Photographer Who Travels

I was recently asked to shoot a wedding for some friends of mine.  Now, I normally don’t like taking pictures for my friends and I’ll tell you why a little bit later.  However, I have known Ben and Stacy for quite a long time and I was almost certain that I wouldn’t run into any of the “usual issues” with them as my clients.

Thing is, their wedding was going to be in Chicago.  In general, I’m not a huge fan of Chicago.  I suppose I have plenty of reasons, but I swear something bad happens every single time I’m there.  I guess I can summarize my feelings on Chicago with the phrase, “Chicago, fun sometimes…sometimes not.”

Anyways, since I don’t live anywhere near Chicago, I knew that I was going to need some intel on places to shoot some pictures.  I got on the old Google machine and started looking for interesting ideas.  Definitely no shortage there.  The nice thing about large cities is that there are plenty of options.

The trouble would be trying to find locations that were close enough together because I knew that my time was going to be limited.  The wedding was scheduled for the afternoon (a definite plus for us photographers), but I had to allow enough time for everyone to get ready.  I know how stressful it can be for the bride-to-be and her bridesmaids to get ready for the big day.  Guys, on the other hand, are easy.  Give them their tux, some hair gel, and a case a beer and call it good!

Thankfully, Ben and Stacy were kind enough to do some scouting for me and came up with some ideas.  I just needed to narrow down the options and come up with a travel plan.  I also reached out to a photog friend of mine, David, who happens to call the Windy City home.  He mentioned an awesome location where I could take pictures of the wedding party and their limo (if they decided to rent one) against a nice background.

Turns out that Ben and Stacy did rent an immaculate party bus from this limo company out of Naperville.  Problem is that the bus was so large that once I saw it, I knew that it would not work well with the location that David had in mind for the limo shot.  Unfortunately, I had to scratch that idea off my list.  However, the spot would be perfect for something smaller like a stretched Hummer or similar stretch SUV.

During my wanders online I found some pictures of the Riverwalk in downtown Chicago and knew that I had to shoot some photos of the wedding party there.  The contrast between the cities skyscrapers, the clear blue sky, beautiful river and immaculate landscaping would be a perfect way to capture the grandeur of the city.  Check out this location on the Riverwalk:


Can you say, “perfect!”

One of the other locations that the couple came up with was a tribute to their country roots.  Late summer is a beautiful time to take outdoor shots, especially at Bengston Farms.  I stumbled upon the website of Joshua Albanese and was drawn to this picture of a young couple in the flowing grass.


Call it dumb luck, but I knew we had to make that location happen.

All in all, I know I got some amazing shots and I need to put my head down and do some editing.  I’m glad that I was able to be part of Ben and Stacy’s big day.  Working for friends and family can sometimes be a nightmare.  I’m more than happy to help out, but my time is still valuable.  I just wish that those close to me would remember that.  Countless times I have worked for an hourly rate that most high school students would balk at. Unfortunately, some of my close contacts just don’t seem to understand the work involved in capturing those amazing moments for a lifetime.  I try to be upfront and honest.  I’d much rather add value with additional locations and pictures than discount my rates.  Maybe I take it too personally, but you wouldn’t go up to Monet and personally try to barter the price of one of his paintings, would you?

I am constantly humbled by the fact that I am able to earn a living doing something that I love.  It really doesn’t feel like a job.  I knew that I could not continue to participate in the 9 to 5 rat race.  I’m fortunate that my friends no longer refer to me as a “starving artist.”  Keep pushing to make your dreams a reality and don’t listen to the naysayers.  All they do is create headwinds.  Sometimes, I really don’t understand why we as a society are so negative.  We should really be more encouraging.  The world would be a much better place with more positivity.  Take action and keep after your passion!

How To Photograph Fireworks

Ok peeps, have you ever wanted to capture fireworks so you can enjoy them again and again? Despite your best efforts, do your photos always come out blurry? Well, here I am to shed a little light on the subject.

I realize that we are only in the first part of December, but January 1 is pretty much right around the corner. Many cities celebrate the coming of the New Year by setting off fireworks displays. Get your cameras and tripods, it’s time to get some practice in.

One thing that is especially abundant this time of year are Christmas lights. They actually provide a perfect medium for getting things dialed in on your DSLR. Really, there are only a couple differences between snapping pictures of Christmas lights and taking shots of fireworks; motion and elevation. Stationary light displays are far easier to shoot, but the concept is still the same. Also, most light displays are limited to the tallest tree, or the highest peak of a roofline.

The beauty of using a DSLR is that you will have instant confirmation that you are on the right track. You don’t need to wait to develop film, so the learning curve with taking pics of fireworks is actually quite steep.

Here is a simple numbered checklist to follow:

1. Use a Tripod

You’ll be using longer shutter speeds and the reason why your photos always turn out blurry is because it is nearly impossible to hold a camera perfectly still for the whole exposure.

2. Remote Release

You can always use the timer on your camera to save yourself some scratch, but why would you want to have to keep setting the stupid thing? Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to press a button whenever you’d like to snap a photo? Most cameras have the capability of adding a remote that allows you to control the shutter on demand. Do yourself a favor and invest in this accessory, you’ll be glad that you did.

3. Frame Your Shot

This is much easier with Christmas lights since they are stationary. You already know that fireworks can be relatively unpredictable, but that is precisely what makes it fun. Scope out your location beforehand, watch your horizons, and pick a vertical or horizontal orientation for your camera and stick with it. In my experience, vertical tends to yield better results for fireworks.

4. Focal Length

This is probably the most difficult aspect of firework photography. You simply don’t know where to focus. Try to get a feel for where fireworks are commonly breaking and focus on that area of the display.

5. Aperture

The misconception is that you need a fast lens to photograph fireworks. Actually, fireworks emit a significant amount of light, and mid to small range apertures tend to work best. Try to stick around f/8 to f/16 for best results.

6. Shutter Speed

A remote is what yields the best results. Switch your camera to “bulb mode.” This keeps the shutter open for as long as you hold down the release. Start holding the button as the firework is about to explode and hold it down until it’s finished exploding for maximum results.

7. ISO

Low ISO is best. Set your camera on 100 and forget it!

8. Turn Off Your Flash

There is no point to using it when you are snapping pics of fireworks. Besides, it only travels a few yards anyway, and if you are that close to the fireworks, you have other problems.

9. Manual Mode is Best

Autofocus seems easy, but I guarantee you’ll miss out on a lot of good pictures. Only when you change your focal length will you have to change your focus.

10. Experiment and Learn

Try new things. Maybe you’ll figure something out that is really cool.

That’s it for now. Let me know how it goes…

I Just Had Tons Of Fun Taking Pictures Of A Wedding Party

Strangely I found myself in Des Moines, Iowa of all places. Most of the time I’m just passing through.

This time I was just hanging out at a dog park with my best buddy. I love to give him a chance to stretch his legs from time to time when I’m traveling. It’s definitely not fair to keep him on leash all the time. I’m absolutely loving watching him interact with the other doggies at the park. He is having the time of his life.

Being a photographer, I never go anywhere without a camera. I tend to capture life moments whenever I get the opportunity. Too many of my friends are always saying, “man, I really wished I had a camera with me.” I decide to break out the D90 and shoot some stills of Dempsey, my champion Doberman Pinscher.

Action shots of a dog at play really show the true personality of specific breeds. I’m using the burst mode to click off photos in quick succession. My philosophy is to always take as many pictures as possible and sort and edit later. You never know what you’ll capture until you start taking pictures. I know it sounds so cliché, but it is so true.

Dempsey is chasing a Pharaoh Hound around the park and they are both loving every moment. Dogs are like kids sometimes. All the playing and exercising eventually catches up with them and they just want to sack out in the evening. I just know that all the exercise is going to do wonders for the next 5 hours of my journey. Dempsey will probably just be snoring instead of hanging his head out the window.

So, I’m standing there talking to the owner of the Pharaoh Hound and we both watch as a stretch Hummer pulls up to the park. No less than 16 people dressed to the nines hop out of that thing. It reminded me of that time I was at the circus and about 20 clowns jumped out of an old VW Beetle. I head over to the vehicle to get a good look (I am a car nut) and it’s clear that the wedding party is trying to find the perfect spot for a group shot. Being the photographer that I am, I offer my services to the happy couple. They are totally loving the fact that I happened to be at the park with a decent camera. They told me that they were just planning on grabbing someone and having them shoot some pictures with one of their cell phones.

The beauty about the digital age that we live in is that you can capture those moments in time so easily. I think back to my grandparents who really don’t have much of anything for photos of themselves when they got married. We’re so spoiled nowadays and so many things are taken for granted.

Back to the wedding party…By this point everyone is in position for a group formal shot and I definitely grabbed some winners. Now for the fun part. Candids. Everyone is coming up with ideas and the groom gets this idea to launch his new bride in the air as I take pics. Turns out they met on the cheerleading team in college.

What happened next is epic.

Tim, the groom, gets his best man (another former cheerleader) to stand on the other side of his new bride. So Julie, the bride, put one foot in the interlocked hands of Tim and the other foot in the best man’s interlocked hands. They count to 3 as they simultaneously hurl Julie skyward. At the apex of her trajectory she does a kick and starts to get into position for her landing.

Now the hilarious part. Her dress is so fluffed up with tulle that she looks like a snowball with arms in the sky. The two men catch her as she returns to Earth and instantly everyone is just laughing their heads off. I had my camera in burst mode for the whole thing and the entire group huddled around as I replayed my captured images. We were all just rolling with laughter.

I grab an email address and tell the adventurous couple that I’ll email the best shots when I get back to my studio. They offer to pay me and I tell them that I couldn’t possibly accept their money. They told me that they had to give me something for helping them out and I told them a beer from their Hummer would be sufficient payment. They oblige, thank me and pile back in to be whisked away to the next destination.

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