while back, I came across one of the coolest pictures ever that included both fashion and more importantly, smoke bombs. Leyla was totally feeling it too, and we decided to get together and put our own spin on it. We met on Mother’s Day (we were going to meet the day before but the weather didn’t look like it going to cooperate with us but it ended up being a decent day). “I don’t have any plans,” she said when we decided to change our shoot to Sunday morning. I had a chuckle because I was in the same boat. For the record, we are both married and each have a young son. I wasn’t quite sure why Mother’s Day wasn’t a big deal to either of us (“Why are we freaks, Leyla?“), but Leyla explained it as “We’re Vietnamese. We don’t celebrate anything….although I’m sure if I don’t call my mom today she’ll get mad at me.” Again, I chuckled as truer words have never been spoken.
So we met at 7AM on Sunday morning at North Avenue Beach. We approached the lake….to find a Chicago police van facing our direction 50 yards away. Since neither of us were sure if smoke bombs warrant a ticket in Chicago (seems like we would have been okay), we decided to take a few test shots before lighting one. A minute later, the police van moved so we started to add a little pink to the skyline.
A word of caution: when you first light these things, some sparks might fly. “A bird just pooped on me!” Leyla yelped. A second look showed that it was a spark that landed on her. Although she said it didn’t hurt, there was a burn mark on her arm so be careful working with these things. Oh, and and when you’re done with them, either dig them into the sand or place them into container of water before disposing of them. You don’t want to be that person who caused a garbage fire. (You’ll definitely get a ticket for that!)
wo years ago this month, my family and I went on a Caribbean cruise leaving from Miami. Embarrassingly, I just started pulling together the photo book from that trip a few weeks ago. I have chosen all the pictures and done the layout but need to make a few tweaks before I send it off to Blurb. (Oh, and I should probably run that little thing called “Spell Check”. He he.) With this book project, I naturally stumbled upon a few pictures, which I thought I’d share here as the images haven’t left my hard drive since 2014. (I mean, if you don’t share your pictures online, did the pictures really get taken? I kid, I kid.) Truth be told I pretty much almost forgot that some of these existed (which brings me back to that one point. What was it? Oh yeah, print your pictures).
Although our journey began in Miami, we didn’t actually visit The Wynwood Walls until after the cruise. Once we left the ship, we had a few hours to kill before my husband and I had to catch our flight back to Chicago. What to do, what to do…
Thanks to Yelp, we learned about The Wynwood Walls. During this period, I was very much into street art, so I REALLY wanted to check this location out and use my guinea pigs travel companions to stand in for a few pictures.
Since then, I’ve seen a lot of pictures on Instagram from this area, especially during Art Basel. Obviously, there has been new work added since we were here and every time I see a picture of this place, I am reminded of how much I would love to go back and have a little reunion with The Wynwood Walls. Although I don’t think I’d mind a reunion with Miami in general. 🙂
Raise your hand if you’ve been missing Downton Abbey since its finale last month. [Both of my hands are in the air.] As soon, as I heard that The Driehaus Museum was having an exhibit for the show’s costumes, I was all over it and went to check it out with my friend Subrina last Saturday. We met at The Allis for afternoon tea to start this English experience off right. (It was Subrina’s first time doing tea and she loved it. “This gives me an excuse to eat dessert every afternoon!”) Afternoon tea at The Allis ranks high as one of my favorite things to do in the city, so it’s possible I’ll be back again before the snow falls again. (Unless it falls in the next couple of weeks, which shouldn’t happen but you never know with Chicago….)
After tea, we drove to The Driehaus Museum for the featured event of the day:
The Driehaus Museum is a three-story mansion that once belonged to a Chicago banker, and for this exhibit, each room had Downton costumes that complemented the space. It was something like a “If the Crawley family was here, what would they be wearing?” matching game. (They did a great job with the costume and room pairings.)
On a side note, I’m not sure why I’ve never been here before. It’s a beautiful historical space and fun to explore.
Anyway, if you’re a Downton fan, you should definitely check this out while it’s on town. Unfortunately, I don’t think there will be any real life Lady Mary or Thomas Branson sightings, but seeing some of their show costumes is a close second!
Last month, I said I was going to scale back on photographing portraits. But that didn’t quite happen (I shot five models along with a teeny, tiny impromptu shoot also in the mix), so I think April is my official hiatus month as my weekends have been – and will be – used to catch up with friends (this seems to be the month that everyone wants to get together. This makes me happy). And there was also that one weekend where I was attending a photography conference. But this accidental hiatus has allowed me to sneak in some time for reading business and photography books (I am starting to get an itch for a good piece of fiction though….any recommendations?), doing freelance work and yes, finally finishing up my son’s photo book. I took the last picture for his photo book on his first birthday back in February, but then had to use this last month to sort through the final photographs. Quite a feat as I’m pretty sure I took about 10,000 pictures of him in his first year. (I don’t think I’m exaggerating.) In the end, I narrowed it down to 323 images. Whew.
Allow me to curtsy here [….as my head drops on the desk from exhaustion].
Anyway, I love Blurb. (If they ever have a job opening that fits my marketing background and photography/design interests, I’m all over it. Not a joke.)So yes, I’m a (non-paid!) Blurb advocate and have printed about 15 books – 5 personal and the rest for others – with them in the last year. I love that I can upload the pages that I created from InDesign, which is something that is hard to find with the other Print On Demand book publishers. (Blurb also offers a free book creation software called BookWright that I hear is a great tool. I believe I once heard the word “fun” used to describe it.) And of course, I am always happy and thrilled when the book arrives at my door.
I really couldn’t be happier with the book. So much so that I’ve already started working on putting together the book from our family Miami & Caribbean trip back in 2014 finally. At the end of that vacation, I found out I was pregnant, so this just brings everything back full circle. 🙂
Photo Book Specs –
10×8 standard landscape
Hardcover, image wrap [aka I could have taken a single image and stretched it out to cover both the front and back of the book. I opted to use two different images for the two sides though]
Premium Matte Paper (100# Text) // If you’re putting together a Blurb photo book, consider ordering a paper swatch kit so that you know what your options are.
I will end this post by saying, you don’t need to do a photo book….but I still think you should print your pictures. 🙂
Jocelyn and I had been in contact and made plans to shoot one Saturday morning. Since we were both out in the suburbs, I suggested shooting at the BAPS Temple. I had visited it many moons ago and took a handful of pictures then. On this particular day, however, I was immediately stopped and prohibited from taking pictures.
A few tips when this happens:
Keep your cool.
Respect the wishes of the property owner/handler.
But if you need to, roll your eyes. 😉
Move on and brainstorm another location.
Luckily, there was a golf course down the road that Jocelyn had spotted, so we headed in that direction and spent an hour there shooting. We stuck with taking pictures around the pond and the parking lot. Not ideal, but we made it work!
Do you believe in regrets? I have them from time-to-time, especially in photography. (What is this whole “I don’t have any regrets because the lessons from yesterday make me the person I am today” nonsense? Regret and learning from your past are not related.) In this case, I regret that I didn’t take close up pictures of the tattoo on her left shoulder there. I think it would have been an interesting picture taking a picture of it from the side and letting the eye naturally lead up to her face.
We don’t see too many hot air balloons in the suburbs, especially not in great numbers like this. But wouldn’t this be cool? (I need to get to Cappadocia one of these days…)
Over the weekend, I attended the Out of Chicago Portrait Conference. I have to say that I expected to leave with a whole lot of new information (I did!), but was surprised at how inspired the conference left me.
The event started Friday night with Lindsay Adler, who is a crazy awesome fashion photographer and is currently the youngest Canon Explorers of Light member. I have to say, she was the highlight of my weekend because 1) I love her work and 2) I admire female talent, especially in this field. (Case in point: in most of the workshops I attended on Saturday, there were 3 men to every 1 female. Bummer, right?) Lindsay’s keynote was on inspiration and creativity. I liked hearing someone (FINALLY) say that creativity is a process and is “like working out to build muscle” – it’s not something that just comes out of thin air. (Why is that something people generally believe?) In addition to that, the two big takeaways from her talk was that a great photograph needs impact (which is dependent on color, emotion, composition, light, movement and/or an interesting or unusual subject matter)….and you must control all the elements in your picture. Reason for the latter? People can’t see your excuses – all they see is an amazing or a boring picture. Amen, sister. Lindsay spoke for 90 minutes, and I left with 6 pages of notes and a brain racing with ideas. For the record, I will gladly pay to sit in on any future workshop she teaches! Friday night was definitely a good night.
Saturday was also a good day, but was a tad bit longer (with the day going from 8:30AM to 8:30PM). I attended five workshops with the the first being “Creating Drama with Speedlights” led by Nick Page. Now, I didn’t know who Nick was when I signed up for his class – I just wanted to learn more about tackling flash. But I Snapchatted a picture of Nick after his presentation and two of my (photographer) friends sent me a message asking how his class was. I should have known he was popular by how amazing his work is. (I’m pretty jealous that he’s only been at this for three years. That is pretty amazing.) For his presentation, he went through his portfolio and explained how he accomplished the final images. Some takeaways:
Photographers tend not to get the light close enough to the subject
Be aware of the light angle
He uses the Youngnuo line of flashes, which run about $60-80. (That’s it???) Hearing this floored me, but this is something I’ll look into when I purchase my next Speedlight
He contributes to the wildly popular Improve Photography podcast where he shares a lot of his photography knowledge
The next workshop I sat in on was “Practical Retouching in 90 Minutes” with Mark Serrano. I was the first one in the room and met him and his wife, who mentioned she was a makeup artist. “How cool! I need to get your information because the models I work with keep asking about makeup and I never know where to direct them.” She was very sweet and helpful with tips in that regards (as was Mark). This workshop was very much Photoshop-driven, so I’ll avoid highlighting that information to prevent this post from sounding like a tutorial but things to note:
Mark is known to spend more than 2 hours on each photo…and four is not unheard of
Good retouching should be natural looking, has visible skin texture and provides even skin tones and smooth transitions
The skin tone and color of the face should match that of the body. This never occurred to me, but it makes a lot of sense
After Mark’s presentation, there was an hour break for lunch. I had intentions of running down to Macy’s to buy a new tube of MAC’s Touch (my color) lipstick because I left the house that morning without taking my lipstick out of my purse and putting into my camera bag (which is what I was toting). But I was hungry, so I ducked into an Asian restaurant (that served Thai, sushi and Chinese) and ordered ramen. I don’t know what happened, but that ramen gave me a stomachache. Lesson learned: order ramen from ramen restaurants only! Before heading back, I stopped at Starbucks for a mint tea and a brownie – both seemed to settle my stomach. Whew.
After lunch and with Starbucks on hand, I attended “Professional Headshots – Step Away from the Selfie Stick” with Scott Lawrence, who is a photographer up in Libertyville (a northern suburb of Chicago) and shoots only headshots. Cool! Scott was the only instructor who had an ice breaker activity in all the classes I attended that day. He had us all “make a friend” and take that person’s headshot with our phone. I took a picture of a guy named Jeff, who was sitting in the same row. I thought we were going to do something with the picture, but nothing ever happened with it so I still have Jeff’s picture on my phone. I’m wondering if I’m still on his…ha ha ha. After that, Scott went through the factors needed for a great headshot, which include expression, light, pose, angle, backgroud, crop and retouching. (Fun fact: one of his slides had a picture of Mara. “Hey, I know that girl!” I thought and immediately texted her.) He mentioned that he retouches each picture for only a few minutes, which I thought was interesting because it was the complete opposite of Mark’s post production method. (Just goes to show that there isn’t one right way with photography.) Scott also went over his basic light set up, which included the main, fill, background and kicker lights – and like Nick Page, mentioned that the softbox should be as close to the subject as possible (“Otherwise, it defeats the purpose.”).
Following Scott’s presentation, I attended “Light Painting 101 // Taking the Portrait to a New Level” with Michael Novo, who I would give the “Best OOC Presenter” award to if such a thing existed. He had a great sense of humor (it’s dry with great timing) and went through the process of light painting in a fun way. So basically, light painting is starting with a composition, picking the parts you want lit (or “painted”) and taking a picture of each individual thing you “paint” using either a Speedlight or a flashlight. (Example: In a large living room, there’s a book, couch and dog you want to light paint. So you would take one shot with the Speedlight flash hovering over the book, another of the couch and again, with the dog.) In post production, the individual pictures are layered in Photoshop. There is a lot of masking, deleting and and erasing involved during this process so that only a small part of each picture makes it into the final piece. This link includes a few of the examples he covered. He also showed an example of actor Jonathan Banks (aka Mike from “Breaking Bad”) at home with his wife. I think Michael said Jonathan was his father-in-law, but nobody in the room reacted so maybe I was hearing things? If if they’re not related, it’s pretty enviable that he had access to Jonathan!
After Michael’s workshop, there was a dinner break where I had time to run to Macy’s and get that lipstick. Whew! (I didn’t end up opening or using it until Monday morning though. Well, at least I’m covered for next time!) I also went to Latinicity for a quick dinner (I liked it! I’ll definitely be back again if I’m in the area) and then, grabbed cupcakes and a large tub of banana pudding from Magnolia. I figured I’d butter up my husband, who had been home watching our 14-month old while I was at the conference all day. (By the way, you do know that Magnolia makes the best banana pudding, right? THE BEST.)
Although I was sad about attending my last workshop of the day, I was exhausted. But once I was in “Off Camera Flash!” with Steve Neilson, who has a VERY high energy level, I got my second wind. (“I don’t know where my model is. I think she stepped out a minute to take a poop!” he exclaimed. OMG, ha ha ha ha.) He was not going to let us sit while he presented. Nope, Steve made us all whip out our cameras while he set up different lighting scenarios. He started with one light on his model; then, a second; then, a third; and then finally, the third with a color gel on it.
This was a great session and it was good to get in and learn about and understand flash in a hands on way. Like, Nick Page, Steve also uses the budget-friendly Yongnuo Speedlights. (Seriously, I know what my next line of Speedlight will be.) I would share the pictures I took here, but they’re nothing to be proud of. However, if you ever attend an Out of Chicago Conference, I’d recommend sitting in with Steve….although know that you probably won’t be doing much any sitting!
There was so much information – much more than I’m including here – during the Out of Chicago Portrait Conference that there’s just no way each attendee won’t become a better photographer. At least that’s how I’m feeling as I’m still on a slight Conference High. At the moment, I can’t wait to start planning shoots and applying some of the things I’ve learned although first, I need to get off Amazon. I’m enjoying checking out those Yongnuo Speedlights….
Hi there! Happy Friday! I let the week go without posting, but I made a promise to blog once or twice a week to keep this site regularly updated (and in turn, keeps me going with taking pictures). So here I am! 🙂 Anyway….
In the last post, I shared some images I took of Lily in her pointe shoes, a white dress and balloons tend to create an ethereal mood. It was exactly the look I was going for. And then, Lily and her mom gave me another costume option:
I have to say that I loved this “black swan” look and wish I had taken a gazillion more pictures of her in this attire.
Awhile back, my friend Elina recommended a book called Studio Anywhere by Nick Fancher. I try not to buy too many books (support your library!), but this one looked like something I needed. And it’s a book I’m now glad I own. It’s a great DIY photography lighting book and is a good reference I’ll go back to repeatedly. (I am looking forward to rereading it….after I get through the stack of library books, whose days with me are numbered. Those three weeks always go so quickly!) Near the end of the book, Fancher mentions that parking garages are great places to shoot. “Gah!! There you go Nick telling everyone about this secret spot!” I mentally yelled at the non-reactionary book. Nah, but it’s no secret and it really is one of the best places to shoot. You can get aerial shots from the location you’re at, but in this case, there were no cars or people on the top level so it gave us space to work with.
Sadly, this is all I have to share of this young talent. I hope I’ll be able to shoot with her again soon, as my mind is racing with ideas and I’m getting really excited thinking about it!
Awhile back, I put out a casting call for lifestyle models. Her mom replied on her behalf and mentioned that Lily was a dancer. I was pretty ecstatic as I’ve been wanting to shoot a dancer for awhile now. And I have to say she did not disappoint. I had a few concepts that I shared with Lily’s mom. I figured that she would take a look at it and say, “Cool! Let’s do it.” Well, that’s exactly what the reaction was.
And then some.
Her mom stayed in touch and texted me several costume and prop ideas a few days leading to our meeting time. (I may or may not be privy to the fact that they have a prop closet at home.) It was pretty amazing. And helped us all bring life to the photos. Preparation is key, everyone!
I was impressed with how easy the leaps, jumps and twirls came so easily to Lily. But then again, I think she dances about six times a week. I wish I had that sort of discipline – for anything – at that age. (It’s just more motivating to me now, even being more than twice her age. Better late than never, right?)
When I got home later that morning and looked through the camera roll, I wondered if I could go back to shooting lifestyle portraits. The answer is yes, but I also want to focus on photographing dancers. I wonder if this is cliche (if you go on Flickr, Instagram or the general internet there are MANY dance images out there) and if I’ll be able to have a voice in this saturated market. Basically, this girl has made me consider changing the course of my photography.
Thanks, Lily. 😉
Like a well-prepared model, Lily came with several outfit options. So naturally, I have more pictures of her…
I don’t know what the heck is going on, but I have been so lucky to meet a lot of great people ever since I started with portraits. Helen is one of those people. We texted back and forth before meeting up last Saturday. She pointed out earlier in the week that the St. Patrick’s Day festivities were taking place, which I had totally forgotten about. So we decided to meet at North Avenue Beach (which I haven’t been to in ages) later in the afternoon. I arrived first and scouted the location. Then, I spotted Helen. At that point, I knew this day was going to work out a-okay.
I joked later that this was one of those locations where you could bring your Motorola Razor Flip Phone and still take a stellar picture. (This is not a challenge…although if you do it, I want to see what you end up with.) But really, the model (ahem, Helen) helped to pull this together.
So while everyone was downtown seeing green, we were in Lincoln Park with the blues.
For this picture above, I had Helen sitting on the edge of the pier. When we had met up, the temperature was fairly decent but slowly plunged. You probably can’t tell, but she was cold at this point. I was trying to get one last shot when two Wave Runners quickly approached us. Crap, I thought, here come some jerks wanting to splash us. Before I could warn her, one of the vehicles approached us and just as quickly, turned off his motor. “Girl, aren’t you cold?” he said through his masked wet suit.
Ha ha ha ha ha ha.
He was very nice and flirting with Helen big time curious about what we were doing. I always forget that Chicago is one of the nicest cities. (Am I biased? Yeah, maybe.)
If you think this is the last you’ve seen of Helen – whether here or in someone else’s portfolio – you’re nuts. She’s clearly photogenic, intelligent (she’s working on her Masters in Clinical Psychology) and such a joy to work with. [On a similar note, I picked up “The Power Playbook” by La La Anthony at the library sometime last week. It’s a quick read and along the lines of #Girlboss if you’re looking for an inspiring career/life book. La La mentions – more than once – that being kind will take you further than just talent alone. Just passing along good advice to those of you who are wondering if being a b*tch – which seemed to be a popular school of thought when I was in the corporate world a decade ago – will take you further in your career. Be nice and work hard, y’all.]
Clearly, I’m looking forward to working with Helen again. 🙂
I took this picture two years ago and liked it. A LOT. And kinda forgot about it.
Then, last week, I noticed it had been added to 200 different VSCO Collections. Cool! Seeing this again made me remember this day two years ago. I had my (at the time) 11-year-old niece with me. We took the Metra in from the suburbs (which was loaded with drunk suburbanites. Her facial expression kept switching between shock to amazement….yeah, Aunt of the Year right here). We were heading into the city as she wanted to see the green Chicago River. In return, she got to see how Chicagoans celebrate this holiday. (Ha.) My favorite memory of the day was leaving the parade and her pulling on my coat. “That guy just broke up with that girl.” Huh? What do you mean? “That guy just broke up with his girlfriend and the girl was like, ‘Are you really breaking up with me on St. Patrick’s Day?'” Bwahahahhahahaha. And that, my friends, was her introduction to St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago. Is there a better city to celebrate this fine holiday? Methinks not. 😉
P.S. When I use VSCO these days, it’s primarily through Lightroom on my computer. But from time to time, I do use the app on my phone. You can see a few of those photos on my VSCO grid.