February 24, 2013 Photographing Children
I shot a big sprawling portrait session yesterday, 14 people including a passel of kids. There's an old show business axiom warning the wise to avoid working with animals or children. It's true that kids require some extra considerations, but that's already part of photography anyway, isn't it, juggling the myriad considerations? With kids, I find playfulness and spontaneity to be the key. In this case the results included a "spy" picture through some bushes and a dynamic wrestling shot.
It helps to have kids fed but not sleepy, and when they're just right, catch the posed shots. Once the smiles go, there's no getting them back. After the poses, that's when to start exploring other rooms and the outdoors looking for places to play. When all other options are exhausted, there's always tickling and wrestling. I chose this image for its strong center of interest, or focal point, which is right on the almost-hidden face of the boy being tickled. Stealing the show, though, is the angelic face next to his, complete with angelic light. She stole the show in almost everything she was in; the light and the camera loved her. For example:
Here she is again. Another factor in her stealing the camera, besides her easy smile and angelic face, is her yellow sweatshirt. Cameras like bright colors. They draw the eye. When I shoot people with horses for horseman magazines, I always suggest a colorful shirt, usually a blue or red that will stand out against against a barn or the land in the background. Here, the yellow sweatshirt draws the eye to the girl. Her face does the rest. Her brother's face proves to be equal to the task, showing that angelic faces run in the family.
February 10, 2013 Cowboy Balls
Last night's annual Cowboy Ball wasn't a photo-rich environment -- crowds of people packed into a cold metal building under flourescent lights -- but I managed to get some good shots, including this one of Dreyson Solano performing with Take 3. I've known Drey for his talented acting at the Shuler Theater over the years, but I've long heard of him as a musician, too, so I enjoyed finally getting to see and hear him in that role.
I got lucky and happened to be firing off a continuous burst of frames when Joe Rodman, in black, reached across and pinched Hal Brewer's butt on the dance floor. My sequence of eight shots is great fun that I plan to share with Joe and Hal and Laura Brewer, seen behind Hal. Next time Joe considers doing something like that, he might scan the room to see whether I'm lurking in the shadows taking pictures! The Nikon D4 earned its keep capturing motion in the low light, just what I got it for. I had the 70-200mm lens set at f/2.8 with ISO 6400 and shutter at 1/80 second. Although this dance photo was taken at the 70mm wide end, I used the long telephoto zoom because, in crowds, the good shots are generally in close and tight, like Drey up above.
Here on the left is another exception to shooting tight in crowds. Take 3 musician (and Raton massage therapist extraordinaire) Hector Verdin chats with Jillian and Drey Solano and Stan and Dawn Lark. I like all of these people, which is the only reason I singled them out for a party banter shot. That and they were in the corner under the light, separated from the crowd which was behind the camera here. Stan's buddy and partner in The Fireballs, George Tomsco, was nearby. The Raton Chamber of Commerce sponsors this event as a fundraiser every year and the NRA Whittington Center's Coors Building packs 'em in from far and wide. There were hundreds of people eating and visiting and dancing last night. Lurking in the shadows was one photographer, having his own good time.
February 3, 2013 The Cornay Ranch
Continuing my work on a Western Horseman profile of renowned pencil artist Dino Cornay, I was back out at Folsom yesterday, then I followed Dino to the Cornay Ranch for some photography with Dino, his daughter Brooke, and father Carlos. I'd only seen the ranch headquarters once before, on one of my myriad exploratory drives down the far-flung dirt roads of Union and Colfax counties. The ranch has been there a good spell! Carlos still sleeps in the room in which both he and his father were born...and Carlos is 84 and his father was born in 1899! The ranch's V-Diamond brand was registered twenty years before that, and the house built before that. Carlos's grandfather, also named Carlos, came from France at age 13 and settled the Cornay Ranch in 1865.
My main mission photographically was to get Dino with his family and some horses: when you're shooting for a horse magazine, it's wise to include some pictures with horses. We shot some with a buckskin named Cookie, but most of the Cornay Ranch horses have long been paints, and it's the paint horse Doc seen here. Carlos bought a paint stallion in 1976 and put him to work producing a long line of Cornay paint horses. Asked why he chose that breed, Carlos replied, "I just like paints. I like to be different."
Brooke and Dino laughed when I got lost in interviewing Carlos instead of photographing the group. They weren't surprised to see me shift my focus to Carlos, who is full of great stories. I liked hearing about the years in which they grazed bison on the ranch. On the last Saturday night of August for 14 years, from 1980 through 1993, they threw a big barbeque and dance, slow-cooking a buffalo for 24 hours, laying out the food across 40 feet of tables, eating on hay bales lining the corral fence, and dancing until the wee hours in the big hay loft to live music by Dino's band. They invited friends from as far as New York, Houston, and California, and they all came.
I've processed yesterday's photos and combined the best with those I'd picked from my earlier photo shoot with Dino at his house. (See three of those and more story over at my TKA blog.) That just leaves writing Dino's profile, which I plan to do next weekend. That's going to be fun. (It's always hard work, but it's fun too, and when it's finished and it's gone well, it's exhilarating.) Finally, it'll all go off to the magazine for publication in the spring or early summer. I'll keep you posted.
January 24, 2013 Cowgirl Cover
Ranch & Reata editor A.J. Mangum wrote me last week in search of horizontal images of cowgirls aged late teens to late 20s for possible use on one of his magazine covers. Vertical images are the norm for magazine covers, but R&R has adopted an attractive look that puts a horizontal cover shot across the front of the art-quality magazine. Scoring a magazine cover shot is a goal of most photographers; I've got just one to my credit so far, for Ranch & Reata's 2011 cover story "Tim Keller -- On Telling Stories with a Camera." Right away I sent A.J. three cowgirl images from my files, then I lined up a new photo shoot in hopes of improving my chances of scoring cover number 2.
Raton barrel racer and horse woman Sierra Pillmore was a perfect model for this week's photo session, and our results have me feeling optimistic about that cover. Experience has taught me that the keeper shots will be taken within a few minutes either side of sunset, which occurred around 5:10 p.m. this week. I scheduled us to meet and start at 3. We discussed options for shirts & hats, and we scouted locations around the Pillmore ranch. We started shooting nearly an hour later. The good ones came an hour after that. When it was over, I told Sierra that we could have just met and started shooting at 4:45; all the keepers came after that. But the fact is that without the preceding 90 minutes of preparation and shooting, the short time of magic light would not have gone as well.
For two reasons. First, I was able to practice shots and try a variety of locations and angles, so when the great light finally arrived, I was ready to take advantage and quickly get a lot of good shots. Second, Sierra got over the awkward early stages of posing; she relaxed and got better in front of the camera. The confidence in this last picture (taken in the soft light just after the sun set) couldn't have existed earlier in the afternoon. She and I both got better in what amounted to a practice run right before the main event. So, was the first 90 minutes wasted? Not a bit. I sent A.J. a dozen great images -- not bad for two hours' work, even if we did get it all in the last 20 minutes.
January 14, 2013 Snow Day
It wasn't hard for the Powers-That-Be to call a snow day this morning. We've had a foot of snow overnight and through the morning. Freed of a work day, I went out instead in the four-wheel-drive pickup to take some pictures around Raton.
I didn't get far before stopping for the first picture. That's my mailbox and house. City crews have done an impressive job of clearing the deep snow from the streets, but when I went out, they hadn't been into the neighborhoods yet. The top right photo was also taken in my northside neighborhood, before I continued downtown, where I took the top left photo of the American flag beside the Raton sign atop Goat Hill, with the 1930s art deco Colfax County Courthouse in the foreground. I had to digitally remove a lot of spotting in the image caused by snow on the lens. (As always, click any image to enlarge.)
I dropped the ISO to 100 and the aperture to f/22 in order to slow the shutter enough to capture the falling snow. (Another way to do that would be with the neutral density filter I bought with my lenses last fall, but I didn't do that today. It would have required a tripod, for one thing, and I was moving quickly, not doing long set-ups.) The falling snow is big and obvious in this photo at A&M Repair Company (plug: since I moved to Raton, they've worked on both my truck and my Prius and I've been way happy with them), but if you look closely you can also see it in the photo below falling at KRTN, where Christina was on the air as I was sneaking around outside shooting pictures. (That's my brown Ford F-250 on the left.)
I returned home to find an e-mail from Christina asking whether she could use my snow photos for KRTN's website today. Such is her power over me that you'll be able to find these photos posted on two different websites on the same day. And with that, I have to go back outside to figure out how to work the snow blower we bought with our house. We finally need it, and that's a good thing.
January 6, 2013 One Thing Leads to Another
Work begets work.
Busily working to hustle up new magazine assignments for 2013, the e-mail in-box bell clanged. The subject heading said American Cowboy magazine, to whom I pitched a good story eighteen months ago and got a little ways down the path of discussing it with the editor before the trail ran cold. HIs last words were "We'll take a look and get back to you in a couple weeks." Six weeks later, I got back to him, but received no reply.
That's how it works. Editors are swamped, and it's coming at them from all directions. One editor had more than 1000 unopened e-mails in his in-box recently. (He didn't tell me that; one of his associates did.) Getting through the door is an accomplishment, probably harder now than it's ever been, but getting prompt replies to messages -- or any reply to messages -- is wishful thinking. (98% of my communication with editors is via e-mail.) When none comes, you wait weeks before trying again, so as not to appear pushy. It's a delicate dance between patience and persistence.
Through such a process, too long to detail here, I landed a plum gig more than two years ago that led to my spending two days interviewing and photographing Max Evans at his home in the Nob Hill area of Albuquerque, initially for New Mexico Magazine. Max and I became friends and plotted a second feature for Western Horseman; thus the second day of separate interviews and photographs.
Friday, American Cowboy's art director requested a horizontal image of Max to accompany its own new interview of Max in its upcoming April/May issue. Another of my photos will be published, the pay is good, and it may be the break I need to get through the door of another magazine where I can contribute full features. The same thing happened a couple months ago when my photos of George Tomsco and The Fireballs for New Mexico Magazine led to some of my photos of George being published in the January 2013 issue (due out this week) of The Fretboard Journal, accompanying an interview for which the magazine had no photos.
There are two likely ways for this to happen. The subject -- Max, or George -- might refer the magazine to me. ("Hey, I know who has some good photos of me.") I suspect that Max referred American Cowboy to me; he's been good to me that way. In George's case, I think the other method was more likely: the editor does a Google image search and finds my photos in magazines or right here on this website. A quick click on the Contact button here and we're in business.
One of the six horizontals that I offered to American Cowboy is the one above, Max finishing off huevos rancheros at his favorite Albuquerque restaurant, Loyola's, near his home. I have a framed 10"x15" print of that one over my desk right here as I type. (I didn't offer the second image above, because it's a vertical.) Whether AC chooses that one or another, they'll let me know their choice this week and I'll send a hi-res image (70MB Tiff file) through cyberspace via FTP -- File Transfer Protocol -- which editors request when they don't want to wait for the U.S. Mail to bring a disc.
Meantime, I'm busy hustling up new work. Somewhere down the line, that work will beget other work. I'd rather be out shooting photographs, or sitting here processing them, but the hustle leads to the work. It's a circle, and it's all good.
January 1, 2013 Out with the Old, In with the New
I've committed to mounting a show of my photography next August in Lovington, New Mexico. My hope is to build the show primarily around new work, created in 2013 with my new Nikon D4 and FX lenses. With no newspaper or magazine work presently in the offing, that means just leaving the house and going out in hopes of creating some winning images. It's how I started, of course, before shifting my focus to work for publication. So, for now, it's back to art for art's sake.
With that in mind, I walked around downtown Raton three days ago (photos below), and yesterday I went up to Lake Maloya in Sugarite Canyon State Park, a dozen miles from our house, to get some evening photos around the frozen lake. (I also went out earlier in the morning snow to get some shots at Mt. Calvary Catholic Cemetery, which I've posted at today's TKA blog.)
These two images made the lake trip worthwhile. Shooting wide at 24mm, I looked for foreground objects that are important for composition with wide lenses, giving the eye something in the immediate foreground of what is always a deep distant image. The driftwood was a lucky find and for one shot I lay on the ice, though I'm squating for this shot. For the sunset shot above -- the final sunset of 2012, out with the old -- I used the tall grasses standing above the fresh snow. A tall seed head stands against the sun itself, making this one my favorite and putting it in the running for the August show. (As always, click any image to enlarge it.) I'm excited about 2013. I wish you and yours a great year -- enjoy!
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