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Category Archives: Moments

Keep trying

There have been many times when I have come across a moment or a person whom I’d love to photograph, but for some reason, (like moving past in a vehicle, too busy to stop or didn’t have my camera with me) I’ve been unable to capture it or them. There are some photographers, like Jay Maisel, who say don’t even try to go back and capture something later. If you don’t get it now, in the moment, you’ve missed it. It’s gone … forever. This is probably good advice, for the most part.

However, I recently had a different experience during a vacation trip in Canada. My parents, Kim and I were on our way to my uncle John’s home in Kelowna, British Columbia for our family reunion gathering. The Kelowna area has the beautiful Lake Okanagan, mountains and lots of orchard groves. As we neared their home, we passed by an orchard and as we did I noticed a flash of orange and white in the orchard. It was an East Indian-looking man with an orange turban, white clothes and a long white beard, working in the field. Not exactly the kind of person I’d expect to see in Kelowna. We pulled up to the house and Kim and I talked about how cool it would’ve been to photograph him, but chalked it up to another one of those photo ideas that doesn’t actually happen (got lots of those in my head!)

The next morning, as we passed the orchard again on our way to the house, we saw another man, this one in a blue turban, coming towards the road, and us, on a tractor. I thought maybe we did have a chance after all! We stopped by his tractor and made some small talk (how are you? what are you growing here? how long have you been farming this land?) He was very friendly, and so I said, “My wife and I are photographers and were wondering if it would be OK to take your picture?” Sometimes you just have to ask. He happily agreed, so we piled out of the SUV and got our gear out. I already knew what lens I’d use—the 70-200, f2.8.

He introduced us to his father (the man in the orange turban) and we took a bunch of shots as we chatted with both of them (the son translated for his father who seemed not to speak any English). They were very gracious to us and shared a typical greeting they use as Punjabis—hands together with a slight bow and with the phrase, “God is true.” How ironic that this sentiment was the very thing we were talking about and celebrating in our family reunion just down the road.


We felt as though we made new friends in our short visit with them—all because of a second chance to make an idea into a photograph. It was a great reminder for me to not always give up so easily, but to keep on trying.

The Storyteller

Happy New Year — 2010!

It’s been a busy holiday season but things are finally settling back into somewhat of a “normal” routine for me. One of the things about the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays that are most important to me is getting together with family. And especially if they have travelled a great distance to visit.

Kim and I enjoyed a great time with my family in Maryland and were also able to visit with my uncle John, aunt Lorraine and cousin Byron, from Kelowna, British Columbia. (That’s in Canada, for you non-Canucks). One of the things that makes being with them so special is my uncle John’s storytelling. Having grown up on a farm in Alberta, Canada, his tales usually involve things like bulls getting into hay lofts (and how not to get them down!), pranks played on big sisters (like my mom), and soon-to-be brothers-in-law getting accidentally hurtled off of farm equipment or sprayed with high-pressured manure (dad was the victim of that one). It’s usually a good idea not to eat the holiday apple pie before one of his stories because of the side-splitting laughter that generally follows!

I hope that in 2010 you also have a chance to laugh with family and friends and appreciate the beauty of the people in your life. And maybe have some stories of your own to tell — in words or photographs.

Happy lighting, under pressure

I had a great time at the KelbyTraining photography seminar yesterday in Washington, D.C. Renowned photojournalist and magazine photographer, Joe McNally, lead the attendees through a series of setups, showing various lighting techniques using small flashes that are very helpful especially when there is little time allowed for taking photos—a scenario faced by just about all professional photographers.

Watching Joe’s examples and hearing his stories about the time constraints he’s faced (12 minutes for Sports Illustrated cover shoots! … barely enough time for me to get my equipment setup), made me think of my own experiences with pressure-packed picture-taking.

In March of this year, Kim and I had the great opportunity to photograph Chris and Lindsay’s wedding here in Richmond. It was a beautiful occassion and they were a fantastic couple to work with (very laid-back and accomodating), but a wedding is a wedding and we had to work with the time and circumstances that were presented to us at each moment of the day.

As with most weddings I’ve  been to, we were asked not to use flashes during the ceremony. Very understandable but a bit of a problem for the photographer who doesn’t want the participants to look like ghosts, blurring all over the church sanctuary. Taking the sage advice of my photographer friend Kevin, I chose to “embrace the insanity” of the situation and crank up my camera’s ISO setting (a measure of the camera sensor’s sensitivity to light) to stop the action as best I could. My Canon 5D Mark II allowed me to do this and still keep the graininess to a minimum. So, to ISO 2000 I went!

Another constraint we faced was not being able to get close to the front of the church when all the ceremony-action was taking place. One of the most significant moments for the couple is when the bride arrives at the front to join the waiting groom. How do you capture the emotion of that moment when you’re in the back of the church? My wife Kim came up with the idea to simply shoot it beforehand during the guys’ group shots. Just stage it. Brilliant! My instructions for the groom were: “OK Chris, think about how you’ll feel when Lindsay gets to the front here.” Beaming smile!

The wedding reception added it’s own set of challenges: huge room, dark, people moving around, lots of activity. The approach I took there was to slow the shutter way down to be able to capture the ambient light of the room (warm, active and inviting) and use a flash with a dome diffuser attached to stop the action of my subjects so they weren’t blurry. There’s no guarantee of a good shot with this technique but I got a frame at just the right moment as Chris and Lindsay arrived for the reception party. Don’t think I could have art-directed them any better in their expressions and gestures. What a party it was! Congratulations again to Chris and Lindsay!

Kim and I left for home that day totally spent but exhilirated at the experience of sharing an important part of their special day. And with a new appreciation for how photographers handle time-pressures on happy occassions.

Surprises

One of the things about photography that never fails to fascinate me are it’s surprises. Going through a new set of freshly taken photos is like waking up on Christmas morning for me — there are things you find that you didn’t expect.

On a summer vacation trip years ago to central Kansas, we were visiting the small farming town of Goessel, where my father was born and grew up. We stopped into the model one-room schoolhouse, very much like the one he went to as a boy. It was like stepping back in time — small wooden desks, chalkboard at the front, pedal-organ for singing, and no air-conditioning (it was a Kansas-hot summer!)

I decided this was a great opportunity to try a “stitch” photo with our Powershot point-and-shoot, where several frames are taken in sequence, side-by-side, and later fitted together in post-processing to make one long image. I took several frames around the room and finally ended with this one, not very aware of the composition I was making at the time. Upon seeing it later at home, I found it to be one of my favorite images of the trip. The quality of the light, the arrangement of the space, the little girl looking through the book at the desk at that moment. And this from a point-and-shoot camera!

The surprise I got was that sometimes technology is not as important as being at the right place at the right time — and “feeling” the moment.