As a professional photographer, one of the most common questions people ask about their portrait sittings is what to wear. My portraits are always about faces and hands rather than clothing though I must confess that I am a big fan of environmental or lifestyle photos much like those you see in Vanity Fair. In general, I prefer to create images of people wearing dark clothing against a dark background but if the background is light-colored or white then I prefer people wear lighter colored clothing. I do not like to reverse it. If you want everyone to be in white clothing against a dark background, I am probably not the right photographer for you.
That said, rules were made to be broken. The goal is to have colors that go well together as opposed to clash. Above all, be comfortable and to keep it simple. These suggestions work well in either color or in black and white as well as men and women. So get your best dress or suit on then have your hair and make-up done at a salon for our photo shoot. Together we can create some beautiful portraits in natural settings to capture a unique moment in time.
I had just finished helping my wife get her printer up and running at work and was going to pick up some Chinese food at Chang Mao. On my way I remembered that I wanted to photograph the Progressive Health building’s front facade that is adorned with Christmas lights. It is probably the most tastefully decorated establishment in this historic hamlet in the Poconos. I quickly grabbed my Leica M9 with a 35/2 Summicron lens attached to quickly grab the image I had pre-visualized in my head for weeks now.
When I got there, half the lights were turned off already so I was quite disappointed. I was about to head off to pick up the Shrimp with Lobster Sauce and Chicken CHow Mein that was waiting for me. Fortunately, the Pike County Public Library, which is currently located inside the Milford Community House also known as the “Pinchot Homestead.” on Harford St. called out to me so I went over there and took a quick shot at ISO 1600, f/5 at 1/30th of a second. Shooting a rangefinder handheld at 1/30th of a second is not a problem as there is no mirror that clunks closed when the shutter is released
Next year I will have to get a shot of the other buildings earlier in the season. Oh, and a little snow would be nice as well.
We had a very casual gathering at our home for Christmas Eve this year. My cousin Nigel also joined us for the evening since he could not join us for the larger celebration at my sister-in-law’s place the next day where most from our family will be celebrating Christmas.
While we were just hanging around catching up on everyone in the family, Nigel mentioned that he needed some new images for his on-line dating profile. I find it difficult to say no to a willing family member acting as my subject so I took him outside so we could create a few new portraits that will entice or interest young and vivacious women in search of a lasting relationship to send him a message or a wink or whatever else people do on-line these days.
Nigel wanted an image that will help show adventurous side. His fun side is very visible on his Facebook page and photos taken by his buddies, but for a strong, attractive and formal image, he wanted the help of a professional. Since he cannot afford one, he came to me his cousin. I quickly grabbed a Leica M9 with the 35/2 Summicron attached to it plus a QFlash Turbo 5D and off into the Delaware Forest woods in the Poconos we go to create some portraits.
For the first look, I had him sit on a rock in the woods. Not quite the Marlboro Man look, but this one turned out to be his favorite and is now his on-line dating profile at OkCupid. It was shot at ISO 160, 1/180 shutter speed at f/4. The flash provided the fill.
For the next look we just walked over to a clearing where I shot him with my camera wide open at f/2. Since he wanted something casual and rugged, I had him put on his pea coat then place his thumbs in his pants pocket. I framed him with the ground leading toward him and the bright light framing his face. This once was my personal favorite and he may still use it on another on-line dating site he used to use.
So if you need a profile pic for a dating site or for your bio somewhere, please contact a professional photographer who can let your inner personality shine through
A few months ago, I was commissioned to create some lifestyle portraits for John Kiesendahl, who is the President and CEO of Woodloch. The images would be created at each of the company’s retreats, which includes a year-round all-inclusive family resort in the Poconos called Woodloch Pines, an award-winning championship golf course called Woodloch Springs and a luxurious destination spa called The Lodge at Woodloch.
The shot that above all, brings tears to my eyes is the image of JK sitting on a chair in the lobby of Woodloch Pines. It has, in my opinion, the best narrative of JK. The image places him in the far right of the frame. He is so close and his look so attentive that you feel him inviting you to spend time inside his home. In the background, you can see hints of the lobby’s fall decorations. As you look closer at the image, you will see a reflection of JK gazing at a portrait of his parents Harry and Mary Kiesendahl, who are looking back proudly at what their kids have accomplished with their legacy.
But I jumped the gun and should tell you how the imaged was created so I must digress. People refer to John either as “JK” or the “Guy with the Crazy Pants,” because he is usually wearing custom-tailored pants featuring many children’s characters. I was excited to get started on the project since JK is an extremely likable guy and the resorts beautiful. When I first received the commission, I started to pre-visualize which set of crazy pants should go with which resort, but the bubble burst when I was informed that the images would be more formal and JK would be wearing a suit. This just went from an easy fun portrait shoot to one that actually took some careful thought on my part. I now had to create a more complex narrative of an executive who, along with the entire Kiesendahl family, helped navigate a place with modest beginnings as a 30 room inn to a vast empire consisting of three successful resorts, real estate company and a home builder based on the simple strategy that you should treat guests as if they were company in your own homes. The challenge was not just to show a powerful executive but to bring out JK’s fun and inviting personality.
My first Woodloch experience was in January of 2010. At that time, my wife told me she wanted us to spend several days at a spa. As I learned to do since our wedding day, my response was “yes dear.” I immediately assumed she wanted to hop on a airplane to Phoenix so we can spend some time at the Phoenician or maybe the Boulders in Carefree, Arizona, which are other places we have enjoyed in the past. So, I was surprised to hear that she wanted to go to a The Lodge at Woodloch in Hawley PA. Despite the fact it was located a mere 30 minutes from our hometown of Milford, I have never heard of the place nor known anyone who has been there. However, I was game.
The place is only 90 miles from either New York or Philadelphia and more importantly, I did not have to hop on a plane, which I no longer find a positive experience. When we arrived at the Lodge at Woodloch, we both were absolutely blown away. The facilities were absolutely exquisite, the service spectacular and the cuisine delicious. We immediately understood why The Lodge at Woodloch consistently is in the top 10 lists of destination spas in the United States.
In fact, it was sixth this year just behind The Lodge at Pebble Beach, which is another place we have enjoyed in the past along with its neighbor the Inn and Links at Spanish Bay, which are both a 5.5 hour flight plus a 2 hour drive. It was a big plus for us to be able to take a short drive to Woodloch so we can spend more time relaxing as opposed to traveling.
While we were enjoying the spa, I looked at the program of activities and noticed they had a lot of outdoor activities. I asked my wife if she was game to go on a hike or maybe snowshoeing. She gave me a perplexed look and said “Alex we live in the woods 30 minutes away in Pike County and do that stuff everyday. Look at where they go, those are the same places we go everyday.” So I’m back to ”Yes dear.” She was right of course so I settled on enjoying some fabulous treatments as well as some much-needed fitness classes. However, my mind was whirling. I can enjoy this place but it would also be so cool to be an adventure guide at the Lodge. In May of 2011, I got my wish and twice a week: I accompany guests on scenic hikes; I get muddy and bloody on mountain bike rides; and I enjoy the thrill of river kayaking. Yes, I get paid to do all that. It’s not much, but I would be doing those things on my own anyway.
Five months after becoming an adventure guide at the Lodge, I am standing behind my tripod preparing to create images of a man I have gotten to know over time.
I have experienced first hand, each of the three venues. I have selected the location for each of the images. I had my lights set up and compositions tested with Rory O’Fee, Director of Marketing at the Pines, serving as JK’s stand-in. All JK had to do was step into the shot and he would be done at each location within 5 minutes, while Rory and I moved on to collaborate and set up at the next place.
The outdoor shots were taken with a Mamiya RZ67 Pro II D body with a Leaf Aptus 33MP digital back and Mamiya 110mm/2.8 lens. The settings were ISO 100, 1/60th f/8 and lit with a single hand-held QFlash Turbo 5D. The indoor shots were taken with a Leica M9 and a 28mm/2 Summicron lens. The settings were ISO 160 at various f/stops and lit with one or two Dynalite Uni400s with umbrellas.
The first shoot would take place at Woodloch Springs, which is an award-winning championship golf course. We took some shots inside, but my favorite image was taken outside on the tee for the 9th hole. It has a wonderful fairway that has a view of the clubhouse that is framed by the autumn leaves. It was a bit touch and go because of rain throughout the night. However, somehow the rain stopped and the clouds parted just in time for us to set up the following shot.
Then it was off to the Lodge at Woodloch, which I already described as one of the top destinations spas according to SpaFinder, Conde Nast as well as Travel and Leisure. One of the tenets of the spa is they bring the outside in so we chose the sitting area with its floor to ceiling windows in front of the restaurant. There were a lot of people at the Spa and I had to set up studio lights and place my tripod in a well-traveled hallway. We worked quickly, but we still were able to accomplish what we needed to do.
The final location was Woodloch Pines, which is where JK’s office is located. I had initially wanted to photograph JK in his office. After I looked at it, I decided it was not going to work. Throughout the world, I have literally met with hundreds of CEOs of companies ranging from Silicon Valley start-ups to multi-billion multi-nationals based in countries such as the United States, England, Japan, Finland, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and France. JK’s office was one of the simplest and cleanest offices I have seen. I would’ve guessed this because his US Navy background and the fact he spends so much more most of his time walking around talking to guests. Rory and I searched for a couple of new locations and settled for the deck overlooking Lake Teedyuskung and the Lobby.
During the course of setting up, we ran into JK’s brother Steven Kiesendahl, who is the Director of Sales and Marketing at Woodloch. Steven’s role has kept Woodloch Pines at an amazing annual occupancy rate of over 85%. An image of the two of them together would be a great addition to the library of images we were creating. So much of the Pines’ activities and facilities revolve around Lake Teedyuskung that we thought the perfect spot for a shot of Steve and JK together would be on the deck overlooking the water.
I was tying to go for something casual and powerful at the same time so I had Steve put his hands in his pocket. This was perfect as he was dressed in business casual attire. I had JK place his hands on his lapel much like a photo Yousef Karsh took of Prince Edward many years ago. JK was not comfortable in this position but I thought he looked very regal. He humored me by letting me take one shot of him this way and it is my favorite of that series.
The next time you need to create an image of someone, spend some time with them. Get to know their passions and ambitions. That will lead you to the ideal place to have them sit or stand to create a memorable portrait. It’s not the number of shots you take, it’s creating a connection that you record or document forever. Give it a try. I know in this digital age, we find it all too easy to take hundreds of shots we think are “good enough.” We should not be satisfied with that. Find someone to photograph, then tell yourself, that you have only one or two shots to create their image. Learn, listen, observe and pre-visualize the shot, then take it. I am willing to bet the first shot will be your best.
Every year at about this time people ask me for advice on how to shoot indoors sports. Despite all the new cameras with high ISO capabilities, the best strategy in my opinion is still to use flash for most indoor sports including volleyball, basketball, track and swimming. Regardless of the camera, images shot at a lower ISO will always be crisper than one shot at a high ISO.
Here are some examples:
The volleyball image was shot from a Canon EOS 1D Mark III at ISO 1000 f/5.6 at 1/250th of a second. I strobed the event by bouncing a pair of Dynalite 4080SPs with M2000er packs into the ceiling. It is not my preferred strategy but the officials made me bounce my lights as opposed to hitting the players direct. It provides flatter lighting as opposed to higher contrast.
In any venue, I try to get my lights up as high as I can reasonably get them and far back. I point them straight onto the action because I really love that high contrast look. Here is an example of my set up at a high school gym. With a pair of Dynalite Uni400s at half power, I was able to get f/5.6 at the top of the key and f/4 at the other end of the court at ISO800.
I could’ve put the lights at full power and shot at ISO 400 or opened up to f/4, but I prefer the look at f/5.6 which gives me a little depth of field so I can aim the AF center mass and still get the faces in focus even if the subject is leaning forward.
Now compare the above images with a mens gymanstics event I shot using available light with a Canon EOS 1D Mark IV at ISO8000 f/4 with a 1/1000 of a second shutter speed. I don’t like to shoot gymnastics wide open if I can get away with it so I sacrificed a bit of noise to stop down and have a better depth of field.
As you can see, the images where I used flash came out much better. In fact, I believe it is much more cost effective to purchase a good set of lights over super fast glass such as an 85/1.2 if your primary goal is to shoot indoor sports.