Around 1995, my friend Benny finally persuaded me to go with him to a swing dancing club in Hollywood. Convinced it would resemble an old folks' home, I fought the idea for a quite a while. We finally went, and ended up patronizing that club at least twice a week...for more than 4 years. That club was The Derby. While there were a few house bands who played some danceable music, there was one band that stood out. They called themselves Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. The band members all donned vintage suits and hats, and had such charisma and an infectious energy. To this day, when I hear the first six notes of "Go Daddy-O", I have to dance. So, a couple of months after becoming somewhat of a regular, somebody propped up a movie poster near the dance floor. I believe the film was called "Swingers." Within a few weeks of the film's release, there was a line around the block to get into the club. Things had changed completely. I now had to call ahead and have one of my bartender friends sneak me in the backdoor. This club, band and film created the swing scene in the 90's. Following the passing of the owner, and some financial hardships, The Derby sadly closed. What was once the coolest place to dance is now a Chase Bank.
Fast forward several years. I recently decided to shoot a series of images centered on musicians. I immediately thought of Glen Marhevka. He is the trumpet player for BBVD, and I figured he'd be game for a shoot. After months of messaging on the facebooks, we finally locked down a date to shoot. Naturally we shot under the overpass on Overland Blvd., just down the road from where they shot "The Wizard of Oz." Though I was not able to convince Glen to "trash the suit" in the L.A. river after the shoot, we shot everything I had visualized. I also got a free mini private concert. Not a bad way to spend one's morning. Here are a few of the resulting photographs.
For my fellow strobists out there, the lighting was kept rather simple. I balanced for the ambient (whether in the shade of the overpass, or in the direct sunlight), and filled in the shadows with a bare Alien Bee B800. When you're working alone, are slightly tilted, and have a breeze to contend with, your visions of putting up that 60-inch Octa go right out the proverbial window.
A few months ago, I was contacted to participate in a unique photography project. Backbones, a nonprofit organization focused on supporting survivors of spinal cord injuries, was organizing a traveling exhibit, portraying the stories of a handful of heroic survivors. The stories would be told by both photographs and written words. I, along with 20 other photographers across the country, embarked on photographing our respective survivors. My subject for the project was Ellen Stohl.
Aside from being the first woman with a disability to ever pose in Playboy Magazine, Ellen has an MS in counseling, she writes, lectures, and has been a life coach and advocate to others with physical challenges. As Ellen states in her bio,
"Beauty is something everyone wants to feel they possess, but society can make that a difficult task, especially if you have a disability. Since crushing my spinal cord in an automobile accident and being diagnosed with quadriplegia in 1982, I've had to actively question social standards of perfection to rediscover and recapture that sense of beauty for myself."
As I had no intention of trying to recreate images from 30 years ago, I was focused on visually documenting the Ellen Stohl of today. She is a mother and a wife, and I simply wished to show that side of her. As I am sure Ellen will tell you herself, her wheelchair does not define who she is.
For the purposes of this blog, I decided to focus on two images from our photography adventure. For our first image, I asked Ellen to station herself at the end of the hallway in her home. I liked the composition her reflection in the frames, and the way the hallway ends at her. However, because there was so little room, lighting was not that easy. At camera right there is a doorway to the kitchen, which has direct view of the glass doors to the backyard. Because I knew I would only be using strobes for this scenario, I had to block all natural light. So, I hung up some Duvoteen (black cloth) in the doorway, and jammed a small softbox directly to the left of Ellen. Ideally, I would have liked it more in front of her, but she was unwilling to remove any part of the wall. Our rim light is a strip bank, also just out of frame, at camera left. It is obviously spilling on to the bathroom door, but was aimed as much as possible to Ellen's shoulder, as one can see by the lit area on the right hallway wall. Our last light source was a strobe bouncing off the ceiling, adding a little fill, and giving some definition to the bookshelf.
Having had so much luck in the hallway, I decided to make things even more difficult for myself, and I thought we would do some light painting. I had already rehearsed the shoot at home...with a stuffed bear.....so how difficult could it be at a new location? The concept was simple. Being that part of Ellen's story had to do with her spine, I decided I would photograph her back via a mirror. This would require her to sit backwards in her chair...something I had not considered in my Teddy bear rehearsal. I must clarify that Ellen and her husband were great sports about all of this. After her husband assisted in reversing Ellen in her chair, she removed her shirt, and then proceeded to nearly fall to the floor. Fortunately, her husband was nearby, and quickly came to the rescue. I felt badly, not having considered the logistics of my unusual request. Kindly, Ellen assured me it was due to her purse, which was making the chair back-heavy. After all the excitement, I had to work out the angle of Ellen's chair, the angle of the mirror, and the location from which I would paint. For those unfamiliar with the technique, light painting involves a long exposure, no ambient light, and literally painting your subject with light. Ideally, your subject does not move a millimeter, and it does not take more than say.......534 attempts. I think we came in at around 427. So, with the camera on a tripod and the aperture open, I must run over (in complete darkness), and begin painting Ellen with a flashlight. Not only are the amount of swiping and distance important, but one must also avoid being in between the subject and camera while "painting." This will cause a most unappealing blur or ghosting. I used a blue filter on the flashing for the chair, just to change things up a bit. The rim light on Ellen's right shoulder was created when I lit her back via the mirror. In the end, I was quite happy with the image, considering that prior to this, I had only light painted a Venus flytrap and some tabletop still life.
Looking back, I was happy with the images. Ellen and her family were very welcoming, allowing me into their home on several occasions. For more information on Backbones, please visit their site at http://backbonesonline.com/?attachment_id=454 and www.slangerphotography.com, and try to catch the exhibit if it comes to your town. If you'd like to learn more about Ellen and her cause, please visit her site at http://ellenstohlstory.com/wordpress/
I recently had the pleasure of photographing a ballet dancer for my first time. I had envisioned how the shoot would go-- her stretching in a studio, surrounded by mirrored walls; leaps into the air; and a portrait in front of a spinning light rope. For the first time I can say the shoot went exactly as I had hoped. My subject, Princess (yes, that is her name), was the ideal voluntary victim.....SUBJECT!
I got some images of Princess at the barre, a few of her with her pointe shoes, and some shots of reflections. On my way into the studio, I had noticed the enormous basketball gym adjacent to our location. I knew it would allow for some very different images than what we would get in the studio. Aside from the much larger working area, I would be able to close down my aperture, hit my subject with a strobe, and make the world around her go black. To be honest, once I saw the gymnasium, I was anxious to get in there and get to the leaping images I had envisioned.
Once we did move into the gymnasium, we decided Princess would get into her red outfit and lose the pointe shoes....for her own safety on the slick gymnasium floor. Wanting to get the most out of my key light, I opted for the bare strobe over the large umbrella. I placed a stool in the center of the gym floor as a marker of where all the action would take place. This was helpful because as she was leaping through the air, I did not want to be focusing on a moving target. Locking my focus on the floor beneath her somewhat guaranteed me an in-focus image. For the initial leaping images, I was using my Tamron 70-200 2.8. Though I had to back up nearly into the bathroom to use the 200, it allowed me to isolate the flying dancer, and not the entire gymnasium in the background. I was shooting at sync speed on my 5D Mark II (1/160th), doing all I could to freeze my subject. The first image shows Princess on the stool as I adjust the key light. I knew I would have to introduce a second light for a nice rim, separating her from the black hole behind her. Without the second light, her hair would vanish.
In our first aerial image, if you look to the right side of the frame, you just may be able to see the second strobe. It's round and white in appearance.
We then moved the rim light directly behind Princess to really isolate her from her environment.
For our next scenario, we moved to a miniscule equipment closet in order to remove all ambient light. My faithful assistant, Elizabeth, always willing to help out, was assigned the task of twirling a light rope behind our model. I must point out that is not nearly as simple as it sounds. The center of the spinning must be consistent, and directly behind the middle of our subject's head to achieve the desired effect. If anyone is seeking an up-and-coming lassoo artist, please let me know. So, for this scene, I was lighting Princess' visage with a beauty dish, doing all I could to confine the light in that small closet to light only her face. I will confess that because of the tight quarters, some light did reflect off the walls and ceiling, polluting the the scene to some extent. This required a small amount of work in post to remove said light pollution. Our settings were an 1/8th of a second at f/13. The long shutter speed is required to allow that spinning light in the background to buuuuuurn into the image. With a faster exposure (1/60th, 1/125th, etc.), the light rope would only appear as one "radius" of light, and not a complete circle around Princess' head. The f/13 assured me of an in focus capture, and also assisted in killing any unwanted ambient light creeping in from the open door behind me. As I mentioned, the three of us were crammed into a very small closet. To claify what is happening in this image, we have a "long" exposure going on, as Elizabeth frantically spinning that light rope behind princess. The long exposure allows the rope effect to take life, and the strobe on Princess freezes her for the most part. In other captures, her slight movement was revealed by a black halo around her head, and you can see the light that crept over her right shoulder. I could have removed it in Photoshop, but I like the imperfect nature of the effect.
Following some improvisational dance (which I may write about later), it was a wrap. I had a great time, and had accomplished what I had on my mental checklist of shots. This shoot had been a long time in the making, and I am so glad it finally came to fruition. Princess was the model subject, and Elizabeth was the ideal choreographer/light twirler. I could have not have hoped for a better experience, and I now have an even greater appreciation for dancers and what they put themselves through. I look forward to next one.
If you are not already familiar with my work, please visit my site at www.slangerphotography.com. Thank you.
A few weekends ago, I was asked to photograph a young couple's wedding in the hills of Malibu. Ryan and Joella had selected Malibu and Vine as their venue. After slogging through the PCH traffic (there was a triathlon in Malibu the same day), I arrived at the golf club, already dripping sweat. After meeting briefly with the coordinator, I was off to meet the couple for the first time. They had decided to shoot a brief first-look scenario, so I photographed the groom and his droogs before heading over to photograph the bride's dress and the rings. The men were dressing in the bathroom, but I took them into the adjacent locker room for a few photographs.
After the guys were ready, we prepared for the first-look scenario. When I say "we," I mean me. I really should work with an assistant more often. In an attempt to avoid direct sunlight hitting our young couple, I positioned myself facing the back wall of the restaurant, which would be our staging area for our bride's first appearance. I had the groom "hide" behind a pillar, around the corner from our bride, Joella, who walked down a walkway into the direct sun, and I snapped a few images of her as she descended.
Just before they saw one another, I grabbed a shot of our hiding groom and the reflection of our approaching bride in the window next to Ryan.
Following a few tears, we made our way down to the golf cart station, and organized a wedding party caravan to a couple of choice spots for the family photographs. For a guy who was about to get married, Ryan was as cool as they come. It is always nice to work with people who are not always worrying about what could go wrong on their special day. For the family and wedding party images, we found a lovely hill in the shade. It was mid-afternoon, so the sun was going down at my 10 o'clock. I would typically set up a large umbrella at camera-left and feather it across our party, but I was working alone, it was hot, they were all on the hill above me, and....did I mention it was hot? I had positioned our subjects in the shade and with trees in the distance behind them for a reason. Without a bright sky burning into the image, I was free to open up to a 5 or 3.5 (for my fellow shooters out there), making the background go nice and soft. Knowing that I would be shooting no more than two rows deep, I knew focus would not be an issue at 200 mm. After getting all the required images, I suggested a classic jumping shot and/or a rolling down the hill shot. Everyone uncomfortably stared and laughed at one another like I was crazy. I get that a lot.
We sent everyone away, and Joella, Ryan and I moved on to another location. Ryan suggested some images of the two of them sitting under a tree, kissing and nuzzling. Of course they looked great together, but I did not care for the dappled light. As everyone kept warning me, Ryan has a nice bronze color to him, while Joella is very fare skinned. They didn't scare me. It's just a matter of positioning the subjects or the light source, and exposing for her light skin. I could always bring back some shadow detail in the underexposed skin in post. Before we left our final location, I suggested we have Joella dangle her feet into a sand trap on the golf course. After delicately carrying his bride-to-be to the edge of the sand trap, Ryan stepped out as I grabbed a few images of Joella looking forlorn. I converted one to black and white, and I must say, it is one of my favorites of the day. I really like the dissembling bouquet on the grass.
After delaying the ceremony long enough, we made our way back, and prepared for the big event. With the sun now behind the hills, I was free to once again shoot at a 2.8, and not worry about the background blowing out.
Following the ceremony, I only had one more scenario I wanted to make sure I had in the bag. The sun had just dipped behind the hills, so I rudely grabbed our now married couple, and promised them I would only need them for two minutes. I probably exaggerated (lied) about the time involved, but they were great sports all day long. I set up an Alien Bee on a stand (again, this is for the photogs out there), bare-bulbed it, and exposed for the purplish sky. I think I took 5 exposures, then released my victims (subjects).
It was a beautiful ceremony, and a true pleasure documenting Joella's and Ryan's special day. One is always fortunate when the clients are interested creaively in the process, and are also willing to have a little fun. My best to them both.
Oh, did I mention the donuts?
My wife and I recently returned from our first trip to Seattle, and we only needed an umbrella during half of our trip. We were there for my wife's conference, and while she was listening to lectures, I set out to photograph the city made so popular by grunge music, and that cafe up there....Star-something. While our hotel was in the business district, we spent most of our time in and around Pike Place. I am pretty sure I was the first tourist to take this shot.
Of course our first stop after seeing the mongers NOT toss fish at the market, was the famous gum wall in Post Alley. While I'm sure you have all seen the other 4, this did make it on the 2009 Top 5 Germiest Tourist Attractions list. The story goes that the owner of the Market Theater did not like patrons chewing gum in the theatre, so they started sticking it on the wall outside. I heard a similar story about the construction of the pyramid at Giza. The wall across from the great wall of gum currently only has two pieces of gum on it.....stuck on the "No gum this side....thank you" sign.
Also located just a stone's throw from the fish market is.....the FIRST Starbucks cafe. There is always a line to get in, and street performers vie for the position just out side the door. This woman MAY have been swaying to the gospel choir outside the cafe, but I'm pretty sure she just REALLY likes Starbucks. To be honest, the coffee is not "thank you lord" good, in my humble opinion. I found it strange that a barista at one of our local Starbucks could not tell me where the Peet's was located. It was two blocks away.
Just up the street a ways, across from Victor Steinbrueck Park (I believe......but it's not clear to me), there were a couple of street performers singing something that I imagine was music from the south. I don't remember, as they were just finishing up as I grabbed this photograph. Do you think that is where he keeps his cell phone.......if he has one?
I'm not sure if this bird was just singing along........or if it was mocking them.
The only time we left the Pike Place area was when we walked to the Space Needle. It was constructed for the 1962 World's Fair, and was the collaboration of businessman Edward Carlson, and architect John Graham. Carlson liked the idea of a giant balloon tied to the ground, and Graham was totally into flying saucers back then. The resulting building is 158 meters tall (without the antenna spire), it sways 1 inch per every 10mph gust, and was built in less than 10 months. That last part sounds impossible today. Three people have committed suicide by jumping from the Needle....but that was back in the 70's.
More impressive than the Space Needle, is the Frank Ghery building located near the needle. The Experience Music Project is just that......an experience. One critic of the building described it as "something that crawled out of the sea, rolled over, and died." Forbes magazine declared it one of the world's 10 Ugliest Buildings. I personally found it to be fascinating, and enjoyed the use of different colors on the facade.
Realizing that there were a few more adventures to cover from our Seattle trip, I've decided to finish our story in the next blog installment. Come back next time when we answer the question, "Is that a REAL Popsicle?"