Photographic gods

  These guys were the Indiana University professors and student teachers that I had the extreme pleasure of spending two weeks with while at the IU journalism institute for high school yearbook staff back in 1979. Their names escape me. Never saw any of them after those two very intense and thrilling weeks. These guys seemed larger than life. 

Photographing civil rights battles during the sixties and documenting the injustices that were unfolding just a few feet from their lens made quite an impression on 15 year old me. They impressed me not just with their combined portfolios – but also with their love of the craft and strict adherence to the ideals of image making. “We don’t TAKE pictures, we MAKE Photographs”. Whether you “photoshop” your images, dodge and burn them or manipulate them through the very basic lens choice and camera settings… make no mistake about the fact that images are MADE. They aren’t just taken. 
“The photographer is responsible for everything in the frame” was one of the key lessons I remember. Don’t get fixated on your subject and forget to study the background, light, color harmony as well. Crop and compose in camera. 
Back then I had the heady ambition of being a photographer for Life or National Geographic and rubbing elbows with some of THOSE guys… Eugene Smith, Steve McCurry, Michael Nichols. Changing the world with my lens as these guys had.
My ambition today is the same but different. I have had the pleasure of learning plenty from some of those guys but the elbow rubbing has been with a group of ‘togs much closer to home albeit every bit as talented. However we’re not traveling the world documenting wars and refugees.
Much closer to home, we’re creating the visual tapestry that countless families will soon identify with more than their actual memories. And when a mom gets teary eyed seeing her baby reach yet another milestone, growing up way to fast through my lens… Sometimes that is changing the world just enough. 
I’m grateful to the many mentors I’ve had over the years and hope to do my best to pay it forward. Are YOU ready?

MOMENTS in dance: Kelsey Knee

FB_4490  Kelsey dances. She’s been dancing since she was about 4 years old. Recently I got to spend a few minutes with her making some pretty cool images at Belleville East’s Performing Arts Center.

After our session we learned she was also the lead in East’s musical, Beauty and the Beast. Holy cow she has a fabulous voice! Its no wonder she has spent so much time on the Muny stage! Who knows… maybe we’ll spend another moment with Kelsey singing someday.


Moments with Emily

Music. There’s nothing much better than to immerse yourself in music… unless maybe it’s being able to write and perform it as well. Emily is the total package. Fabulously sweet and easy going. Wonderfully talented in her music.

Earlier this fall I had the pleasure of creating her senior portraits. Of course we did a photo with Emily’s favorite guitar. It still surprises me how much you feel like you get to know a person in just a few short hours. All my seniors become “mine” after I spend a few hours photographing them and editing them and then of course the time with their families, sometimes with a tear or two from mom. In Emily’s case there were nearly nonstop giggles and laughs… that sort of connection makes this so much more than just a job.

I call these video shorts “MOMENTS” because I feel like our entire life is made up of moments. Sometimes the best part of my day is just that. A moment with my wife or kids. A moment’s glance at a sunrise. You get the idea.

Enjoy a few moments with Emily.

MOMENTS in music: Emily Winland from Doug Howell on Vimeo.

Marching Lancer’s 2015 season.

I can’t say it enough. I love watching and experiencing our band as they practice, prepare and perform. This video short is a compilation from the many opportunities I’ve had to record the Marching Lancers through this season.

Thanks to Emily Winland, Jessica Knee, Katie Volluz, Nicole Lonsdale & Ryan Youck, some of my special seniors who were able to spare a few minutes to share their thoughts about the band’s competition season.

emily Jessica Katie NicoleSmile Ryan

Click here to order your very own DVD!

Editor’s disclaimer:
I made the tough choice to publish this with custom music instead of the Lancer’s own music from their show. This dramatic and emotional piece of music spoke to me and created the right “feel”.  Using the Lancer’s show music with a seemingly randomized set of imagery would simply not jive as well and you would end up with a distraction from the drama and effort shown here by these musicians who have sacrificed countless hours and weekends to create this show.

Musical muses

Musician PortraitsGrowing up our home was filled with music regularly as mom was the church piano player and dad was the music director. Some of my favorite memories revolve around singing together as a family on occasional Sunday mornings or when visiting the grandparents. In the College Choir at Marion College for a couple years I had plenty of those hair raising moments as our fifty strong choir would belt out a capella versions of A Mighty Fortress and other hymns.

A trombone player through high school – I didn’t follow up with band after graduating and still miss it a bit.

Now, as I get older the quicker I am to get choked up… even a simple strum of a guitar or of course, a lone bugler’s call. If during a full band performance they have one of big moments… big sound from the brass… or maybe better yet a quiet passage barely discernible…you know.. those moments that make you feel the music? Those are what a band program and its musical artistry is all about.

This is all part of why I really enjoy creating musician portraits. The very nature of being a musician make them expressive and of course their flutes and guitars etc make fabulous props as well.

Emily Winland  brought her guitar over for her portrait session on a beautifully overcast day.  We created some sweet light in the woods for Emily and her guitar with my favorite portable light.

Nicole Lonsdale brought her flute into the studio and with a totally different application of light we nailed a beautiful portrait that I will proudly enter into some upcoming image competitions.

From accordions to guitars to clarinets and marimbas musical instruments and the musicians that accompany them will always have a special place in my portfolio.

By the way we are VERY fortunate to have such strong music programs in the metro east: Belleville, O’Fallon, Granite City, Edwardsville, Collinsville… these schools are enriching their communities in ways they will never know.

Paint Saint Louis

West Coast

You never know when you’ll find something really cool… and today I was driving around Saint Louis simply looking for something.. cool.. something.. visual.  And the flood wall that protects downtown from the Mississippi flood waters is indisputably cool AND visual (at least once you combine the really large spaces with graffiti artists).

Meet Saratoga Sake:

Saratoga Sake @ Paint St. Louis 2015 from Doug Howell on Vimeo.

I wish I would have had more time to hang out and document this project. Follow this link for more about Saratoga Sake.  And be looking out for Paint Saint Louis 2016!


College move in day

Rachel roomJPG
We left our little girl in tears as we drove away today… a couple hugs… a last hug… nope… one last hug… no maybe just one more… I left the big camera at home. Took a few snapshots with the phone/cam. This moment was too big to squeeze into a photograph (although I did overlook some shots I really wish I had taken).

Her room couldn’t be more set up if we had hired Martha Stewart’s IT department to coordinate it. All the gear that any college student hopes for… and I’m pretty certain it’s there to comfort us as much as her. Sure. She’ll enjoy printing from her laptop while streaming Netflix on her big TV… I didn’t even know a college room needed curtains. That of course is what the Mom is for. And cute lights streaming from the ceiling? Who knew, right? At College Church, Pastor Quanstrom speaks meaningfully and eloquently about choices, prevenient grace and gives us a heads up about the quiet drive home.

Finally at some point we have to do it. At some point the car has to head home. Time to stop the purchasing and decorating and planning. Time for all the pent up anxiety and fear to slowly make itself known… one tear at a time.

Hugs and tears.

She walks away quietly as we drive away. Quietly.


THIS is why I’m gonna do my best to insist that ALL my seniors end up with an up to date family portrait before they move away. As I’ve told many of my current clients… having just gone through the whole senior year and now this… I have a whole new perspective on how I should be guiding you as my clients. This is my family. Our last Friday night together before Rachel headed out on her brave new adventure. Love my wife. Love my girl. Love my boy. Life is good.


2015 Image Competition — PPA IPC

It has been a pretty good competition season! The Professional Photographers of America just wrapped up 4 days of judging (aprox 5200 entries) and three of my four images were “merit” worthy this year with one of them being accepted into the prestigious loan collection after a nail-biting judge’s challenge! All four images were of human subjects which was a first for me as well as client images.

“Poof” was one of many images made during a shoot with Belleville Elite Dance Academy last year. Dancer Elisha Lamm will be added to the PPA’s Loan  collection which will be published this winter by Marathon Press [available here].
“Big Guns” is tattoo model, Hanna Hetz and was certainly the image I had most fun working on 😉 She came to the studio to work up some portfolio images for her budding modeling career. Hanna will working for Always Late TV producing programming for next year’s season and is currently on season 4 Local Ambition.
“Smooth” was done for Traveon Westbrook, a local guy looking for some PR images.
“Senior Squeeze” was a senior client a couple years back and the only senior cool enough to bring his accordion along for his photo session!

I’ll throw in one other item as this was a big week on my ‘day’ job as well… TWO Emmy nominations for news promos at KSDK where I spend all my weekdays. A promo I edited for KSDK’s Ferguson coverage was produced by former colleague and friend Kim Sherman who is currently working at WFLA in Tampa, Florida. A second KSDK promo launching a newly branded Show Me St. Louis was created by Jeff LoGrasso, Joe Eickmeier and myself along with custom music by Jerome Gilmer, performed by Nicole Pettker. [both spots linked below]
2015 A2015 C

2015 B

This promo for NewsChannel Five was created shortly after the unrest in Ferguson, MO as part of KSDK’s coverage.

“Why Can’t We Talk” NewsChannel Five Promo from Doug Howell on Vimeo.

This promo was created to help re-launch KSDK’s Show Me St. Louis brand. Shot by myself and coworker Joe Eickmeier.

Show Me St Louis 60 from Doug Howell on Vimeo.


Yes! That was big fun! Sunday afternoon we had a swimmer and group of dancers over to create some exceptional images…

Ellie 12x18
Not your every day, run of the mill snapshots many of these will be showing up in area photographic competitions this next year!

After basically plastic wrapping the studio we were set to splash some very cool and talented athletes.

Cashia web

Ultimately we dumped nearly 20 gallons of water! The dancers posed and jumped and we dumped, poured and splashed anyone willing to take it! YES! I’ll be doing this again! I’ll streamline the setup a bit and refine it but THIS concept is simply too cool to let go.

FB Alexis web

Thanks to my friend Barb Adleman from Elan Studios/Bloomington for coming down to assist, my many moms who appreciate my weird ideas and sense of humor and of course Jake for schlepping 20 gallons of warm water and helping clean up!

FB Marissa web



My son Jake,​ and a lucky group of guys from Belleville’s Boy Scout Troop 553 are leaving tomorrow for a trip they will never forget. Along with two adult supervisors, they are boarding the train in St. Louis and riding west, then transferring to a bus which will take them to the Boy Scout’s Philmont Ranch, the BSA’s premiere high adventure camp near Cimarron, New Mexico. Jake and his crew will spend about 7 days hiking through some of New Mexico’s very beautiful and mountainous countryside. They’ll carry everything from clothes to water to tents and sleeping bags as well as several days worth of food rations which they can restock at predetermined lock boxes every few days. Jake and crew will come back with plenty of stories (I doubt if we hear even a fraction of them)… Of course I hope and pray for their safe travels, but maybe even more important, I hope for them to come back stronger, more confident and if possible even more independent: Prepared to take on whatever the future has in store for them. Don’t tell them I said that… they think they’re just gonna have fun 😉


Jake and his carefully selected gear for his trek.

Lemp Brewery Model Shoot

BeccaSquareFabulously fabulous! Working with experienced models is the best… and when they’re patient, can interpret bad direction, AND have that indescribable quality that somehow helps images jump off the screen… you’re in a happy place!


I needed a model for a photo session with friend and fellow master photographer, Paul Rogers who was gonna be visiting for a weekend of image making and Becca McFly was my first choice to lend a hand. Becca has helped me with a few ideas over the last few years as I’ve worked toward my PPA Master degree.

“Flying Lady” Earned a merit from the PPA’s 2013 international image competition:

The venue chosen was also one of my favorite places to shoot: The Lemp Brewery. A short call to Jimi Gunn and we had the grungy old dark and creepy place to ourselves (with the exception of a few musicians who use portions of the ghost ridden warehouse as practice space).


This is seriously my favorite space to shoot in here at the Lemp bottle works building.
Big dirty windows create wonderfully soft light!

In the image above Becca is rocking the top of Jimi’s baby grand in one of his many music studio spaces.


For you photo techies we were both shooting with Nikon D800s paired with all 2.8 glass. From wide 12mm to the tightly compressed end of my 70-200mm or Paul’s 300 prime we worked with a mix of low ambient window light and my Paul Buff Einstein with beauty dish powered by a Vagabond. Almost exclusively shooting tripod mounted helps you be more thoughtful and allows you to be more meticulous creating the feel of an image (this is where a patient, self motivated model is critical. Thanks again Becca).

I can’t wait to schedule a senior shoot day over at the Lemp Brewery and make some seriously cool images for some exceptional seniors! STAY TUNED for booking information!



Anastasia came to visit yesterday! As a young model in the St. Louis area it’s tough to get a portfolio developed… and Kevin Long’s The Edge Agency does a great job of doing just that. Kevin has always been a supporter of the local and state photography groups trying to supply models for various functions while getting these up and coming young models some valuable camera time.

Anastasia has a fabulous physique and a killer smile so with the right connections and a bit more studio time she just might show up in one of your next magazines or catalogs! Thanks to Anastasia & her mom for making the long trek to visit my studio!

Slick. Smooth. Suave. Traveon.

This guy shows up today almost an hour early for his model session! That’s cool. He is READY. Traveon is working toward a recording deal… producing a CD… hoping to make a splash. We only spent a couple hours in the studio but you get a quick feel that Traveon just might be THAT smooth operator… I’ll share his progress as things develop but keep your eyes and ears tuned in for the name: Traveon.Traveon

Autumn & Ryan Maternity Shoot

top 3
I’ve not had the opportunity to shoot many maternity sessions so I was super excited when Autumn asked me to work with her and Ryan to document their family to be. She did some Pinterest searching and sent along a few ideas that she wanted to emulate which I’m sure required a bit of shopping for those super cute tennis shoes!

bottom 2 copy
After finishing a big bunch of these super cute images I grabbed a few of my favorites and made this short sample video to share with mommy and daddy to be 😉

Marching Lancer’s Florida trip DVDs are available!

Many of you have seen the cool movie created with a ton of our images from the Florida trip and MANY of you have asked how to get your copy…. here’s the breakdown.

Marching Lancer’s 2015 Outback Bowl Trip
$15 – Highlight DVD (preview below)
$25 – Highlight DVD +Outback Bowl Performance
$50 – Highlight DVD +Outback Bowl Performance +Over 500 images

Here’s a link to a preview the video (not the finished version though)

Bellevillle East travels to the Outback Bowl

SATURDAY – Travel Day
Today we’re aboard four tour busses headed to Florida with the Belleville East Bands. Almost 150 band members along for the ride, we’re headed to Tampa for the New Year’s Day Outback Bowl.

First we’ll hit Universal Studio Theme Park for a couple days of play as well as a concert band workshop.

I’ve traveled with these kids a few times over the last few years and I’ve always been impressed with just how good this number of kids can be. I look forward to a fun trip and will post more as our trip progresses.
One among many tables of kids waiting to board.

Hoping we find our real driver soon!
Mr. T and his fleet.


SUNDAY MORNING – Universal Studios

Who knew “sleeping” on a bus could feel so little like sleep?!? After several stops overnight for restroom breaks and oh yeah.. so the driver could buy a fan to clear the window so she could see! We’re almost to our breakfast destination.. maybe if a booth is available we’ll sleep better at the Golden Corral 😉

Here’s the bus in “sleep” mode.


Today our Bellevillle East concert bands got to participate in a pretty cool workshop being offered by Universal Studios. The STARS program introduces high school musicians to the music & foley recording process.


Playing along with an old Frankenstein movie the bands were recorded by Universal sound engineers. Along with the full musical score, soloists and small groups added tracks to the music bed as well as a few band members were selected to accent the soundtrack with maniacal laughs and evil zombie groans.


The Universal STARS recording technicians will polish the soundtrack then provide a downloadable version for the students to save and share online.



After the recording sessions we finished up our visit to the Universal parks before heading to Tampa for more musical vacation fun!



TUESDAY – Competition Day



WHEW! Today was pretty action packed! ALL of Belleville East’s bands performed in competition/workshops today! We heard from the Symphonic Band • Symphonic Wind Ensemble • Wind Ensemble • Jazz Ensemble • Concert Jazz Orchestra
AND we finished with a Marching Band field show!!!


It rained and sprinkled and misted and rained some more pretty much all day… [and the bands had to walk about a block from the hotel to the concert hall in this lousy weather]. They plodded through the rain, prepared and performed with a level of excellence that we have all come to expect from these groups. Most every performance ends with a critique from each of three highly experienced judges. These guys not only critique though… they suggest alternative ways to interpret, play and hear the music. They have the students re-play sections of their music incorporating these new ideas and insights – just as if they were working with professional session musicians – the kids really seem to dig being mentored in this way, treated with such respect…. and my admiration for this group of kids and the Belleville East band program grows with each and every performance!


Maybe best of all we were able to finish this evening with a SENIORS only group shot! This is a superb group of young people that we are very fortunate to have in our program!

WEDNESDAY – Rehearsal & Parade
Imagine trying to coordinate 26 band units totaling nearly 3000 members into one monster halftime show! Luckily that was organized by the Outback Bowl folks and it was obvious they’ve done this before.

Drums. Brass. Winds. Flags. All sections set up and rehearsed separately then combined on the practice field. It is mighty cool to experience 26 drum lines up close! Twenty-six bands worth of trumpets!
DHP_1167 DHP_1194 DHP_1200 DHP_1208

The real kicker is that all 3000 kids and pit equipment and props have about 60 seconds to get in position on the field before the show… then again to get off the field after the show. After 60 seconds two football teams will be seriously wanting to use the field again!

That was this morning’s practice. Now we’re heading to The Outback Bowl parade. Again… imagine a parade where just about every other unit is a large marching band. If you enjoy marching bands…. THIS should be one heck of a show!!

DHP_1453 DHP_1498 DHP_1508 DHP_1573

Finally tonight, we get to go to Busch Gardens with our 3000 newest friends! We’ll ring in the new year with a fabulous fireworks display… then hightail it back to the hotel.. sleep.. wake.. checkout.. perform at the bowl game and enjoy our bus ride home to a very cold Bellevillle… but more on that and photos from today tomorrow.

Happy New Years!
We did it. We made it to Tampa’s OutBack Bowl. The band played with a gazillion other bands… but first you have to hike a mile or so from the bus parking lot!!!

Finally we made it to stadium and it really was pretty cool to watch the kids perform and imagine the behind the scenes coordination that it takes to pull this off!

We loaded busses and started the long 20 hour drive home AND the Belleville East Marching Lancers came away with a ton of awards from the week!


-Parade Grand Champion
-Jazz Band Grand Champion
-Second Concert Band -3rd Place
-Jazz Band Category 3 -1st Place
-Parade Category 3 -1st Place
-Field Show Category 2 -1st Place
-Jazz Band 2 -1st Place
-Concert Band Category 3 -Honorable Mention
-Outstanding Field Show
-Outstanding Soloist
-Crowd Pleaser Award

Yup. That’s a lot of hardware to bring home!!! It’s been a pretty fabulous week… We’re really fortunate that these kids are so decent when traveling (who knows what they do away from the group 😉


I’m so very happy to have the opportunity to join in on these trips and can’t wait to see where else we can go with this very large family – even if we are rather dysfunctional sometimes 🙂


Bodybuilding with Ruth

Ruth Riley

Ruth RileyRecently I reached out to Shiloh’s Anytime Fitness manager Ruth Riley… she liked the idea of creating some portfolio images as she continues to work out and fine tune her body… and I’m launching a new program with a few local gyms and other locations are in the works as well. Ruth did her homework and brought all the right pieces to make her session go well… classic fitness apparel, a couple bikinis and a sassy dress or two. She even brought a few Pinterest ideas and admitted to practicing a few of the poses at home to be sure we could work them out in the studio easily.

So whether you’re a competitive body builder or simply want to document your self looking your best give me a shout and I’ll do my best to highlight all your favorite things about yourself!

Ruth Bottom five

Breakfast with a friend.

Met up with a friend recently over a fine Denny’s breakfast. We don’t talk much these days. See each other even less. So of course it was good to catch up. He’d been a working professional photographer for most his adult life but a few years ago hung it up mostly and took on a different line of work completely out of the imaging business…

Jokingly (sort of) he’ll say that talking about photography makes him itchy… even being around other photogs makes him itch and scratch.

So after all the pleasantries of chatting about family and work and such (we actually skipped the weather talk). He told me I need to invest in a good porcelain sink. Yes. Our conversations tend to… drift… significantly. Of course I wonder why a sink. And a porcelain sink at that. Then without so much as a flinch or a scratch or an itch he told me about the amazing Light that comes through his bathroom window of a morning.

It seems Light pours through the little window and fills the bright, white, porcelain sink. But unlike the morning’s first splash of water, the sink cannot hold the Light. It becomes luminescent and bathes the subject before it with a refreshing glow… that kind of glow that supermodels love to see applied. Instant wrinkle remover and much much more 😉

If you start shopping for reflectors and modifiers you’ll find hundreds of things folks have devised to make Light more controllable… but the mother of all reflectors just might be the humble bathroom sink. White and clean of course.

We discussed using this as a light shaping tool. Think of the beautiful headshots. Hard for anyone to figure out such an exotic, secret recipe! I imagine actors and models would be flocking to our bathroom sink studio to bask in the glory of its luminescent glow!

The interesting thing here is not a new lighting solution. Image makers have probably been using all kinds of make shift solutions since the first caveman broke his printer and had to blow ink through little grass straws.

What I found interesting is the unconscious recognition of Light.. with direction… and qualities too yummy to ignore. I remember hearing guys talk about Light – about seeing Light. The wrap of a soft light. The triangles and shapes. I didn’t get it. But once the mind’s eye is trained to really see Light and it’s even more interesting counterpart, Shadow, it continuously evaluates the yummy factor in pretty much every scene it encounters. For me, I’ve just started seeing Light and Shadow… a couple years ago a couple brain cells clicked and I started taking note of it as I pass by random people on the street or watch folks on the train ride into work.

Light. Such an obvious thing to see… so easily taken for granted… and even harder to capture it’s infinite qualities.