Thoughts on Images from Budapest and Vienna

I taught a photography workshop in Vienna and Budapest with Clay Blackmore and David Ziser through MZed.  This year we will be in Barcelona, Spain [LEARN MORE HERE].  The experience is fantastic.  Great people, great food, models, shooting locations, great instructors, and wonderful staff.  It was such a pleasure to spend days, rather than hours with students (working professionals) who are thirsty for knowledge.

Here are a few images from my week in Budapest and Vienna.

Enjoy.

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On our first full day in Budapest we were allowed to photograph in an ancient and still operational bath house.  What a fantastic start to our photographic journey.  The place was absolutely full of textures and color.  My lighting was accomplished with three Canon Speedlite 600RT flashes on their included flat foot stands (as I did not want to carry light stands with me to Budapest).  I’d say they turned out very nice.

We spent a few hours wondering through the underground labyrinths under the streets of Buda Hill. These were apparently the dungeons that held the likes of Count Dracula himself (the real live person, not the vampire). It is fun to wander with a group of friends, but when those friends include photographers, every random streak of light through fog becomes and event. Unfortunately for my wife, she was the only non-photographer, so she became the subject of many a posed photograph. I am sure there will be a number of eery silhouettes of the lovely Danielle in the coming months on a few photographer blogs. She was a great sport about it all, and we had a lot of fun wandering in the shadowy underworld.

The photo I have chosen to show, however was one that kind of fell in my lap rather than needing to be set up. As Jeff led the way through the foggy tunnel, the mood lighting made a perfect and unexpected silhouette of him and his camera. I told him to freeze! Which he did. I then positioned myself for the best possible separation for his head, his face and his camera. We all worked on the shot a bit as Jeff dutifully stayed frozen in position. Carlos Martìn must receive credit for closing the gates just a bit, which I didn’t even know were there until he pulled them in. I was too focused on Jeff’s position. The gate gave me a lot to play with in the corners of the shot.

These kind of moments happen more often that we realize, but many times we pass them by in favor of getting to dinner on time, continuing our conversation, or just inattention to the moments and details. Sometimes we just let something beautiful pass us by and perhaps we regret not getting the shot. The world would have been just fine without this photo in it. Jeff didn’t even know the photo opportunity existed, and neither did anyone else in our group. I think he would have lived without it, but I know he is excited to have the image.

Many times, the moments in our lives are far more important than grabbing that great light or that perfect moment on camera. I have often told photographers in lectures to take a little time off from the camera, and live life rather than document it. It’s hard for us to do sometimes. Case in point… later that evening, we ended up in a cafe on the edge of Buda Hill watching the sunset, hot-cocoa in hand, listening to a unique little string quartet, when the violinist approached us and asked for a request. After a bit of thought, we requested Ave Maria (one of my favorite songs) and he began to play like he was born to play that song. It was very romantic.

Danielle describes what happened next by saying, she now has conclusive proof that I can handle about ninety seconds of romance and beauty before I have to pick up my camera and document it. It wasn’t until she began making fun of me that I realized what I had done, at which point, feeling a bit foolish, I set the camera down and enjoyed the next song without the camera in my hand.

The question then is, did I need my camera to enjoy the music and the moment? Was there even a beautiful shot to be made? I suggest not! This image is only worth the memory spark to tell a story about my own foolishness. And I can say for certain that I enjoyed the music far better with my wife’s hand in my hand rather than a camera. So why the gut reaction to pick up the camera to document everything? Is it a sickness? A habit? An obligation? I will spend my entire life attempting to understand it. In some instances, it is a blessing for my wife because our children’s lives are very well documented. But, it can interfere with life experiences as well. They say recognition is half the battle, the other half is doing something about it. I have found that I can be a far better date without a camera in my hands, so I will often leave my camera at home and just practice experiencing life. Sometimes it is painful to see beautiful moments happening knowing that they will only be available in my memory, but at least I will have experienced the moment rather than simply having observed it.

When we are traveling, the task of capturing the experience falls on me (or maybe, I take it on myself), so I feel I must carry a camera, but that doesn’t mean I must carry a large professional camera.  And more importantly, I have to be able distinguish between a moment that is to be captured and a moment that is to be lived.

 We took a day trip to Vienna on Friday and I swear I spent thirty minutes debating whether to take my pro gear or my point and shoot with me. Danielle questioned the wisdom of taking my point and shoot to such a beautiful city, but in the end, I am so happy I left all the pro gear in Budapest and walked those beautiful streets with nothing but a tiny camera in one hand and my wife’s hand in the other (see my notes above).

A small (manual) digital point and shoot camera is the perfect middle ground. When you are carrying heavy pro gear, it just gets used more. Maybe just to justify the weight of the gear. A small pocket camera, on the other hand, can be ignored until something critical presents itself, and as long as it is a quality camera, I can walk the streets and enjoy the experiences I am having until something truly needs documentation. And let’s face it, without some kind of a camera, a photographer might go crazy, so it is just nice to have one around.

Everything I shot in Vienna was done with the Canon G15 (a manually adjustable point and shoot camera) and many of the shots were taken at 1600 ISO or higher. So the camera holds up very nicely in most circumstances. Even in the catacombs, where incidentally, a small point and shoot is preferable, when photography is prohibited…

And yes, at the very least, an iPhone makes an acceptable camera to scratch that itch.

 

FYI.  In this next image, the lights were not on.  It was daytime.  But I thought they would look better on, so I turned them on in Lightroom.  Just thought you might find that interesting.  So yes, it is not absolutely accurate.  But it is more beautiful.

I saw a moment that called out to me, I suppose it was the light, angle of incident, the strange juxtaposition of a glowing telephone in a dark cathedral, the loneliness of the old man using it… but the photo looked nothing like this when I found it. It was cluttered with people passing through the shot, some were from my group and the rest the throngs of tourists moving in and out of the church. But I knew my frame and got my exposure set. I found a place to secure my camera against a column to steady it during the long exposure and waited patiently as my wife and friends left the church (I assume they thought I was with them).

As people left the frame, others entered, but I waited for the moment I knew would eventually come. A fraction of a second presented itself where everyone in the cathedral was just outside my frame, so in the hustle and bustle of a heavily trafficked church, was a moment of complete vacancy and solitude for my subject who feels completely alone. This is why I always tell people that photography is at best incapable of telling the “truth” and at worst an outright lie. The moment I am presenting here never occurred, not even for a fraction of a second. My subject never experienced the solitude you see here, maybe only in his mind was he alone, maybe he felt this way in his heart at the time, but I have no doubt that I only forced my vision of the scene on him.

In the end, any photograph will tell you more about the photographer than it will tell you about the scene or person in front of the camera. When we have our artist hats on, this suites us just fine. Like in this instance, I saw a metaphor, not the truth. So that is what you get to see. The problem becomes that you, the viewer don’t know when the photographer’s intention was to present the truth or just a metaphor. In most cases, the viewer is always better off assuming they are looking at and should treat every photograph as a metaphorical statement made by the photographer… even (especially) when the image is printed in the newspaper.

It was raining.  We had umbrellas.  The light was perfect.  I am a bit of a theatrical show off.  So it was only natural to start a “Singing in the Rain” musical number bit for the cameras.  Right?

These next two images were taken by Cable Notebloom.  Thanks Cable.

Budapest is home to a number of beautiful cathedrals. Danielle and I took the long climb to the top of St. Stephen’s cathedral in the middle of downtown Pest and while the top afforded us a great view of all of Budapest, my favorite image came from the design of the circular staircase. Which only further solidifies the adage that it is not the destination, but the journey…

It’s not a little thing that we were given access to the Budapest Opera House for a four hour photo shoot. I have to give Jeff Medford (the workshop’s brilliant coordinator) credit.  This was an amazing experience for everyone, students and instructors. I spent most of the time there with a few students on Canon Speedlite control. We shot setups with just one off camera Speedlite and setups with up to five. While I don’t have very many of my own images from those setups, because I was simply advising students, I was able to make a few images as examples while I was setting up and explaining my light strategies.

This next shot required a total of five Canon Speedlite 600RT flashes and a small 24 inch softbox. One Speedlite with a soft box lights our model, which was the last light to be placed. The remaining lights were used to create depth in the shot. Each cross hallway is lit with a Speedlite, as is the very back corner of the hallway (which would be a black hole without the lights. There are a few windows in the shot which may appear to be illuminating the hallway, but on their own do very little. The Speedlites are doing most of the work, augmenting the natural direction of light provided by the windows.

The important thing to take away from this shot is that without a set of strategically placed flashes that fit in a small shoulder bag, this brilliant hallway would have been very dark and almost unusable. And the entire setup did not take very long. It is a prime example of pre-visualization. You have to see the possibilities in the hallway to select the location in the first place. Then, there has to be a clear vision for the shot to build in the lights quickly and set the scene, otherwise, the exploratory process is too long and takes up valuable shooting time. Wedding photography is a job that requires vision, skill and speed. So I spent a lot of time with Kam and Cabel (my students of the moment) explaining how to build the lighting into the shot quickly and with purpose. I think we got some great imagery.

 

Cabel then asked a very important question. “What if I only have a limited amount of time and can’t build a shot with five lights?”

So we went into bare bones mode. What if I only have one light? What is the best most efficient use of that light? At this point we had a lot of students gathering around the grand staircase as we discussed the shot. At one point, Clay Blackmore wandered in to shoot some video of our couple walking down the staircase.

Well, with one light pounding into the marble off camera right by about 20 feet, we were able to softly light our models and fill in any unwanted shadows in the room. Even though the original light source is a few small inches, the resulting bounced light makes our light source about 40 feet wide, which means we get very soft light… I think the results were fantastic.

 

I also spent a little time teaching a group of students about efficient use of a second shooter during a portrait session. I acted as the second shooter to the students who were shooting with the lights in the primary position. By working together, both the primary photographer and the second shooter are able to achieve completely unique and valuable shots. This represents the second shooter’s artistic shot that I made, as the primary shooter (a few students) made traditional portraits from the primary position. I also had a few students in the secondary position with me. It’s all about efficient use of time and recognition from the both the primary and secondary shooters of the other photographers position and shot needs, and working together to shift the pose back and forth to work for both camera positions. Of course, the subject is rarely aware of the second shooter’s efforts because the primary shooter is the only one directing her movements and actions.

Before leaving the Opera House, we were allowed to peek into the main Opera House and sit in the boxes for a few minutes.  Danielle, posed for a snap shot memory of the box seat experience.  Carlos Martín, prone to doing whatever he likes, found his way past the do not enter signs and velvet ropes to the King’s box (where the King or President would sit).  You can see him and Coralee in the box behind Danielle.

There is an effort under way in Vienna to clean the stone faces of some of the buildings. Clearly, they could use a good scrubbing. Over the years, these brilliant white surfaces have become grey and in some cases even black. So, like every city I have ever traveled to, the best buildings are scafolded on one side or another. I was struck by the remarkable difference between the sides that have been cleaned and those slated for a future scrubbing. But as I photographed St. Stephen’s cathedral (in Vienna – there is one in Budapest too), I found myself wishing they would just leave the building alone. The soot has created a beautiful contrast to emphasise the sculptural elements, enhancing the dimensions and the textures. As a photographic subject, the building is far more interesting as a faded, dirty, raw old building than it is in its sparkly clean glory.

Sometimes we want so desperately to clean thing up, buy new things, streighten the books on the shelf, fuss with the wedding dress and the veil, spray the hair until it is locked perfectly in place, and yet, often times, perfection is far less interesting and beautiful than the natural state of things. Irving Penn warned that working on perfecting a subject for too long, often kills the life of the photograph. Imperfection is life. Time ages people, building and everything in this world. I love imperfections and weathering because it tells a story and that is what makes the photograph intriguing. Clean up this building and this photograph becomes far less interesting. Cleaning out the cobwebs make a place more livable, but not necessarily more beautiful.

 

 

On the very last day in Budapest, Danielle and I walked along the Danube River.  We crossed beautiful bridges, admired fantastic architecture and bought trinkets, but our destination was the memorial for those who’s lives were taken by the Nazis in mass murders on the river’s edge. The memorial is a simple, understated line of bronzed tattered shoes. The shoes face the river as though they are prepared for their end and walking bravely to meet it. I think the direction of the shoes is also a powerful indictment of the cowardice of the Nazi’s, who slaughtered millions of innocent men, women and children (suggesting the act of shooting them in the back). I don’t know if the victims were told to face their assassins or not, but their despicable treachery is well condemned here. And more importantly, as we quietly took in the scene, the innocence of the victims, their humility, bravery, strength, fear, sadness and faith in deliverance hung around us in the air.

I asked Danielle to choose a pair of shoes and I watched her walk amongst the shoes and wondered which she would choose and why? Would it be a father’s boots, who struggled every day to make a living and feed his children and who now faced his murderers wondering what would become of his family? Would it be a set of tiny shoes that belonged to a helpless little child, separated from his parents, not even aware of what was to come? But as she pointed out a small set of simple boots standing side by side with her mother’s modest heeled dress shoes, tears began to form and we talked of a mother and her little girl standing on the edge of a beautiful river, in a beautiful city and we wondered how and why another human could have seen these two innocent lambs holding hands and done anything but run into the group, hold them both and suffer that fate with them… I wonder what the mother told her child. What did the father say to his son? Empowered by faith in God and with hope in his eyes, I hoped he would have had the strength to smile and say, “I will see you in a few minutes, son. We will be just fine.”

I struggle to write this in a blog that is usually filled with happy unions, beautiful moments with care free children and careless discussions about the importance of f-stops and shutter speeds. But while we stood there on the Danube, we had a chance to stand, not in, but near by others’ shoes and I could not help but feel I learned something about family and about God, who must have stood their that day with open arms on the other side to give his tormented sons and daughters a very real and very long embrace. And I just hope that as I enter difficult times of life that are full of fear, that I can hold my little girl’s hand and say with a reassuring smile, “we will be just fine.”  And then step off into that river and await the unknown and the embrace that comes after the extreme trials of faith and hope. And while life is good, and while we are blessed with plenty and peace, this is the time to hold those I love close, build them up, teach them strength, conviction, faith and hope and above all to show them love.

I teach a lot of photographers about workflow and software and f-stops and shutter speeds, but the most important thing I can tach any photographer, or any person for that matter, is the importance of filling your mind and your heart with inspiration ( joyful and sorrowful).  One cannot produce inspiring work from an empty well.  And that is something that was so fantastic about the Budapest Master Class, it was more than an opportunity to learn technical photography, it was an opportunity to become inspired and experience life from another perspective, in another culture, to meet new and interesting people and see things in a completely different way.

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If you would like to join us in Barcelona in October of 2014, go to www.MZed.com and mention JARED PLATT to receive $150 off your tuition for the class.  I hope to see you there.

 

Merry Christmas from The Platt Family

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Merry Christmas from Platt Photography and the Platt family.

Here is the 2011 Christmas card photo shoot.  My wife, Danielle is always coming up with great ideas for our Christmas cards.  Each year, after Christmas, she starts working on the next year’s photo concept.  This years was particularly difficult as we had to find all the clothing and the props.  Some of it is completely authentic period clothing and some of it was either rented or even made for the photo shoot.

All of this started when my mother produced my grand-father’s kindergarten outfit from the early 1900’s.  Then, Danielle was able to find a dress from about 1890 on ebay.  She found some cute clothes for my daughter off the modern rack that had the same feel and then my eldest son and I rented various costume pieces and my mother sewed a few things we could not find.  I also needed a period camera.  The 4×5 camera I own is too new (circa 1940), so I put out an APB for wooden field camera and my friend Keith Pitts came through.  It is an old thing and in need of much work, but looks great.  Danielle also found an old wooden tripod, but there was no plate to connect the camera to the tripod, so we had to put the camera on a modern tripod and then lash the wood tripod to the outside of the modern tripod.  Then with a little photoshop work, I was able to remove the modern tripod where it was showing through.

You will note that all of the photos are cropped to an 8×10 aspect ratio.  I wanted to keep the authenticity of the shots even down to the aspect ratio common for the time period (i.e. 4×5 or 8×10) owing to the use of large format negatives, glass plates or tin types.  I suppose I get a little persnickety about the details, but I wanted it to feel very authentic.

Here is a photo of my grandfather wearing the outfit my youngest son is now wearing in our photos.  Earl is the one on the left.

My kids were thrilled with this photo shoot.  I told the boys, you are not supposed to smile on any of these photos.  “Really?  Awesome!”  They loved it.

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This is one of my favorites from the entire photo shoot.  It was just a grab during the planning of the photo, but I love it, love it!

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Jackson was really getting into the role.  I explained to my kids that in old photos no one smiled because they couldn’t hold a smile long enough for the long shutter speed and that they were always uncomfortable because they had to hold still and they sometimes even had a brace on their neck to keep them perfectly still for the photograph.  So he did his best.  Indiana (my daughter) on the other hand just did whatever she wanted.

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I think this photograph is a perfect representation of Britton’s relationship with Indiana in comparison to the photo above.  Britton has taken it upon himself to be Indie’s protector and caring older brother.  He puts Indie first at all times and she is completely confident with her big brother as her backup.

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This is another one of my favorites.  Of course, the serious looks are perfect for the time period and not completely indicative of my wife and oldest son, but there is something very truthful about this photograph.  You know, I always comment on how “true” images are of people that I photograph, but it is always with limited information about the people and who they are, so I am making educated guesses about their relationships and personalities (which I seem to get right most of the time), but when I photograph my own family, I get to see these shots and the “truths” contained in them with complete confidence that I am reading them correctly.  There is something very proud in their relationship, a seriousness to it, complete with expectations and determination to succeed.  Not that they are not playful with each other, but there is an element of seriousness in their relationship not as prevalent in her relationship with the other children that makes this photograph ring true.

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And Indie continues to smile.  She was just happy to be there.

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Now, if there is one other photograph that rings “true” in this collection it is this one.  This is a very good indication of my relationship with my daughter.  She loves me very much and I am smitten with that little angel.  She has taken to telling me two things on an hourly basis. “I love you” followed by, “I miss you daddy.”  This, of course, melts my heart.  I am not sure she understands what that means, but she seems to understand that it means that she wants to be around me.  She was sick last night and called for me, and I spent a few hours up with her throughout the night, and although she was sick and I was tired, we both thoroughly enjoyed the time together.  So, that is what is happening here in this photograph.  She is breaking away from the family group because I am over by the camera and she wants to be near me, not in a crying and southed only by daddy kind of way, but in a genuine excited to be in my arms, kind of way.

My brother Rex Platt (my chief second shooter) is taking all of the photos that I am in, by the way.  Thanks to Rex for all his help on this photo shoot.  He is a great photographer and an even greater friend.

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This boy just makes me smile every time I look at him.

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And I love this photograph.  That little muff was made by my mother.  It was hard to get Indie to put her hands in it, but as it got colder in the evening, it was much easier to get her to see the wisdom in using it.

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My mother also made his nickers.  Thanks mom.  Good job!

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I think I could have enjoyed being a photographer in 1890, I am, after all a technical kind of guy and good in the darkroom, but I don’t miss the film days in the least.  I shot these photos and an hour later I was sitting in a yogurt shop eating frozen yogurt, looking at the JPG copies of the shoot on my iPad with NIK’s Snapseed App adjusting them and making some preliminary crops and treatments, etc.  Then I went home and loaded the RAW images into Lightroom and made the first round picks and started adjusting them.  Minutes later, I was showing the images to my wife and making plans for the final Christmas card and this blog post, which will be released on Christmas Eve.  This kind of turn around was unheard of anytime in the 20th century.  So I don’t miss film one little bit even though I have extreme respect the medium.

About Snapseed by NIK.  This is the best photo software on the iPad or iPhone.  It does EVERYTHING I need to do to a photo on my iPhone or iPad.  I used to have 30 different photo apps to do what I needed to get done, but now, when I am working on a photo on my handheld devices, Snapseed is all I use.  You have to get this app if you work on your photos at all.

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And while I am on the subject of NIK Software, I also have to mention the fact that every photo in this series went through NIK’s Silver Effects Pro 2 (a Photoshop, Lightroom and Aperture Plugin).  Silver Effects Pro 2 is indispensable when you are serious about a film look.  In this case, as much as I like Lightroom’s grain structure, I needed the photos to have a very realistic and accurate grain structure to match the historical feel of the photos.  And when I need REAL FILM GRAIN, I exclusively turn to Silver Effects Pro 2.  It is the gold standard for grain and film effects in digital imaging.  I will have to post a tutorial on using NIK Silver Effects Pro 2, it is a great bit of software.  I have included a screen shot below; it looks and feels a lot like Lightroom.  I am shouting for a few obvious enhancements that need to be made and if I am successful, it will be absolutely perfect!

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I suppose I am a photographer, truly.  I know that sounds strange to say, but when I call someone a photographer, it does not mean they own a camera and make money with it.  A photographer is a different breed of human.  We live to document and capture with “meticulous exactitude”, the world around us.  We don’t separate work from play.  Photography is life, we don’t live unless we record life.  I say this because I am so in love with this photo session because it was an opportunity for me to do something creative, fun and meaningful to me and my family and it was hard work, and it was fun and I cherish the moments we spent creating it and I cherish even more the moments I have spent looking at and thinking about the images and what they mean.  People look at art (paintings and sculptures etc) and ask, “what does it mean,” but they don’t do that with most photographs, when in actuality, every photo has as much or more meaning than a concocted piece of art, because photographs have the added element of reality embedded in them.  Even the randomly captured images have a deep meaning in them, stories, emotions, feelings, joys, sorrows, etc…  I have been spending a lot of time with these photos this Christmas because I am proud of the execution and in love with the meanings they project.

I hope you get to spend a little time with a few photographs this Christmas and get the chance to ponder what they are saying to you.

Merry Christmas, from my family to yours and from my photographs to you.

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Photographs by Jared Platt and Rex Platt, Platt Photography

Location: Gilbert, Arizona

The Lightroom Workflow Workshop in New Orleans

My Lightroom Workflow Workshop in New Orleans on November 8th, 2010 is now part of the Pictage Partner Conference and is now FREE to all attending the conference.  I am thrilled to be able to work with Pictage to provide such a valuable day of training in post production workflow to so many photographers.

The Lightroom Workflow Workshop Tour 2010 from Jared Platt on Vimeo.

Pictage’s goal with Partner Conference has always been to educate photographers and elivate their business and their vission and craft.  There is no greater comunity in the portrait and wedding industry than the Pictage community.  And Partner Conference is open to anyone, not just Pictage users.  It is a fantastic learning expereience.  Anyone who is in the industry, beginner or seasoned pro, can learn a great deal and have a blast at Partner Conference.

The early bird special ends this Firday, Spet 10.  So sign up for Partner Con, come to New Orleans and make sure you get there on Sunday night so you can take my workshop on Monday to kick of your week of learning right.

Reserve your seat for the Lightroom Workflow Workshop in New Orleans Now! It is FREE to anyone attending the Pictage Partner Conference.

An Infant Portrait in Phoenix – "It's life that interests me."

I told you, I have been very fortunate lately.  My infant portrait sessions have been wonderful, all of the kids have been very calm and cooperative.  This one was kind of a reunion, I shot child life portraits of big brother a few years back, so it was fun to see him again.  He has grown so much and of course, I am sure he didn’t remember me, but we told him he did, and he at least pretended to remember me, so I felt good about that.

Here is the slideshow and a few examples of my favorite images from the infant portrait session.

I love watching the relationships between an infant and their older siblings.

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Dad’s initials are the same as the infant’s initials.  This is dad’s cuff link.  It was a spur of the moment idea on dad’s part.  I liked the way it turned out.

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This was a cute little blanket with a teddy bear head at the top.  A great photo to start a baby book, I thought.

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Great-grandpa made the rocking-horse in the background.  This is the reason I advocate going into the baby’s space rather than going into a studio to photograph an infant portrait.  There are so many very important things that are missed.  I am always going to take important historical significance over cute portraits any day.

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As I was photographing the baby on the floor, I noticed that dad was looking in with interest.  So I changed my angle and asked mom to join.  This to me is the perfect little story.

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Here is great-grandpa with the boys and their respective rocking horses, both made by his hands.  I can’t think of a more important photo that I took that day.

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This one speaks for itself.

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Big brother was getting a bit bored of the photoshoot, so I took a few minutes to goof around with him and do something he thought was super fun.  When I suggested he climb into a pile of his stuffed animals, his eyes lit up.  I don’t think his parents knew about this photo at the time, I think it is a surprise for them.  I think they will like it.

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Random hats came out.  I though this one was a winner.

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There is always the photos of the small little hands contrasted with the parent’s hands, but I like to push the limits of that photo and get something a little different with some unique framing and compositions.  This requires a lot of attempts with a large number of failures because the baby is often moving a lightning speeds, but there are always some successes.

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I had to wait for the crying with this little guy as well.  He was such a pleasant little baby.  But I think I got a good one.

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As we wrapped up the evening portrait session, the family started winding down and turned on the FOX News Network.  Big brother (only 4 or 5) was completely engrossed in whatever Bill O’Reilly was saying.  There’s a future politician for you.

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And I couldn’t have asked for a better wrap up photo than this one.  Great-grandpa and great-grandma relaxing with the baby.  You couldn’t get this photo in a studio, no matter how much planning you did.   Studios are great for formulaic portraits and perfect lighting, but they don’t lend themselves to capturing life.  And as Henri Cartier-Bresson said, “photography is nothing, it’s life that interests me.”

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iPhone Photos – Let's face it, it's a better camera than it is a phone!

I have an iPhone.  Have had one for many years.  I was an early adopter and have suffered at the hand of the contraption for the entire time.  It is a great little device, but it is a terrible phone.  If you call and catch me on my iPhone and I am out on the road or even in my office, you will most likely get dropped.  I am told by AT&T that it is due to the fact that too many people are on the 3G network so it gets overloaded and apparently randomly chooses who get’s thrown off the network.  But anymore, I am certain that it is not random.  It drops me first, then my brother Rex, and then everyone else gets in line for the privilege of being the next dropped call.

But I must admit, the iPhone (which should be called the iGadget) is amazing at everything else it does.  And one of those things is a cool little phone with all sorts of cool photo applications.  My hats off to all the programers of the applications.  I bring this up because I went to lunch with some photographer friends (Melissa Jill, Rebecca Bouck, Isaac Bailey and Kimberly Jarman) a while ago and was introduced to an photo app called ShakeitPhoto, which takes a photo in the form of a Polaroid.  It is a fun little app and even makes you wait for the photo to develop.  How fun is that?

Anyway, here is a photo taken with that app on the iGadget.

It really is quite true that the best camera is the one in your hands.

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A Dust Storm Rising: Takes Me Back Home

Living in the desert is a unique experience.  Forget about the 120 degree summer days and the horribly unfriendly plant life.  To me, the weather is quite fascinating.  I love the monsoon rainstorms and the lightning is fantastic.  Other places in the world have their own challenging weather situations, many much more dangerous.  There are tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, blizzards, etc…  and none of these options are very appealing to me, which is why I prefer my native state of Arizona.  But we do have our own unique weather effect: the dust storm.

I was traveling back from a job in Tucson and took a back road route home (rather than the freeway).  I enjoy doing this because everything goes by so quickly on the freeway and there is no inclination to stop and look at anything (and of course, it would be illegal to do so).  So the back roads are much more enjoyable as road trips go.  On my way home, I saw an approaching dust storm and immediately pulled off the road and pulled out the camera and went hiking.  The Arizona dust storm has a beautiful effect on our world.  It creates a ghost of anything in the distance if not, it completely obscures it.  Like a blizzard, it creates a thin sketch of the landscape with little to no contrast.  I am generally haunted by vacancy in an image.  I am not sure why, but of all the photographs I would select to hang in my home, it is those filled with quiet and solitude that appeal most to me.  That doesn’t mean that I choose to photograph this way all the time, but it has the deepest emotional affect on my soul.  I think it is because that is who I am at my core.
 Dust Storm Rising: Coolidge, AZ

If you are drawn to a particular style of photography, or art, and looking at that work brings you home, you can be sure that that attraction says a lot about you as a person.  In fact, weather you like a photograph or don’t, says less about the photographer or the photograph and more about you as a person.  Which is why, I think, that I get along so well with my clients.  They have selected me as their photographer based on their emotional and intellectual response to my work.  Which means that they, in some way, deep down at some root level, are like me.  We agree on what gives us peace and brings us home.

When I got home and started working with this image, I asked my wife about this image.  “Am I off base, or is this image extremely haunting and beautiful?”

“I can see what you are attracted to in the image,” she replied, “but it’s not all that great!”

No, I wasn’t devastated by her comment.  I just decided she was wrong.  It is great, but perhaps only to me and people like me.  Remember, her reaction to the photograph says more about her, than it does about the photo.  In contrast, I think my friend Isaac Bailey would like it.  But I think we share a common love for solitude (or perhaps it is a sullen longing for sleep).  My wife grew up in the city with all of its distractions and noise, I grew up on the prairies of Northern Arizona where the only noise is the constant wind.  So, my wife’s take on this photo was an instructive reminder to me.  My wife is a good judge of a photograph, which tells me that this image is different, my attraction to it isn’t just about some other brilliantly employed compositional strategy, I didn’t make this picture to sell something or even to make a statement.  I made it because something inside me wanted to go home for a little while and relax there in the shadow of the Zuni Mountains and look over the endless flat land, smell the dust, swap stories with my brothers and wait until dark for a ride back into town.  This was a free ticket back to Bitter Springs after the long climb through The Gap to witness the brilliant view from the tops of the Vermilion Cliffs.  Sometimes photography isn’t about the subject in front of us at all.  The subject is just a catalyst for memory, a sort of psychiatrist’s couch for introspection and self discovery.  And sometimes, a photography session reminds you of who you are.

These introspective moments almost never happen while the camera is in your hands.  They come in the quiet times in the darkroom, or the Lightroom as you study the results.  And while my mantra is always about efficiency in post production. When I feel that prompting, I do my best to slow down, and examine my work closely without distractions or deadlines and find out what it is, I have been trying to say to myself.

A few more images from the series that I think you might enjoy.

 Dust Storm Rising: Coolidge, AZ

 Dust Storm Rising: Coolidge, AZ

 Dust Storm Rising: Coolidge, AZ
 Dust Storm Rising: Coolidge, AZ

Tech Talk: All of the images in this post were completely processed in Lightroom.  They were never opened in Photoshop.  Tones, grain and vignettes were all added in Lightroom without the use of any additional plugins etc.  Below is a video about creating custom vignettes in Lightroom like those you see above.  This video is also on iTunes and on the Pictage Blog.  Check out more of my podcasts at iTunes and more blog posts at Pictage Blog.

Creating Custom Vignettes in Adobe Lightroom 2.6 from Jared Platt on Vimeo.

Article on Burning and Dodging in Professional Photographer Magazine

I just received my copy of Professional Photographer Magazine where I wrote an article on burning and dodging in Photoshop.  It is a great article with a great photograph.  The reason the photograph is so perfect for the article is that it didn’t need a lot of retouching or manipulation, but still opening it in Photoshop was worthwhile.  There are so many subtle shadows and tones that can be enhanced by the process of burning and dodging, a photograph is just better once it has been burned and dodged.  My philosophy is very simple: I do not burn and dodge to change the photograph, but rather to enhance the natural shades and highlights that are already there.  You can see the final enhanced photograph below and on my portfolio web site at PlattPhotography.com.

Look for the magazine on the racks now.  If you don’t know how to burn and dodge your images in Photoshop, or if you are currently burning the actual image layer, you need to read the article.  If you are not a photographer and don’t know what I am talking about, it might get a little technical, so let’s just say, Jared wrote a cool how-to-article in Professional Photographer Magazine and his photographs are really great!

 Jared Platt - Photography article in professional photographer m

The photograph I chose to use for the article was one of my favorite images I shot on a wedding in Rome, Italy.  We woke up very early in the morning to get out before all the tourists.  This was the first image of the day, the Spanish Steps.  The Spanish Steps are so crowded with tourists and locals during the day that there is no way to take a great photo.  So we hit the them just as the sun was rising, as the vendors were preparing for the day, and the carriage operators were preparing their horses.  I couldn’t have asked for a better situation to take a beautiful photograph.  And let’s face it, who wouldn’t want a wedding portrait on the Spanish Steps in Rome, Italy?

When looking at this photograph, pay close attention to the incredible detail on the walls and the shutters.  All of these details, the stains and the cracks exist on the buildings naturally, but it was the process of burning and dodging that brought them out and made them so vivid.  This is the kind of detailed attention that every one of my “Art Prints” receives as I prepare them for my clients.  I personal work on every “Art Print” myself and each one is printed under my careful supervision.

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Merry Christmas Charlie Brown – Canon Mark IV

I looked around my home tonight and still can’t bring myself to take down the Christmas decor.  It will stay up for at least another week.  So I thought I would record my favorite decorations and Christmas elements before we pack them up for the year.  This Charlie Brown Christmas Tree is a recent addition, but one of my very favorites.  I shot it tonight in available light, with just the general can lights on.  As you can see in the info detail later in this post, it is shot a very comfortable 1/250 of a second because I have my 50mm 1.2 and an ISO of 3200.  On my 5D mark II, this ISO is a bit noisy, but just fine in Black and White and on my Mark III was completely impossible.  But the Mark IV does a create job with the grain structure and the color noise is non-existent.  Now, keep in mind, I am using this practically, I am not trying to be a scientist here, but rather a practical user.  I am shooting RAW and using Lightroom to produce the final jpg you are seeing.  I have added a vignette and adjusted the color to suite my taste and I have used the noise reduction in Lightroom, but nothing heroic has been done to the image.  Basic Lightroom noise reduction has produced a file that I would be completely happy showing my clients.  The grain looks good and the color noise is great for such a high ISO.  Tomorrow, I will pump up the ISO even more and see how it fairs at 6400 and 12800 ISO.
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In the detail crop you can see all of the basic setting for this Mark IV exposure and see the grain structure and look into the monochromatic background, that is where you should see the color noise, but without heroic noise reduction plug-ins (just normal Adobe Lightroom – Camera RAW color noise reduction) the file is fantastic for such a high ISO.  And I am so thrilled with Canon’s grain structure, both here on the Mark IV and on the 5D mark II.  Both feel so much like film, that I almost prefer shooting at a higher ISO to give my images a bit more depth and texture to them.  We’ve become so sterilized with digital that we almost can’t imagine a world without smooth continuous tones.  That’s why film shooters always “feel” so different.  They have grain, even in the lower ISOs.

Grain is beautiful!  Say it again and again!  Never grow tired of that mantra.

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Album Cover Photo Shoot with Kevin Burdick

I have posted about Kevin Burdick before.  I thought I would share with you a slideshow and set of images from the album cover photo shoot for Kevin’s latest album, We Are The Walking Wounded. It is a fantastic album which you can find at iTunes or on his web site. Kevin has written some of his most haunting songs for this album.

Below are shots from Kevin Burdick’s final album cover for We Are the Walking Wounded.

It is always interesting to see the final product after it has gone through the designer. The original file was a color image with the head of the model included, and is a great image on its own. But, I love the effect of the crop on the image. There are so many things that can change an image, but I will always maintain that the crop is the hardest hitting change that can be made to an image. Notice the way the focus of the image is changed completely by the crop.  In this case the focus of the image becomes the girl’s wounds, and perhaps her pain…

Kevin Burdick's final album cover for We Are the Walking Wounded.

Kevin Burdick's final album cover for his latest album, We Are the Walking Wounded.

… whereas the original un-cropped image focuses less on her wounds and metaphorical pain and more on her loneliness and solitude, as she trudges down a lonely road.  Leaving the image in color still allows her wounds to remain important in the photograph, but the overall message behind the photograph is very different in the original, rather than in the cropped album cover version.

The original image that ended up as the cover for the album cover, complete with the model's head.

The original image that ended up as the cover for the album cover, complete with the model's head.

Some photographers might be upset when the intent of their image is changed from their original idea at the camera, but I was not shooting some high brow artistic project, I was part of a larger production which had as its end goal a multi media product. This kind of a thing includes the music and lyrics of the musician and his vision, makeup artist, designers, crew and models. And everyone adds to that final creation, by bringing their artistic abilities to the table. Many times, as a photographer / director, I ask for one thing and on the way to the end, a model will give me something completely unexpected and it is far better than what I had originally intended. And I am happy to follow the new path and follow where it leads. When I am involved in a larger production, it is important for everyone to have a strong opinions, but check their egos at the door. Quite frankly I was pleased with the final image and thought it furthered the song’s message quite nicely.

Scouting the album photo shoot was the most critical thing we did.  We knew that there was an old town called Thistle, Utah that had been buried in a mudslide years and years ago, so we went out in search of the location a few days prior to our shoot and found this home buried in a bog, which had a fantastic look, and was near highway, so it made access very easy.  The only real concern was how to carry a Grand Slam Piano Body through the thickets and swamp to a small patch of dry, firm ground.  It was quite a challenge, but we did it and I think the images were a success as a result.

Kevin Burdick and his wounded entourage and his stage piano in the near a half sunken house in Thistle, Utah.

Kevin Burdick and his wounded entourage and his stage piano in the near a half sunken house in Thistle, Utah.

Kevin, his manager and one of the models carying a Grand Slam baby grand body across the highway back to the tour bus after the photo shoot.

Kevin, his manager and one of the models carrying a Grand Slam baby grand body across the highway back to the tour bus after the photo shoot.

I wanted to see Kevin playing his piano in the most unlikely place.  This spot worked out great.

I wanted to see Kevin playing his piano in the most unlikely place. This spot worked out great.

It was an fun shoot, we all had a great time and got some cool images.  It is important for me to get out of the wedding photo zone once and a while to photograph something very different.  Shooting personal work, political events, editorial portraits and such helps me to maintain a fresh eye on the world and I find that each time I come back to a wedding I have something new to give to my clients as a result.  As photographers we have to continually practice and keep our skills sharp, and any opportunity I can find to do that in a different way, I take.

Here are a few more images from the album cover photo shoot.

This one seemed to feel like an old horror film, where the girl is running away from the monster and of course she is constantly falling and looking back.

This one seemed to feel like an old horror film, where the girl is running away from the monster and of course she is constantly falling and looking back.

The makeup on this model was very good.  As we were shooting I thought the little lip bite was adorable in a strange way.

The makeup on this model was very good. As we were shooting I thought the little lip bite was adorable in a strange way.

The vantage point on this image was critical to seeing Kevin, the wounded and the swamped house.

The vantage point on this image was critical to seeing Kevin, the wounded and the swamped house. My height was accomplished by climbing up onto a half demolished old shed. Not the safest place to be, but we didn't have a ladder. Lesson: always bring a ladder, but if you forget, do anything to get the shot...

We were very proud to have gotten the piano into this position for the shot.  And my hat off to Grand Slam for making a piano body that is light enough to get it into this spot.

We were very proud to have gotten the piano into this position for the shot. And my hat off to Grand Slam for making a piano body that is light enough to get it into this spot.

Musician: Kevin Burdick

Photographer: Jared Platt, Platt Photography

Location: Thistle, Utah

Titles Mean Nothing – The Photograph is King

I can understand calling a judge, “Your Honor.”  The Honorable, Judge Brown, etc…  There is reverence for the law and for those who have studied it and risen to the true top of the profession, as respected arbiter of the law.  While there are a thousand lawyer jokes, there are  not so many judge jokes.  I suppose that is because we honor them more highly.  However, when a mayor or a congressman wants me to use the title, The Honorable, I have to laugh.  Because the last thing I would call a politician is honorable.  Likewise it is pure silliness when Senator Barbara Boxer asks that General Walsh refer to her as “Senator”, rather than “Ma’am.” Even thought the title Senator contains no inherent honor, a Senator will remind you of their title every chance they get.

Titles are a funny thing.  Doctors and dentists put MD or DDS after their name.  Some lawyers even want to get into the suffix game with ESQ or JD.  Many of these titles help us to determine who has gone to medical school, who has gone through a rigorous accounting examination process, etc.  In that respect these titles can be helpful at identifying where we should go when we are sick and where when we are in need of tax preparation assistance.  But what I can not fathom is when a photographer gets carried away in the title game as though they had earned a medical degree or had been elected US Senator and thus deserve a special title with its accompanied respect.

I recently began to read an article in a photo magazine where Photographer A was mentioning Photographer B’s workshop and when they mentioned photographer A’s name they wrote, “..when Jesica Cornbluthe*, M.Photog.Cr., Hon.M.Photog., CPP, ABI, API, A-ASP, Hon.ASP. told us,…”.

You have got to be kidding me.  First, after quoting this, my spell check lights up like a dried out Christmas tree doused in napalm.  Second, listing five enigmatic acronyms after someone’s  name only help to confuse and annoy the reader?  By the time I got through the long list of acronyms and attempted to associate them in my mind, I had completely forgotten what the article was even about.  And third, if I were able to decipher one of the obscure references, the fact that Photographer B belongs to an association to which anyone can belong for $300 a year, gives me no further information about her other than she has at least $300 each year of disposable income?

As I attempted to cross the sea of shortened titles, I fell into John Nash’s abyss and immediately stopped reading the article and started trying to decipher the hidden messages in the code of the endless string of acronyms.  I was unable to find any Nazi war plans, or US government conspiracies, but with the help of Google, I came up with the following list:

  • M. Photog.Cr: Master of Photography and Craftsman. I’m not sure who gives the title.
  • Hon.M.Photog: Honorable Master of Photography.  This must be better than the first, because of the “honorable” part.  Although I never liked getting honorable mentions because that meant the work was not good enough to get an award.  So perhaps it means you are not good enough to get the title Master of Photography.
  • CPP: Certified Professional Photographer.  Is there a state agency somewhere that certifies one as a professional?  Wouldn’t a bank account and a photography business certify one as a professional?
  • ABI: American Bankruptcy Institute.  I seriously couldn’t find anything on this one except for this.  Perhaps she is a part time bankruptcy advocate?
  • A-ASP: American Association of Swine Vetrinarians.  No joke, this is what google gave me.
  • Hon.ASP: I have no idea on this one either.  Perhaps this is the judge (the your honor) for the A-ASP above.

By the way, I never returned to reading the article.

Besides loosing the reader completely, here is the philosophical problem.  There are plenty of people who put an acronym behind their name, they are call doctors, and lawyers, CPAs and such.  They save lives, or at least help you avoid taxes or help you out of a nasty divorce.  But, when a photographer not only comes up with , but actually places not two, but five acronyms behind her name; that is not only arrogant, pompous and self obsessed, but begs the question: why do the honorary titles and lists of meaningless accolades matter so much?

Bill Brandt (who incidentally has no acronyms following his name) would not, as a matter of principle, talk about himself. The person is of no importance, he would say, it is the picture that is important … I have to agree with Bill Brandt to this extent: honors and titles, degrees and associations mean nothing.  What defines a photographer (as a photographer) is his or her images.  Nothing more, nothing less.  By their fruits, you will know them.  Do they produce superior work on a consistent basis?  Then we can call them great, respect them and give them honor.

Show me your portfolio and better yet, your un-edited contact sheets and I will come to know you as a photographer and as a person.  Strip away your honors and titles.  Loose the acronyms, the association cliques and the name recognition and show me your images, just your images.  To me, nothing else matters. The photograph is king.

Jared Platt, CIP, Mn.HPD, GOP, APL, M.D., LLC, PPP, AIG, GM, BofA B.S. AZ, LR.

* The name Jesica Cornbluthe is not the real name listed in the article.