I’ve always liked photographing fellow artists, regardless of their art.
A few years ago I embarked on a project to photograph musicians. I contacted the Valley Symphony orchestra with a proposal to photograph all the principal musicians, including the conductor, and feature them in a traveling show. I thought they would jump at the prospect — boy was I mistaken.
You would not believe the static I got. I was so discouraged after dealing with the board I almost abandoned the whole project. I mean — I was offering it for free — it wouldn’t cost them a penny, plus they would receive tons of publicity as the show traveled around the Rio Grande Valley.
I decided that I love photographing musicians too much to be thwarted by a bunch of bureaucrats so I contacted each musician privately. They were ecstatic to be receiving so much attention. Just goes to show you that you never know how people will react to what you may think is a great idea.
Anyway, this is Marvin Eagle. At the time he was the principal violinist. I invited him to my studio where we had a great time together I created many images, but this one was my favorite.
I did twelve people in all and the Brownsville museum of fine art hosted the show. It got tons of good publicity and really helped me get my name established as a fine art photographer. My photograph of the conductor Carl Seal placed in the top ten best portraits in the world under the rules governing PPA’s (Professional Photographers of America) International print competition.
Meet Rose Jordan. She operates Gio’s Villa of Brownsville, one of Texas’s oldest and most dearly loved family-owned restaurants.
If you follow this blog you have probably picked up on the fact that I love making portraits of real people in their natural environment.
A great portrait doesn’t always have to employ a bunch of equipment or demand a lot of digital manipulation. I’m not one of these rabid souls that argues digital is everything and film is nothing — after all, many of the world’s greatest images were captured on film.
I photographed Rose inside Gio’s Villa, using a Sinar P2 – 4X5 view camera and Kodak TMax 100 B&W film. I set the overall exposure for the ambient light in the room, then placed a large soft box light off to the left to give form to Rose’s face and body.
For me it’s what feels right. If you are a painter you choose the brush and medium that will allow you to achieve the look you want. Photographer’s should do the same. Some subjects just beg to be photographed on film.
I keep my eyes open for interesting people that I might like to photograph wherever I go. I was having lunch with a client at a really nice restaurant recently when I spotted this attractive young woman across the room. She was working as a waitress and exhibited an extraordinary amount of grace and elegance.
After lunch I approached her and introduced myself. She was a little apprehensive at first, but then my client jumped in and said, “If he wants to photograph you, do it — you’ll really be glad he did!” and so she agreed.
The next Saturday she came to the studio and we made a ton of pictures. She was extremely natural in front of the camera and we got some great shots — this is one of my favorites. Since then I’ve used her as a paid model on several assignments.
One of the joys of photographing people is getting to make new acquaintances and sometimes even friends and colleagues.
This is Greg, he owns 15 shrimp boats and docks them at the shrimp basin in Brownsville, TX. Shrimping is big business here on the Gulf coast of Texas.
I was asked to create a photograph for a magazine that the Marine Division of Volvo puts out. It’s all about the people who use Volvo engines in their boats. Unfortunately, I only had a two day notice before the magazine’s deadline. And, guess what? Yep, it was raining both days so all the shrimp boats were out on the gulf, netting shrimp. What’s good for shrimpers isn’t always great for photographers!
Since Greg also owns a marine supply store there at the basin (where he furnishes supplies and repairs to all the shrimp boats and some recreational boats as well) we decided to do the photograph indoors.
I used two Profoto B1 heads for lighting, one on Greg and one skimming across the photo from left to right in the background with a soft white umbrella. The new TTL metering capability of the B1 for Nikon cameras is so cool — I was able to control each head individually right from the camera which meant that I could make all lighting power and light ratio adjustments without having to run back and forth to each light and adjust it individually. What a blessing, not to mention really speeding things up.
When setting up lighting for a shot where ambient light is going to play a part, it’s a good idea to manually establish the correct exposure for the background first. Set this exposure in your camera on manual, then use the TTL capability of the flash to do the rest. This works beautifully with speedlights, too. If you do this it is much easier to balance the background brightness with the subject lighting by adjusting the shutter speed of your camera and not touching the aperture.
I moved from Michigan to Brownsville, TX in 1983 — right around the time Eddie Lucio began his political career.
We met accidentally on the city golf course, where I was enjoying time with my father-in-law. Eddie was campaigning for his first run at the Texas State Senate and came over to us and just started talking. Not about politics or why we should vote for him, but about what a good day it was for golf. He was an excellent golfer and he even volunteered to give us some pointers. I remember being so impressed with his friendliness and being a regular down-to-earth person. He is one of those people who make you feel like you are the only one in the room when he is talking with.
As time went on we crossed paths many times and he was always interested in me and my business. He even made an unexpected trip from Austin (350 Miles from Brownsville) to the grand opening of my second studio.
On one of our chance meetings I suggested we do a portrait of him in the Senate chambers in Austin. He liked the idea and had his staff help with arranging everything — even lugging and setting up tons of equipment. All the security people knew I was coming and they gave me the royal treatment.
This was the final picture we came up with — I love it and so does he. He has a 30×40 inch on canvas hanging in his Senate office. I like doing portraits of people in their natural environments.
When making portraits that you hope will be purchased to be displayed on your clients walls, you sometimes need to go a bit further than the traditional portrait.
During our pre-portrait conference I found out that this woman’s husband was hoping to get an image of his wife that was more than just the typical picture of her face.
So with her enthusiastic participation we began to make a series of abstract images of her body. This one turned out to be his favorite and is displayed as a 30X40 inch portrait over a love seat in his family room.
It is easy to get locked into a normal way of shooting and all of a sudden we look up and notice that everything we have done for the last several years looks the same.
I highly recommend that after a normal photography session where you feel you have captured the images your client will invest in you discuss with him or her or them some off the beaten track ideas for a few additional images. At the very least you might come up with something new for your portfolio.
This portrait was part of a series I did for the Southern Union Gas Company’s annual report. They were featuring all the great people that worked for them as the part of the reasons for their great service to their customers.
I was supposed to walk all around their facilities accompanied by the company’s representative. I was a bit apprehensive about this approach because we were catching people completely by surprise and I was a little afraid of how they would react. Fortunately, everyone I approached in all the different departments was extremely gracious and felt honored to be included in this prestigious company document.
This was one of my favorite images from the series. It was a blistering 103 degree South Texas Day with humidity in the 70% range. Yet these two guys gave me their all. What troupers!
I found these huge coils of bright yellow plastic tubing piled up very high and thought what a great background to play against their blue shirts. The sun was behind the tubing so when I positioned my subjects in front they got a little shade. Me, on the other hand was standing in the full sun. Tell me again why I don’t like the winters of Michigan. I sure could have used some right then. I was using a Nikon digital camera with a 70-200 mm lens.
There is nothing sweeter than pulling off a difficult shot.