Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Violinist in the Metro

In previously postings I have mentioned Terry Robertson, a local photographer and educator. Terry occasionally sends notes out to his former students. This week Terry shared this thought-provoking story:

A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that thousand of people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

Three minutes went by and a middle aged man noticed there was musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried up to meet his schedule.

A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the violin case and without stopping continued to walk.

A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work.

The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. His mother tagged him along, hurried but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.

In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

None of the passersby were aware that the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the finest musicians in the world. He played some of the most elegant pieces ever written with a violin worth 3.5 million dollars. Two days prior, Joshua Bell had played to a sold out theatre in Boston at $100 a seat.

The Washington Post had arranged for Joshua Bell to play incognito in the metro station as part of an social experiment about perception, taste and priorities of people. The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour, o we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context?

One of the possible conclusions from this experience could be: If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing?

This sounds like another urban legend, but it isn’t. Video and audio of the performance are available on the Washington Post website.

I strongly believe that one of the most important skills that a portrait photographer must possess is the ability to actively seek out and recognize a subject’s beauty. Skill in lighting, camerawork, and communication are all vital too, but of little use if you cannot see the essence of the portrait that you want to make.

When I first started my photography business, I thought about whether it should have a slogan. I soon abandoned the notion, but in the course of exploring it, the best candidate that I found was a quotation, which I used on my first set of business cards, and which in a few words expresses a closely related idea. The quotation was:

Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it. ~ Aristotle

Monday, January 26, 2009

Can You Guess Whose Legs?


Saturday, January 24, 2009

Dynamic Interiors – Fine Tuned


I mentioned yesterday that I would be further processing the roomscapes that I was producing for my home builder client. Here is how one of yesterday’s sample photos looks after that additional processing.

It is mainly the geometries in the image that I have attended to. No matter how good the lens, there is always some optical distortion, especially with wide angle views; the 3D world simply can’t be mapped perfectly onto a 2D image. When editing architectural photos in particular, I give extra attention to restoring the regularity of lines. Yesterday’s rough cut suffered from various afflictions, including tombstoning – an upward flaring of the vertical lines, and volumetric anamorphosis – a radial stretching of objects near the perimeter of the image. I have corrected these as well as I know how.

My goal whenever I finish a picture, whether it be the image of a product or the portrait of a person, is to attenuate imperfections and distortions to the extent where they are unlikely to distract from the message and feeling that I want the picture to convey.

Coming back to the adjustments that I made to this picture, other than the geometric corrections, you may notice some small improvements to contrast and colour as well.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Dynamic Interiors

I am working with a Hamilton home builder, producing the photographic imaging for a magazine style brochure.

The roomscapes that I photographed for this project are undergoing some special processing to give them attention-getting punch. Here are a couple of samples that I sent to my client today. These were intended to demonstrate tone and colour only; the final images will contain other additional enhancements.



Sunday, January 11, 2009



I worked with JA in the studio last Friday.  We were to make a series of intimate portraits as a gift for her boyfriend.  Unfortunately, the makeup artist who I had booked for the session called in sick early Friday morning.  JA had booked the day off work and was driving in from out of town, so rescheduling her appointment was not an option.  I put out calls for help to a half dozen other makeup artists in the area.  Those who got back to me were – not surprisingly – already booked for the day. 



Those of you who follow my blog can probably guess the punch line.  In the end, it was my good friend Marie of Beauty on the Go who came through for JA and me.  Even though she was on vacation, had prior commitments, and was faced with bad driving conditions, Marie offered to come out to my studio as soon as she could, so that I could fulfill my commitment to JA. 


JA had arrived mid-morning but Marie was unable to get to the studio until mid-afternoon.  I wanted to use my time with JA productively, but makeup and hair styling are normally a prerequisite for glamour and beauty portraits.  So the delay in makeup and hair services created a challenge for me. 


Here are the workarounds that I came up with.  I photographed the shadow of JA’s body, as seen through a rice paper privacy screen.  Then I photographed her silhouette.  It turns out that JA is a dancer, so we did a series of low key, rim lit, dance-inspired full length poses, on the floor and on a loveseat.  We hadn’t originally planned to do any fine art style figure studies during her session, but this is where the unusual circumstances took us.  It turned out that JA was well suited to being photographed in this style, and that she liked the outcome. 


At this point, we had captured a lot of striking images, but we needed to get some which showed more of JA’s personality and character.  So, despite the absence of makeup and hair styling, we proceeded to make some close up portraits.  JA had strong enough features that I felt confident that we would yield some worthwhile results.  In fact, we did better than that.  These portraits celebrate her natural beauty, and we were both really pleased with the results.

Seldom do things go exactly as planned.  This is just an extreme case in point.  Any portrait and wedding photographer had better be able to roll with the punches and find the beauty in chaos.   Personally, that challenge fuels me.


Just after we completed the natural look close ups, Marie arrived.  I was very excited about this phase of the photography.  Anyone who can look beautiful in close ups without makeup, is bound to look amazing with makeup.  I set the lights up for head-and-shoulders only, since we had already captured a lot of 3/4-length and full length portraits.  It is samples of this last set from our session that I have posted in this blog entry.  The “no makeup” portraits that we made previous to these are more intimate.  With JA’s permission, I may post  some of these in a future blog entry.

And, as usual, it is early previews not finished portraits that I am posting here.  No touch up work has been done on any of these portraits at this stage. 



I am able to post these ten previews today because Marie went out of her way to respond to my plea for help.  I am fortunate to have a colleague and friend like Marie.  She is one of the best family portrait photographers in our area, as well as one of the best freelance makeup & hair stylists.  That is not ad copy, that is my experience.  I have worked with many local photographers and makeup artists, and I have found no better craftsperson in these fields than Marie.  I can recommend her services without hesitation or qualification, and I regularly do.  If you need artistry, integrity and dependability, she is the one to call.  Her sites are Beauty on the Go and Memories by Marie.


Monday, January 5, 2009

Valentine's Day Special Ends Tomorrow

Tomorrow is the final day of my special offer on glamour and boudoir portraits for Valentine's Day. Here's the deal: one hour of custom studio portraits, pro makeup and hairstyling in the studio,a private online preview gallery, and your choice of one 8x10 print or one full res digital image file, all for $199. That's $100 off the regular price. Follow this link for more details.

Some have asked if they can have the same deal for other types of portraiture, for example, model portfolio. The answer is yes, as long as it's studio photography.

Order online here.




Thursday, January 1, 2009

More New Product

Many of my portrait sessions lately have been extended ones, often aimed at producing a portrait album. These portrait sessions normally yield hundreds of good portraits, but only so many can go into an album.

Here's an idea for putting all of the good takes from such a session to use.

I will use my recent client E as an example. When we did the portraits for her boudoir album, we worked with two lighting styles. Around half of her portraits were low key and the other half mid key. We also made a few silhouettes.

Her silhouettes offer the perfect basis for a mosaic made from an array of these two sets of dark and light toned images.


Click on the above to see a slightly larger version.


The above is a higher resolution detail.

Mosaics like these make fascinating posters!