• Archives
  • Feb27


    I met Krista soon after we moved to Charleston back in the mid oughts. She was working at the local gym as a personal trainer. She approached my wife and I and asked us if we want a free personal training session, to which we happily obliged. I can honestly say that in a fight, not only would she kick my ass, she’d run circles around me while doing it. But, beyond the fact that she’s built like a UFC fighter, she’s also a very beautiful woman.


    I invited Krista over to the studio with the goal of demonstrating how dynamic she is. Together I think we swung for the fences and hit one out of the park. We started out doing some fashiony type poses.




    Then she put on her workout clothes as I went for an edgier and athletic look to compliment her. She’s a pro at this, so all I really had to do was be there, but when working with any model it’s truly a partnership. You collaborate with the talent and they put their trust in you to capture them at the peak of their performance. In a situation like this where someone spends their life doing something and you’re in charge of conveying that to an audience, it’s important to understand how to use your craft to capture it effectively.




    Even though she had a much busier task of watching five kids all by herself during the shoot, my wife Amy still was able to put her fingerprint on this shoot by suggesting that Krista bring her wedding dress. Only problem was, when Krista got married she was wearing the dress for two (she was pregnant, slowpoke). Ahh, the versatility of spring clamps to the rescue. Those things are only second to gaffers tape in importance in your photographer’s tool kit. With this look, I wanted drama, both in Krista’s look and with lighting.




    Finally, we went total glam as I set up some speedlights behind her to get a ton of lens flare and backlighting. I totally think that experimenting and playing around after you get the shots you initially wanted to get leads to some of the best shots you’ll make. The model is loose, your photographer juices are flowing, and things just seem to click.


    After that, I handed Krista the camera and asked her to make my new Facebook profile picture. She’s just getting into photography and has taken a few lessons, so I was more than happy to get her to turn the camera on me. I think she got it 😉


  • Feb25


    Let me tell you about the new cool. It’s not happening in a cubicle, it doesn’t involve knowledge of the latest social networking trend, and it certainly does not call for a fresh supply of hand sanitizer. While the last couple of generations have been training a virtual workforce, the real rebels of America are learning creative skills.

    Let me introduce you to Joseph & Katie Thompson of Joseph Thompson Woodworks:


    About twenty minutes off the interstate right smack in the middle of South Carolina, Joseph & Katie are busy working in their workshop making custom furniture out of socially responsible materials, repairing antiques, and building a family business.


    When you step inside one of the rooms of their shop, the first thing you notice as a soft-fingered white collar guy like me is the amazing aroma of split wood. Then there’s the dust. Wood dust isn’t like machine shop dust though, it doesn’t feel “dirty”. The floors are covered in wood shavings, which reminded me of the butcher shop around the corner from my childhood home. The orange glow makes everything feel cozy and warm (not to mention it was 80˚ in the middle of February, so that helps). I guess what I’m trying to say is that the place just feels right.


    Joseph Thompson grew up in Orangeburg, SC and while attending Clemson University he decided that it’s not his place in the 9-5 world, so he transferred to the Silva Bay Shipyard School on Gabriola Island in British Columbia. There he learned the basics of woodworking, ship building, and furniture making. He got motivated to pursue furniture making and furthered his training at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Rockport, Maine.


    Katie Thompson is a College of Charleston alumnus who specialized in non-profit arts before she picked up the table saw. I met her a few years ago while she was writing for TheDigitel and she’s been involved in the Charleston art scene for quite some time. She’s one of the people to follow on Twitter if you want to know what’s going on here.


    In a world of high speed cell phone data, 9 month cycles of technology standards, and buzzword wikis, it has become rare to meet people with a desire to create something with their hands. There’s something in a man’s DNA that makes us want to build stuff (maybe it’s there in women too, but I don’t want to speak for them ;)) The idea that skilled labor in this country is dwindling is a scary one. When you see the quality that people like Joseph and Katie are putting into their work, it makes you sad that we’re settling for disposable press-board garbage from Ikea and passing it off as furniture. It also makes it quite lucrative for today’s skilled craftsmen since they seem to have very little competition in the quality department. I truly believe that the most important things you can bestow on your children to compete in tomorrows world are creativity and the passion to do things ethically.


    As a side observation, I think that most people would love to have their dogs with them while they work. That’s one of the things I’ve noticed about the south that differs from the north – a lot more people do bring their dogs to work here. A working dog is a happy dog, and a dog with you at work makes for a happy human.


    We talked for a while about creativity and craft, and love and marriage. Katie and Joseph knew right away that they were meant for each other. They didn’t wait to see if things work out, they just knew and jumped right into it. It’s the kind of passion that artists deal in – acting from the heart and trusting your instincts. It also takes a lot of patience to live and work with your spouse, the kind of patience that someone who builds from scratch has to master. Watching them work together is a pleasure, as they seem to flow like water through the tight spaces in their shop and compliment each other’s strengths.


    Shooting creative people is my muse. I look for the similarities, I look for the contrasts, and I look for the life of it. Finding the threads that hold us together as a race and exposing the beauty in it, both figuratively and literally, is what drives me in photography. I discovered a while back that it’s people in photographs that excite me, and when they are being real and frozen forever in that moment of life, they obtain a bit of romantic immortality. The Thompsons and I talked about that during my visit. Katie had asked me if I was shooting video yet, and I explained how I currently don’t get as excited for video as I do for still photography. I explained that it’s kind of like the difference between reading a book and watching a movie. The still is open to interpretation. You are free to look at an image and remember the scene the way you felt it, or if you are looking at someone else’s work you can imagine the story behind it and connect it back to yourself. A movie is 100% of what the filmmaker is trying to show you. Visually, sonically, and emotionally. There’s a lot less room for interpretation – you are being handed exactly what they want you to see in the order and pace they want you exposed to it. That’s not to say that there isn’t room for interpretation in movies and it’s not that I don’t love film, I do. It’s just that right now in my life I’m really digging the world of still photography as my creative outlet because of the romance of it.


    I also challenged myself not to talk about the technical stuff of this shoot in this post because it seems to be a crutch I like to lean on when writing about my photography. I’m trying to focus on talking about the cerebral part of the craft since the technical stuff isn’t all that important to most people (and it changes all the time anyway). I may do a separate behind the scenes post for some of these shots to talk about the strobe outside of the window with the tri-grip diffuser covering the glass or the gelled speedlights in the back corners… Dammit, here I go talking tech!

    Make sure to like their Facebook page, follow them on Twitter, and look at their gallery of work online.

  • Feb21


    Over the weekend I setup the home studio and invited Haley over to be the first model in it. I’ve been exploring the different practices of people photography lately, and I have to say that this shoot was one of my favorites. It could just be the fact that Haley was an amazing model to work with, but I really had fun. She also had fun (it shows), and my assistant wife Amy had a lot of fun as well. In fact, Amy played a huge part in coming up with poses as well as keeping the energy up (we shot late into the evening). Here’s one of Amy’s pose ideas:


    Haley is such a natural. Every shot felt like a keeper – in fact I haven’t even gone through all of them yet. I felt I needed to share these with you fine readers, hence the “Part 1” – there will be more of these soon!



    So, here’s a behind-the-scenes shot of my home studio – You can see how I had the lights set up for this shoot. The giant softbox is an AB800 as the fill, the beauty dish is my 2nd AB800 as the main light, and there’s an SB-600 speedlight in the smaller softbox as a kicker in the back.


    After getting some traditional poses, things started to loosen up and we got shots such as the guitar one up top. Each time she changed clothes, she brought a new energy. She also got to choose the music, which I provided via Pandora. I asked her who her favorite musical artists were and she was quick to respond with Florence + The Machine. If you’re looking for a good alt-rock Pandora channel, that one does the job!


    I’ve also been reading and watching a lot of stuff from Peter Hurley about headshots lately since his guest blog post on Scott Kelby’s blog last week, and I find his style and approach really inspiring. I threw on my 50mm f/1.8 and since it was late and I couldn’t shoot with natural light, I used the modeling lights from the Alien Bees to get this:


    I set the white balance to incandescent for that shot, but when I turned on the Nikon SB-600 in the kicker softbox, the flash color turned the background blue to get this effect:


    In post, I decided to experiment a little on a couple of shots. Here’s a black & white:


    And finally, here’s a composite I made with an image I shot at Tugaloo State Park last year. After combining the two, I used a cross-processing effect to get the color.


    This was my first attempt a fashion style photography, and while I have a lot of learning ahead of me, I think Haley definitely made this look better than I expected!

    More to come very soon…

  • Feb15


    Posted in: Gear, News

    AlienBees Mac

    Isn’t she dramatic? Oh, the trials and tribulations of a pre-teen. Actually, most of the pictures of my daughter I took were of extremely goofy faces and the ridiculous looks she likes to give me when I use her as my test model. I happened to get a couple of in-between shots where she wasn’t ready with a smirk 😉 Here’s one with her grinning:

    AlienBees Mac

    Of course, my son couldn’t let her take all of the glory…

    AlienBees Kegan

    So the point of these test shots was to try out my new giant softbox from Paul C. Buff, which is being powered by an AlienBees B800 monolight. I’ve been primarily a speedlight kind of guy for a long time, only renting bigger lights for special occasions. I’ve recently decided to expand my photography and some of the things I’m going to start shooting are more in the fashion, portraiture, and editorial style of work. That means proper studio lighting. Now, I’m not going to jump into a Profoto system right off the bat, and since I’ve used AlienBees in the past, I’ve decided to start with a couple of B800’s.

    AlienBees B800

    *Warning* Here comes a bunch of technical talk…

    Here are the reasons I chose to go with this particular model: The AlienBees line has a 6 full f/stop range on their lights, so the highest power B1600 can only be stopped down to 20 Ws, while the B800 can go down to 10 Ws at 1/32nd power. I’ll rarely (if ever) need to shoot at full power on the B800 for the applications I’m intending them for, but for shooting wide open like I did in the two shots of my daughter above, I need lower power. Even with the B800 I had to lower the ISO to 100 (the native ISO on my Nikon is 200) to shoot at f/2.8. The shot of my son was at f/8, and you can see there is a lot more detail in that shot overall – it’s a totally different look. I like to have options easily available without having to throw light eating filters on my lens or lights. In this beach wedding shot taken in harsh mid-day sunlight, I had rented a B1600 and never went over half-power, so I don’t see myself needing the extra daylight-crushing power just yet.

    Emily & Joe

    The best choice of the Paul C. Buff line of lights for versatility is the Einstein, but since I’m trying to gradually build up, I know that the B800 will be versatile enough for almost 1/2 the price. In the future I hope to add an Einstein as my main light and then move the Bees to fill and/or accent lights, but for now I’m very happy with the range of the B800.

    I also had one very important and extremely technical choice to make when getting the AlienBees lights. Which color to get? I really like the white since it’s different enough without looking goofy – I saw someone using a pink one lately and it was a bit much for my taste 😉 I didn’t want to go with black since the Einsteins are only available in black and I want to be able to quickly differentiate between the different models in the future. Telling a less knowledgeable assistant to move the white light is easier than calling out a model number!

    AlienBees B800

  • Feb11

    My wife saw this idea on Pinterest the other day, and asked me if I could do something like it.

    Challenge accepted!

    Here’s Mackenzie’s:

    Mac's Valentine's Day Card

    And Kegan’s:

    Kegan's Valentine's Day Card

    The setup was pretty simple. I used this 5’x7′ collapsible background, a flash lighting the background right behind the kids, and an umbrella as the main light on the left. I used the window as the fill.

    Window Lighting

    The background light was set to manual 1/4 power, while the main light was using TTL and was bouncing off the umbrella with a +1 exposure compensation. I shot at f/4.5 and 1/60th of a second at ISO 200. By shooting with a slower shutter speed, it ensured a good mix of the window light with flash.

    Here are the final images for both:

    Mac Valentines Original

    Kegan Valentines Original

    I added the graphics and text in Photoshop, made 4×6″ prints of them, and used an X-Acto knife to cut the slits above and below the hand. Add a Blow Pop, and that’s it – Instant cool Valentine’s card!

    If you want to try it, I made a template in photoshop that you can download here. Just add your photo to the bottom of the layers and resize it to fit with free transform, then change the name to your kid’s name with the text tool.

    Hope you have a happy Valentine’s Day!

  • Feb10

    Self-Portrait CameraBag Edit

    Guess what’s on my camera now? The photo of my reflection in my car’s rearview mirror up top was the first shot I took with my new lens in the parking lot of FedEx, where I picked it up. In case you’re wondering, I’m now slinging a Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, and it’s a beast. It’s heavier and longer than my 300mm DX lens (when it’s not extended)! I’m so happy with it, especially since I got such a great deal on it. I bought it from BorrowLenses.com used, and the thing doesn’t have a single scratch on it. The glass is as clean and flawless as the day it was shipped from the factory. It’s simply amazing. But, I’ve yet to use it in a professional setting. I’ve only shot my dogs while trying out various focal lengths and apertures. It’s meant for a full frame DSLR, so on one end it’s not as wide, but on the other it’s longer. No worries though, because I didn’t usually shoot portraits at less than 24mm with my previous lens, so it can only be for the better with the extra length at 70mm. But enough about that for now, lets talk about Nevercenter’s CameraBag 2.0.

    Lola CameraBag Edit

    This cross-platform desktop editing software is fast and powerful. I’ve been jumping around it’s various features today on my Mac and the program is very polished. It has a very pro look about it with it’s dark gray and black interface, and the layout is extremely intuitive if you’ve used any other photo editing application before.

    I love how you can stack different effects and go back and change each setting for each individual effect. It also has an extremely handy feature called “Quicklook”, which lets you see all of the various effects on one screen so you can easily scroll through the different looks visually and choose the one that looks best with your photo.

    Epiphone CameraBag Edit

    Another fantastic idea is that you can create your own “recipe” for a photo edit, and not only save it as a preset in the “Favorites” section, but you can drag and drop a photo right on the screen and it will take on the active edits you have in the window. This would be great for editing a group of photos that you want to have the same look. Just drag each photo one by one and export each one as you go. Pretty darn slick.

    Mac Monkey CameraBag Edit

    The programmers are also big fans of curves, which is a good thing. One of my favorite editing elements is “R.G.B. Curves”. As you can see from the screenshot below, it gives you 3 separate curves for red, green, & blue. This is a such a powerful tool by itself because you can easily control color saturation independently. In fact, all of the tools are pretty powerful as most can be tweaked pretty heavily. The presets serve as a starting point, but you can get lost for hours nudging sliders and pulling curves.

    So what are my gripes about CameraBag 2.0? Well, the only true gripe I have is that it’s not a plugin for Adobe’s Lightroom, Photoshop, or Apple’s Aperture. It would be nice for it to behave similarly to Nik’s Color FX Pro and allow me to return back to my cataloging software after I’m done with an edit. As it stands now, I have to do my RAW conversion and export the photos before I can edit them with CameraBag 2.0. It’s also the same problem I have with Snapseed. It’s hard to streamline your workflow as a standalone application, but by no means is that a deal breaker.

    Jackson Sepia CameraBag Edit

    The most amazing thing about this software is it’s price. You can get it right now in the Apple App Store for only $18.99. Not sure if it’s for you? Download the free trial from their website. Even at $24, this is a steal. Sure you can do some of these edits in iPhoto or Picassa on the cheap, but you can’t do them nearly as extensively. This doesn’t replace apps like Snapseed or Color FX Pro either. It’s similar, yet different enough to stand on it’s own. It’s also very quick and stable. I’m happy to have it in my virtual editing toolbox.

  • Feb7


    Posted in: Inspiration

    Upstate SC

    This past weekend, my family traveled up to the border of SC and NC to do some work on the in-law’s home and to celebrate her birthday. Since her home was going to be a work zone, we opted not to sleep at my mother-in-law’s house and rented a home in Landrum, SC for the duration.

    Upstate - Stripes

    On Sunday morning, after a long weekend of peeling wallpaper, spackling, laying tile, grouting, masking, priming, and painting, I woke up to a wonderfully thick fog. I decided to throw on my sweatshirt and shoes and take a walk down the road with my camera.

    Upstate - Road

    Fog makes for some fantastic landscape opportunities. It’s almost too good, because it eliminates so much and allows you to focus on your subjects clearly, which is ironic because nothing is optically clear in the fog.

    Upstate - Tree

    I guess the best word to explain what I mean is isolation. You can focus your mind’s eye on an object when everything else is out of focus and easily isolate it.

    Upstate - Birdhouse and Tree

    It’s kind of like nature’s bokeh. I also found it very stimulating. I hadn’t even had my morning coffee yet, but I was full of life by the time I walked to the end of the dirt road leading up to the main road. At that point, the creative juices were flowing and the most ordinary things became extraordinary.

    Upstate - Farm House

    Upstate - Stripes

    Upstate - Tree

    The processing on the photos above were all done in Snapseed on the Mac. It’s a great program for making gritty photos, which adds to the mood of my early morning adventure.

    After breakfast, the kids & I did some exploring on the property of the rental home. My daughter found a little guest house that was very much geared for youngsters. It had a loft with a bunch of mattresses that were screaming for kids to play on.

    Upstate - Mac

    My son found a tree swing, which he made quick use of…

    Upstate - Kegan Swinging

    And in the garage that was converted into a workshop, I found this:

    Upstate - Darkroom

    A fully equipped darkroom! It was truly awesome – the owner of this house has everything you need to develop film. He also has studio space, which was more like storage space while I was there. Regardless, I took the opportunity to shoot some of the elements, including this:

    Upstate - Filmstrip

    The next time I complain about the cost of a lens, I’ll look at the pictures of this setup and realize just how expensive photography used to be monetarily as well as time-wise. It makes you think about how different the developing process is now for photos. Before, you would lock yourself away in a room for hours just dodging and burning away, completely in the creative zone – much like my walk in the fog, but with chemicals! I have a lot of respect for the dedication and work that went into this craft before this industrial age of digital.

    In other news, I received my new lens and I can’t wait to try it out in a few professional scenarios – so far, it’s only been used to shoot my pets, which is never a bad thing really 😉

  • Feb5

    No, not The Boss, although I’d be gushing about that non-stop for weeks if I could ;). I’m talking about the broker in charge of Carolina One Real Estate’s Main Street office, Christina Ellis. I call her the boss, because she’s my wife’s broker.


    There’s just a little bit of stress when you get tasked to shoot a head shot for your wife’s boss. Not just the usual responsibility of making someone happy with the way they look (trust me, most people cringe at the thought of having their picture taken, so us photogs have to damn near have a psychology degree to convince people that you’ll make sure they look their best), but the responsibility of making your wife not look like a jerk for referring you if you botch the job!


    Luckily, it would take a complete failure of epic proportions to botch a job like this – Christina needs no help from me to look good. She’s naturally photogenic, so the only thing I need to worry about is getting the light right. Here’s the diagram of the white background, which was a reversible collapsible background from Adorama. Note my method of lighting the background with bounce umbrellas and feathering the light from them to give me some rim lighting for the subject.

    I had the softbox right up close to her. In fact, it was so close that I had my assistant, aka my wife Amy, hold the bottom lip of the box up so it wouldn’t get in the shot. For the black side, I had to ditch the umbrellas and use snoots to focus the light so it wouldn’t influence the blackness of the background. The snoots are actually just beer cozies with the bottoms cut off. It’s an ingenius idea I learned from wedding photographer David Ziser in one of his Kelby Training videos.

    One of the problems that arose is something that I’ve been dealing with for quite a while now. My go-to medium zoom lens is a Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8. About 6 months or so ago it started to get stuck at 24mm when twisting the zoom ring. It’s very annoying, but I can just pull the lens from the front cap and it will move. I was ineligible for warranty coverage because I bought a display model, so it’s considered used. Another problem is that it’s not sealed well at all, so there is a ridiculous amount of dust inside the lens. It’s not noticeable at large apertures, but if I venture past f/11, it’s unusable. The worst problem of all though is the random focusing issues, which is what plagued me during this shoot. I can fire off a series of shots and some will be blurry for no good reason, other’s will back focus a few inches so that the ears are the only thing that’s sharp, and if I’m lucky, one will be just right. This is not just annoying, it’s a hazard! My favorite shot expression-wise from this job had to be ditched because the eyes were muddy, but the hair on the back of her head was tack sharp. I broke down and ordered a new lens as soon as I got home because of this. If I’m charging people their hard-earned money for a product, then it’s my responsibility to give them the best product I can make. I’ve been able to squeeze by with the shortcomings of the Tamron for a long time now, but this showed me once again that I can lose the best moment because of it, not because of my lack of ability. I’ll also steer clear of Tamron lenses from now on since their quality control is notoriously uneven and their warranty policy is proof of that. If I tried to sell this lens, I’d get next to nothing for it – it holds no resale value (especially since it’s technically broken). I have gotten by with it for a long time despite of it’s shortcomings, but I’ve known to shoot a lot of photos in case one is blurry or back-focused.

    The last photo I shot of Christina was shot with a Nikon 50mm f/1.8 prime lens. I wanted a natural light, shallow DoF photo more for myself more than for the job, but to be honest, I bet she likes this one the best also. I just popped on the prime lens, opened it up as large as it will go and got in really close to her. Simple, quick, and an example of what a good lens is capable of – I only took two shots like this and that’s because the first one still had the white balance set to flash on the camera.


    I’ll write up a post about my new lens when I finally get to do some work with it. I’m super excited because it’s a Nikkor lens, so I know it will rock!

  • Feb2

    HPMUSC - Morgan

    One of the joys in participating in our Help-Portrait MUSC Kids group is learning about some of your subjects afterwards. Morgan Porter was the first girl we shot during our most recent event, and she’s been making the news due to her recent heart transplant. The courage and strength of Morgan & her family is unlike anything I could ever imagine. Please take 5 minutes to watch this video below.

    You can also read and watch more about Morgan here.

    I know I gush about the doctors and staff at MUSC Children’s hospital, but this is no miracle – it’s raw skill and talent that can pull this kind of operation off. The miracle to me is the will of such a small girl to fight against all of the odds.

    Keep fighting Morgan, we’re all rooting for your success!