Erie in Winter: Images of a Frozen Lake

Last winter I had the chance to stop by Shade’s Beach just before sunset. The lake was frozen and the ice dunes were crowding the shoreline. I watched a family and their dog trek out perhaps 1/2 mile onto the ice, returning just as the evening’s light disappeared. The sun set quickly, and it was very quiet. The images I returned with are surreal, as few Erie residents actually witness the lakeshore in this state – still, barren, yet painted with color.

This year we still have a liquid lake for the time being. We’ll have to see whether we will have a walkable lake in early 2009.

I added this image and several other winter lake images to my gallery of Lake Erie images. Have a look and enjoy the beauty of Erie’s lakefront.

Santa Baby: A Tribute to Eartha Kitt

We mourn the loss of Eartha Kitt, dancer, singer and actress, who died this week at age 81.

She had many roles in Hollywood, Broadway and on TV, including a stint as the character “Catwoman” on the old Batman series. She got her start in 1950 dancing with Katherine Dunham’s troupe, and moved into singing and acting.

She had a hit in 1953 with “Santa Baby”, which is still a popular Christmas song, and was recently certified as a Gold record. It is ironic that she died on Christmas day.

I remember Eartha Kitt most fondly from her voice work on Disney’s The Emperor’s New Groove, which to me is the best and funniest Disney movie ever made. She was the villian Yzma, and did a wonderful job with this role. We have a couple of original cels from that movie, featuring her character. It’s a must-see!

The young dancer in this image performed a solo to “Santa Baby” in 2008, and her wonderful costume complemented the musical number very well.

Erie Weddings: Choosing a Wedding Photographer

I put a lot of thought into my offerings for weddings this weekend. I have completely revamped my wedding pricing and offerings, and in the process, I put together this list of tips that a bride can use when choosing a photographer for her wedding.

This image is a great shot of Jen and Ryan from this last March. Their winter wedding was as close to perfect as you could get – weather, schedule, accommodations and everyone’s spirits were great!

So here is my list of tips, available also as a PDF from my website.

1.Style. You will need to be familiar with the photographer’s work to see if it matches your expectations. Some shoot in a photojournalistic style, where they do not stage a lot of action and try to capture the day as a series of images. Some are more forward and direct and organize the shots. Some have very traditional framing, while others utilize interesting camera angles and perspectives. Some stick to traditional color editing while others lean toward more effects, black/white or sepia. You can get a certain amount of flexibility from a photographer, but do not expect a photographer whose style does not match your needs to be able to change drastically.

2.Personality. You will be spending a lot of time with this person, so you will need to be very comfortable with him or her. Make sure that your family and the photographer will be compatible. Do you develop a rapport with the photographer on the first call or meeting, and feel good when you hang up the phone?

3.References. The best references come from people who have used the photographer. If you heard about them through friends, they come highly regarded. If you found them through a search, ask to see sample images and talk to brides or others for whom they have worked in the past.

4.Coverage. Be clear about how much time you will need for coverage. Include your morning “getting ready” time, preparation at the ceremony location, formals and other bridal images and reception time. Share your time line so the photographer knows how match their services with your expectations.

Some photographers only offer “shoot and burn”, meaning you are left to weed through hundreds of raw images and decide what to do with them. Others offer only printed products, and often produce excellent quality prints and albums. Still others may offer both prints/albums and digital files. Think about what you would like, and be honest about whether you will actually produce a good representation of your wedding with just the digital files. Take caution in thinking that a local digital lab will make images with the same quality as a professional photography lab, which color balances the images and uses high quality non-glossy printing processes. A few dollars saved may cost you a lot of satisfaction in the long run.

6.Pricing. It is hard to compare photographers’ offerings to each other. In order to do so, you may want to define a couple of scenarios and ask the photographers to price them to the best of their ability. Be cautious here as well: The cheapest photographer may not be the best. You will want to find your mix of value, quality and product offering.

7.Product Choices. Look for a range of products from prints to canvas products to a large selection of books and albums. Even if you are interested mostly in digital prints, it is highly recommended to choose a photographer who can produce good large prints and albums, because their experience in making these images indicates they have the skills and resources to produce good products, whether they are electronic or printed. Plus, you may change your mind later and want a professional album.

8.Digital Files. Many brides today are looking for access to the images. Many photographers offer this service. Ask whether the images will be edited or raw, and what degree of editing will be performed. What size or resolution will be offered. Will a release be granted to let you print them at a lab? Are there any restrictions on your use of the images? Most photographers will retain the copyright and ownership and grant you a license for private use. That is normal.

9.Credentials. Does the photographer belong to any professional associations? Are they insured with liability coverage? Do they have a particular education or certification that you are looking for? Credentials are not everything, but they do indicate whether the photographer is actively growing and experimenting with new techniques.

10.Lifetime Relationship. You may not think of this now, but the photographer you choose may be the same one who takes you maternity and baby pictures, family portraits and perhaps even your childrens’ senior portraits in 20 years! Choose your photographer carefully!

Playing with my new Christmas Toys!

I spent much of the last two nights playing with my new USB Midi keyboard which interfaces to my music mixing program, and my new Sennheiser headphones. What a hoot! I have access to great Steinway piano samples, Hammond B3 and even Moog synthesizer setups, and a bunch of music clips I can mix together. This is a lot of fun, and I can see I’ll have to use it as a reward for work done or else I’ll never get anything else accomplished. I’ll be posting some MP3’s of my compositions and mixes soon.

But hey, this is a photography blog, so I’ll talk about a couple other things that Santa brought me. One was a flash bracket for my camera which allows me to raise my flash off the camera to help reduce red-eye and improve lighting. The other toy is called a Lightsphere and is used to diffuse the light from the flash to soften the impact on the subject. This will really help some settings where I need to use the camera flash, such as sunset and shooting into shade.

This photo is of our trusty dog Emma, a german shepherd / yellow lab mix, to our best guess. We rescued her from the pound 9 years ago and she is truly a wonderful and smart mutt. She was my willing model today as I tested out my new gear. You can see very natural lighting here, with no sharp shadows or blown out highlights, even though I was shooting indoors in a basement lit only with overhead flourescent light. This was ISO800 f/3.5 and 1/160 sec exposure with my attached flash sporting a new Gary Fong Lightsphere.

Good Dog!

Merry Christmas to All

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.'”

That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

Senior Portraits: Using the Erie Environment

I build my senior business model around unique location images. I am always on the look for new and interesting locations and backdrops for senior shots. One of my favorites is the mural wall between Peach and Sassafras streets around 15th. Supported by funding from Logistics Plus, this is a block-wide mural done in grafitti paint. The artists did an incredible job of showing their creativity and painting a bit of Erie. You can see Niagara-style ships in a stormy gun battle, the Presque Isle bay, and some futuristic scenery reminiscent of Dr Suess.

Many of my seniors will visit here and capture some shots. The wide variety of artwork and colors means that each senior will be able to match their personality and clothing to some aspect of Erie’s great wall.

This shot was taken from near the west end, and shows some of the varieties of color available. My assistant Lauren is chillin’ in the foreground.

Senior Portraits at Edinboro University

This fall I had the honor of taking Stephanie’s senior portraits. She chose to focus on areas in her home town of Edinboro, PA. This was great fun for me, as I grew up in Edinboro and attended college there, many years ago. I enjoyed the opportunity to see my home town from a new perspective. I told Stephanie and her family countless “when I was younger” stories about Edinboro.

We had a beautiful fall day for our session. Stephanie had some ideas and I picked a few others, and we ended up with a great portfolio of outdoor shots. Then we followed up with some excellent indoor portraits to top off the evening.

This shot captured Stephanie in a relaxed moment. This is the upper courtyard of the Edinboro University campus, near the art building and auditorium. Shot in shade in late afternoon, the exposure was 1/60 at f/3.2 ISO 200. You can see the campus behind her, but the tight depth of focus minimizes the distraction of the background.

In post-production, I finished this with a slight sepia tone and layered the logo over the bench. Then I built the graduated border by sampling brightness levels from within the image. This pose was a favorite of Stephanie and her family and friends.

Senior Portraits on Erie Beaches

Many seniors request photos at the beach. Some of them want to use Presque Isle beaches, which feature wooded backdrops and sandy beaches. Others ask to visit some of the beaches on the East side of Erie County, such as Shade’s Beach in Harborcreek or Freeport Beach in North East.

This image of Joe was taken in North East at Shade’s Beach. On a warm but overcast afternoon, we hit this rocky beach for some individual and family images. The uniform cloud cover made for very even lighting.

Among other things, Joe is a musician and drum major in the Iroquois High School Marching Band. Here we featured Joe with his trumpet against a backdrop of Lake Erie.

A little bit of contrast enhancement with the Curves and Levels tool brought out the color of the clothing, the shine of the trumpet, and the transition from water to sky behind Joe.

Senior Portraits: Bow Hunting in Erie County

Jake is an outdoorsman. An avid hunter, he has many favorite locations for hunting. He also works outdoors on a local farm.

We specialize in location photography, spending time with each senior to capture images in settings that are meaningful to the senior and his family. One of Jake’s chosen settings for his senior portraits was this outdoor shot of his bow and hunting gear.

Using a telephoto lens to tighten the depth of focus to his face, I shot this one into some backlit leaves.

I am just glad Jake didn’t have an arrow in that bow – I was point blank in front of him for several shots!

Senior Sunset Shots on Erie’s Beaches

This silhouette of Alexa was taken about 10 minutes before sunset. I had her face me but turn her head to profile, and pop her hip to create an interesting line with her left arm. The mix of sky, water and sand is roughly in thirds, creating an interesting background effect.

The day of Alexa’s session had perfect weather for sunset shots. I kept any fill light or flash off to emphasize shape and form. In my editor, I emphasized the color intensity and contrast levels with the Curves tool, added a brush border and a quick frame.

For the actual sunset shots, I did provide some fill light to balance Alexa against the background light levels. But I can’t resist a good silhouette shot!