Model Shoot: Ashley Sunday, Jan 30 2011 

Last weekend, I was invited by the photographer Ray Dauphinais to assist him on a photo shoot he did for The Angels Foundation. I worked with Ray a few times before, and I didn’t mind helping around with lights and equipment and learning something in the process.

Most of the shoot took place in a gym of a downtown Dallas residential building, but then Ray and I went exploring the building with one of the models, Ashley.

Ashley had a great attitude and a photogenic face highlighted with brilliant eyes. The impromptu shoot started when she changed from the gym clothes into a little black dress. As she sat down by a window to wait for us photographers to get our gear ready, we put away our flashes and worked with available light. We made a makeshift reflector to fill in the shadows and this quick portrait with her smirk was the best of that series.

Ashley, digital

Ashley, digital

Then we took a quick trip to the roof of the building. The downtown skyscrapers provided great background for Ashley and her dress. After a few digital test shots, I felt brave enough to put a flash on my medium format Mamiya 645 1000S. The idea was to use a few last frames of a roll of Kodak Ektachrome 100 that I had in the camera for months. I climbed on some patio furniture to eliminate the whitish overcast sky and fired off two shots, of which I prefer this one.

Ashley, on color slide film

Ashley, on color slide film

Finally, on our way down from the roof, we walked through a narrow hallway with distressed walls and tall windows. Again Ashley’s face looked great in natural diffused light framed by her flowing hair, so I used another film camera to capture the image. There was a roll of Ilford HP4 Plus in my Canon Elan 7 since my trip to New York in November, and I wanted to get a few shots to wrap it up. Sure enough, this “look”, showing Ashley’s “femme fatale” side, was what I was looking for.

Ashley, on black and white film

Ashley, on black and white film

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Point of Inspiration: Alan Ross Wednesday, Jan 26 2011 

This past Saturday, I met Alan Ross, a master photographer, who spent some time in the 70s as the assistant to Ansel Adams. An exhibit of his work opened at the Sun To Moon Gallery in Dallas and he was on hand to schmooze with the Dallas socialites, which, for an hour or so, included yours truly.

Alan Ross

Alan Ross, inspiration

On display was about 20 of his quite exquisite silver gelatin prints, in formats up to 24×30. My favorite by far was Bridalveil Fall in Storm, obviously an homage to Ansel’s Clearing Winter Storm. The touch of genius was a river at the bottom of the frame, which miraculously picked up some great light from the clouds. Then there was Farm and Clouds, New Mexico, layers upon layers of rich details and flowing lines, truly a magnificent work of art.

Then I saw a few others and realized something. I’ve been fortunate to visit some really amazing places the last few years with friends Scott, John, Tyler. All those places were on the walls of the gallery – Bryce Canyon hoodoos, Monument Valley rock formations, and scenes from Yosemite that nearly retraced my own steps.

Which is telling me I’m on the right track. Sure, those are places of world-wide known beauty, visited by million people every year, but my friends and I have done some amazing work there. I have little doubt that we’re getting to where we’d be able to post our own work in galleries. The way we see things, the way we make decisions about what to shoot, it’s all leading somewhere. A lot of the shots I’ve seen at this exhibit are of fragments of nature; a group of aspens here, a pile of rocks there. There was always something outstanding though, and it was usually the weather – the clouds or the fog. So, not always the golden light (it’s black-and-white, after all), but often something to enhance the subject and transform it from ordinary to extraordinary.

Alan signed my copy of Ansel’s Autobiography and we talked shop a little, which inspired me to establish my 2011 resolution – start developing my own black and white film. This was taken with my Canon Elan 7 camera with 85mm lens on great Ilford HP5 Plus film. The only thing that could have made it more exciting would have been to develop it myself.

Humpback Whale, Banderas Bay, Mexico Wednesday, Jan 19 2011 

It’s been more than a year and a half since my last beach vacation (Dubrovnik, Croatia), so I was looking forward to doing absolutely nothing for a week in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, this January. Of all the activities that the tourist agencies bombarded me with, the only one of any interest to me was the Whale Photo Safari, as it was an opportunity to take photos of wild animals in their natural habitats.

Humpback whales spend most of the year in the cold waters of Alaska, but every winter, they migrate south for breeding; some end up around Hawaii, but most go to Mexico. Seeing all the photos on the brochures, I thought to myself, if I could get just one photo like this, it would be worth it. So, here it is.

Humpback Whale, Banderas Bay, Mexico

Humpback Whale, Banderas Bay, Mexico

Let it be said right away that your chances of getting a good photo at this excursion are minimal and greatly depend on a few key factors, with reaction speed as a common denominator. First, if all you have is an iPhone or a point-and-shoot that takes forever to snap a picture, you better just put it away. Catching a photo of the whales (or dolphins) as they breach the water is an exercise in futility, because you have a window of about a second and have absolutely no warning. Further, even if you have a fairly decent lens on your dSLR, it helps if you also have a fast continuous shooting mode; the photo here is the second in a series of 8 that my Canon 7D fired off in only one second. The others are almost unusable, despite sharp focus and a shutter speed of 1/400 sec. This is because, in addition to all the other challenges, the boat you’re on swings violently on the massive waves of the open ocean.

Whale, 100% crop

In other words, you have to have the camera ready at all times, and scan the waters around you constantly, fighting the motion sickness caused by looking through the mercilessly unsteady viewfinder. And if you’re lucky enough to grab the photo, you won’t care that your horizon isn’t level or that your boat was in a less-than-ideal spot and most of the whale is in shadow and you can’t see well the intricate details on its rugged skin, covered with barnacles and other growth. You’ll be happy that you didn’t puke your guts out and that you enjoyed a truly “Wow!” moment in your life.

As a bonus shot, here’s another whale breaching a little farther away; however, I cropped the photo to about a 100% so it only appears closer. Notice that the angle is a little more fortunate, so the grooves of the underbelly become more visible.

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