Articles about lighting, natural and not so natural

Year in Review

2012 is over and the new year has begun. I am more than confident that this new year is going to be more than last year. More what you say? More everything! More photography, more business, more work, more creating, more success, more of everything good! How exactly do I know this? I am predicting more. I feel it in my bones that your year is going to take off and so is mine.

I close friend of mine launched a new branch of her business last month, showing her art in a new way. Sonya Sanchez Arias opened a new website ( showcasing her amazing Reclaimed Beauty Jewelry and if you have even half a moment I think you should take a look. Her work is amazing! When you look at her stunning designs you will see artistry at its finest and yet all of her work is made with recyclable materials. I’ll let you figure out what is made of what.

At the very end of the year she became ill for the first time in a very long time. She is doing well now and recovering. I believe it was her body casting off the year of 2012 and launching her into a new life as a creative. Time will tell but once you see her new work I think you will agree that her jewelry is amazing, much like everything she does.

Her positive attitude through it all got me thinking. Sonya is an amazing person and she has helped me in so many ways. She and I actually met via LinkedIn and I have visited her in Florida. Almost every time I speak with her she is positive, strong and creative in all that she does. She has kept me thinking and at times helped me stay excited about my photography when I started to wane even the tiniest bit.

In honor of her positive motivation in my work I decided to put together a bit of the best of my photography from 2012. Below is a gallery of my favorites form the last year. Some have been posted on the blog before, some not.

Farewell 2012. It is time for me to make this next year shine even brighter.

Here is to a fantastic New Year!


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Casting Call!

I’m sorry that I haven’t been posting regularly but that is because I am planning a new project for the business!  I am putting together a team of clothing designers, Makeup Artists and Hair Stylists so that I can offer a special type of experience for you. This team will take time to pamper you, dress you up and make you a model for a day!

This isn’t just for the girls either, guys will get that special treatment like James here did not too awfully long ago. This is going to be one step further though in that you will get all the pampering and primping that you want or need. The team i am putting together will take your photo-shoot beyond the “next level!”

I am still building this team of expert artists and for that I need to call out to all the cutting edge Makeup artists in the Philadelphia area. Here are the details to the casting call.

I have some wonderful ideas but in order to make some cutting edge concepts into reality and I need the help of a talented team of a Make Up Artist, Hair Stylist, and another clothing designer (no such thing as enough cloths!) who are willing to collaborate with a creative photographer who can create great editorial images and help you take your portfolio to the next level.

I have access to some of the best punk, leather, and fetish clothing in the city of Philadelphia but that’s not all! Clothing Designers are encouraged to reply too! I am looking to build a team that is willing to collaborate with me on this and other Fine Art Photographic projects, so I’d like to find that special Make Up Artist, Hair Stylist and clothing designers who are comfortable pushing the envelope and creating new and cutting edge looks.

I’m open to just about any style that is edgy, avant guarde, steam punk, goth, baby doll, punk, pin up etc. This is a great opportunity for you to work with a professional, who will create the perfect lighting for each scenario. You will have the opportunity to create make-up looks the way you want to, and to be involved in producing the kind of high-fashion editorial images you have always envisioned. In addition to working on a true professional team you will also have the opportunity to have high quality, high resolution images for your own portfolios!

Contact me soon before the positions are filled!

Click on the Pinterest link here to spread the word and to see some of the Photography Inspirations I have pinned!


An Arresting Smile

Recently I was hired to do a portrait shoot for a wonderful woman about to celebrate her 40th birthday. Jessica is a vibrant woman who I would have thought was much younger than she is and her images prove that. The images here are her and they are basically untouched except for size and a little color correction. The flawless smile is all Jessica.

I actually met Jessica while she was at work one evening. I was on my way home from an event where I was meeting a potential client and I stopped to get something to eat at a local convenience store  .  When I pulled up there were a couple of Philadelphia police officers there taking a break (OK, it was a doughnut shop but they didn’t go inside!) and we started talking about events that made the news that day. After a few minutes there sergeant pulled up. In that squad car was Jessica. We started talking as well and she saw my logo on the back of my car and asked if I did portrait work. A few minutes later we had set and appointment to do portraits for her birthday.

We decided to shoot at Jessica’s school Chestnut Hill College. We set the appointment for later in the day when the light would be warm and not too harsh. The weather was perfect, the light was fantastic, the grounds picturesque and Jessica was wonderful! She had a blast too. After the shoot she mentioned how much fun she had and how much she enjoyed the experience.

After the prints were delivered to her last week, Jessica called me and mentioned again how much fun she had and how empowering it was to work with me. She said that she felt beautiful and spoiling herself was such a wonderful feeling. The idea of playing ‘model’ made the fact that she is about to turn 40 an fantastic experience and one she enjoyed immensely.

That is what a portrait shoot is all about, empowering yourself, reveling in being the center of attention for an hour or two. Just enjoying who you are and how you feel. Portrait photography shouldn’t be stressful or something to fear. Having your portrait done is something to spoil yourself with and a way to savor how you feel today. The experience is all about you and it is my job to make you feel and look special.

For the record, Jessica didn’t arrest me, but her smile sure did!

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Moonlight In Vermont

Every year for the past few years my wife and I have taken our vacations in Londonderry Vermont. My sister has a house that she rents out up here and we love to take advantage of the quiet. You can get off the grid if you choose to, you can stay connected too (barely) if that is what you want. I am here now and writing this post from the house. If you want to experience Vermont, or if you just love to ski or golf, this is the place. (You can see the house here: 641 Hells Peak)

I was asked by a client why we come to Vermont, “What is there to do there? After all it’s Vermont,” he said. For us that is the point, few people know about the mountains up here, the beautiful landscapes, the fact that every few miles there is another quaint little village, and just the names of these villages make us smile; Jamaica, Peru, Chester (special mean to those from Philly), to name only a few.

‘Highway’ or ‘State Road’ are terms that mean something completely different here. When you are driving on a major thoroughfare and you see a sign that says “Pavement Change” in Pennsylvania it means going from pavement to perhaps cement. In Vermont it would be more accurate to say “The pavement ends and it may be hard to determine where the road actually is.” For my wife and I this is fun stuff. It always leads to an adventure!

Being a photographer means that even when I am on vacation, I am not on vacation. My camera is always with me and I am always looking for ‘the shot.’ My wife has started her own series of Shooting the Shooter and uses my backup camera to photograph me photographing the world, or in this case, Vermont!  Take a look at the images below and you tell me, why not vacation in New England?

The Shooter got Shot! (Courtesy of Amy Holland)

The scene I was shooting when I got shot

Even though we had overcast skies and rain every day, eventually the clouds broke (today, our last day) just in time for me to get shots of the night sky.

I even caught a shooting star!

When the moon rose through the trees this evening I understood even more why Amy, my wife, never wants to leave the north country.

This is pure moonlight with just the warm glow of the dinning room lights on low. 10 second exposure at F2.8, ISO 3200, no Photoshop at all.

So you tell me, why would we ever want to leave the “Moonlight in Vermont?”

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From Business to Personal

The other day I was shooting a Portrait Party for a local business and my last clients surprised me a bit. Although the portraits were for business the last two clients also wanted to have some personal portraits done too. Smart move to take advantage of the opportunity and get a bunch of shots done all at once!

The fact that these two are a great couple and really play off each other made my job easy too, so time wasn’t an issue. That and they purposefully scheduled themselves to be the last shoot of the day which gave us plenty of time to play a bit. The images came out fantastic and I just wanted to show you how just a little bit of lighting, a little bit of personality and two great people can change the look of images taken less than a half hour apart.

Here are a couple of the business portraits we did.

And the classic Business Portrait too…

Of course I had to play with lighting a little and in this one I used the classic “clam-shell lighting”. This technique creates a great, soft light and definitely has a different feel to it than the business portraits. With those wonderful features how could I not take this shot?


We didn’t stop there. He came into the frame and with a quick shift of the softbox, a twist of the umbrella and POP! Lovers!

After the shoot they were off to the baseball game to cheer on the Philadelphia Phillies and I had to get a few more. It’s how I roll.

Is it time for you to take advantage of me at your Portrait Party?

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Super Hero Senior!

A little over a week ago in “They Grow Up Fast” I mentioned that the images there were just the beginning of the senior portrait series I would be doing with Eilis. True to my word we shot a few more in, “Senior Portraits Part II – Teenage Super Hero!” Smarter than your average parent, brighter than a star in the night sky, and bolder than a Wall Street Banker, I bring you Eilis – Super Senior!

Actually Eilis is very smart. A senior taking AP courses in her last year of high school Eilis is looking at collages all over the US and some in Canada. This young lady also knew what she wanted from the moment I met with her and her parents. Of course she wanted the traditional portraits that you saw in the previous post a couple of weeks ago. At that shoot she also knew that she wanted to include her childhood sweetheart Share Bear. Although she is a confident young woman she is also secure in herself. She knows even though grown women rarely have their picture taken with a teddy bear, she could use this time as a chance to show her as the person she is, one that is transitioning from a girl into a grown woman.

In our last shoot we were able to get “all the looks that are Eilis” according to her mother Aine. Aine is no slouch in the confidence department either and it shows when you meet her. Aine was raised in Belfast and Eilis’s father, an American who spent much of his youth in Ireland, is not one to take any gruff either. It is only natural that Eilis be a confident person as well; who can be more confident than a superhero?

Even at our planning session Eilis knew that her alter-ego is one of the superhero. From there it was only a matter of deciding which of her capes she was going to wear (yes, she has more than one). With those wonderful blue eyes and that those wonderful ginger locks it was an easy decision to go with the green cape.

Although her t-shirt said “God Save the Teenagers of America” I am pretty sure that Eilis is doing a good job already in that department. When this one graduates for high school she will move on to study law, she has already had an impressive internship with a well known defense lawyer in Philadelphia.

What can stop our superhero? What is her kryptonite; her weakness? Only Share Bear knows for sure.

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The Right Light

As a photographer I am always looking at other photographer’s work to inspire me and to learn what others are doing that is new and different in the photography world. Recently I have run across a lot of photographers that claim that they only work with “natural light” or say “I prefer the look of natural light and never use artificial lighting.” That is all well and good but what I think they mean is they don’t use studio lights or flashes. Let’s think about that for a moment.

If you only use natural light you only shoot outside, often use a tripod indoors, or shoot a lot of nature. If you shoot indoors and there is a light on you are using unnatural light; after all, anything coming from a lamp is manmade and therefore not ‘natural light’. If that works for the particular photographer that’s great!

Personally I use the right light to capture the image that I want to create. I often use flashes or other light modifiers to enhance the standard image that is created by the ambient light in a shot. Just as often I will use artificial light to create a mood or emphasize a part or all of an image. When the image I want to create calls for it I will use reflectors, bounce cards, and other things to modify the light that is already available.

The point here is that anyone who uses only one type of light may only be getting one type of result and in my case that is very limiting, and it stifles my ability to create the right image. I prefer to use whatever lighting tool is available to me to make an image say what I want it to say or convey a feeling that I need it to convey.

In the image below I have used only natural light and the image works well. The soft light in the shadows spreads an even light across Kat’s face, yet it is very bright just under the eaves of the fire escape and this allows for a great reflection in her eyes.

In this side by side image I used only a double sided reflector to modify the natural light. On the left side it appears that I did use a flash when in fact what I used was only the reflector to bounce the natural light coming from the window back onto the model’s face. On the right I used the same reflector to bounce the warm light of the setting sun back into the young woman’s face; this was to remove the harsh shadows that the bright sun was creating. In both cases the only light used was the sun and the only modifier was the 36” reflector, the left using the silver side to create a harsher light and the soft white side to create a softer fill light on the right. Is this still considered Natural Light?

To light this final image I used a combination of natural light and a single flash to gain the mood I wanted. This image is not Photoshopped other than a slight oversaturation of contrast and color. In fact if you look at the dancer you can see she has a sheen to her skin from having to jump over 40 times to get this image just right.

All of this means only one thing: that light is available to us to use and modify in any number of ways and, as a photographer, it is my job to use whatever tools I have at my disposal to make an image correctly. In my opinion if I ‘only shoot with’ anything I am limiting my opportunities to get the image you want. For me it isn’t a matter of what I use as long as I am using The Right Light.

Urban Blight or Beauty

This week I had the opportunity to shoot an abandoned building in Philadelphia for a company that is trying to rebuild parts of the city that have been forgotten and almost discarded completely. This group led by Ken Weinstein, has the goal of bringing life back to some of the areas in the city that are in decay and seem to be fading away. I spoke with Ken a couple of weeks ago at Moonlight Movies (sponsored by and mentioned in my post last week) in my neighborhood and he mentioned that he had another building that he just acquired. The following Monday I was on the phone talking to his assistant Noah to find out when I could get in and photograph the location. We set a date for this past Monday and the wheels were in motion.

Whenever I am shooting for I don’t know what I am walking into but this time Noah was saying that the space has many interesting spaces and odd corners, rooms and interesting spaces. Was he ever right!  This space has so many different layers I could have stayed for a week and never stopped discovering interesting angles and textures. My main goal in this building was to document the space so that when Philly Office Retail looks at the images it can show them where they need to do work and how they can maximize the use of the space for any businesses moving in once the space is restored.

In addition to documenting the space I wanted to bring in a model so that I could take this opportunity to create some images that I have long been imagining, a dirty, run down space with wires exposed and rooms in disarray but in the middle of it all, a well-dressed woman. In my mind the contrast would be wonderful. What do you think? Does it work?

The images you see here are only 2 of almost 1500 images I created. These were both taken in the same space on the second floor of the main building. These images were created as you see them, no Photoshop and the only manipulation of the images is the conversion to black and white. This is the type of space that is made for this photographer’s idea of a studio. Huge natural light pouring in from one side yet dark on the other made this a perfect space to shoot. Between the space, the model and the wonderful light I was able to create in a way I have dreamed of for a while.

As I was reviewing this images I got an email notification that a new topic of discussion was posted on my LinkedIn group Photography: Clients and Professionals Networking Group, “Urban Beauty.” In this article Jon DeVaul discusses how in Photoshop he adds some skies to his images to make his images of some fairly stark power lines more interesting (you can see the images on his blog here: Jon’s Blog) and in fact they are really great looking images. However I think I found an easier way; just add a model and see how that perks up the urban environment.

Jon, feel free to pipe in here. 😉

Pop’s Legacy

Perhaps you have looked at the Estate Legacy portion of my site and wondered where I ever got the idea to try to preserve the memories of others through photography and the written word. To be able to capture the feelings of a home, the essence of what makes an estate a subject worthy of a book, you have to understand what a house, a home, can mean to someone. When it comes to the estate legacy products I do understand the value, the meaning and the memories of a family legacy. I understand because I know what it is like to no longer be able to hold the dream of passing or the receiving, of the torch to the next generation. For me it is personal.


The image below is a bad shot and I will never claim otherwise, but it is a snapshot of a memory I will carry with me forever. You see I took this snapshot a long, long time ago before I had good equipment or how to use it, before I knew the value of what an image can do. This shot was the beginning of my need to become a better photographer. This image is the one that got away; the one that made me realize that moments don’t repeat themselves and that the memories we carry can either fade in time, or become the only thing that we have left.


When I took the image I had woken up early one summer morning some 20 or 30 years ago and I saw the sun shining through the trees in a magical way. I ran and grabbed my camera, I don’t even remember which one it was, and I took at least two rolls of film trying to capture the feeling of the sun warming the country air the glow of the day beginning. This is the only one I still have from that morning. Not my best shot but one of my best memories because nothing mattered but the sense of warmth, safety and serenity I felt at that moment in time.


I have spent hundreds of days since then up at the crack of dawn waiting for the light, waiting for the sun to stream through the trees and those feelings to come back to me. All that waiting has been in vain. I have yet to see the sun through the trees like that again.


That image was taken from the back yard of my mother’s home, the home she inherited from her father. My grandfather built the house in 1939 and lived there until he suffered the stroke that would take him to the hospital for the last time. He didn’t return to the place he loved so. He did remain a part of the place however and as I write this, I can still feel his presence there. However it won’t be for much longer. You see the house is being sold and the buyer is intending to tear down the house my grandfather built 73 years ago. The land, the property, and the legacy is about to change forever.


All I have are the images I took through the years, the snapshots my family has accumulated and the stories we all remember. That and the memories of the sun shining through the trees, the misty mornings, and the feelings of serenity that place brought me.


I have less than 4 days to go and capture any other images I want. I have only a short time to find the sun calling to me through the trees again. I must put it in a book before it is gone forever.  I understand what it is like to have to say goodbye to a legacy that I just don’t want to let go of.

Leaping Van Gogh


Just the other day I had the opportunity to photograph a local modern dancer. Deneane is a dancer and choreographer in Philadelphia and we met when she needed head shots done for her portfolio. When I photographed her head shots in the studio we got to talking and had all sorts of ideas of how we might be able to get creative and do a few images that would be above and beyond. What better way to go above, than to actual leap over a building!



I had the idea of Deneane doing high leaps on the top of the Philadelphia Art Museum steps. No matter where you are in the world if you have seen the movie “Rocky”. One of the most famous scenes is of Rocky running up those steps and putting his arms up in a victory stance at the top.

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