• Archives
  • Oct31


    On Saturday night my family hosted our 3rd annual Halloween party. I wanted to share the portraits I took of the guests as they arrived. I set up an outdoor studio in our front yard and the kids (some adults too) had to get their portrait made before entering the party. The portraits are freely available to download for our guests (just click the download button above the photos in the store), and if you would like to purchase prints or gift items, you can do so right from the same page! Here is the link to view and download all of the photos: http://jwnphoto.zenfolio.com/halloween2010

    Another fun activity we concocted for this year’s party was a fortune teller tent, and the perfect fortune teller was portrayed by our beloved friend Mira, who did an amazing job. Just look at her in action:


    We can’t say enough thanks to all of the parents who pitched in and helped during the big party. We can’t wait to do it again next year!

  • Oct30

    Coastal Carolina Fair Sunset

    So, I’ve been talking a lot about this photowalk in the past week and it has finally come and gone. I spent a total of four hours watching, listening, smelling, tasting, and shooting the fair this year. I left the family at home because I didn’t want to hold them back with all of my lallygagging, but we will be going back again as a family in the coming week to let the kids be kids.

    The first thing I did when I arrived was head over to the Photography/Fine Arts Building to look at the work that was submitted for the photo contest. I talked briefly about that and my winning submission here, so I won’t rehash it again, I’ll just state that the photos I saw were stunning and everybody should be proud of how talented the photogs in the Charleston area are!

    High Key Swings

    It was still quite bright out when I started the walk, and I wanted to try something a little different. I wanted to try and capture motion and make high-key photos that were dramatic. This meant shooting in manual mode and slowing up the shutter speeds to completely blow out the sky while still rendering the main subject with vivid color by also using a normal aperture. I think this one best demonstrated my vision for this technique.

    High Key Swings

    Here’s another shot of a different ride using the same technique:

    High Key Star

    The cloud coverage at the time I got there was like 90%, and the sunset was blocked out by clouds, which was a bummer. I kept shooting this Ferris wheel when I started to see a hint of pink in the sides of the clouds. I looked behind me an there it was – the clouds broke in a small area which was only truly visible (or should I say shootable) on the other side of the fairgrounds. I ran over to the side of the fairgrounds – I had already picked out the shot I wanted for the sunset pic earlier. I set up the tripod in the chosen location and composed my shot. Now I had to wait for the perfect storm of both the carousel and the Ferris wheel to be moving at the same time. Bingo – they both started to spin, but wait… two guys are in the middle of the shot!

    Coastal Carolina Fair Rides

    I didn’t want to be rude, so I waited them out. By the time they departed (which was only about a minute or two), so did most of the sunset’s colors, and the carousel was stopping! That’s OK though, because the sky was still a striking color and I was able to capture this frame.

    Coastal Carolina Fair Rides

    I wanted to also capture the food and vendors, because they are a huge part of the fair experience. As I was shooting a shot of some corn-dogs, the vendor offered to pose with one – I asked her to hold one out in front of her because I wanted to focus on her hands and the corn-dog. Little did I know she was going to pull out the most phallic thing I’ve ever seen put on a stick and deep fried. When I showed her the photo, we both started cracking up. I explained to her that at least her face was out of focus enough that her mother would never be able to identify her!

    Corndog Diptych

    At one point I stopped to talk to this nice gentleman, and he started off with the one subject you should never bring up with a stranger – politics. The problem is that I couldn’t tell what side of the fence he hated more – He started complaining about Obama, and then went after Bush in the same breath! You gotta love carnies – they are the true anarchists of society. He told me he served in ‘Nam, which makes him more of a man than I could ever be, so I gotta give him some respect.


    I popped over to the Lakefront Stage to catch a few songs from Phil Vassar, who is a pop country artist. I usually like my country in the alt variety, but I can appreciate any live musician – and his band was good. I snapped this shot of him singing to the crowd with the band in the background.

    Phil Vassar

    Now that the night had fallen, it was time to pull out the tripod and get some cool motion shots of the rides and lights.

    Coastal Carolina Fair Ride

    I never realized how cool the Ferris wheels’ light patterns could be when caught with the right amount of shutter speed (or lack thereof).

    Carousel Close-Up

    Sometimes stacking multiple rides on top of each other for a shot will make for an interesting composition:

    Carousel & Skyride

    The lake in the middle of the fairgrounds makes for some great reflective shots of the fair’s skyline.

    Coastal Carolina Fair Skyline
    Coastal Carolina Fair Ride

    I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time for the fireworks display. Unfortunately the amount of smoke they produced was quite impressive and it was filling the sky around me which gave the shots a foggy effect to them. I think this image plays off the situation pretty well.

    Coastal Carolina Fair Fireworks

    I ended the evening grabbing a fried treat from the instant death booth. I asked the girl at the window if she would smile for a picture, because it might be the last one I ever take after she served me the fried s’mores that she recommended (which was woth the clogged arteries, BTW).

    Coastal Carolina Fair Vendor

    All-in-all I found it very therapeutic to walk through the fair without any major agenda – just to be wide-eyed and open to possible photographs that may present themselves was a lot of fun, and the time slipped away from me. Before I knew it, it was time to head home, and I hadn’t even explored the exhibitions, the rodeo, or the petting zoo! I hope you enjoy the photos I made, because I truly enjoyed making them. I have a bunch more so feel free to check out all of the shots I took here.

  • Oct28

    Kids at Riverfront Park

    I’m honored (and flattered) to report that the photo above won 1st place in the black & white division II photo contest at the 2010 Coastal Carolina Fair! The other three photos I entered all received honorable mentions as well. This is the first photo contest I’ve ever placed in, and let me tell you, the amount of talent that was represented in this year’s contest was unbelievable. You couldn’t tell the difference between the amateur and professional photos that won awards, and in fact, the winner of the “Best In Show” award went to the 1st place color photo winner of the amateur division!

    1st Place

    I spent four hours at the fair this evening taking it all in. I will share my experience in a post tomorrow, as I’m pooped and need to spend some quality time with the wife. I do think I got some cool shots and I tried a couple of new techniques that I believe worked out well.

  • Oct28

    BirdieI just wanted to give a quick update because this weekend is going to be quite busy for me and I don’t know how much time I’ll have keep things up to date. Tonight is the Photowalk that I’m hosting at the Coastal Carolina Fair, Friday night I’m going to go see Rocky Horror at the Charleston Ballet, and on Saturday my wife and I are hosting our 3rd annual Halloween party for our kids.

    As of this writing, the photowalk is still on. The weather report is abysmal for today, but right at sunset the storm should move out of here. If the weather forecast is correct, then there is a chance that we will have some spectacular cloud formations right at sunset! *UPDATE* Well, as usual, the forecast when I wrote this post at midnight last night was wrong. As of 9:00AM this morning it has the storm hitting right at the time of the scheduled walk. I will keep you updated – make sure to follow me on twitter for the latest updates. **UPDATE** I’m heading over to the fair now – the walk is on!

    barcampchsI also wanted to briefly mention that I will be attending BarCamp Charleston on November 13th at the College of Charleston. I have a proposed photography session, so if you are planning to go then please vote it up and make it happen! I will talk more about the “unconference” in the coming weeks.

    Finally, photographer/blogger Kent Weakly has a photo contest going on right now and I’ve submitted one of my recent photos. It would be real nice if you visited his website and voted for my photo (#37) on October 30th-November 1st, or even just voted for anyone at all so that he’ll keep doing these! While you’re there check out the rest of his site and blog – he’s got a ton of helpful videos.

    That’s all for now – I hope you all can brave the weather tonight and join me for some fried Oreos!

  • Oct26

    Day 50 - 2nd Annual Halloween Party

    I have a confession to make. Tonight I watched Glee with my daughter and I kind of liked it. I enjoyed how they handled the Rocky Horror Show (despite a couple of cringe worthy auto-tuned moments). I decided to comment about it here because it said something pretty important to the kids who watch it. It told them that they are not stupid. The whole episode was a commentary on how ridiculous society is for dancing around obvious themes in the arts in the name of protecting children. It’s because children are more likely to openly deal with and possibly accept these themes without the venom that is eventually forced down their throats by uncomfortable adults who would rather piss on things they don’t fully understand than accept them that makes the parents of today so damn scared. Wow, that was a mouthful.

    Last week, Glee posted a preview of their rendition of Time Warp on YouTube and my daughter caught it. She asked me about it and I started to give her a little history lesson. I told her how it was a play that was made into a movie that is still shown in movie theaters around the world over 35 years after it was made. She wanted to know more, and more importantly, she wanted to see it. I didn’t think much of it – heck, I saw it when I was a little kid too! I queued it up on Netflix and the girl must have watched it a dozen times throughout the weekend. She re-watched the musical numbers over and over and sung along. She even made me learn Time Warp on guitar so we could sing it together. Needless to say, she gets into things head-over-heels.

    She did pop a question about one of the more adult themes of the movie. “Dad, what’s a transvestite?” she asked during the first on-screen appearance of Dr. Frank-N-Furter. I explained to her that it is someone who cross-dresses, “Usually it’s a boy who wears girls’ clothing or vice-versa.” “Oh, OK. I think I get it. So, does he like boys or girls?” she asked. “I think he likes both, but it might make more sense when you realize just what he really is” I told her. I didn’t want to spoil the big reveal of him being an alien from the planet Transsexual, in the distant galaxy of Transylvania. That was it. No heart pumping, how do I explain this to a 5th grader flop sweat formed on my brow. She’s an extremely smart kid and she knows when we’re anything but straightforward with her. I couldn’t tell you exactly what she has taken from the movie, but I do know that she loves it dearly. And what’s not to love? The music is awesome and it has such an awkward cast of characters – it paved the road for guys like Tim Burton!

    This takes me back to tonight’s episode of Glee. The main plot line is about whether or not Rocky Horror is inappropriate for high school kids. What I saw was clearly a commentary by the writers of Glee on their own restrictions of making a broadcast TV show about it. They made it quite obvious that they had their hands tied, and the only way they would get this cast to sing these classic songs on TV was make the show about the fact that they couldn’t do it. I thought it was brilliant – another case of taking your restraints and exploiting them to make something fresh and energetic.

    I also thought it was sad. Kids are really smart and truly innocent, yet we as a society treat them like idiots and rob them of their innocence by filing their open minds with fear and hate. The vicious cycle of hatred of people who are different keeps living on because we not only allow it, we encourage it by avoiding uncomfortable conversations. We say we need to protect our children. From what? Sexuality? Faith? I think every parent needs to stop every once in a while and think about how they learned about life and who that knowledge first came from. I know I had a shithead of a brother who made up stories about how women got pregnant. He told me guys with chapped lips would kiss girls and the girls would swallow the skin flakes which would grow into babies in their bellies. What a dick! If I was told the truth in the first place by the right people I wouldn’t have such a hard time kissing family members on the lips to this day.

    “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is one of the most famous lines from the Declaration of Independence, and I truly believe what I wrote about yesterday – that happiness is the wonder and joy of discovery. Let kids discover life and if you’re uncomfortable with how they are exposed to certain things, join them so they can have the proper context for the stuff they don’t understand (and maybe you too can discover new things that might bring you happiness). The best part of raising kids is watching them grow – not just physically, but mentally as well. Celebrate their passage into maturity, don’t repress it. What better way to spark those “uncomfortable” conversations than through art? Make the experiences cool and interesting and your kids won’t have weird hang-ups because some jerk fed them misinformation.

    Now that my daughter has seen the movie and Glee’s take on it, I’m taking her to see Rocky Horror live at the Charleston Ballet this weekend. I know how excited she is for it, and because of that I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

  • Oct25

    Plasma Globe

    Today my wife and I picked up some new lighting effects for our upcoming Halloween party that we’re throwing for our kids. I’ve always wanted a plasma ball, and today I finally got to live vicariously through my children and actually purchase one. As my kids played around with it this evening it got me thinking, is the secret to happiness the wonder and joy of discovery? I’ll pause for a moment here and let that one sink in.

    OK, here’s what I mean; children live life every day with their eyes wide open, and these gullible little people soak in everything without doubt. It’s those joyous feelings and experiences that get wrung out of people as they pass into adulthood and become cynical and sarcastic members of society. I still have brief moments where I feel those feelings of wonder when I learn a new trick with my camera, or figure out a way to fix a problem on a computer. More importantly, I feel that feeling when I experience an original piece of artwork – whether its a photo, a song, a movie, etc. I remember being let down by the movie Avatar because I was so excited at the promise of seeing this beautiful world that nobody has ever seen before only to be completely let down and distracted by the rehashed Pocahontas storyline. I’m sure a child would be much more engaged by this movie because they wouldn’t recognize it’s rehashed plot. As we grow older, it becomes more difficult to experience joy from new experiences when there are fewer new ideas in our sphere of influence to surprise us. Maybe that’s why so many older folks get the “grumpy” label thrown at them.

    What to do to avoid this vicious downward spiral of grumpiness? I think that it’s easy – you need to expand you sphere of influence to include new experiences. Sure, the world has gotten much smaller since the explosion of the Internet, but for me it has made the access to new information, art, and music much broader, and no single person could explore it all in a single lifetime. The key is to step out and open your eyes. Look at a kid’s ability to soak in the world and try to relearn that lost or forgotten skill. If you asked me five years ago how much I cared about photography, I would have told you that I didn’t even think of it as an art form – it was just a way to freeze memories and that was all. Why would someone take a picture of something other than a person? My Grandfather was an amateur photographer and I used to snicker at his pictures of squirrels and birds and rocks – I didn’t understand why he took those pictures! Now that I’ve opened that door a bit wider, I completely get it.

    What thing out there has you baffled or disinterested? Is it a type of food? Go to that Indian restaurant and try something new! Is it a style of music? Look in the local paper and find a punk rock show and experience it live! There are tons of things in life that I don’t even know if I truly like or dislike yet. You just gotta make sure to leave your prejudices at the door and go out and find something new… you crotchety old curmudgeon 😉

  • Oct25

    Dirty Hands

    My wife left me alone with the kids today so she could get some work done. I had no idea what we were going to do. I had two options; we could spend Sunday as it was meant to be spent – relaxing and getting ready for the week, or we could go out and do something. After a few minutes of lazying it up, we decided to venture out to the burrito place for some lunch. While we were there, we spotted one of our neighbors. Their daughter came and ate lunch with us so she could hang out with the kids. During lunch we talked about all of the things going on around town – there were two different Oktoberfest celebrations as well as a handful of pumpkin patches we could explore. After I shot down their idea to go roller skating (I did not feel like being pulled down every time one of the kids falls, which is like every five feet), I offered up a trip to the park.

    Zip LineMy daughter, the social butterfly, invited her little friend to come to the park with us. Now we were four – I was outnumbered by three-to-one. I took a deep breath and we loaded into my car to head out to the park. The kids had a blast, and I had fun taking pictures of them playing. At a certain point, I had to come to grips and put the camera away so I could pay closer attention to the kids. Also, once we decided to hit the paddle boats and kayaks, I didn’t want to have any distractions (although I couldn’t stop looking at the great colors of the trees reflecting in the lake or composing in my mind the best shot of a great blue heron that was perched on the shore).

    I do have a point to this story, and it’s two-fold. Number one is reiterating the point of yesterday’s post, which is that you need to go out and do something. Get started now – don’t put it off, whatever it is. Life is meant to be lived every day, and when given the opportunity to get up and go out, you should take that over laziness every time! You never know what your reward will be when you put yourself out there, but I can guarantee that sitting around the house doing nothing will get you nothing! Number two refers to the title of today’s post – that is getting your hands dirty. You know when a kid is having fun? When they look like they’ve been bathing in mud. As an artist, you need to get out and play in the mental mud. Try things that you normally wouldn’t try. Don’t be scared to get your shoes wet or your camera dirty. Get in there and get that shot – get as close as you can to make it work.

    I read a story this morning that was both shocking and understandable in a sick sort of way. A New York Times war photographer named Joao Silva continued to take pictures after stepping on a land mine in Afghanistan and blowing off his legs. The man lived through such a horrible experience and was conscious enough to pull a camera up to his eye and photograph the aftermath of the explosion. That to me is the sign of a true artist – a crazy man with a sick dedication to his art. It makes most of us pale in comparison with our pictures of beautiful scenes and decisive moments. That man captured his own life altering moment. Hopefully nobody reading this will ever come close to enduring such a horror, but he managed to turn to his craft as a means to work his way though it and for that I can’t even express how amazing I think he is. Here I was, doing what I thought was the right thing by putting the camera away so I could pay more attention to my kids when entering a potentially dangerous situation in the water, and this guy is shooting in a war zone. I can’t compare myself to a guy like this, not even close, but I can certainly be inspired by him and his sacrifice.

    Next time you second-guess pulling over the car to capture a fantastic cloud formation, or shy away from the idea of kicking off your shoes and getting knee deep in the water to get a few feet closer to an egret, remember that you will most likely not get maimed by an explosive and your discomfort is quite minimal and will be forgotten after you take home that shot that everyone else was too shy to get.

  • Oct24

    Lola, Amy, & MacA couple of weeks ago my daughter picked out a cupcake costume at the costume shop. Unfortunately, it was way too small and they were sold out of the larger sizes. No problem, we thought – we’ll just find it online. Little did we know that this particular costume is a new item and is very hot this year. We couldn’t find it anywhere (with the exception of eBay where people are selling it for about 3x the list price). So, knowing that my daughter had her heart set on this costume, my wife became determined to make one even better than the store-bought version she couldn’t have.

    She started out by Googling cupcake costumes looking for ideas. The results she found were less than desirable to say the least. She decided to go to the local hardware store and browse around with the hopes that a light bulb might go off in her head and a solution would come to her. She came home that night with a couple of pieces of PVC tubing, spray paint, and some poster board. Pretty soon she had constructed what looked like an upside-down pink lampshade. I took two dog leashes and made a pair of suspenders out of them and we had the cup portion of the cupcake.

    The really tough part was figuring out the icing top. After a few days of going back and forth, my wife decided to use poly-fill at the icing. Unfortunately, there was no easy way to attach it. We thought about getting a giant over-sized shirt and gluing the fill onto it, but it would have looked more like a mess than a scrumptious treat. Then I had an idea to mimic our favorite cupcake shop in Charleston, appropriately called “Cupcake”, who uses really thick icing in a giant swirl to top off their cupcakes. We could use quilt batting and sew it into a tube stuffed with the poly-fill and twist it around my daughters body, just like a cupcake from Cupcake!

    After another trip to the store to get some hot glue sticks, yarn, and a giant sewing needle to assemble the icing so that it would stay put, my wife managed to make what looked like a giant pastry! We glued little colored pom-poms to the icing to look like sprinkles, and then my daughter made one big pom-pom into a cherry that she glued to a headband as the finishing touch to her pink wig. This is the final result:

    Mac's Cupcake Costume

    She got to show it off for her Girl Scout troop this evening at their Halloween party and she won the prize for cutest costume! Surprisingly, the costume is still in tact for next weekend. My wife should be proud of what she made for my daughter, because it is so much better than what had inspired it in the first place. It took a lot of hard work and determination, a few curse words, and a couple or bloody fingers. The same is true in any artistic endeavor – if you don’t go out there and do something, even if you know it will be really hard, nothing will ever happen for you, which is even harder to deal with in the long run.

  • Oct22

    Duck Game

    Tonight, the family came with me to drop off my prints for the 2010 Coastal Carolina Fair photography contest. As I was filling out the entry forms, the inevitable question came up that I didn’t want to answer. “Are you a pro or amateur photographer?” Oh boy, that’s a tricky question. Last year it was easy for me to check the amateur box, but this year I feel I’ve grown a lot (especially since I completed my 365 project). If you go by the definition of amateur, I fall right in to that title. As I write this, photography doesn’t support my family, my other career does. I love photography – it’s what keeps me sane as far as being an outlet for creativity. But in my mind that doesn’t make me a professional, because it’s technically not my profession for now.

    So, it sounds easy, right? I’m still an amateur by definition of my true profession, so I can check off the amateur box. Unfortunately, there was this clause on the entry form under Division 1, which is the pro division, “This division is open to professional photographers (those who work full or part time in photography) and accomplished amateur entrants who are capable of competing at the Division 1 level”. Ugg. Why the hell did they say that? Division 3 is for students, and it doesn’t have a clause that says amateurs who read a lot of books and photog blogs can compete in the student division, so why allow amateurs in the pro division? I’m not complaining because I think its wrong, I’m complaining because I don’t want to have make that decision! If it’s cut-and-dry, then cool – I don’t have to think about it. Now I have to stress about it, which is silly, I know.

    I asked my wife and she said without a doubt “Division 1”. Then she looked at the work of some of the other amateur photogs in line and said, “whoah, they’re really good”. OK, well that makes things difficult all over again. I finally decided to man up and make my own decision. It was not something I should worry about, but here I am venting about it on the web for all to see. In the name of honesty, I’m sharing my insecurities about my own skill and vision.

    Speaking of skill and vision, in case you didn’t know, I’m doing a photowalk at this very fair on its opening night, which is Thursday, October 28th. I’ll be trolling around the photography/fine arts building at around 5:30PM so we can get a little pre-sunset action before the big light show in the sky. You can get all of the details right here. It should be a lot of fun, so I hope you can find the time. I found out that the local photography club is also having a photowalk on Saturday, Oct. 30th, so if you can’t make Thursday, you can be sure that a lot of local photogs will be there on Saturday to keep you company.

    In conclusion, my wife thinks I ultimately made the wrong decision. Unfortunately for me, she’s usually right. Next year, I know which box I’ll be checking for sure 😉

  • Oct20

    Needle & Wax I just wanted to write up another music post since I haven’t done one lately. As I’ve stated before, I take a lot of my inspiration from the music I listen to. This evening I was seeking out a song by the band Guided By Voices on Youtube when I discovered this cover version of the song I was looking for by a guy named Owen Pallett. I found his style fascinating, I can’t believe how full he is able to make the violin sound. Sure he’s using loops, but it really works well with this song. If you don’t want to hear all of the lead up conversation, just start at 1:40 to get to the music.

    After watching this video I got a little curious and decided to check out some of the other cover songs in the series, which is entitled “A.V. Undercover“. This is originating from a subsidiary of The Onion called The A.V. Club. There are some of my favorite songs and some of my favorite artists interpreting them. For instance, Superchunk covers the Cure, Alkaline Trio covers Archers Of Loaf, and Ben Folds covers Elliott Smith.

    I love the idea of this because it sets up limits for the artists to work with – they have to perform live in this little round room and they have to choose from a dwindling list of songs that was thought up of by someone else. Its within these kinds of constraints that you can separate the true artists from the fakers. A true artist has a sound work ethic and can make something spectacular even with limited resources, while a hack will complain about not having the right widget, and how that person did this, and they will slam you with an endless barrage of excuses. Sure the artists out there have their gripes and feel those same pains, but they produce none-the-less.

    When was the last time you thought you couldn’t do something photographically because you didn’t have the right lens, or you left your good camera at home, or you forgot your tripod? So what! Most of us have a camera of some form with us at all time. I shot this photo with my iPhone. I was in North Carolina and we were walking into a Mexican restaurant named “El Cancun” when I saw this colorful fence behind the building. I took a closer look and loved the colors, the loose nails, and the diminishing light in the background. I saw the picture with my eyes and then quickly pulled out my phone to capture what I saw.

    El Cancun

    You can make positive things happen in just about any situation. You just have to open your eyes, identify your limitations, and then exploit what you do have at your disposal.