his own state of the art digital imaging gear. He’d have a high resolution scan back on a view camera or maybe want to borrow my Nikon D800 but in any case I would have given just about anything (sorry to my firstborn child) to be able to visit these world class settings with the man that inspired me more than just about anyone!
I’ll be making this trip – though not with Ansel. This trip will be a be with one of my current mentors and friends – Paul Rogers. Paul has spent his own time photographing parts of this beautiful country in ways envious to me. We’ll not have the seemingly endless time Ansel had. But I’m thinking three sunrise/sunsets and everything in between should be a good start to pay homage to Mr. Adams.
And you can bet I’ll be sharing images and thoughts about all sorts of things after I get back!
Are you ready Paul?
This week the International Photographic Competition was held by the Professional Photographers of America in Atlanta… I am VERY pleased to
brag announce that one of my entries was awarded “Loan” status! Loan prints are published in the PPA’s book of the ‘best of the best’ from the thousands [4920 to be exact] of images entered at this year’s competition! AND two of my other images were accepted into the “General Collection”.
“Speak Easy” was created from a session with one if my high school senior portrait subjects. No she doesn’t smoke. Yes I felt a little like a jerk making it look like she does… but then again… it went LOAN
I submitted 3 other images into the “open” category and I’m pretty pleased with “Flying Lady” which was also accepted into the general collection of meritorious images. Captured during a model session, I love how Becca’s curls flow and the light does just the right thing.
“Cat Tails Three” which had been accepted in the PPA general collection of meritorious images at the district level a couple months ago. Driving past the dentist office a while back I noticed this large growth of cat tails and loved how they looked in the evening light. I stopped and cut a few, took them back to my studio and here you are looking at them
My final image wasn’t so fortunate but 3 out of 4 and one as a LOAN is a fine way to end the summer
“Hell Bent” is from another model session. Once I experienced my handcuffed model screaming and writhing I knew we were gonna have some exceptional images – no I’ve never done that before either Disappointed the judges weren’t moved by the image – I was given the suggestion that the image may have fared better in the master artist category.. so I may revisit this image again.
Here’s the PPA’s judging criteria if you’re still interested
1) Impact is the sense one gets upon viewing an image for the first time. Compelling images evoke laughter, sadness, anger, pride, wonder or another intense emotion. There can be impact in any of these twelve elements.
2) Technical excellence is the print quality of the image itself as it is presented for viewing. Retouching, manipulation, sharpness, exposure, printing, mounting, and correct color are some items that speak to the qualities of the physical print.
3) Creativity is the original, fresh, and external expression of the imagination of the maker by using the medium to convey an idea, message or thought.
4) Style is defined in a number of ways as it applies to a creative image. It might be defined by a specific genre or simply be recognizable as the characteristics of how a specific artist applies light to a subject. It can impact an image in a positive manner when the subject matter and the style are appropriate for each other, or it can have a negative effect when they are at odds.
5) Composition is important to the design of an image, bringing all of the visual elements together in concert to express the purpose of the image. Proper composition holds the viewer in the image and prompts the viewer to look where the creator intends. Effective composition can be pleasing or disturbing, depending on the intent of the image maker.
6) Presentation affects an image by giving it a finished look. The mats and borders used, either physical or digital, should support and enhance the image, not distract from it.
7) Color Balance supplies harmony to an image. An image in which the tones work together, effectively supporting the image, can enhance its emotional appeal. Color balance is not always harmonious and can be used to evoke diverse feelings for effect.
8) Center of Interest is the point or points on the image where the maker wants the viewer to stop as they view the image. There can be primary and secondary centers of interest. Occasionally there will be no specific center of interest, when the entire scene collectively serves as the center of interest.
9) Lighting—the use and control of light—refers to how dimension, shape and roundness are defined in an image. Whether the light applied to an image is manmade or natural, proper use of it should enhance an image.
10) Subject Matter should always be appropriate to the story being told in an image.
11) Technique is the approach used to create the image. Printing, lighting, posing, capture, presentation media, and more are part of the technique applied to an image.
12) Story Telling refers to the image’s ability to evoke imagination. One beautiful thing about art is that each viewer might collect his own message or read her own story in an image.
This year I’m giving it away! Session fees are gone… You no longer have to pay for your session time!
$300 – 30 minutes, 1 outfit, (2) 8x10s, (3) 5x7s.
$400 – 60 minutes, 2 outfits, (2) 8x10s, (6) 5x7s.
$600 – 2 hours on location, 4 outfits, (4) 8x10s, (8) 5x7s – PLUS a book of your favorite 10 images.
$900 – 4 hours St. Louis Landing Model Session, no limits on outfits, 10 print units – PLUS a book of your favorite 20 images.
This helps me stay focused on your needs and keeps us all moving toward the same goal – creating excellent portraits within your budget!
We’ll make 3 appointments. First we’ll set a date for your photo session… then we’ll set a time for you to return to the studio for a viewing and order session about a week after your photo session. Then two weeks later your prints should be ready for pick up!
What to wear? What to wear? Clothes that fit and feel good. Solid colors… long sleeves… coats, jackets, scarves.. things that add texture and dimension. Sunglasses for all those location shots that are really cool but the light is just too harsh…
Make up. Use it. Bring it. [along with your basic kit to touch up and fix your hair while we're shooting] But less is more! I can pretty easily add tone and shading after the shoot… it’s pretty tough to remove over applied make up.
Plan on a wall portrait. Something to put above your mantle or over the sofa? Send me a snapshot of your wall space and I can simulate framed prints at various sizes to help you determine how big is too big… or how small is just too small.
Print pricing — Often times the question is simply ‘how much for the 8×10′ — most photographers would rather not answer that question simply because there are so many intangibles that make a direct comparison difficult. For instance, all my prints come with a spray sealant and textured to help them last for years. My portraits also get plenty of TLC in retouching to help us both look good. My rule of thumb in retouching is to eliminate any temporary blemish and soften any other spot that we’ve discussed. ALL my wall portraits (16 inch or larger) come with the frame included! AND any print purchased as an 5×7 or larger will automatically be added to a Facebook gallery.
Every year its a challenge. Create something memorable with a camera on a tripod as the fireworks explode in the just darkened sky to celebrate our country’s independence. I LIKE the images of fireworks against the St. Louis skyline. Old courthouse. Gateway Arch. Mississippi River… but there’s nothing better than EXPERIENCING the event in SMALL town America. Neighbors on porches as you drive to the town park. Folks who live close by walking with their kids and lawn chairs. Free water distributed by a local church not looking for handouts.. just good will.
I GLADLY donate to the fireman’s boot on the way into this park. No big-box corporate presence is made known. No canned soundtrack to fill the awesome silence – just in case you don’t have your own emotional attachment to the event.
Lebanon, Illinois IS small town. I was even greeted by an old high school friend as we pulled into the park [which is especially cool when you realize I grew up 250 miles away and graduated in a class of just barely 100].
So here it is. One frame. No Photoshop manipulation. Just 30 seconds with my Nikon D800 and trusty tripod.
BTW- I’m an 80′s graduate from southern Indiana and John Mellencamp’s Pink Houses chorus fit’s this perfectly.
Sometimes you just click. You know the feeling. Doesn’t matter whether you’re meeting a new friend, coworker or photographer and model… sometimes you just click. Bri visited me this week so we could get an early start on her senior portraits – but primarily I wanted a chance to create some images for an upcoming photographic competition. She brought these beautiful gowns from her collection and looked equally lovely in.. and we clicked.
Then we started working with some really cool hats that I had borrowed from a friend [thanks Andria May].. I couldn’t have been more pleased with how great Bri looks wearing these classic hats! I’m not suppose to share images online before a competition… but really? If you’re a judge at this year’s competition… don’t look
Once these competition images are in the bag then we can get on with photographing Bri’s senior portrait session and she’ll be ready to kick off her senior year for real!
Kelsey came to visit tonight for a quick senior photo session and I had to share her smile with you. She has an easy smile that makes a photographer glad to have a camera in hand Thanks Kelsey.. and enjoy the rest of your summer!