Portrait of the Twins

In addition to photographing Christopher and Jonathan separately, I wanted to get some shots of the two of them together. Twins share a unique bond and I hoped to capture just a bit of that on camera.

My first chance happened when they were encouraged to do a “brother hug”. 

We then got them both on the stump at the same time. This made for some really good opportunities.



These two year old boys couldn’t keep still for long, but that was great because we got some wonderful character shots.



And to finish up, probably the truest portrait of twin brothers!


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Portrait 11/52 - Christopher

Christopher is Jonathan’s twin brother. And just like Jonathan, Christopher has the full helping of 2-year old energy. He was a bit harder to catch than Jonathan until he found a stump he liked and just stayed there. I have many more total pictures of Christopher but they are all in the same exact place. Like his brother, Christopher was a bit ambivelent about my presence at first.

But it didn’t take long for Christopher to give me some personality.


He really liked this stump, so I got a lot of pictures of him standing there. Here are a few more of the best.


More pictures of the twin brothers together and their older sister Jordyn are coming soon.

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Portrait 10/52 - Jonathan

Last Sunday I had the opportunity to photograph some friends’ kids. They have a daughter and two twin boys, so I was able to begin to catch up for the weeks I’ve missed!

First up, we have one of the twins — Jonathan.


At first, Jonathan wasn’t too sure about me. While he isn’t smiling, I like the focus in his expression and the way he is framed within the angles of the pipe railing.


We started with a walk to get everyone relaxed and find some good locations for pictures. Like most 2 year old boys, Jonathan is a fan of sticks.


One of my favorite pictures from the day is this one where Jonathan is walking along the gravel road which curves away gently behind him.


We finally got a little bit of sun as we were walking through the green spring grasses.


With Jonathan now pretty used to me, we were able to get some good portraits.  



Technical Details

I was hoping for partly cloudy but we ended up with mostly cloudy. While I didn’t get the backlit glow I was hoping for, the cloudy sky provided very soft, even lighting. The only lighting modification I did was to have a reflector on some of the more stationary/portrait type shots. Everything else was purely natural lighting. I set my camera to 1/800s as I knew that young kids can be quite active and I didn’t want to lose any shots due to motion blur. I let my camera’s auto ISO function select the ISO — generally between 100 and 800. This meant I was shooting pretty wide open — f2.8 - f4.0. 

Check back for pictures of Jonathan’s twin brother and older sister. I’ll be posting those soon.

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Sky Wolves

On Friday, we had a family outing to the West Coast Falconry for an incredible falconry experience. While we learned a lot about what falconry entails, the stars of the experience were definitely the birds. It was amazing to hold a hawk on your outstretched arm and look it in the eye. It was thrilling to watch such powerful birds glide within mere feet of our heads as it flew from person to person. And it was incredible when the hawk expertly landed on our arms despite the windy day.

This is Tika, the Harris Hawk who was the focus of our experience. 

We also got up close to this Red Tail Hawk, the personal bird of a young apprentice at the falconry.

These powerful hawks were quite incredible up close, but nothing quite compared to the sophistication and beauty of this smaller American Kestrel:

It truly was an amazing experience to be so close to these incredible birds.

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Portrait 9/52 - Ashla

This week’s portrait subject was Andrew’s friend Ashla. I met her and her mother at a local park on what turned out to be a lovely spring day. I really liked the way the sun was backlighting the grass and flowering trees so we set up to put that in the background. I also liked the way her pink dress worked with the bright greens and muted pinks of the flowers.


Ashla was a little nervous and shy at the beginning, so we didn’t get a lot of smiles and the smiles we did get were very forced looking. However, I thought we got some good non-smiling expressions. One of my favorites from the shoot is this pensive black and white:



After trying a few different ways to pull out more smiles I suggested that we play a little peek-a-boo from behind the tree. This brightened her up considerably and we got some good shots.


I also asked Ashla to jump from behind the tree which she thought was pretty fun.


I think we got some good shots and Ashla was a great subject. Here are a few last photos that I thought turned out well.

Technical Details

As far as setup, this was a much simpler shoot than my previous ones. This was a fully natural light shoot — the only modification was a standard sized reflector to provide a little more light to Ashla’s face. For camera settings, I started by setting my ISO to 400 to ensure good shutter speeds even though we were shooting in the shade. I shot in Aperture Priority set to f2.8 and dialed in some pretty good exposure compensation to deal with the bright background (+1.33 - +1.67). Shutter speeds ranged from 1/200s - 1/800s.  



This was a bit different setting from my previous shoots but the difficulties were similar — the social aspect. Pulling out good, honest expressions remains the trickiest part of shooting portraits for me. I feel pretty competent in my ability to set up the camera correctly for many situations and I’m working on improving my rapport with the subject. Ashla started the shoot a little shy and reserved but with some coaxing we were able to get some honest expressions towards the end. I’d like to progress from the forced smile look to the natural expressions faster, so that is something I can continue to work on. Regardless, I’m pretty happy with the results and am grateful that Ashla was willing to be my subject.

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The Resting Explorer

I got this shot of Mackenzie enjoying the spoils of her dinosaur egg hunt at Andrew’s birthday party last month. It is one of my favorite photos of the day so I had to share.


Portrait 8/52 - Kevin

This week’s portrait subject was my oldest brother, Kevin. He is a voracious reader so I wanted to get some shots of him as a reader. My favorite of the reading themed photos is this one:

Kevin is a lover of cats. He wanted to include his cat Loki in some of the pictures. Unfortunately Loki isn’t too comfortable with my son running around (more on that later) so we didn’t get too many cat pictures. I did like this one though:

Kevin has always been the one in the family most prone to striking an interesting pose during family photo sessions so he provided me with a great variety of expressions and postures. Here are a few of my favorites from throughout the shoot:


My son Andrew thought the whole process of photographing “Uncle Kevin” quite entertaining and took it upon himself to perpetrate quite a few photobombs. I definitely had to include one here!


Technical Details

I shot this against the green painted wall in the entryway of my parents’ house. There was some window light coming through large two-story windows behind and to the left of the camera but it wasn’t enough to really effect the exposure or add much to the lighting. The main light was a 24” soft box set to 1/2 power. It started at camera left but I moved it to camera right shortly into the shoot primarily to better simulate the light coming from the glowing globe on the table. The rim/hair light was my gridded 8x36 strip box to camera right and set to 1/4 power. I angled the strip so that the bottom portion would catch the globe to help simulate internal illumination. I also put an orange gel on to warm up the light a bit. The final light was a bare flash set to 1/8 power directly behind Kevin to illuminate the background. Camera settings were ISO 100, 1/160s, and varied aperture from f5.0 to f7.1.



I really enjoyed this shoot. We had a nice laid back atmosphere and Kevin was doing some interesting things with almost no direction. Andrew kept things interesting by photobombing and trying to engage Kevin in their usual wrestling. My mom also had some conversation with Kevin while I was shooting. This helped to keep his expressions engaged and focused rather than vacant even when he was not looking at the camera. 

I purposely shot wide with the intent to crop later. I wanted to maintain the quality of the light so the soft boxes were kept quite close in. This meant that I often had soft boxes encroaching into the frame. There were also some light switches and a cord from a picture light on the background wall. All of this added to my work on post processing. It would have been much better to have been able to maintain a clean background and push the lights back a bit, but you have to work with what you have.

I also ended up with two lights on one side and none on the other. I did add a silver reflector about halfway through, but I didn’t have it on a voice activated light stand (held be a person) so it wasn’t as effective as I wanted. I probably should have left the main light on the left but I got some interesting shots due to the more dramatic lighting.

All in all, I’m really pleased with the results. 

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Art Speaks

Since last year’s New Mexico Appeals Court ruling that photographers refusing to shoot same sex wedding ceremonies are discriminating illegally against homosexual couples, I have seen quite a vibrant debate on what constitutes artistic freedom and how that applies to photography for hire. I have struggled with my own thoughts on this issue and, after much wrestling, I’ve come to a position that I think is both right and defensible which I will elaborate on below.

This issue is difficult because on the surface it feels like a simple civil rights issue. However, I think it is more nuanced than that. To me the question is this: can an artist be legally compelled to produce work that is antithetical to their core beliefs? When the artist’s prerogative is in conflict with civil rights, which governs?

The Artist’s Prerogative

“There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer.”

- Ansel Adams

Photography is special within service professions[1] because the client is also the subject. Compelling a photographer to take on a client is also dictating to the photographer their subject matter — both in terms of persons and themes. Having the government dictate where photographers point their lens just doesn’t sit well with me.

In the New Mexico case, the issue isn’t that it is a lesbian couple. Rather, it is that the couple’s homosexuality is precisely the focus of the creative work. And that, to me, is exactly the point. It has taken awhile for me to arrive at a justification for why I feel the ruling was wrong, but after much thought I have reduced my position to two simple words:

Art speaks.

Let me explain. If art has meaning beyond being just a pretty picture, I don’t see how you can reconcile this as just a civil rights issue. It seems to me that the photographer’s first amendment right, by which I mean their right to control the message their art[2] conveys, is in direct conflict with the couple’s civil rights. When the two are in conflict, I think that the first amendment has to govern as it is the more basic. A person should never be compelled to speak[3] against their own conscience regardless of the validity of their beliefs.

I think it is important to remember this can play out both ways[4]. What if a church representative contacts a commercial photographer to shoot a campaign? The photographer agrees to discuss the project and through the course of the discussions comes to the realization that this person represents the Westboro Baptist Church and the subject of the campaign is to spread this church’s message that all of America’s problems are punishment for its acceptance of homosexuality. The photographer, for good reason, decides he doesn’t want his work associated with such hateful propaganda and respectfully declines the commission citing personal issues with the church’s beliefs. Should this photographer be subject to civil rights litigation because he is discriminating based on religious creed?

Or let’s back away from the lightning rod issue of homosexuality. What if a man contacts his local boudoir photographer to inquire about getting some shots of himself for his wife? This particular photographer informs him that she only shoots women and isn’t comfortable doing this type of shoot with a man. She suggests that he look elsewhere. Should this photographer be subject to a civil rights suit due to her discrimination against men?

I think the answer to both questions is no. Yes, this is a civil rights issue. But it is also a first amendment issue for the photographer. And when the two rights are in conflict it seems the more basic of the two should be upheld.

I guess I fall on the side of defending the creative prerogative of the artist to accept or decline a commission for any reason — no matter how repugnant that reason may be. Because the work is so personal — so reflective of the artist — and because it carries the artist’s voice, I think that personal beliefs should be allowed to dictate whether a commission is accepted or declined. The artist’s prerogative must be paramount for the artist to retain the integrity of their personhood, that which is fundamental to their being — their own conscience. Retaining the integrity of one’s personhood seems to me to be the most fundamental of American rights.

  1. I have seen several analogies to other service professions (doctors, architects, florists, caterers, etc) come up in online discussions yet none of those industries have the unique condition of the client/subject being one and the same. An architect, florist, or caterer can provide service to someone regardless of any difference in beliefs. For example, a racist architect can design a home for a mixed race couple because the couple’s ethnicity is not the focus of the creative work. Likewise, a homophobic florist can provide flowers for a same sex wedding because the sexual orientation of the couple has nothing to do with the creative work of arranging flowers. But a photographer’s circumstance is different because those disagreements become the subject of their creative effort.  ↩
  2. The ambiguity of what constitutes “art” is admittedly the achilles heal of this argument. Some have suggested that photography for hire, such as wedding photography, is more service than art. However, I think this line of thinking discounts the creative effort such photography requires. If the wedding photographer is reduced to just technician and documentarian, what explains the difference between the $500 photographer and the $20,000 photographer? Surely it isn’t $19,500 worth of services and goods. No, the strength of the photographer’s artistic voice is precisely what differentiates them from other photographers. To diminish the artistic nature of their work does a great disservice to the entire profession and ignores the fact that the most basic role of the photographer, particularly the wedding photographer, is that of storyteller. Crafting a narrative that tells the story of the day within the context of universal themes of love, joy, fulfillment, and happiness is most certainly art.  ↩
  3. A common refrain among artists is the notion that “my art is my voice”. In fact, photographers are often hired by the strength of their artistic voice — after all the photographer’s primary job is to convey a message through their images. Coercing someone to produce artistic work that represents a message contrary to their core belief is tantamount to forcing words out of their lips.  ↩
  4. There are probably many more examples and analogies one could come up with to support this position. That is exactly the point. This position allows for the unique circumstances of each of those potential examples. In order to maintain some semblance of brevity, I have limited myself to just two examples.  ↩


Portrait 7/52 - Janine

As a continuation of my recent trend of shooting portraits close to the subject’s birthday, this week I photographed my mom Janine. She is an excellent pianist and music has always played an important part of her life so I decided to shoot her at her piano in her living room.


After some light tests and more posed shots, my mom started playing and I kept shooting.



Technical Details

This shoot was a little more involved as I was dealing with both ambient light and my own flashes. The main light was a large umbrella to camera left. As I was trying to balance my light with that in the background, my power settings were pretty low. I think I had the main flash set to 1/8 power. I also had my 8x36 strip box to camera left to add a little fill. I believe this was also set to 1/8 power. There was a mirror on the wall above the piano and I added a silver reflector at floor level leaning against the wall to try and push as much light as possible back into the scen from the right side. My final light was a bare flash set on the couch behind my mom. This was a hair/rim light and was set fairly low — 1/16 power if my memory is correct. Camera settings were ISO 800, f4.0, and 1/160s.



There were definitely some difficulties with this shoot. First, the ambient light presented the problem of what to do about it. I did a lot of testing trying to push it both dark and light. I ended somewhere in the middle which was unfortunate as that meant I had to do some manual burning in post. I also was limited space wise which pushed my zoom lens all the way down to 24mm. This meant I saw a lot of background and had way more depth of field than I wanted even at f4.0. I generally gravitate to more simple/clean backgrounds and so the sharpness and amount of stuff that I had to include in my background was a little troublesome. I ended up manually blurring the background in most of the above images just to get to more of the look I wanted. I think the photos would have been stronger if I had been able to step back, zoom in to at least a normal (or even a slight telephoto) focal length, and throw the background more out of focus in-camera. Regardless, I’m pretty pleased with the pictures even if they took a little extra work in post to fix some of the issues I caused in capture.

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The Intrepid Explorer

I’m working on the images from Andrew’s 4th birthday party and just had to share this one.