Workshop: Conceptual Portraiture with Tatiana Lumiere

Tatiana showing us how to work with dry ice. The science nerd in me was so taken with the fact that she understood dry ice sublimates not melts.

This past week Maryland Professional Photographers Association had a class on Conceptual Portraiture with the wonderful artist Tatiana Lumiere.

I will generally jump at any chance to learn more about my craft and it’s especially gratifying to be in person with other photographers to collaborate with. We had a number of models who were coiffed, made-up and costumed by Tatiana and Geniia Elliott Makeup Artist as well as various sets and locations.

As I’ve spoken of before, I have relished the opportunity to take on more creative challenges that stretch both my technical skills and artistic vision. So, I was excited by this class. After looking at the kind of art that Tatiana creates, I knew I would be inspired by having an opportunity to see her work. This was definitely true and I look forward to finding other artists to collaborate with on future projects.

After some demonstration and discussion with Tatiana, we were broken into groups to have our time with the models at various locations around the carriage house where MDPPA meets.

My first stop was with Jamie in front of the fireplace as Tatiana had first worked with the dry ice. As much as I love the textures of the old wood and stone in the carriage house, I didn’t particularly love it with the outfit Jamie was wearing. When Tatiana shot it, there was a curtain of fog behind her and I think I would have liked that better. In post I really pushed the color on the leaves and warmed her to fit in better with the warm tones of the wall. I also added some blur to the background to help separate her. This is also notable as the only set that had artificial light (a large softbox on a studio strobe and a large reflector).

Next we shot with Dana. She was made up reminiscent of Xena: Warrior Princess or a Wildling from Game of Thrones. I felt that the textures of the exterior wall of the carriage house worked thematically. It was pretty much the perfect time of day for a natural light shot. The difference between direct sun and the shadows of the “tunnel” behind the carriage house really help her stand out in the shot.

Next we went back inside to work again with the dry ice and a set that Tatiana arranged. This time it was with Kelly. Clearly, Geniia and Tatiana were taking Kelly’s lovely red hair as inspiration. This was one of the stations where it was challenging to move around and we probably had too many people working it. Especially since we were up against the wall and shooting with natural light through the doorway (as you can see above when Jamie was in the pit of fog)

I ended up not getting too many shots from angles that I felt worked for me, but I was so taken with the overall look. I definitely like the dreamy feel of natural light and mist. That’s on my todo list for a future project.

Finally we got to spend a little time with Rylee. This is kind of cool, because it shows how great natural light can be at the right time of day (in this case, sunset). Soft and glowy without really any effort or technical savvy. I was going for a glamor look, so the post processing might be a little heavier than I normally would use.

All in all, it was a great experience. I picked up some new techniques and inspiration going forward. Which is what it is all about.



Assignment: WIG Coffeehouse – Improvisation

Last week (September 22, 2016) I was shooting the opening event for HCC Arts Collective’s season, the WIG (What Improv Group) Underground Rooftop Coffeehouse at Howard Community College.

WIG, HoCoPoLitSo, Improv Dancers, and Crew

This is the second year that I’ve had the privilege to be associated with this event. The event is an opportunity to see WIG perform and be introduced to their 2016/2017 cast. It is also a chance to explore the collaboration of writers and poets from the HoCoPoLitSo with the improvisers from WIG. This year it was expanded to include dancers and photography to inspire guests and improvisers.

Dancer, Heather Cramer

I thoroughly enjoy all my interactions with the theatre community, as anyone who knows me or reads this blog knows. If you were to ask me a couple of years ago, I might have said that my theatrical photography is some of my least creative efforts. I viewed my role as recording the creative output of others. Which I cherish since it allows me to be around truly amazing creatives, but I felt my role was more journalistic.

Musician, Chris Sisson

Improv Dancer, Jeffrey Mensah

WIG Alumnus, Courtney Branch


Actor, Jordan, brings the audience into the show.

W.I.G. actors Noelle, J.P., Sierra, Lauren B.W.

It wasn’t until this past week that I recognized what I did as not only being creative, but very much improvisation as well. When I’m shooting an event like this, I’m not involved in the rehearsal process (if there is one) and I don’t know what is going to happen. Especially with improv, since the performers don’t know either. The performance space might be in the defined stage area

or right in the audience’s face.

Whether there is a defined stage, or not in this case, I have a general idea of where the action is going to take place but constructing an image requires the photographer to position himself with respect to the subject(s) and possibly actors (dancers, speakers, etc…) with respect to others in the performance space.

This is where the improvisation comes in. Like the improvisers I was shooting that evening, some of my performance is based on experience and some of it is reacting to my subject. There becomes a rhythm in the performance and in my photography that will develop in concert with the space and performers.

The event was a great time and, as with the best of any shooting opportunity, I learned something about photography and myself in the process.


Getting your foot in the door

In my previous life as an consultant in the government market I learned that you don’t always get into the ideal situation with a new client. Sometimes you have to just get in the door, consistently deliver results and look for opportunities to make it your ideal job.

I have a long history of involvement with theatre. I love the theatre.

I’ve been working with the amazing creative folks at Red Branch Theatre Company for a number of years. RBTC is a local non-profit professional theatre with a mission to produce socially aware content and serve the community.

First, simply taking production stills during tech week.


That being said, I wanted to do more with the theatre. So we expanded my involvement to getting decent, headshots of the casts for display in the lobby and something the theatre could give to their actors.


I kept pushing for more involvement and creative opportunity. While my work isn’t central to the work they do, I felt like I could be a larger part of their success. I hope that extending my involvement to other areas like having the headshots be of the characters instead of the actors would be recognized as valuable.


This was really a fun expansion of my work with the theatre. It meant that for new shows I needed to get an idea of color palette, content, tone and a little more interacting with the incredible casts and crew.

That just wasn’t enough I wanted to have a bigger impact and more creative reach. Instead of minutes with the characters, I wanted some real time for setup, evaluation and experimenting (shocker, a creative who wants more time to do their work). Theatre budgets, of money or time, aren’t large. So managing my desires with available resources was important.

Still we worked together last year in gym near the theatre to create some very cool images for a calendar to promote “Dogfight”.



I don’t know that the calendars sold as well as we would have hoped, but the project was fun and I think it helped promote the show.





It gave me more chance to try different things, change-up lighting and tell more of a story in my images.





With the new year, there were changes at RBTC. In addition to finally getting their non-profit status approved, they have become a Helen Hayes Award eligible theatre. The first show they produced that was eligible was Sweeney Todd. For Sweeney Todd we did a studio shoot with the principles that I discussed already.

These are the people I want to work with. When they get the grant for 1.5 Billion Dollars, they’ll be the only client I need. Until that happens my work with them will be more of an expression of my creative passions than my greed. 🙂
Along those lines I had hoped to do something funny and dark for the production of Heathers, but schedule and budget didn’t work out for that. That had me looking forward to the Fall and EVIL DEAD: The Musical!!!! I’ll talk more about that in my next post.



Assignment: Philadelphia Funk Authority

The Gig

Earlier this Summer I received an email from Gary at Authority Entertainment which handles Philadelphia Funk Authority ( asking if I would be interested in shooting group shots and concert stills of the band at Musikfest in Bethlehem, PA. (Is it inappropriate to respond “duh” to a potential client?) PFA is a super fun party/event/concert band and a great bunch of musicians. Of course I’m jumping at the chance to work with them.

I have had a relationship with PFA through my friend George Hrab, the band’s drummer,
for quite a few years. Over those years I’ve photographed the band at Musikfest,

had the privilege to hang out with members of the band (we even watched humans put a lander on Mars together)

and hired them to play my 50th birthday party. You can see the results

People danced!


The band has gone through some changes in the last year necessitating the new pictures. Not the least of which is the loss of singer Alisa B Anderson to cancer. The new line up should be featured in their promotional materials and website. The job called for a new group shot of the whole band as well as images of them in action. I had originally planned to shoot all this on the first Sunday of Musikfest, when the band plays in the big Festplatz Tent to more than a thousand people. This worked well for me, since I planned on being there anyway and I had a wedding to attend on Saturday in Maryland. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the best option for the band, so we negotiated to shoot at the Musikfest Cafe Friday night for their 10pm concert.

So, the weekend would be:

  • Drive up to Bethlehem on Friday
  • Drive back to Maryland sometime on Saturday morning (1am or after a nap)
  • Drive up to the wedding about an hour from home on Saturday
  • Drive back to Bethlehem on Sunday as planned
  • Drive home again on Monday

The Weekend

Friday arrived and I arrived up in Bethlehem around 4:30 in the afternoon. I caught up with George at his place to discuss the plan. While Gary is technically the “owner” of the band and handles the bookings, George handles much of the day-to-day leadership activities. The plan is to shoot a group photo in the “green room” and then out on the floor at their show Friday night I would grab some shots of the band in front of an audience.

I leave George to his pre-show ritual (whatever that is) and head out into Musikfest to grab some food and meet up with my friend Todd. A gyro, roasted corn and baked beans later, I’m heading off to meet George and over to the venue.

Group Shots

The green room at the venue was broken up into a couple of rooms. Two of them were bathrooms. No good. One has a TV, fridge, tables, doors and one wall. No good. Another is a tiny dressing room. No good. So, we were left with a lounge that’s pretty small. Just enough room for me to get the group shot with a 24-70 on a tripod jammed into the corner.

I’m not done with the group shots at this time, but I’ll share a setup shot with George and an Easter egg or two

I was pretty happy with the lighting on this test. Good fill and pretty soft using the Godox AD360IIN and Phottix Mitros bounced high off the wall to camera left to counter the recessed cans in the ceiling. You’ll just have to wait to see what image we choose and how it gets processed.

Concert Photography

I was pretty daunted by the lighting in the concert hall. To say it was a little backlit is something of an understatement.

Definitely cool for the audience, but a bit challenging for the photographer in the crowd. My goal was to get a few decent shots of the new(er) members of the band and get more shots at the well-lit stage at their show on Sunday.

Here’s the wonderful Raysa Michelle who worked really well with the veteran Jillian Rhys

, Matt Asti who has a deceptively chill demeanor onstage, but he’s a monster on the keyboard

and Neil Wetzel who holds up the sax end of the Authority Horns with… um… authority.

I’m still editing shots, so that’s it for now. It was a great weekend and beyond fulfilling my contractual obligations I really enjoyed spending time with the band and making some new friends.

Thanks, again, to PFA for the opportunity to work with them. Like the rest of their fans I can’t wait until the next time.


Sweeney Todd Promotional Shots – Red Branch Theatre Co

Red Branch doesn’t usually do a photo session early in the production schedule to create styled images for promotional use. When they contacted me to do these I was more than happy to jump in. Sweeney Todd is a show I really like and have good familiarity with.

I  spoke to the production staff to get a scope on the job. It would be shots of the two main characters Sweeney Todd (Russell Sunday) and Mrs. Lovett (Janine Sunday).

I  knew I  needed to play up the theme of their season, “Paint it Red”, and keep with the dark malevolence of the show. So, I expected to shoot in the big orange room rehearsal space that is my onsite studio and photoshop a context. With this in mind I stopped by the theatre the afternoon of the shoot to make sure I was on the same page as them.

It’s a good thing I did. While there I spoke to Chester, one of their set designers, who offered me some reclaimed building materials from his father’s yard. It couldn’t hurt to look. Right? Oh man. This stuff was perfect! It consisted of some really old, dirty corrugated steel siding and wooden shutters that looked like they had to be literally dug up. We set them against a wall in the big orange room and Chester produced bailing wire to “secure” the shutter to a nail hole in the siding. Instant set!

I think that looks fantastic, but it doesn’t quite have any mood to it yet. I only had 3 location speedlights with me for this shoot. I felt I could definitely dedicate one to the background. The look I wanted was a wash on the wall from a streetlight over head. So, I put one of my speedlights (the Nikon SB-800) with a RogueGrid and an Orange-y RogueGel on a boom arm to get it over the middle-ish of the background. By under-exposing the background and setting the white balance to daylight, I started to get the effect I wanted.

I almost had the look I wanted, but I thought Sweeney wasn’t menacing enough. I decided a light blue gel on the MagGrid lighting him, would give me more of the effect I wanted.


With a little post-processing, this gave me the look I wanted. That post-processing involved adding in a razor, since we were running ahead of the props department.

This gave me my Sweeney set up, but the client also wanted shots of Mrs. Lovett. Lovett is no less scary than Sweeney, but she’s somewhat more light-hearted. I didn’t want her to be as cool as Sweeney. So, she was shot with a warmer gel (1/4 CTO)  on the Rogue Flashbender 2 XL Pro to soften the shadows a little and control the spill onto Sweeney and the background.

Again, there was a bit of photoshop to add the rolling pin and razor (a different razor this time) and toning to get the look I wanted.

So, it was a great shoot. I was able to execute my vision in very short order (about an hour, really) which can be important to some clients. Especially, when you are working into a production schedule.

I’m looking forward to meeting the rest of the cast and working with them for headshots and production stills.


Eagles Over Wilde Lake

One day after Winters First Kiss the temps were back over 40 and the sun was re-asserting its control over the Maryland Suburbs. I took the long way home through Columbia town center from my workout and decided to swing by Wilde Lake Park. Maybe a little mid-afternoon landscape or some ducks would be revealed. There were ducks-a-plenty,

but I got distracted.

Was that a bald eagle? I’m pretty sure it was. So, I switched from my 12-40mm that usually sits on my Olympus E-M1 to the 40-150mm. This isn’t exactly a birders dream, but you shoot with what you have and it did give me an effective reach of 300mm. The beauty of the expensive lenses is that they can be shot at full aperture at full zoom. So, at f2.8 ISO200 I was still able to get an action-freezing shutter speed of over 1/2500s.

The real difficulty was shooting against the light. However, I didn’t know if the eagle (I found out later it was a bunch of eagles) was going to hang around the lake long enough for me to get to the other side. So, I tried to keep the sun off my left shoulder and did the best I could.

The eagle(s!) seemed to be in an accommodating mood and stayed around. I learned from some passing bird fanciers (whatever they call themselves) that there had been up to 12 bald eagles seen around the lake in recent days. I could see at least two more hanging in the back part of the lake. I also found out that the eagle without the traditional aspect of white head and tail is a juvenile.

It might have been younger, but it is the one that scored while I was there.

I’m not primarily a bird or even a nature and wildlife photographer, but I couldn’t help getting excited about photographing these amazing animals. Once again, I was struck by how much better my day goes when I step out of my routine, camera in hand, and look around.

These shots and more available for purchase:

Images shot with Olympus OM-D E-M1, Olympus M. Zuiko 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO. Processing in Adobe Lightroom, ON1 Effects 10


Winter’s First Kiss

We had our first real taste of winter today. January 5, 2016. Yes, it was 70 degrees just a day ago and today dawned around 12. Strange times.

There’s a little pond in our neighborhood. Not much more than a drainage ditch, really. You know the kind they create when turning farm land into subdivisions. The ones that keep people’s basements from flooding.

Well, the beauty of these necessities to human expansion is that nature finds them. They make it home.

Birds, fish, deer and wild plants take root. This provides a little oasis of forest beauty in the suburbs.

So, this is where my wandering took me this morning. With a change in season, or in weather, for some reason I’m drawn to places where land and water meet. Even if it is not the grandest spot, there’s something to be found.

Images shot with Olympus OM-D E-M1, Olympus M. Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8. Processing in Adobe Lightroom, ON1 Effects 10


Life Events

This past weekend I traveled up to Connecticut for my niece’s Bat-Mitzvah.

While I didn’t officially photograph the event (for various reasons I’ll probably write about later),


However, I couldn’t help taking a couple pictures of my crazy nephew





and niece.
 Uh, nieces.

While we traveled up there for one nieces’ life event, we couldn’t ignore that another niece recently had a very different kind of event in her life. So, I grabbed a few shots here too.




A baby.

It’s what I do.


Pendulum – Kinetics Dance Theatre 

Saturday evening, November 7th, 2015, Kinetics Dance Theatre’s professional company had their Fall show at Slayton House in Columbia, Maryland. KDT’s choreography is always inventive and expressive creating many interesting photographic opportunities.

I really love shooting these dance performances. They are some of my most challenging assignments. Why? Really? Fast movement…

Low light…

Changing conditions…

no second chances…

And no idea where to shoot or what is coming next.

All while trying not to ruin the experience for the paying audience. The best of times, the worst of times. I honestly don’t know if I have anything until I  get home. That makes the solid shots so much more gratifying.

Every one of these shots feels like a huge win. Oh, I actually got a few more than these too and I haven’t been through the whole set yet.