Directional contrast

I made this photograph on Sunday at a fundraiser in Princeton, NJ. While I think there are some challenges with this image, I can’t help but be drawn to the contrast between the direction of the subjects in the art pieces on the wall and the direction of the people in the room. It’s curious to me that the people in the room are now directioned subjects in a new work.

What do you think?

Also, If you’re curious, that center photograph on the wall is supposedly number one in a series by photographer Alex Prager. The homeowner from Princeton noted that MoMA owns number two.

Working with constraints: A year of shooting toys

I got used to the smell of new Made in China vinyl.

Throughout most of 2010, I photographed limited-edition toys, apparel and accessories for Kidrobot, Inc. Every week or so I’d carry a box of fantastical creatures to my studio to document, creatively, using only white or black or other neutral backgrounds. For a while I really wanted to take the toys out into the real world. I wondered if the bunny-inspired Dunnys would look better against a wall of tall grasses or if the plush toys would be more inviting in a quiet bedroom. The challenge of having narrow parameters grew on me however. I began to see the toys as characters in a story I had to bring to life using only light and darkness as tools.  After working this way for almost a year, I’m convinced that creative constraints can help make room for new growth and fun exploration.

The following is a collection of images from the year that I wanted to share. I hope you enjoy the photographs and the awesomely designed toys.

Portrait of Wes in snowy New Hope

We’ve had snow on the ground in New Hope, PA for something like two months. While I’m ready for warmer weather, snow does some great things for bouncing light around. Here is Wes leaning against a glass door with a simple mirror positioned in front of him to fill in some light and introduce a subtle catch light to his eyes.The background behind him is the stubborn snow that refuses to melt.

Part II: How many Photoshop layers does it take to make an image?

Way back in August I posted the first part of this story where I featured a screen grab of all the Photoshop layers it took to make an image. Here’s part two.

If you’re bored, or just for fun, see if you can identify the changes from the original environmental image to the final. The plan and process was roughly as follows:

  • First I used HDR (High Dynamic Range) software to pull out details in the trees outside and to balance out the tonal range of the scene. The environment image consists of six or so exposures that were merged together
  • Second I had to correct the slanted door frame that hugs the right side of the image. The entire wall with the screen door is essentially rebuilt
  • Third I dropped in a shot of the models that was made with strobes / flash lighting. I also had to add in their reflections on the floor
  • Fourth I made some corrections to the art work on the wall and also had to color in the martini glass
  • Finally I muted the colors down some for more of a vintage and faded look

Brian has a birthday

Happy birthday Brian.

Bordo Bello: Art and fun for a good cause

Last night was the annual Denver skateboard auction known as Bordo Bello. The event was amazingly organized and lots of fun. The art work was impressive too. Rumor has it that 600 tickets were sold. It’s always exciting to see the creative community come together for a good cause. Some photos of my board and the event.

Bordo Bello and a tub drain

On September 30, 2010, folks in Denver will head over to a skateboard art fundraiser known as Bordo Bello to check out around 200 custom designed boards. The event helps raise money for some design scholarships and other arts programs organized by AIGA Colorado. If you’re around, you should buy a ticket and check it out.

I was asked to make a board a few weeks back. While I initially couldn’t think of an idea for a board, a thought for a photo came to me while I was showering one day.

Too odd I wondered? Some folks on Facebook and Twitter gave me feedback:

I liked the range of responses. So I setup my camera, popped some flashes, and ended up with this image – click through for a slightly larger version.

So I wonder. What does a photo of a tub drain make you think of?

Update: Here’s a photo of my wood backed board hanging. So exciting to see. Photo courtesy of Bordo Bello.

Adventures in passport photography, or, you get what you pay for.

I’m going to Mexico next month for a friend’s wedding. Last night, as I dug up my ten year old passport, I found out it had just expired. Renewing your passport isn’t super complicated, but you do need new headshots to send in with your forms.

I thought of making my own photo, but that seemed like overkill. So this morning I drove over to Walgreens to take advantage of their flat rate $8.99 passport special. I knew they likely had a turnkey passport photo operation and would give me something to government spec quickly. I figured the photo wouldn’t be great, but not terrible either.

I walk into Walgreens, ask around, and the guy at the photo center directs me over to a white pull-down backdrop. He whips out a little point-and-shoot with a built-in flash and makes this photograph of me:

Where did my left eye go?

I walked out of the store, sat on a bench outside and wondered if this was the photograph I’d show border agents, friends and relatives for the next ten years. No way I concluded.

Sharing my story with folks on Twitter, and after some encouragement, I figured out that I should take some time and make my own damn passport photograph. After all, I am a photographer.

I returned to my studio, quickly setup one light and a bounce board beneath my head and shot a few frames. Much better I thought. It wasn’t too painful either.

After downloading my shots and knocking out the background in Photoshop, I was ready to proudly mail in my photograph to Uncle Sam.

Boulder is burning and needs help

In case you haven’t read the news, Boulder is burning.

While fires are somewhat common in Colorado, it’s hard not to be heartbroken when you hear about 40 60 90 130 plus structural fires in your backyard. A lot of these structures are homes that belong to regular working class folks too. It’s been reported that nine firefighters in the area have also lost their houses.

Here are a few ways to help:

  • RT @RedCrossDenver: You can help your neighbors by donating to the Red Cross Colorado Disaster Relief Fund
  • Volunteer Connection: 303-444-4904 or email They’re setting up a volunteer contact list
  • You can also find other inquiries for help by following the #boulderfire hashtag on Twitter

And finally, while I’m not sure if there will eventually be a lot or very little demand for photographers to document property damage for insurance claims or personal records, I’d like to offer my time and services at no charge for those in need of images. If you need a photography resource, please email me your requests at image (at) or leave me a voicemail on my Google voice account at 303- 731.6741.  Once it is safe to venture back up the canyon, we can schedule some time to document whatever needs to be documented. If the need is great, I’m confident I can find other photographers to help as well.

To our many volunteers, thank you. Let’s all pray for rain.

Part I: How many Photoshop layers does it take to make an image?

Whenever an image is produced for commercial or advertising purposes, it is rarely “what you see is what you get.” Instead, every image is put through the Photoshop grinder where the walls in a room, a model’s wardrobe color, and the lighting are all scrutinized with exacting detail. Even “documentary” style images used in ad campaigns are put through a rigorous retouching process. Accidents aren’t allowed. When mistakes do happen, you’ll often find them on:

I recently finished a small non-commercial shoot where I played around on my own time to show what the image might look like after going through retouching. Here are the Photoshop layers for your amusement. As you can see, there are lots and lots of changes to the original image – changes to saturation, color, and even the structure of walls.

Once this image releases in the next few weeks, I’ll break it down some more. For now, take a look at the organization behind something like ten hours of Photoshop time.

Note: I try to name all my layers so that I know what is being done at a particular step to the underlying image. I got a bit lazy towards the end though – hence the generic non-named changes at the top.