Thursday, June 30, 2011

Yes Toto, There's An Illusion Behind The Curtian

Earlier this month I was invited back to the Art Institute in Ft. Lauderdale by photography teacher Steven Nestler, who asked me to show his Introduction to Photography students examples of my environmental portraits. For this visit I decided to pull back the emerald green curtain, just like Dorothy's little dog Toto in The Wizard of Oz, and show the very ordinary reality of location photography.

While photographing an attorney on top of wind swept terrace high above Coconut Grove, I was unable to keep my usual soft boxes from blowing over. So I improvised, taping a silk down, and blew light up from it, filling in his face with a tight grid spot.  Lession, wing it, but hide your tricks behind a curtain. (Andrew Hall, defense attorney for John Ehrlichman of Watergate fame, for the ABA Journal.)

The students were so early in their studies, Steven explained, that they had no idea how portraits of people could be created outside of a studio.  Previously, for more advanced classes I've gone into detailed explanations of cross lighting, light modifiers, lighting for depth, dragging the shutter and playing with color temperature. I've then followed up with live lighting demonstrations, picking a cluttered classroom, an empty stairway or outdoor parking lot in which to create an interesting portrait. The students would haul out my lighting kits, and under my direction, set up the scene, translating the theory they had been learning into real life photos.

At those live demos students told me they were surprised you could make such interesting portraits out of such uninteresting locations. So for this most recent class visit I thought I would speed over a lot of the technical stuff that the beginning students had not covered yet, and stick to opening their minds to the possibilities of location portraits.

Photographing in a tiny office, the main soft box stood barely a yard in front of subject, causing me to just poke my lens from underneath. A hard light outside the window projected through blinds from camera left, and a strip soft box stood outside the slightly open door at right. Magazines helped with positioning. (Rita Johnson for My Business.)

From my digital archive I dug out several series of photos, first the final successful portrait, then the very first test shot with no lights, followed by images showing the lights as I added them in. The work in progress shots showed the less than ideal locations I had squeezed photos out of.

It's the finished photograph that counts, I explained, not textbook lighting diagrams and mathematically precise ratios. You do what ever it takes, placing the lights where you are able, flying by the seat of your pants, just so the subject looks great and your client receives a terrific story telling portrait.

And while sweating the lighting, calculating exposure, schmoozing the subject and shooting, I advised, don't let anybody know that behind the photographic magic curtain, there is an every day guy pulling the levers as best he can, hoping for the best. In the end, getting back home to Kansas is all our readers and clients really care about.

To view more Miami corporate photography, please visit my portfolio web site.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Cancer Survivor Only Cried For One Day

I felt really bad when my question made Lainie cry.

She was sitting on the edge of her bed, her Boston terriers Oliver and Stella curled up in her lap, and, dressed in pink and pearls, she was a very pretty 27-year-old. I certainly didn’t begin the interview with the intention of catching her with her defenses down in order to record her raw emotions on tape.

Watch this multimedia audio slide show and hear cancer survivor Lainie tell her story. iPhone & iPad version.

It was just one of the questions on my two page list:

- paint me a picture of those first days after your cancer diagnosis
- how have you decided to live your life in light of your illness?
- when you were a little girl, what did you want to grow up to be?

That last one made her cry.

As a child, she wanted to be an actress. In college, a nurse. Since cancer ... her dreams have been to live life to the fullest.

Within a few moments she bounced back to the strong and positive Lainie Schultz who has beaten adrenal carcinoma, Stage 2 breast cancer, melanoma, and thyroid cancer. When diagnosed with breast cancer at 24, she cried for “only one day”, and has since refused to let the disease prevent her from enjoying her life.

Young cancer survivor Lainie Schultz wears bracelets during her fight with cancer.

Lainie turned to Broward Health in Ft. Lauderdale to treat her cancer. Because she was so young for a breast cancer diagnosis, her doctors sought genetic testing. More shocking news, she had a rare genetic disorder called Li-Fraumeni Syndrome which predisposes for cancer only about 400 people in the country.

In spite of the many challenges facing her, Lainie decided to embrace life full throttle, and that’s why Broward Health commissioned me to photograph her for an advertising campaign and to produce a multimedia audio slide show for their web site.

Lainie has not only become a force field of positive energy for those closest to her - parents, fiance and large circle of friends - she has taken on the role of cancer survivor evangelist. She blogs intimately at My Journey with Li-Fraumeni Syndrome, and has been interviewed by print, television and online news media. On Voices of Survivors, she wrote the following:
It’s saddening to give up your innocence at 26, but when you’re stripped down to your unrefined self, bald, and have cancer, you find strengths you never knew you had. You develop relationships that are closer than you ever thought possible. You see love and support in those around you that overwhelm you at times. I have been able to meet others who inspire me and have given me a new meaning to the word, “strong.” Every morning I wake up, and thank my lucky stars I am able to call myself a survivor!
After reading her words above it’s time for me to get a little choked up ... I know, I’m the hard bitten newsman with decades of objective story telling experience, never get involved, just keep to the facts please. I held my emotions in check during a week of photography, interviewing, editing audio and composing the multimedia piece.  I’m a cancer survivor too, but have pushed aside my experience as being so very far removed from Lainie’s daily challenges.

So today I’m dropping my objectively, and will just come out and say it. I’m impressed by how Lainie is living her life, and I’m inspired by her. I’m sorry I made her cry, but not sorry she made me cry too.

Besides Lainie, I have to thank Jenny Mackie of Broward Health's Marketing Department, who served as creative director, set dresser and dog wrangler. Carolyn Jones was a master with makeup and wardrobe, and Antoine Heusse did the heavy lifting as lighting assistant.

To view more Miami multimedia photography, please visit my portfolio site.