Work, Work, Work!

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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Vacation Photography

You just got back from vacation and you finally get to upload all the images you took while you were away. Excitedly you wait for each image to appear on the monitor, anticipating that one shot that you know is just perfect, the one you are planning on putting up on the wall or in a frame on your or your spouse’s desk; that one that just shows how much fun you had and how relaxed you were.  It’s coming… It should be the next one! Anticipation…. Excitement!!! And… and…

Drat. The image is blurry/fuzzy/dark/your head is cut off or that special sunset just doesn’t look like it did when you were there. AARRGGHHH!!! Alas it becomes just a memory and not a special moment to be shared.

There is a way to solve that problem; hire a photographer while you are on vacation. “Too expensive” you say? Well, not really. In the last few years digital photography has brought a ton of people into the business of photography, many of which should go back to their day jobs, which has driven down the market in price for those of us who remember the smell of hours spent in the darkroom.  Our prices have not really gone down so to speak but they haven’t gone up either.

Inflation means that prices rise but in the current economy most of our paychecks have not kept pace with that increase. That means what was once too far out of reach is actually quite affordable now. For the price of a nice meal you can spend an hour or two with a professional photographer; one that has a portfolio to back up that talent.

In the past hiring a photographer to shadow you and your family while on vacation was out of the question unless you were in the income bracket reserved for those who require champagne for breakfast to wash down their caviar. Times have changed and having a personal photographer for a day, or even the whole week, is more affordable than it has ever been. It’s not just reserved for those times on the islands or on the Florida or Southern California beaches either. People are using photographers in places like New York, Philadelphia, South Carolina, Portland (Maine and Oregon), Seattle, San Francisco and any other place you may go on vacation.

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Perhaps you don’t take the average vacation; maybe you like climbing mountains or searching out old ruins or maybe finding interesting old buildings. If it exists there is a photographer that is willing to photograph it and most likely one who wants a subject like you in the picture too. We photographers are always looking for reasons to go out and shoot those things we love and capturing you in those locations gives us a reason to get away from a computer and get out there shooting! Sure it is our profession but it is also our passion, and that is why we are good at it.

An example of a totally diverse area is Philadelphia. Here you can investigate the thousands of shops and specialty stores, learn about history, go to world class museums, and hike on a nature trail in Wissahickon Park all in the same day. If you still have energy you can even run the Art Museum steps just as Stallone did in the original Rocky. No trip to Philly is complete without a stroll through the Italian Market or a leisurely walk in Old City. The chances are that your photographer is going to know special places in the city that no vacation guide knows! Did I mention how close Valley Forge it is or how beautiful  Chadds Ford and Lancaster County are?

Imagine enjoying all that the Philadelphia area (or any vacation spot) has to offer and not having to remember your camera, not have to remember to use it, and never miss that one shot that is perfect for your desk or wall. Wouldn’t that be relaxing and isn’t relaxing what vacation is all about?

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.

People First

It never ceases to amaze me the wonderful people I meet in this career of mine. Every type of person, business, charity, everything needs images of something and I am the lucky person that gets to meet the people seeking those images. Another example of great people doing great things is Anatomical Designs (AD) in Uniontown PA just southeast of Pittsburgh. I went there to create images for their brochures and marketing pieces but what I found was a fantastic group of people that really care about their patients and their families.

I arrived in Uniontown late Sunday and checked into a hotel that was pre-booked for my assistant and me, a room for each. The town itself is much like most small towns throughout Pennsylvania but this one is special. Not far from where we were staying was the AD offices, a subdued little house like office but within is a place where wonderful work is happening.

We met the office manager and the owner then received the nickel tour to give us an idea of what and where we would be shooting. We saw the kitchen area, waiting area, the medical offices and therapy rooms; as we moved downstairs we came upon the workshop where the real magic happens. This is where they make the prosthetics join to the person in need of them. In this small lab skilled craftsmen labor over hot plastics and plaster molds to form a union between the person and the man-made. The work they do is not at all production line; everything is custom made and built to meet the needs of the individual. The work they do has to be seen to be appreciated.

Setting up lights and talking to the staff I learned about the advances in the technology and how each person can have completely separate needs even with the same type of amputation. I took great interest in what they told me because this was personal in a way. I still have all my limbs, at least for now, I don’t need a prosthetic. However my grandfather lost his leg in the early part of the 1900’s due to infection after a train accident. I never saw my grandfather use his prosthetic leg because he said it was heavy and uncomfortable. In fact I never saw the actual leg until years after he passed away and we were cleaning out his house after my grandmother had also passed.

I remember going up into the room on the top floor for the first time (I wasn’t allowed up there as a child) and in the corner was the wooden leg just standing there. I went over and picked it up and it was very heavy, probably 30 pounds or more. It was bent slightly at the knee but had no hinge or anything; it was one solid piece of wood carved to the height my grandfather needed. No wonder he never wore it. That thing had to exhaust him and I it had to be uncomfortable.

At Anatomical Designs the prosthetics were completely different. Some looked like a piece left behind by the robot in the movie Terminator, thin, and the skeletal structure exposed, but depending on the need of the patient they can be modified to do so many things. Each person is different and so is each prosthetic.

Of course photographing the lab would tell an incomplete story so the people at AD had arranged for a few patients to come in and act as models. Finding one legged models that also happened to be local to Uniontown would be darn near impossible. These were everyday people who for some reason had lost a limb at some point. One of them had a special electronic sensor in his leg to assist him with walking and another had a complicated spring and pressure design type of limb and the third, well the third was a young woman who at first I didn’t even notice that she had a false limb!

As Jessica and her mother walked into the office I looked down to see which person was the patient and the first thing I saw was 4 feet in sandals, all with perfectly painted matching toenails. Jessica also had some type of material over her thigh so it looked like, well, it looked like her. After a moment of thinking they were there for some other reason I notice the leg. There was no hint of it in her walk or her pace, in fact if she had jeans or a long skirt on I never would have been able to tell.

The youngest of the three patients, her accident (I believe) was the most recent; but there was no way to tell that though. The staff at AD had taken her into their care and they taught her how to not only walk in the new leg but she told me later she can dance in it too!

The work these people do is nothing short of amazing. As I needed to photograph all aspects of a patients care in only one day, I got to see the many stages of learning and more importantly, coaching that is needed.  From the fitting of the device, to the training, to the emotional and physical support, what these people offer is truly special. They aren’t there to just push patients through some system; these are craftsmen and healthcare workers that truly care about the wellbeing of the individual. They went so far as to help a young woman have a foot where she could paint her toenails!

Later in the day when I was packing up after the shoot one of the patients was still there and I mentioned to him how far the technology has come since my grandfather lost his leg. I also mentioned to him that if I ever lost a limb that I would make the 5 and a half hour drive to Uniontown just to have the people at Anatomical Designs take care of me. His comment was, “Do it! Having all your limbs isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.”

My hats off to all the folks at Anatomical Designs; bravo for putting the people first and delivering so much wonderful care.

Where Does The Time Go?

The past 10 days have been a whirlwind of shooting editing and delivering images. From a commercial shoot in Uniontown PA (near Pittsburgh) to a family portrait session this past Saturday; I have spent a lot of time with my camera in front of my eye and nothing makes me happier!  After all, I did get into this business to create images.

I will write more about the commercial shoot in Uniontown shortly but for now I want to focus (no pun intended) on the family shoot I did Saturday. Let me say first and foremost it was a pleasure to shoot the Lehr family and they are a great family. I met Teresa the mother, many years ago before any of the children were born actually, and lost touch with her over the years. The last time I saw her, the oldest girl Tara was 4 or 5 and Teresa just found out she was going to have another child. Well that other child was just one of two more children. Justin has graduated college and is on his way to start his engineering career in Louisiana. Where does the time go?

Teresa and I got back in touch a few months ago via my photography Facebook page and we have been talking on and off since. A couple of weeks ago she mentioned that she liked my work and she needed to get family portraits done as her middle child (who am I kidding, he is a grown man) was moving away soon. We set a date and the shoot was on!

Tara, the eldest, I have known since she was born and I kind of figured that she would be as attractive as her mother and I wasn’t disappointed. She has grown into a very intelligent woman like her mom. The other two, well I had no expectations. I knew and used to work with their father. In fact I was responsible in a roundabout way, for Teresa and Brian meeting. Actually I just let her know there was a job opening where I worked all those years ago and well, the rest is history. So I knew they all came from pretty good stock, two loving parents, strong and independent and an all-around good family.


What I didn’t know was how perfect and photogenic these people were! Wow! Talk about making my job easy; even when these siblings gave that “oh I am getting my picture taken, I better smile” sort of smile, they looked great. All I had to do was set the lighting and create the images, well and get their real smiles. On top of being hospitable, smart, engaging and photogenic, they all have the patience of saints. The location we chose was a local park that used to be called Turks Head Park, a block away from their home. Little did I know the first spot I chose as a backdrop was actually the breeding ground for every mosquito in all of the northeastern United States. If you ever want to attract mosquitoes, expose some skin, sweat a little bit from the warm summer sun and then pop off a few bright flashes. Sure enough you will have a few hundred in a few minutes. Did any one of my 5 subjects complain? Barely a mention; they were all wonderful.

The images here in this article are just a few of the images that we got. Although there was not a skin blemish amongst the 5, I think I did have to retouch a couple of mosquito bites but other than that, this is how beautiful the family is.

While typing this I just got a Facebook Message from the mom, Teresa.

“Thank you Michael for a fun relaxing shoot. I was a ball of nerves and you set me at ease. Also thank you for confirming what I already knew…..My kids are gorgeous outside and in!”

Teresa, No problem, it was my pleasure!

Life is a Cabaret Old Chum…

I had the fortune of helping one of my favorite charities last Friday. The Mt. Airy Art Garage was putting on a fund raiser to try and raise money to build out the studios they have planned for local artists to grow, learn and share their art (Feel free to donate to the cause!). The fund raiser was a cabaret and the singer was excellent! Michael Richard Kelly has a beautiful voice and he sang some of my favorite old tunes: “Where or When”, “Moonlight in Vermont”, and The Very Thought of You” to name but a few.


It is a rare event where the singer really grabs my attention in such a way that I almost have to concentrate on my job as a photographer. Mr. Kelly nailed it in such a way that I found myself wanting to put down my camera and just listen. My wife thinks my camera is permanently attached; he’s that good.

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Party! Business Portrait Party

Perhaps you have seen the Special Services section of this site that briefly explains Portrait Parties; maybe you haven’t gotten there yet. A Portrait Party is just one of the services I offer and it is where you can host a party with your friends and get yourself a free portrait. Your friends can save a whole lot too; it’s kind of like buying in bulk.


A couple of weeks ago I was asked if there was such a thing for business portraits. Of course there is! Well, it’s really not any different. One person (the host) gets their portrait done for free and everyone else saves up to 75% off my normal portrait session rates. It’s a heck of a deal actually. But back to the business portrait party.


Like most business people these days I belong to a number of networking groups and one, PRE (Professional Referral Exchange) in Philadelphia, wanted to do something different for their members and shake up the normal lunchtime meeting. I worked with the chapter vice president and we setup a speed networking/Portrait Party lunch event. Members and their guests could come in, have lunch, do some speed networking, and also have a chance to get an updated business portrait taken. All in one shot! (har har!)


In fact quite a few of the people attending did get their portraits done and everyone had a chance to get to know each other and their respective businesses a little better. The entire event took only about an hour and a half, which is the usual amount of time for a PRE lunch meeting. Everyone had a good time, met some new business associates, and got a good lunch too.


Here are a few of the images that were taken that day. Just click to see a full size version of the images. Oh and that lovely lady at the top: That is Chris Coward, the chapter’s vice president. She holds the business coaching category for Philly PRE. You can meet her and all the chapter members at I hear that their Member List page is going to be updated with a new format and some images. Hmm… where ever could they get those from I wonder?


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