• Saying GOODBYE never gets easier

    My wife and I have chosen not to have children; our dogs are our children.  We love them, spoil them, take them on long walks, share our joys, sorrows, food, beds and sofas with them.  We truly don't believe we are missing out on a "traditional" family with children because our dogs are just as much a part of our life together and, in most cases, better than having children for far too many reasons to mention.  We have two dogs, Mabel and Albert.  And this story is about Mabel... MABEL We rescued Mabel from a shelter while still living in Indianapolis.  I think we went to go look at her about one month after Lisa and I got married.  Shortly before getting married my Doberman of almost 11 years, Barkley, had recently passed away and I really didn't want another dog as no one could replace Barkley and what he meant to me.  I have grown up with the Doberman breed and am in love with that breed so it seemed fitting that Lisa asked me if I wanted to go see a Doberman at a local shelter.  Because she was so insistent on seeing this female dog I didn't want to disappoint her and agreed to see the dog but had no intentions of bringing her home because, as I said, no dog could compare to Barkley.

    Mabel taking a break after her first Christmas with Lisa and me.

    We arrive at the shelter and ask to see "Karisma" (yes, that's what the shelter people had named her; whether or not they spelled her name wrong on purpose is something I still wonder about).  She was NOTHING like all the Dobies I had owned.  She was scrawny and funny looking for a Dobie.  Her back legs were not the same size as her front legs, she was severely under weight, her snout was longer than other Dobies and her floppy ears (which I do love and refuse to get Dobies ears' cropped again) had cuts and scrapes all over them.  She weighed 37 pounds which is about 30 under weight for a female Doberman.  The volunteers at the shelter gave us a treat to give her and let us into the visiting area to get acquainted with her.  From the start of the visit, "Karisma" wasn't interested in us.  She was interested in the other dogs and was trying to play with the other dogs outside the vising area.  I thought to myself, "this is a giant waste of time."  She's not interested in us, the treat, the attention we're giving her or anything associated with Lisa and me.  After about 5 minutes of trying to connect with her we were getting frustrated.  And, as we were about to give up on her she took the treat from us and started to pay attention to us.  Lisa looked at me and asked me what I wanted to do.  I could tell Lisa was interested in adopting her and I thought that she was certainly cute enough but was taking a major gamble considering Barkley had just died and this dog was nothing like Barkley.  The veterinarians she visited estimated her to be a 1 year old Doberman.

    Here's Mabel playing with some goats on a farm in Indiana

    We adopted her for the bargain price of $85.00 and took her home.  On the way we knew we wanted to change her name from the ridiculous Karisma to something better.  As we were driving home we threw several names around and, for some reason, we agreed upon the name "Mabel."  We loved that name and it seem to fit her.  I think we started talking about guitar names and I mentioned Chuck Berry named his guitar Mabeline and that's how we came to name Mabel.  When we took her home we could clearly tell she was traumatized, tired, hungry and malnourished.   We had our work cut out for us but despite Mabel's lack of nutrients and body weight she never lacked spirit.  This dog loved to play more than anything.  I understand why the people at the shelter called her "Karisma" and even with the misspelling of the name it was appropriate.  She had loads and loads of personality.  She quickly became our constant companion.  For some reason she was a "daddy's girl" and followed me wherever I went... even to the bathroom.  She also LOVED to sleep next to me.

    Thanks for taking this picture Lisa! I look like a complete goofball but Mabel looks so pretty.

    We also learned that she loved to chase other animals like birds, geese, rabbits and chickens.  While she was friendly and playful with other dogs she was not so friendly with the aforementioned animals.  Lisa learned that very quickly one day while taking Mabel for a walk.  At our house in Indianapolis there was a retention pond that attracted Canadian Geese.  We had a video surveillance camera system on a couple of doors and this one camera captured this gem below.  Lisa quickly found out about Mabel's determination in getting her "prey" and it's pretty damn funny.  Sorry Lisa... Mabel was also roped into our silly photo ideas too.  This image below made the cover of the Indianapolis Star electronic edition.

    You can tell Mabel has a great personality here. She completely looks like a teenager who doesn't want to get their picture with their crazy parents.

    MABEL IN CALIFORNIA Fast forward a year and a half.  We wanted Mabel to have a play companion and we went and found (actually, Lisa found this one too) another Doberman rescue.  His name is Albert and we decided not to change his name.  He was Mabel's companion for a little while but Albert wasn't socialized with other dogs so his "playing" skills were not too sharp.  But, It just meant more time for Lisa and me to play with Mabel and we didn't seem to mind that one bit.  About six months after adopting Albert the four of us moved from the Midwest to California.  Here's is where Mabel really shined.  We lived on some property in Sacramento that was riddled with ground squirrels, moles, voles, mice, rabbits and the occasional rooster (don't have any idea how the hell roosters got onto our property but they did).  Mabel's instincts took over and she was constantly bringing me rabbits, roosters, moles and voles.  She was so proud and happy.  Her personality was always her main attraction.  She was always in good spirits and readily had a "daddy kiss" for me whenever I asked.

    Mabel proudly displaying her prize for me. She was so "in her element" in Scaramento

    Here are two of the four roosters Mabel got a hold of and clearly they didn't stand a chance. How they got onto our property still baffles me.

    We left NorCal for SoCal after a year and Mabel settled into our new LA home well.  She found a house across the street that had lizards in the bushes.  Every day was a lizard hunt with Mabel. While she never caught any she had fun looking for them on a daily basis.  There was another dog in our Condo building named Murphy that Mabel loved to play with whenever he was around.  Murphy was a very young Boxer and even though Mabel was five years older than Murphy she could wear his butt out while running and playing in the underground parking garage.  Mabel seemed to love LA just fine.  There are enough squirrels, lizards, rats, mice, and coyotes to keep her occupied.  Every walk with her was an experience and a scavenger hunt as to what Mabel would discover.  It was always so much fun.

    Mabel in one of her favorite locations - sitting next to me on the sofa.

    KIDNEY DISEASE In late January/early February of this year, Mabel started having some problems with walking and her mobility.  We took her to see our regular veterinarian.  Mabel was prescribed Glucosamine and a pain killer called Rimadyl.  Unfortunately the Rimadyl had an adverse affect on her and exacerbated a life long kidney problem in Mabel that Lisa or I never knew existed.  We have since learned that most Kidney issues are never discovered until it's too late.  Mabel started retaining water weight so we had to have her drained about every two weeks.  During this process the veterinarians were draining between 3-4 liters of water from her with 1 liter of fluid still inside her.  We were able to get the fluid retention under control after about 4 draining sessions and had her on a steroid, Prednisone.  But then she started leaking urine so we had to get her on another medication to control her bladder.  It seemed like she was stabilizing around May of this year.

    Mabel and me. She would get up on my lap and curl up (as long as I was petting her). Mabel may have been sick but her spirit was always strong.

    In June she stopped eating altogether but she was still drinking water and/or eating ice cubes.  We decided to help get nutrients in her system we would grind up her food in the food processor and add water so it would form a paste.  Once we had the paste we could add her medication and use a Turkey Baster to force feed her medications and nutrients.  She would, however, eat things like chicken, pork, beef and turkey.  But, protein is not good for dogs with Kidney Failure but both Lisa and I agreed that she deserved to have whatever she wanted.  We knew when she stopped drinking then things would be at at their end.  During this process we bought her anything and everything to try and get her to eat.  We bought every variety of dry and soft dog food, we tried the Renal food but Mabel despised that food.  We even bought jar after jar of baby food to try and get our "Princess" to eat.  By the way, Princess became her nickname over the last 5 years because this dog was awarded with luxuries and riches most dogs can only dream about. Eventually she stopped eating all foods including her beloved baby food of beef or chicken and she occasionally ate cooked beef, turkey or pork.  99% of her food became the food processed gruel we created from the putting her food in the food processor and adding water and her medications and then forcing it down her throat with the turkey baster.  Lisa and I took turns with this task and we knew she hated it but we wanted to give her a fighting chance while she still had a fighting spirit.  Most of the time Lisa and I would wear some of the gruel on our clothes, hands, arms and shoes as Mabel would incessantly try to spit out what it was we were feeding her. THE HEARTBREAK About three days ago Mable stopped drinking water and eating ice cubes.  She had become lethargic and the "fight" was no longer in her eyes.  On Saturday morning Lisa asked Mabel if she wanted to go outside and "go potty."  Mabel heard the words "go potty" and immediately dropped to the floor started urinating all over the flooring.  It was at that point we knew the Kidney Failure was in its final stages.  The toxins that are filtered out of a normal kidney function were now running rampant throughout her bloodstream and causing her confusion.  The dog whose boundless energy and playful spirit were always so entertaining, captivating and endearing were no longer there.  We had a companion who had fought as long as she could but had finally given up.  After about 3 hours of determining what to do, crying until we couldn't see, hugging each other and comforting Mabel, Lisa and I realized what we needed to do and call our veterinarian to have Mabel put down.  Our veterinarian doesn't work on Sundays but agreed to come in and take care of Mabel.  We also called our dog walker, Beatrice, to come over and say her goodbyes.  I won't go into detail here but you can imagine that if we are calling our dog walker to say goodbye then you know they had a special relationship too.  Mabel touched everyone who ever knew her and she captivated them just as much as she did with us. At 1:30pm on Sunday, August 19, 2012, we took Mabel to the veterinarian to be put down.  While I thought I could handle it I wanted to be strong for Lisa who was more tearful than I was at that point.  Around 1:45pm our dear, sweet, loyal and playful Mabel gave up her ghost.   I am relieved she is no longer suffering but I would lying if said that I am completely relieved.  When we got home I sat on the sofa and completely lost it.  I balled like a baby for a good 5 minutes.  I thought I had cried all of my tears but didn't realize how much of an impact Mabel had on me over the last 5 years.  Here's the last image I made of Mabel about three weeks before her death.

    This is the last image of Mabel. She was certainly loved and admired by all who knew her.

    I am just thankful Lisa convinced me to adopt her.  We needed her just as much as she needed us.  She is gone but I hope her spirit lives on and other people can have as much love and joy as Lisa and I have had with Mabel.  I am tearing up while I write this because it's hard to let go of your "kids" and especially those who had such a great and positive impact on our lives.  But what I will miss more than anything is sitting at my desk (as I am now), looking over my shoulder and seeing Mabel lying on the leather sofa and the little nudge she would give me letting me know she wanted me to rub her head.  She was "daddy's girl" and was always by my side.  Lisa and I confessed to one another that this was the hardest, most painful process we have ever had to endure.

    My view of Mabel when I looked over my shoulder while working in my office.

    A piece of me has died today when Mabel took her last breath and gave up her ghost.  Give your canine kid(s) a hug today and let them know how much you love them.  Because, as I have experienced, they do have more of an impact on our lives than we would like to think. Until next time, ***THE DAY AFTER FOLLOW UP*** I have been trying to understand why Mabel's passing has been so difficult for Lisa and me and have been thinking a lot about Mabel over the last 24 hours since her passing.  I think why this hurts more than anything is because of what Mabel meant and symbolized to us.  Mabel was there for us after we were married. when we changed jobs, sold our house, moved to Sacramento, moved to Los Angeles and bought our home and was part of  the transition of us creating our new, happy life in SoCal.  Mabel was also a great ambassador to the breed of Dobermans.  One of Lisa's friends, who is terrified of Dobies, was able to overcome her fears of the breed because of how sweet, loving and gentle Mabel was with her. Again, Mabel's personality always won people over.  So Mabel was the "constant, grounding element" for Lisa and me during our transitional period and new life together.  I think not having that constant element in our lives has left this painful, sorrowful void.  But she will always be with us and her soul and spirit will be with us, protecting us and comforting us forever.  She was one of the good ones. SH

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  • Some great FREE learning tools/inspiration from Profoto

    Here's a really quick post about something I discovered a while back but never got around to sharing.  Check out Profoto's Masters Series on lighting from some of the best photographers working. PROFOTO MASTERS SERIES LIGHTING VIDEOS If you are a working photographer or someone building a business in photography then you have to check out this site.  It doesn't matter if you are a Commercial, Wedding, Portrait or Pet Photographer.  There are great tips to learn about lighting, visualizing the scene, being prepared for all kinds of shoots and knowing how and where to place your lights.  And, the best part... THEY'RE FREE TO VIEW! Most of these videos are relatively short so with today's Attention Deficit Society they won't take up too much of your time.  However, I think these are worth watching and you'll find yourself watching several of these videos in one sitting because they are just that great.  Make sure you check out the video by Kareem Black on his shoot for Burger King.  Not only is it HILARIOUS but it is brilliant too. There's lots of great stuff to learn here so make sure you check it out and bookmark it as it is a great source or learning and inspiration. Until Next Time, SH

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  • RAW vs. JPEG Debate – Why RAW RULES!

    People love to debate gear and processes in photography more than any other profession I have ever known or seen.  Maybe with the exception of car parts, photographers love to take pride in ridiculous debates over what camera is better with Nikon vs. Canon, what lighting equipment produces better results with conversations about Elinchrom vs. Profoto vs. Dynalite vs. Alien Bees/White Lightning/Einstein or they get even more ridiculous with conversations about Strobe versus Continuous Lighting.  The bottom line is this... WHO CARES!  All that should ever matter is that you know your equipment well enough to get the results you want and need.  I know photographers who use Canon and ones who use Nikon and can light the hell out of an image with just one Paul C Buff Einstein flash head or an entire scene with 5 or 6 Profoto strobes.  The one thing everyone has in common here is that they know their stuff.

    War, good God. What is it good for?

    I have often heard the same debate about shooting RAW vs. JPEG.  Of course there are several instances when shooting JPEG comes in really handy.  Sports photographers or photojournalists shooting in 4-9 frames per second can't worry about the buffer in their DSLR slowing them down while they are trying to get the shot.  I also can imagine that some Wedding Photographers would shoot in JPEG for the very same reasons.  So, by my deductions, it seems as if JPEG shooting is great when you really only have one chance to get something that's happening quickly and you (the photographer) may not have the chance to capture that frame again.  For those instances I can see why JPEG is necessary but as a Portrait Photographer I always shoot in RAW so I never lose the information imbedded in the image file on my CF card.  Let me show you why...

    This is the RAW, untouched image SOOC (Straight out of the Camera) opened in Camera RAW.

    I made the above image of actor, Steve Durgarn in the middle of the day on a very bright afternoon.  Now before anyone gets on me about shooting people in the middle of the day I can just say, "save your lecture."  I know all about the pitfalls and problems of a midday sun, harsh shadows, lens flares, etc.  Sometimes schedules are such that those times of day are the only times when people can get together for a shoot.  Such was the case here.  While armed with only an Elinchrom Quadra and a 39" Deep Octa I had to make this image.  I didn't have an assistant with me as I was traveling and to keep costs down to my client I knew I could use the tools I had to make this image.  While this image is fine and technically solid I am not completely satisfied with the final image and post processing in Photoshop is in order.

    As you can see, there are details just waiting to be extracted from this fence/railing here that I can easily extract from Camera RAW.

    As you can see above, there is not a tremendous amount of contrast between Steve's clothing and fence/wood behind him.  We actually had to find shelter from the sun as it was surprising ferocious that day in October.  We were standing in a wide open area and I couldn't hold my camera, a Lastolite Tri Grip as my scrim to shade the sun from his head and trying to maneuver the 39" Deep Octa at the same time.  Fortunately, I found this area on the path we were walking that provided some shade and knew we could get the photo here.

    Here you can see the light on, above and below the right ear that will need correcting in Photoshop as to not distract from the image.

    I think the image of Steve is pretty nice and balanced for the time of day and my lighting setup but something needed to be done to separate him from the background and create some contrast in the image or to make it at least a little more appealing.  There a couple of things I instantly notice I will have to remedy in Photoshop like the bright sun spot just above his right ear and the fact he wore two different socks that day and those things are somewhat easy for me to do in Photoshop.

    Didn't notice this until I opened the RAW file... UGH!

    But the real magic comes from opening up this image in Camera RAW in Photoshop knowing I have a tremendous amount of vital information I cannot get from a JPEG file.  One of the things I love about still shooting B&W film is that even after the negative is developed I still have close to 5 stops to work with either way within the image.  I like to think of working in Camera RAW the same way.  I know I have 5 stops of light to play with in post processing and I can create contrast where none seems to exist.  That's one thing I desperately needed to do here.

    Plus 5 Stops of Light allow for lots of freedom and information in processing

    Lots of light to play with here.

    Lastly, I started playing around with my settings in Camera RAW and got the image close to how I wanted the final image to look and then opened it up in Photoshop.  The first things I did were to match his socks and get rid of the bright spot on his head above his right ear.  After that it was a matter of retouching.  I needed to make his skin less red, darken the background a little more, bring out more detail in his clothing, hair and beard and remove the junk from around his feet.  Below is the final image and while I could have done some of this with a JPEG file I know I wouldn't have had as much information available to me without compromising the image quality.
    Indiana Actor Steve Durgarn

    Here is the final image once processed in Camera RAW and Photoshop.

    People can have the spirited debates over cameras, lighting and gear.  I always enjoy reading the zealousness and passion they have for their brands.  But to me there is no debate when shooting anything other than sports and photojournalism images... RAW RULES EVERY TIME! Until next time, SH

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  • Salton Sea Images/Recap

    A couple of months ago I went with my friend, Crafty, to the Salton Sea.  I took my trusty Mamiya RZ67 film camera as I think there are certain locations that are just better shot on film than with a digital camera.  I loaded up the camera with 2 rolls of Ilford Delta Pro 100 B&W film to capture the gritty, earthy and solemn feel of the Salton Sea.  Again, if you don't know the tragic story of the Salton Sea then please check out this page HERE.

    My Mamiya RZ67 film camera

    Don't get me wrong, I think I could have made some great images with my Nikon DSLR but I truly believe that, no matter how hard you try, you cannot replicate the look of B&W film from a digital shot.  Yes, Nik Software's SILVER EFEX PRO 2 is an amazing piece of software that comes pretty damn close to emulating a true B&W film look.  Also, Vincent Versace has some great tips for converting digital images through the ACME Educational website.  But, if you were to ask most photographers I think you will find the vast majority will tell you that nothing you can do in Photoshop can compare to the final image you get from using your favorite B&W film. Crafty and I spent several hours driving around and looking for the best locations for shooting.  One of the first places I wanted to see was Salvation Mountain.  A devoutly religious, Christian man created this "mountain" over 25 years ago as an art project.  He was only going to stay one week but has since made it his home.  Unfortunately, the creator, Leonard Knight, suffers from dementia and has been placed in a long term care facility and is no longer on site.  I was hoping to meet the man who dedicated his life to this project but took solace in knowing we could see the project at least.  There are plans to keep this project alive and hopefully there will be enough paint, sweat and volunteers who can keep his vision alive long after he is gone.  While I am not a deeply religious person, I do respect any artist who has dedicated his/her life to their passion.  Knowing Mr. Knight wasn't around I wanted to create an image that signified his passion and desire.  I asked Crafty to pose for me here, put the Red 25A filter on the lens to completely darken the sky and made the image below (Yes, the starlight/God's light was added in Photoshop as that was what I was thinking about when I made this image).

    Redeemed by Salvation Mountain.

    Another place I wanted to visit is the old Red Hill Marina.  This used to be a thriving marina but now there is nothing left but busted up concrete, rocks, hills and dead Tilapia.  While walking around here I noticed these lone trees sitting in the dried up area that used to be part of the Salton Sea (the sea levels are diminishing year after year).   I found this sad and wanted to make an image of this tree.  This tree and marina reminded me of everything that used to be thriving and vibrant with the sea.  But if you look closely you can still see some large bird nests in the limbs and that actually gave me hope that this beautiful area can, once again, be alive with tourists, homes, people and life (Editorial note: But I am sure if a lot of people start coming back to this area again then I am sure they will figure out a way to screw it up. - Now I am stepping down off soapbox). 🙂

    A lone tree at the Salton Sea.

    When we wrapped up walking around the Red Hill Marina we found this little driving trail leading us to another side of the area.  Being the explorers that we are, we wanted to see what was on the other side.  After following the path we came to (what appeared to be) an abandoned trailer park/RV area.  There was a posted sign stating that no cars were able to drive past this marked area without permission.  So I got out of the car and started walking around yelling for someone or anyone to come out.  After about 15 minutes of walking around and asking if anyone was around we decided to drive past the marked area, park the car and get out and walk toward the Salton Sea to explore possible shoots.  Around 20 minutes into our walk we notice a car coming from the area we had just left.  The vehicle was coming toward us and I knew we were in trouble.  As the old Chevy Blazer approached and stopped, this diminutive man of 70+ years steps out of the vehicle and starts to inquire as to why we were there, what we were doing, didn't we read the signs, etc.  It felt like an interrogation.  However, after about 10 minutes of talking and letting the caretaker of the property (if you saw this area you would scratch your head wondering why there was a "caretaker" of the area) introduced himself as J.J. and started telling us stories about the area, his life as a Marine and his passion for living at the Salton Sea!  He showed us the arsenal he had in the back of his vehicle in case he needed to use it on us.  One of the items he pulled out was a Samurai sword and I knew I had to get a shot.  Here's the image I made of J.J.

    The Salton Sea Samurai

    This man is so proud of this area and where he lives he took Crafty and me around the Sea to show us some of the best locations that only locals know about.  I also promised J.J. that I would print the image I made of him and get it to him.  As a side note, I did return to the area about 10 days later with my lovely wife, Lisa, and handed J.J. a 16x20 print of this shot.  J.J. also pulled out part of his arsenal of firearms and let Crafty take target practice.  You can see that below. Lastly, if you are wondering why there are only three images from my shoot, I have to admit that I discovered a massive light leak with the camera.  The bad part of shooting film is that you don't know about the dreaded "Light Leak" until you develop your negatives.  Now while some people like the light leak effect I don't particularly care for it.  I had to trash many of the images because the leak directly affected the area I wanted to have the viewer focus on.  But the leak has since been repaired and I am looking forward to going back to the Salton Sea for more images.  In case you don't know what a light leak is then here is an example.

    More to come,


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  • My documentary being featured on NPR!

    Hey all, I just wanted to send a quick note  about my work on the documentary "Leftovers" is being featured on national radio on Monday.  NPR's "On Point" with Tom Ashbrook will not only feature me and my work on the documentary but will also feature Enid Borden who is the president of Meals on Wheels Association of America.  I got the call this morning to be featured and talk about my film that began production over a year and a half ago.  For those of you who don't know the story then please check out www.leftoversmovie.com to learn about the story, my journey, the millions of senior citizens going hungry in America and the great people who are trying to end Senior Hunger in America. This is a tremendous honor and hopefully this will generate more and more buzz for the film.  Even though it's still in post production hopefully more and more national media attention will help speed up the post production process and the movie can then get out to the theaters as it is scheduled to do.  Making this movie has been one of the most trying, rewarding, frustrating and eye opening experiences of my life and it was well worth the journey.  Make sure you tune into NPR on Monday and listen to "On Point" with Tom Ashbrook.  Here are the details of the broadcast...
    • Monday, July 30, 2012
    • NRP Radio - check your local stations
    • 11am EST - Noon EST
    • Listen online at www.NPR.org
    • Listen online at Sirius/XM radio Channel 122.
    Let me know how I did... 🙂

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  • Now this is how to shoot wedding announcements!

    Here's something I never thought I would create that would end up as a wedding announcement.  If you know me, you know I don't shoot weddings but have the utmost respect for those who do.  This post is about creating something, knowing your clients and being able to adapt to situations that present themselves on location.  It's also about creating a rapport with your client's and earning their trust so you can get creative and make something memorable. While on my trip to NorCal to do some shooting for a winery and a new clothing designer, I contacted an old friend and someone I have worked with before to see if she would want to work together again.  Her name is Amanda Craven and I love working with her.  Sometimes you find those models who are willing to do whatever needed and have some fun working together.  When I have worked with Amanda in the past, we have just started shooting and before we both knew it several hours had passed and we walk away with some great images.  What I also like about Amanda is that I can throw several ideas her way and she is amenable to almost anything I suggest.  In fact, here's an image I created with Amanda a couple of years ago.

    This image was created in 2010 with the wonderful Amanda Craven in my studio in Northern California.

    This image is a composite.  I shot her in a studio and then placed her onto this background image I had, changed the lighting around a bit and made an image of an otherwise pleasant, sweet person into a menacing, pouncing monster wearing shorts and a shiny white shirt.  The idea behind the shot was to put someone who looks harmless into a position of power and fear.  Amanda is a sweet, nice, honest and sincere person and I thought having her in this pose/image is a complete opposite take on her (as I know her - some people may think this is spot on.) When I revisited her on this particular trip we wanted to do something that Amanda normally doesn't shoot.  Amanda is a beautiful person who has a lot of sexy images (did I mention she has A LOT of sexy images of herself) and I wanted to make some images that show the nice, sweet and interesting Amanda I have been able to get to know.  With that in mind we created some different and thoughtful images of Amanda like this one below. And, another image of here like this one here as well. But, after a while I realized that we have taken this image/look as far as we could go and I wanted something more interesting for her.  With her fiancee´present and at this great location, I thought it would be fun to get her fiancee´, Mark Davis, into the mix.  While looking around I noticed that Mark could hide in the weeds while Amanda stood on the rocks.  BTW, I loved these rocks and wanted to incorporate them into as many shots as possible.  While they are pretty to look at they are treacherous to stand on and I applaud Amanda for posing on these rocks in heels and barefoot.  So we had the water, rocks, sky and weeds and I thought this would be a great place to make a creepy image with Mark hiding in the weeds.  Once I had the idea I started to assemble the lights and position them around to get the shot.   Here's the final image... I used three lights on this shoot.  One was placed behind Amanda (camera right), the second was placed camera left to illuminate Amanda's face and Mark's right side.  The last light had a grid on it and was placed in the weeds and pointed directly back at Mark's face, chest and hand.  The lights and modifiers used are as follows:
    • 2 Elinchrom RX/AS 1100  (Full Power)
    • 1 Elinchrom Quadra 400 (Full Power)
    • 2 Paul C. Buff PLM White Shoot Through Umbrellas
    • 1 Elinchrom 8" Reflector with 30˚Grid
    They loved this final image and are considering using it for their wedding announcements.  Again, this is why I love working with Amanda and think these will make the most entertaining and memorable wedding announcements.

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  • The Salton Sea Excursion

    Today I am going out to the Salton Sea for the first time since moving to CA.  There is so much history, lore, myth and legend about this once wonderful California destination.  It's not what it was 30 years ago and has become a shrine of decay to days gone by.  There are so many stories about the Salton Sea that I don't need to go into them here since this is a photography blog and not a history blog.  But, in short, the Salton Sea is a man-made lake in Southern California just south of Coachella, Palm Desert and Palm Springs.  From LA, it's about a 3 hour drive.  I have been wanting to get out here for a number of years after seeing some incredible images of the Salton Sea from the '80's and a documentary on the sea made in 2004.  The decay and abandonment seen here remind me how precious life is and also reminds me of a different time in history.  Unfortunately, most of the are around the Salton Sea is completely abandoned, neglected, decaying or, at the least, already dead.

    An abandoned trailer at the Salton Sea

    What's the purpose of going here, you ask?  Well, I don't really know.  I just like things that are weird, strange, historical, unique and interesting and this place has it all.  I am not sure what to expect but I am taking a break from my recent shoots to have some Seth (me) time.  I am loading up my Mamiya RZ67, along with 6 rolls of film and a couple of lens.  I did buy a 25A Red Filter to use on my film (only using B&W film) so I can pull out the sky and make it as dark as possible.  I am taking my Neutral Density filter as well so I can shoot here during the midday and into early evening.  I am also taking my new Fujifilm 210 Instax camera for some fun shots.  I had to get this camera because it reminds me so much of the first camera I ever had (Polaroid One Step).  I love shooting film but grow weary of having to develop my own B&W film.  I have become spoiled and lazy with digital camera technology.  I don't have to slow down, compose a shot or think about anything before I press the shutter release (I do pay attention but I am using this analogy to talk about how easy and lazy digital has made a lot of photographers).

    Here's the stuff I bought at Freestyle Photo for my trip. Sorry for the blurry iPhone photo.

    In fact, if anyone new photographer asks me for advice about getting started then one of the first things I tell them to do is to get a film camera and learn from shooting slowly.  Film forces you to slow down because every release of the shutter costs money.  Unlike digital, the only costs are up front with the camera, batteries and CF or SD cards.  Once you have those then every subsequent exposure is free.  Film doesn't afford us this luxury.  Every time you release the shutter you incur costs associated with film, developing, scanning and cataloging.  Film just forces you to slow down.  So, I am taking an opportunity like my Salton Sea excursion to slow down, scout, explore and shoot with no preconceived agenda.  Two of my friends are going with me to shoot as well so hopefully we can find some great moments to shoot and see at this historical but dilapidated site in SoCal.  I think it's a good idea to slow down and focus on seeing what's around you that may make an interesting image.  After all, good photography requires us to "see" on a regular basis and remember any monkey can push a shutter release button.

    This abandoned motel has since been razed and no longer exists in Salton City

    Once I get the images developed and if they're good or interesting enough then I will post them here for you to see. SH

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  • Totally Rad Deal for Mother’s Day

    For a limited time you can get $50 off any product at Totally Rad for Photoshop or Lightroom.  Just use the code "MOMSDAY" and you can get a tremendous discount on any of their great Photoshop Actions, Lightroom Presets or, my favorite, RadLab. Click on the banner above to learn more, purchase or check out their products. On a personal note, I don't use a lot of extra plug-ins within Photoshop or Lightroom but have found the tools from Totally Rad to make my workflow so much more efficient.  If you can only have a couple of plug-ins in your arsenal then anything from Totally Rad will help make your life easier.  Don't take my word for it though.  Check them out and use the code MOMSDAY and save big.  Oh... you're welcome! 🙂 If you have any questions or thoughts about Totally Rad then please don't hesitate to ask me or them. SH

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  • Studio City Tattoo Project (Part 2)

    As I mentioned in my previous post about this subject matter - Studio City Tattoo Project (Part 1) - I had already knocked out the individual shots of the artists and now I am left with making a photograph (well, two to be exact) of the owner of Studio City Tattoo, Clay Clement.  Clay is not only a really great guy but he is also an author of a highly received and award-winning children's book.  So going in, I knew we were going to make an image for the Studio City Tattoo website as well as a publicity photo for his PR team to use in promoting the book to magazines like People and US Weekly.  Simple right?  Well, nothing is really ever that simple.  We had 30-40 minutes of his time and he was only available to shoot at the most unflattering time of day at 11:30am.  We had our work cut out for us but fortunately I was able to be somewhat creative in the process of where we shoot and the overall look.

    Sunny days in LA don't always provide great light.

    As you can see in the above image, the sun was really bright on Ventura Boulevard at 10:30am.  We arrive around 10:15am to start setting up so that when Clay was ready at 11:30am we could get him in and out with no other delays.  I knew it would take about an hour to set up and we used every bit of that time to get things ready.  For this shoot (See Images Below), I knew battling the sun would be our biggest problem so I brought out three lights, a 10" high performance reflector, a beauty dish and an 86" parabolic umbrella.  I needed as much power and reflectivity to overpower the hot, bright sun.   I needed to work with two Elinchrom Ranger packs and one Elinchrom Quadra pack for this Portrait/Lifestyle photography session.  The other essential element in this shoot was to make certain I would be able to get the settings I needed.  I wanted to get f8 - f11 and a shutter speed of 1/250.  For that the lights were still not enough so I needed to bring my Variable 2-8 stop ND Filter.  That way, I can specifically dial in the exact setting for the shots and the changing sunlight.  While most days in LA are sunny with no clouds, this particular day posed some changing elements because of the changing light with some small, wispy clouds overhead.  The changing light meant that my Variable ND filter would be the best tool in my arsenal for this shoot. HERE IS THE LIGHTING SET UP 
    Look at all the details going into this shoot under the noon day sun.

    Look at all the details going into this shoot under the noon day sun.

    More details to deal with the only time of day I could photograph Clay Clement of Studio City Tattoo

    More details to deal with the only time of day I could photograph Clay Clement of Studio City Tattoo

    Taking off the diffuser realizing I needed more light

    Taking off the diffuser realizing I needed more light

    Lighting the van proved to be the hardest element to the day considering the brightness of the sun and time of day we had to work with Clay.

    Lighting the van proved to be the hardest element to the day considering the brightness of the sun and time of day we had to work with Clay.

    Lighting Set Up - Specifics The Tree - We started with the shot of Clay as the owner of the Tattoo shop.  There is this great prop of a decayed, burned skeleton in a rusty cage.  This is a perfect prop of the "Pirate" themed tattoo shop.  In lighting this set up I wanted to make sure each element had it's own light since it was so bright outside.  There was a perfect parking space in front of the shop where I had Clay park his van.  Just to camera left is a nice tree that added some green and color to the shot.  So, it needed it's own light.  I put the Quadra here with the 10" High Performance Reflector at full power.  I didn't want to blow out the tree but just to add some color to the shot.  Adding a "kiss" of light to the tree was something I wanted to do since we would see other trees in the distance/background and it would help to brighten the image since a lot of the other elements are dark (the van, Clay's clothing and the black, burned out skeleton). The Van - Since the van is the largest element in the photo shoot I needed something big and bright to bring out the details on the van without giving me a tremendous amount of reflective highlights.  So I went with a Paul C. Buff 86" Parabolic Umbrella with the silver interior.  I positioned the light about 6 feet away from the van and raised it as high as my C-Stand and boom arm would go.  And, last, I angled the light down to a 45 degree angle so I could get as much coverage of the van and ground area around it.  Here I used an Elinchrom Ranger pack at full (1100 w/s) power. The Subject - Setting up the light for Clay was probably the easiest of the set ups.  I used a 27" Elinchrom BD with no diffusion sock and a silver deflector as to match the specular highlights with the BD to all the other modifiers used.  Also, Clay was being side lit by the sun as it was moving East to West.  The light on Clay was specifically placed to light his face.  I wasn't worried about lighting his legs because I knew the spill from the Parabolic Umbrella and ambient light would do enough.  The purpose here is to light his face and make a portrait with this photography session.  I also used a Ranger pack but only needed to use it at a little more than half power.  Below is the final image chosen from the shoot.  I did do a little work in Photoshop to darken the sky and make it look more ominous.  I also used a couple of plug-ins from Nik Software and Totally Rad to give the image it's final look.

    Final Lifestyle/Portrait Photograph of Clay Clement

    PUBLICITY PHOTO For this image, I already had the lighting in place.  So we changed out the skeleton for Clay's "Pirate Santa" children's book.  I then had to just make some minor adjustments in camera to make this image more bright, warm and friendly.  I adjusted my shutter to allow a little more light into the image.  Once again, I finished the image with a couple of plug-ins from Nik Software and Totally Rad.  Once finished, I received approval from Clay and his team and sent the publicity photo off to them for their use.  I know these are going out to People and US Weekly magazines but I just don't know their timetable.  Believe me, when it happens I will let you know.

    The final publicity photo for Clay Clement and his book "Pirate Santa."


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  • Studio City Tattoo Project (Part 1)

    Early in March of 2012 I landed a gig shooting the great artists, piercers and owner of the famed Studio City Tattoo (SCT) in, of all places, Studio City, CA.  I am a little biased here because all 4 of my tattoos were done at this shop but I am not biased in calling them the "famed" location because when you look at the best tattoo shops in LA then you will see Studio City Tattoo is constantly one of the top three tattoo shops in all of Los Angeles.  And, if you know anything about LA, being one of the top three in all of LA is a pretty big deal considering the insane amount of tattoo shops in the city.

    Seth Hancock Photography Studio City Tattoo Los Angeles

    The famous Studio City Tattoo


    The assignment: Create images of the artists, piercers and owner that will be used on the web site, media, advertisements and publicity photos.  I say publicity photos because the owner, Clay Clement, just published a great children's book this last November called "Pirate Santa" and he is going to use my photos for publicity and promotion for his book.  As a side note, Clay is getting a tremendous amount of critical success from his book and has already won several awards including the prestigious "Mom's Choice Award" for children's books.  Also, he is in talks with a couple of media and animation companies to have this made into a Christmas special.  One company is owned by a pretty big celebrity who has taken a huge interest in Clay's book.  Also, I learned that the images I am taking of Clay will be used for magazines like People, US Weekly, etc.  So... I can't suck at these photos.

    Here's a test image of Mike Irwin. It was shooting here that I realized I needed to cut out all light and just use my lights

    I was looking at another angle and testing the light and just didn't love all the background light and clutter.

     The biggest challenge in shooting something like this is the timing of the artists since most tattoo artists don't work 9-5 and some work mornings, some work evenings and some only work weekends.  So coordinating schedules was my first obstacle.  My second obstacle was the actual size of the tattoo shop.  SCT is a really small tattoo shop - and when I say really small I am not exaggerating by any means.  When you walk into the shop you walk up a small ramp with a hand rail and then have to turn right.  Directly in front of you are four tattoo chairs, a piercers chair and the appointment desk.  From front door to the piercers chair (the farthest chair in the shop) is a whopping 14 steps.  Space is limited!  However there is a nice little space on the other side of the ramp walkway leading into SCT.  Here there is an aquarium and then the restroom.  The area from the desk to the restroom and end of shop (heading back toward street) is about 6 steps.  So this area is what I used for the shots of the artists and piercers.

    Shooting layout for the project - Click to view larger

    As you can see above, there was not a lot of room, a nice bit of clutter and colors that were not the most interesting for a portrait.  I therefore decided to completely darken the space through the camera by dialing in 1/250 shutter speed and a small aperture so I could completely darken the space.  And, since the area is really tight I couldn't bring in my Elinchrom Ranger Lights so I decided to go with two lights: a Nikon SB-900 shot through a Lastolite Tri-Grip and a Ring Flash.  These two lights were able to get me the images below.  I did a little tweaking in Photoshop but not a tremendous amount.  I just wanted to do enough to get rid of any other distracting pieces and parts around my subjects.  All in all, there were 6 Tattoo Artists, 3 Piercers, 1 Owner and Exterior Images.  Here are just some of the images from the shoot and big thanks for Gary Quart for assisting me in the process.

    Images from the two light setup Studio City Tattoo Jose Studio City Tattoo Captain Dave Studio City Tattoo Ilya Studio City Tattoo Steven Studio City Tattoo Will Only using the Ring Flash while the artists worked
    Captain Dave Tattooing

    Captain Dave Tattooing

    Ilya Tattooing

    Ilya Tattooing

    Will Tattooing

    Will Tattooing

    On the next blog I will focus on shooting Clay, the owner, and the different challenges that I faced in shooting him outside at Noon in Los Angeles on a busy Ventura Boulevard.  I only had about 30 minutes of his time so I needed to nail the shot.  I think the images look great and you can check out PART 2 of this project here - Studio City Tattoo Project (Part 2).


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