This is a long post about a picture I made last year that I am pretty proud of. Most people would see the image not realizing that it’s actually several pictures and hours of work as opposed to single snapshot. So yeah, I am fishing for appreciation…. appreciate it damn-it. The big photo nerd in me enjoys seeing things like this, so I thought I would share.
My wife Melanie and I (and the kids as they have joined the party) have been fortunate over the last decade to have been invited from time-to-time to vacation at friends family ranch along the shores of Lake Roosevelt in Eastern Washington. The property is an amazing retreat where time goes out the window and I am forced to unplug from the devices and connectivity that stress me out as much as they help me stay productive. As a photographer, the ranch is a feast for the eyes and camera sensor. I probably have a couple hundred GBs of unprocessed RAW files from over the years that I like to jump in and develop whenever I have time.
Almost 2 years ago now, I shared some of my recent pictures with the owner Mike who had recently returned from some extended time in Europe with his family. Inspired by what he saw in France, he decided to make an addition to the property upon his return. He contracted a local mason, Randy Michaelsen, to make use of a grassy hillside overlooking the bay to build an amazing stone grotto. He asked if I would be willing to take some nice photos of the grotto whenever I was back at the property that he could give to Mr. Michaelsen as a thank you for his incredible work.
The temperature was in single digits and snow was falling when I returned to the property last winter. That environment only amplified the purpose of the grotto and the comfort it provided; allowing you to enjoy the beauty of the nature you were surrounded by, while being shielded from its bone chilling elements that would typically drive you indoors. I spent a couple days enjoying the Grotto before snapping any pics of it. It was obvious that no photo could ever relay the true experience of sitting in the Grotto, but I was going to do my best to capture the skilled engineering and artistic placement of hundreds, maybe thousands of stones.
My first thought was to get the fire roaring, light all the candles, and get some nice shots of the grotto being illuminated by the ambient glow of flames. It only took a couple of snaps to realize that these photos relayed an inviting scene, but hardly emphasized the amazing masonry work. Essentially I needed to photograph a cave (a very nice cave) that was designed to block out exposing elements, including the sun. So I needed to add light. The best way to showcase this was a very detailed photo of the entire Grotto framed by the hillside, with the stone and woodwork crisp in detail from front to back. I was working with a tri-pod, a hot shoe flash with a LumiQuest SoftBox LTp modifier on a light stand, and a 24mp Nikon D7100 with the Nikkor 35mm f1.8 lens. Using the flash would allow me to stay at a low & crisp ISO 100, and ideally I wanted to shoot with an aperture around f10. I had to settle at f5.6, but this was not an issue since the cropped sensor of the D7100 essentially turns my 35mm into a 52mm lens, and the distance I needed to frame the shot with the grassy hillside allowed that depth of field to include the entire grotto front-to-back.
I knew that it was going to take more then one pop of flash to appropriately and evenly light all the walls and every stone that comprised the Grotto and my strategy turned to a composite. I had just managed to turn a “few nice snapshots” of the grotto into a multiple shot composite (which is really what I wanted all along). More work = more supplies, and considering I already I had all my gear, I went back in the house and got a tall stiff drink and crammed as many beers as I could into my winter coat…. along with some bacon left over from our late breakfast. With everything I needed, I got to shooting and in all probably took 30 – 40 total pictures, half with my light positioned on one side of the grotto, half from the matching position on the opposite side. This was an attempt to uniformly light both sides and give myself an number of images that I could easily mask together.
In the end I settled on about 6 images, 3 from each side, and a few shots with no flash. The compositing process was much different then I was used to. Most of the time when compositing I am working with well defined lines and using a very precise and hard brush. But the grotto provided literally thousands of perfectly imperfect lines, each stones edge different then the other. So I found myself using a much larger brush at a low opacity, gently shaving away until each layer blended nicely. I was like a digital Bob Ross dropping in happy stones. As you will see in the layers portion of the video above, the mask layers look like I let my 3 year old do the post processing. Once everything was back to a solid wall of stone, I did some isolated dodge and burns and suddenly found myself exactly where I wanted to be, looking at a crystal clear shot of the grotto that most people would see as a “nice shot”.
This post is a little bit about sharing this awesome photo I made with my sister Lis for her makeup business. But it’s more about taking a moment to brag a whole bunch about her, what an amazing talent she is, and how her hard work has developed into a jaw-dropping skill set. She FINALLY launched her first website LisKrebs.com and while I have always known she is unreal at her craft, seeing her work in one location completely blew my mind. More after the jump…. Read the rest of this entry …
I recently got my first taste of being on the CreativeLive stage when I was asked to do a kick-off interview with host Jim Catechi before the final day of the amazing Kirsten Lewis‘ ‘Family Photography: Modern Storytelling‘ workshop. All I can say is that I have a whole new respect for what the CL hosts and instructors do every day. I was fine until I sat down in my chair, and then boom, nerve overload.
Jim had me on to talk a little about what I do everyday at CreativeLive and then in the spirit of Kirsten’s workshop, talk a little bit about some of my photography with families, as well as with my own famiy. It was an amazing experience, I think I got my nerves out, and I hope to get back on that stage again sometime soon!
Is it too late for a 2012 recap? Naaah. 2012 was an amazing year for me. It took me from the shores of the San Juan Islands to the heart of the Central American jungle to photograph some amazing people. Here is a sampling of my wedding and portrait photography work in 2012……