More family portrait fun

Some pre-bedtime images from last night.

My wife is out of town for a bit so I have left my strobe and gear set-up without feeling too much guilt about the clutter. Similar to this entry from over the weekend, these images are just my kids and I playing around and having fun. A happy side effect to the laughter and goofiness we share during these “house shoots” is that I’m nicely padding my photo library with photos to print and put in our family yearbooks.

It’s an overused cliché about photographers “preserving memories” but there is a large grain of truth to the saying. These photos are going be damn fun and nostalgic in the distant future when our kids have grown.

Some of my work on the pages of Edible Cleveland magazine

I’ve announced this elsewhere but it may have been missed by those not scattered around the social media outlets I use.

The food and restaurant scene in Cleveland has been growing and garning national attention in the past several years. In conjunction with that vibrant growth Noelle Celeste and John Benedict began publishing Edible Cleveland. The magazine focuses on the Greater Cleveland food community and brings together the writing, photography, and art of Northeast Ohioans that are invested and interested in that community. Edible Cleveland’s winter issue was recently released and I’m happy to have two series of images in it. My images accompany 2 separate essays, The Chestnut Was Dead: To Begin With and Harvesting in the Heart of the Polar Vortex both written by my friend Steve Corso of Bat Barn Farm and Foraging.

The Chestnut essay details the blight-troubled history of the American chestnut and some local farmers and landowners that are working today to preserve the American chestnut genome and reintroduce the once popular nut to the public by growing other blight resistant hybrid varieties. The essay on winter harvest is a brief look at Steve’s efforts to continue harvesting farm produce into (dare we say through) Northeast Ohio’s frozen winters.

If you live in or around Cleveland you can find locations that carry hard copies of Edible Cleveland here. If you are more far flung, a downloadable PDF of the winter issue can be found here[1].

  1. The Chestnut Was Dead: To Begin With begins on page 44 and Harvesting in the Heart of the Polar Vortex on page 53, but I encourage you to page (scroll) through the whole magazine. It is filled with good work by Cleveland creatives.  ↩

No School? Let's Play And Get Some Headshots.

I convinced the kids to sit for a little while in front of the lights during a school-free snowday yesterday.

Truthfully, I didn’t really have to do a lot of convincing. I’m lucky to have a built in set of models under the same roof and, even as they’ve gotten older, they are still more than willing to stand in front of the camera when I get the itch to play, test out ideas, or simply need to scratch that creative itch.

Thanks guys!

A Small Holiday Project

A small "12 Days of Christmas" project I photographed over the past few weeks as my house ramped up for the holidays. A fun reason to keep my lights out and get the kids involved with brainstorming creative ideas for the series. The girls came up with the idea for the 4th image on their own and I think it is my favorite from the set.

The last image is in there by kid request. They are suckers for selective colorization and photoshop and like to see all the ways you can manipulate images. Unfortuanately, there's no photoshop action for improving the model's looks in that one.

Thanks for a good year of conversation, reading, and images everyone. Enjoy your holidays!

Salon Fun

The girls brought out their “play” make-up this past weekend for a short salon session. Ignoring my paternal fears of their possible future battles with body image, they are hilarious to watch as they inexpertly layer coat upon coat of makeup on each other.

Happy Halloween

I set up a mini-studio[1] last night before we hit the streets of Burton, OH for trick-or-treating. This year’s costumes: A Zombie Soccer Player, a Candy-corn Walrus[2], and a Cheetah.

Halloween round #2 is kicking off as I type and the kids are recostuming to head into Chardon.

Happy Holloween everyone.

  1. 2 lights, 1 gridded to hit their faces and 1 gelled with lots of CTO onto seamless on the living room wall  ↩

  2. Is there any other kind?  ↩

Walking Away

Let’s be honest. Three-year olds and newly tottering 1-year olds are not the most obedient photographic models. I was reminded of that on a beautiful fall day last weekend as I photographed my sister and her family in my professional guise.

It didn’t take long to realize that my niece and nephew were far more interested in exploring Century Village than in standing still for photographs. While I was able to distract them into motionlessness temporarily here and there by pleading and begging, in the end I ended up with many images of their backsides walking away. That’s not a horrible thing. I am still quite happy with those images and it kept the kids happy, the portrait session moving along, and new possibilities possible. [1]

Photographs with people's faces can create a connection between an image and the viewer (especially photos that have eye contact with the subject and the camera) and by removing that possibility it allows a viewer to take in the scene more readily as a whole. And, certainly with children, images of subjects walking away from the camera can add a sense of innocence and independence. A sense of togetherness as well when the image is of more than one person and there is physical contact like holding hands. Indeed, as my nephew has grown the relationship between him and his big sister has also and it’s been fun to watch.

Not every portrait session works out as planned – in fact many don’t and it’s important to be flexible and inventive. Especially in child portraiture.

  1. Continually pleading and arguing with them to patiently wait for more traditional portraits would have ended in tears and frustration. Theirs and mine.  ↩

My Kids

The objects that cluttered my daughter’s dresser caught my eye recently. I liked that what sat atop her dresser so represented her interests and personality. That insight led to the series of stills below.

6 Year Old

9 Year Old

10 Year Old


I scored a front-row seat at the latest in-house fashion dance party!

Free Birds

I spent a few minutes yesterday getting some glamour photos of the chickens. Why? Well, because my camera was just sitting on the counter whispering to be used and the girls were strutting around the yard feathers a’gleaming.

In truth they weren’t all that interested in posing. They were fidgety and restlessly pecked about ignoring my coaching about positions and the vision I was trying to attain. They had me appreciating the feigned obedience and charitable mood of my kids last week during their portraits.

Finally the prima donnas just quit on me and strutted back home.

Oh, for those following: still no eggs.

"School" Photos

I hesitate to admit that for the past several years we have been paying for our kid's “school photos” that are taken in class. Each of those years I have argued against it, but my wife has steadfastly refused to listen. I have nothing against the photographers that are hustling and making a living from school portraiture. In fact, I give them a lot of credit. I know that trying to get useable portraits with just a few entropically energetic kids is a dispiriting gamble at times, let alone an entire building of them.

My argument against purchasing school photos is based on the fact that over the years I’ve bought lights, umbrellas, lenses, a camera, and photographic knowledge that enable me to take photos of equal quality myself. Why pay for them? In her defense, my wife has argued that the she wants the class photo of our kid’s with their teachers and classmates for posterity and the only way to get that has been to buy a picture package.

Well, this year (when I’d actually begrudgingly accepted defeat) my wife surprised me and suggested I photograph our kids. Last night I set up a mini-studio in our living room and fired away. I’m quite happy with the results.[1] Another bonus was that I was able to get an updated photo of all 3 kids together while we had them camera-ready and dapper.

Oh, the class photo? Apparently this year that can be purchased separately outside of other picture packages.

  1. I can’t recommend enough painting the walls in at least 1 room in your house light gray. I do wish I had noticed to center the rear flash spotlighting the wall behind our youngest better though.  ↩

It's Supergirl! Or a pirate. Or a Dancer. Or a princess.

One of the most fun parts of parenting is watching a child grow and pass through various stages as he or she matures. Some of those stages I happily bid farewell, but there are others that I miss when they have passed.

It is becoming obvious that our house is nearly past the imaginative “dress-up” stage. Our older 2 children no longer rummage through the box we have that is full of various costume pieces-parts and our youngest rarely does any more. Today, however, Supergirl made an appearance!

I was able to talk her into taking a break from battling household evil to pose for me.

Despite her superhuman powers her meanest look isn’t all that frightening.

I speak for my wife and I when I say that we are happy to know we have a superhero around the house still; for a little while longer at least.

Or a pirate. Or a dancer. Or a princess. Or a ballerina. Or cowgirl. Or a vampire. Or a …

That makes 12

Yesterday morning I photographed my nephew for his 12 month birthday. A year old already. It doesn’t seem that long ago that I photographed the first in his chalkboard images when he was just 3 months old, but yesterday we completed the quarterly series. My sister did a rush print job on the final quarterly image and had it in a frame beside the others before the party started.

We did a few more photos around the house and yard to help get Reid in a party mood. It was late morning so we sought out shade where we could find it and battled the contrasty sun when necessary. It was a lot of fun and there were laughs, mustache themes, big balloons, a cake to tear into and one happy little 12 month old.


Geauga Mechanical Corporate Headshots

A few weeks ago I packed up my lights, gray seamless backdrop, and other lighting gear, and drove to Geauga Mechanical Inc. for a few hours to photograph employee headshots for an upcoming update to the company website.

There isn’t much to say about the headshot session. I commandeered the lunchroom and by the time employees began to get out of a company meeting I had the room set up for photos. The beauty of headshot jobs and the inherent tight framing of the photos is that you can squeeze a makeshift studio in the most unlikely of places. The photographing went smoothly and successfully. The Geauga Mechanical crew were pros and employees cycled through in front of the camera and went back to work as the next person came into the room.

Along with the headshots I was also hired to photograph some exterior photos of the Geauga Mechanical building for the new website. Architectural photography isn’t my focus at this point and the exterior photos were a side project tacked onto the headshot work, but tacked on or not, the exterior images were more challenging than the portrait work in some ways. The building’s black windows are the most interesting aspect to the building, but they also function as one large mirror reflecting the surrounding landscape. I scouted the building a few different times at various times of day and decided, rather than fighting the reflections or dealing with them during processing (no less a nightmare), to use the feature and photographed the building with a late day sunset reflected in the windows.

Thanks to Geauga Mechanical for the work and support.

Missing the Moment and Digital Overload

Our daughters, Charlotte and Abigail, both had their birthday in the last 2 weeks ; a 6th and 9th, respectively. Needless to say, there has been a lot of cake and candles blown out around our house recently.

That recent bout of parties had me thinking again about an issue I have been bumping against for the past year and that, as society become more technology laden and social network driven, has been gaining notice from others as well: How much should I try to document my family’s lives by photographing them and how often should I leave the camera down and experience things in the moment without it?

It’s no longer a new phenomenon to have a sea of glowing smart phones held high and recording at concerts, speeches, graduations, and all manner of events that used to be enjoyed in the moment[1]. Even family parties. Worldwide we have rapidly become a society that feels the need to document and share everything.

Could it be that hiding behind a camera, experiencing events through the viewfinder or LCD might actually be taking away from our experience of it? Interrupting our formation of memories of what we experience? There is some evidence that taking photographs might obstruct our memories of events rather than assist them. Personally, I know that over time I began to feel like I hadn’t witnessed my kids blowing out birthday candles without watching it through a camera in quite some time. And it felt like a loss.

I suspect that everyone will have a different personal threshold for when they begin to feel that they are missing out on things when photographing them. Lately, I have begun to put my camera down much more during family events. And I’ve been enjoying it. I feel more involved, and there really is nothing like meeting your child’s eyes with your own over a glowing cake or wrapped present and seeing and sharing the excitement you see in them.

I still take photographs at family events just not as many and, if I feel I need more photos, other family members bring cameras and share their photos freely. But how many photos of an event or moment do we need?

Digital Overload

“Research has suggested that the sheer volume and lack of organization of digital photos for personal memories discourages many people from accessing and reminiscing about them.”[2]

As I’ve put the camera down more for personal events, I have also begun to relax some about documenting every part of our children’s lives. There are simply too many moments and too many image files produced when I try for that to be possible. And to what end? Most of those images will linger on my computer never to be used. Do I ever go back and look at them all? Rarely. I’ve rated the best ones and sort by those when viewing my archives.

Will my kids want to browse thousands of images when they are older like I used to dig into the shoeboxes and print albums of my parents. Possibly, but those shoeboxes and albums contained degrees of magnitude less physical photos than people are producing today with multiple image files produced from rapid-fired digital exposures (often all of quite similar expressions and moments only seconds apart). It’s much more likely that in the future my kids will page through our yearly photobooks (made from my highest rated images) to reminisce rather than wade through bloated folders of digital files on multiple hard drives.

It’s Personal

I’ve found that I need to remind myself that our family events aren’t paying jobs, it’s personal. I don’t need 100 images from a cake cutting to show a client. I am the client. While I do try to make quality, special, and skillful photos of my family to fill our yearbooks, (we all like to look at pretty photography and it’s still good practice to keep my photography skills active) I don’t want to sacrifice actual memories of the moment to do that. I’ve needed to find a compromise, and, at times, am still seeking it. I still photograph family events but less than before and I play more outside of those events making photographs at other times, or staging them at times with my kids’ help.

Maybe it’s time to put the camera phones and DSLRs down more often and reenter, re-interact with the moments and people around us in our personal lives. Or maybe that boat has long since sailed and we are living in a time and generation in which social interactions have evolved through technology into something different than they were. Maybe part of socially interacting has changed to include the immediate or post-event sharing of images and videos with each other and absent friends. It has become obvious to me that, as my kids grow, my wife and I will have to constantly monitor and evaluate the invasiveness of technology in their lives. Road trips that used to involve board games and reading when I was young, for my kids involve movie and electronic time limits and repeated urges by me to look away from the screens to the beauty outside. My wife and I will have to guide our kids in finding a balance for technology in their social lives. In the safe, respectful and even ethical use of the making and sharing of media that is so easily produced today on pocketable devices as we also make concessions to a rapidly changing time when technology is becoming more ingrained in everyday life.
We will have to show our kids that the moment isn’t within the pixels of a screen but behind it. Show them that a captured moment isn’t the same as an experienced one, and, at the same time, remind myself.

  1. It’s not a new phenomenon but it is increasingly annoying. Bear in mind that most of the people attempting to document whatever event they are at are in conditions and distances that will result in files that are nearly unusable or really indecipherable.  ↩

  2. “Taking photographs ruins the memory, research finds.” The abstract for the actual research paper by Dr. Linda Henkel can be found here.  ↩