Fling Wide the Doors

A lot of people are surprised to find out that I go to church with all my best drinking friends. 

And I'm surprised at their surprise. 

The Christian church is for everyone, and I'm sick of this idea that you have to have your act together to go to church somewhere. 

So here's some new permissions and qualifications for going to church:

1. You don't have to stop drinking. In fact, you don't even have to be completely sober on Sunday morning. Go drunk if you want. It's ok.

2. You don't have to stop smoking - anything.

3. You don't have to stop looking at porn. 

4. You don't have to stop being racist. 

5. You don't have to be white to go to a white church, and you don't have to be black to go to a black church. 

6. You don't have to be reconciled to your wife, your kids, your parents, or anyone. 

7. You don't have to dress up, or cover your tattoos or remove your piercings. 

8. You certainly don't have to stop cussing.

9. You don't have to vote republican, or democrat, or even care about politics whatsoever. 

10. You don't have to be straight, or married, or never-divorced.

11. You don't have to have a clean criminal record. 

12. You don't even have to be in this country legally. 

13. You don't have to stop being angry. 

14. You don't have to love Jesus, or be a Christian, or even believe in God. 

15. You don't have to ask God to forgive your sins. 

16. You don't even have to admit that you have any sins that need forgiving. 

17. You don't have to take communion or be baptized, or say any kind of weird prayers. 

18. You don't have to stand up, sit down, raise your hands, clap, sing, or even stay awake the whole time. 

Come angry, tired, lonely, confused, frightened, suicidal, drunk, stoned, full of rage, careless, reckless, weak, anxious, nervous, sad, scared, and skeptical. Come bruised, beaten, and stupid. Come prideful, perfect, and pain-free if you want. You can come to church the exact same asshole you are today. Sit in the back and be angry, or sit in the front and cry, or stand in the lobby panting like a madman, but don't stay away because you don't think you're good enough. 

And don't let anyone tell you you're not welcome, ever. 

The moment a church turns someone away out of shame is the moment they need to lock the front doors, grab an axe and chop the cross off their steeple.

Jesus came with grace, and I'm sick of church people taking that power away from him and keeping it for themselves. 

From this point forward, there will be no more withholding of grace in the Christian church for all eternity.

You are welcome, just as you are right this second. 

Be confident in your assuredness that the grace of Jesus applies to you, your neighbor, and your mortal enemy, whether you like it or not. 

In spite of all our fakery, Jesus' program remains firm. He saves losers and only losers. He raises the dead and only the dead. - Robert Farrar Capon. 

Maybe it's more about presence than absence

I've been thinking lately about how good isn't just the absence of bad, but more specifically the presence of good. Darkness can't exist where there is light. Cold can't exist where there is heat.

The absence of darkness isn't light. It's nothing. There's no such thing. 

Light is the only thing that can dispel dark. 

Or rather, light is the absence of dark. 

Good health isn't rejecting bad choices, it's actively making better choices. 

One doesn't get healthy simply by giving up sweets. You have to also eat vegetables.

Anyway, the point is this: I'm probably not going to quit using tobacco just because it's bad for me. I have to get healthy enough to not want tobacco anymore. My own resistance is pretty good, and it's worked from time to time in the past, but what's even better than abstinence is indulgence - indulgence in something else. Something better. 

The only way to quit using cocaine is to buy a sailboat. 

Does that make sense? 

It seems like it does. To me anyway. 

The sailboat is such a daily endeavor, and so much of a fun giant hassle, that you just don't have time to track down the drug anymore. 

I've never used cocaine, and I don't own a sailboat. But you get the point. 

You gotta change your perspective. 

I don't care about anyone except myself

It seems to me like the spectrum of our actions has selfishness clearly defined on one end, and yet the other end seems so far out of sight that we wouldn’t know it (or trust it) if we ever caught ourselves quickly enough to see it.

Is there really such a thing as true selflessness? Does it even exist?


Even Jesus was selfish if you consider that his actions were eventually meant solely for the glory of God. Even God is selfish if you consider that he somehow split Jesus off from himself to go about with that dirty work of salvation.

When I try my damnedest to be selfless in my actions, putting the happiness of others well before my own, I know deep down that all I’m really doing is trying to set up the cards so that I might be found blameless and pure in the end. So that my wife and kids will call me a wonderful husband and father at my funeral.

The “golden rule” is to treat others how you would like to be treated.That’s a pretty self-driven statement, isn’t it?

Isn’t mankind just doomed to selfishness on a day-to-day basis?

Maybe so and maybe not.

I have a couple of friends who would stand as fine candidates for true selflessness.

But they’re both pretty miserable a lot of the time.

At least is seems that way to me.

Does true selflessness have to breed misery?

Is misery always a bad thing? Can anything be learned from it?

Wait, that’s selfishness again.

Is selfish selflessness the way to happiness? Some strange brand of backwards hedonism? You’d have to be pretty damn manipulative to get that working for you.

People call me manipulative. Some even say controlling.

I say influential.

Shit.

Maybe I really am a selfish asshole.

I do plenty in the name of selflessness, but let’s be honest — there’s always a reward for me built in too.

I’m not entirely sure I’ve ever done anything with only others in mind.

But what’s wrong with that? Why can’t I enjoy the fruits of my labor? Who says I’m supposed to wallow in misery because anything else would be counted as selfishness? What if I’m just crafty enough to have my cake and eat it too? I’m lucky to have a brain that works well and I ought to use it, right?

I’m just trying to get through life and not be miserable, which is far harder to do than I ever truly imagined. This world is a screwed up place and if I can feign selflessness while stockpiling my own future blessings, what’s wrong with that?

I love my wife to inspire her deeper love for me. I don’t demand love like a dictator, I do my best to earn it. Isn’t that what Jesus did? We don’t love Jesus because he was cool or handsome or good at sports — we love him because he first loved us — right?

The difference, of course, between myself and Jesus (among many) is that when I don’t get quick love back, I get pissy.

Then again Jesus did the same thing, really.

He often threw his hands up and shouted to the sky “How much longer must I shepherd this unbelieving flock?!”

He was human, after all.

So what’s the deal? How do we do it? What are we supposed to do when our example of love comes from a being who is himself deeply selfish?

What was the motive of the woman who washed the feet of Jesus with her hair and tears and perfume? Was it simply true love — pure selflessness? Or did she secretly know that Jesus would respond to her the way he did? Did she wash his feet to get a blessing from him, or was she just acting out her love without thought or fear of consequence?

Is it possible that she exhibited selfless love when Jesus himself did not? Is it possible that Jesus is not necessarily the prime example of selfless love?

I’m an armchair theologian, or course, and a shabby one at that, so I truly have no educated idea. But it feels like I’m onto something.

I’ve been running around this sorry world acting like God.

Loving others to untimately bring glory to — me.

Shit.

God is, of course, the only being that really does deserve glory, so maybe it’s appropriate that his love is laced with his own selfish motives.

I’m just an idiot that wants a good eulogy and regular sex. That’s really all I’ve been gunning for when you get right down to it.

Maybe that’s what should be written on my tombstone. It’s fitting, really. Fitting for a lot of us.

So what do we do? I’m guilty of selfishness. But I really do love my family and what them to be happy. That’s never been in question.

What’s always been questionable is my motives.

Is it possible to always deflect all love and praise and thanks back towards God? It must be possible. Seldom easy, and scarecly consistent. But surely it must be possible. Right?

I’m guilty. Guilty of trying to take the thanks and love and blessings all for myself. Guilty of doing things for my greater glory. Guilty of dropping the mirror that bounces it towards God and soaking it all in for my own damn self.

I’m furiously guilty of selfishness.

Does the knowledge of one end of the spectrum beget the knowledge of the other end too?

Is it possible to be truly selfless? To never expect God to reward you or bless you until after you die, and then maybe not even then?

Because if you’re just gunning for the golden ticket into heaven, isn’t that really just selfishness all over again?


I tend to think the girl who washed Jesus’ feet with perfume didn’t have any idea what Jesus’ response would be. I tend to think she was just compelled to act out her love in the most scandalous and radical way possible, with no hope for anything good to come out of it.

Because at that point it time, Jesus was still alive. He hadn't done the work of salvation yet. He was just walking around doing his thing. How could she have known what was to become of her and her actions? The Bible didn’t exist yet.

She was broke down and tired and at the end of her rope, and she looked at the bottle of perfume in her hand and without so much as a spare rag to wash with, she used her own ratty filthy hair.

Then Jesus says something so audacious that it still rocks me to my core some 2,000 years later.

He looks at Simon and tells him that he loves little because he has been forgiven little.

Then he tells him that the woman loves much because she has been forgiven much.

She loves because she has been forgiven. Not because she wants to get into heaven, but because she has been deeply and truly and wholly forgiven. That’s it.

Jesus basically tells Simon he wouldn’t know anything about forgiveness. He’s too busy trying to stack up cash for later.

Sounds like me.

If I was in that room I would’ve been Simon.

We all like to think that if we were in that room we’d have been the woman — simply because the magnetic power of Jesus would have drawn us to his feet. But Simon didn’t lunge for the feet of Jesus in tears. She did.

Maybe that’s what it’s all about.

Just ducking and running for the feet of Jesus.

Seems like a pretty good plan to me.

The Boy & The Lion

And God said
to me
I will be
In a tree 
With enough extra space
For a boy with a face
Like a wilderness Indian
With muck on his knees
And a rock
And a stick
And an old piece of string
And we will hide
And wait 
For the nighttime footfalls
Of dangerous marauders
And invaders from space
And at just the right time
We will spring our great trap
A catapult we set
With a branch and a net
And we will catch them like that
And peek out from the hole
Of the mighty old trunk
Where we hide and we seek
And we sleep under leaves
And draw dragons and bears
On the wall of our lair
And hide out
Like badgers 
With pockets
Full of marbles and rocks
And we'll talk about
Scurvy and measles
And ugly old weasels
And wait for more bandits 
To walk down our path
By the tree in the woods
Where a boy and a lion
Wear wolverine hoods
And march in the moonlight
To places unknown
Where our mothers and fathers
Dare not roam alone

 

An Open Letter To Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson

Governor Hutchinson, 

I am a lifelong resident of the state of Arkansas, and I am proud to call our great state home. I am also a professional photographer here in Little Rock. My first Arkansas business license as a photographer is dated January 1, 2009 and I've enjoyed a successful business in this field for the past six and a half years.

I have been the chief photographer for the Clinton School of Public Service for the past five years, and I am a regular contributor to the New York Times, Reuters, Getty Images, and the Associated Press. I also photograph dozens of weddings and events throughout the state of Arkansas every year.

There is a bill on your desk known as SB-79.

If enacted, this law would make it extremely difficult to do my job as a photographer, and I am writing this letter to kindly request that you veto the bill.

According to the text of SB-79, which I have read in its entirety, the next time I shoot a wedding, I would be legally required to have all the wedding attendants, guests, family members, musical performers, and officiants sign photo releases giving me their express written consent to publish photos with their likeness in the state of Arkansas, and I would also have to track down the parents of the flower girl and ring bearer to get their express written consent as well. And we can't forget all the servers or bartenders at the reception, and the limo driver, and anyone else that happens to appear at the event. The videographer of course would also have to do the same, and he and I would have to sign forms giving each other express written consent in the event that either of us might appear in each other’s photographs or videos. 

I would honestly have to hire a new employee to follow me around at every wedding and reception with a stack of forms, handing them out to everyone as I take their photos, and explaining to them that the Arkansas Legislature enacted a law requiring me to do this, and as you might expect, many people would be put off by this request, and refuse to sign, and I would be restricted from using any photos where those people are identifiable when I post the final photo gallery online for the client and their family and friends to view. 

This entire process would also be required at any other event that does not fall under the exempted umbrella of “news, public affairs, or sports broadcast.”

This law effectively makes wedding and event photography in Arkansas illegal. 

Mr. Governor, please veto SB-79 before it kills a valuable industry in this state. 

Thank you very much for your time and service to our great state.

Jacob Slaton


To read the full text of SB-79, click here

To read more about the bill, and what you can do about it, including writing a letter to Governor Hutchinson yourself, click here

This bill must be vetoed by Tuesday, March 31, or this law will stand.

Please consider sharing this post and writing a letter to the Governor.

Old School Studio Style Kids Portraits

So a couple of weeks ago I was at home playing with my kids and decided to shoot a few quick portraits of them with a small light setup in our living room. I was playing around with using a stripbox as the key light and I really liked the results. The stripbox (with grid) plus the wrinkled grey backdrop gave the portraits an interesting old-school style studio quality. 

I posted a couple of the photos to instagram and offered to book a few kids shoots in the same style for anyone that was interested in kids portraits that weren't the standard issue kid-in-a-field thing. The whole idea was to simply create the space and encourage kids to be their normal, natural, goofy selves. Within a couple of hours of posting the first few images online, I had already booked several shoots for the following week. Here's some of my favorites (including a few more of my own kids).

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I really like the way these shots turned out, and just as I thought, when you give kids permission to be goofy, they will generally run with it and do some pretty awesome things. I've got another week of shooting these kids pictures before we head out to vacation, and I may or may not start it back up after we get home - so if you want to book a shoot, now is the time! Right now I'm only booking these shoots for the week of August 4-8. Write me an email at jacob@jacobslaton.com for more details or just send me a message through my contact page at the top of this website. 

Thanks for reading! Now check out the rest of this blog or read my personal story of photography on my about page!

The Realist // Stephen Cefalo - Cool Local Businesses

Last week I jumped back into the Cool Local Business Owners series and got things started off right with one of the coolest and most talented guys I know. Steve Cefalo is a painter, but that word doesn't really do it justice. He's not just a guy who paints good pictures, he's like an alien from another planet with superior abilities that landed here on Earth just to demonstrate to us humans what is truly possible with paint and canvas. 

I stopped by his Argenta studio last week to hang out for a bit and chow down on a Big Bacon Classic while he worked on one of his current projects. It was really interesting to talk with him about light from a painters perspective. As a painter, he can really create whatever light he sees in his head, but for him - as a realist - his light must be believable, and he lays it down masterfully. 

I set up a few lights in his small studio as he worked and shot a few photographs of him in his element. Here's a few of my favorites. 

Stephen Cefalo in his studio in North Little Rock, Arkansas. February 2014. Photo credit: Jacob Slaton

Stephen Cefalo in his studio in North Little Rock, Arkansas. February 2014. Photo credit: Jacob Slaton

With the limited amount of room for my big clunky gear in his studio, I basically had just enough room to set up a big octabank (high to camera left in this photo) and I made use of one of his studio lights for the rim light, which had a nice orange color tone, and it complimented his style nicely.

Stephen Cefalo in his studio in North Little Rock, Arkansas. February 2014. Photo credit: Jacob Slaton

Stephen Cefalo in his studio in North Little Rock, Arkansas. February 2014. Photo credit: Jacob Slaton

Stephen Cefalo in his studio in North Little Rock, Arkansas. February 2014. Photo credit: Jacob Slaton

Stephen Cefalo in his studio in North Little Rock, Arkansas. February 2014. Photo credit: Jacob Slaton

Stephen Cefalo in his studio in North Little Rock, Arkansas. February 2014. Photo credit: Jacob Slaton

Stephen Cefalo in his studio in North Little Rock, Arkansas. February 2014. Photo credit: Jacob Slaton

I love these two portraits (above) - especially the one on the right with the skeleton peeking over his shoulder.

My favorite from the whole shoot is this last one (below). For this shot I changed out my big octabank for a small gridded strip box and pushed it as far left as I could without knocking over various paintings and books stacked on the wall. I moved his big orange studio light around to the right, pointing both at the back of his head and the painting on the easel, and dragged the shutter just barely to give the light a small amount of influence. I also placed a small speedlight on the wall behind the easel and aimed it at the amazing minotaur self-portrait on the wall in the background, just to show that it's there. I also had to sneak the skeleton in there a bit closer. 

Stephen Cefalo in his studio in North Little Rock, Arkansas. February 2014. Photo credit: Jacob Slaton

Stephen Cefalo in his studio in North Little Rock, Arkansas. February 2014. Photo credit: Jacob Slaton

It was really cool photographing a guy who knows so much about light and posing. He was more self aware (in a good way) than anyone else I've ever photographed. He knew exactly how and where the light was hitting him and he gave me the exact expressions I was looking for every time. His painting style is dark, emotional, moody, and even somewhat disturbing, and working in his studio made it really easy to motivate that style for these images.

Double big thanks to Steve for letting me crash his studio for awhile! It was super cool getting to see some of his works-in-progress and to just watch him do his thing for a while. If you're interested in painting and realism, check out his website here. I guarantee it will completely blow your mind. All of his paintings are for sale and he is available for commission. You should also follow him on Instagram, where he has over 10,000 followers. Awesome. 

Thanks for reading! Next up in the Cool Local Business Owners series: White Goat in the Heights, Georgia James Creative, Waffle Wagon, and hopefully Hillcrest Artisan Meats! If you know of a cool local business owner that I need to feature on here, submit a nomination anywhere you can find me online!

On Assignment for Soiree // Aaron Reddin & The Van

When Marcus Boyce, one of the talented Art Directors at Soiree, emailed me back in January about photographing Aaron Reddin for a feature profile in their March issue, I almost laughed to myself. Aaron and I are good friends, and he's definitely my closest friend I've ever been asked to photograph for a magazine. I picked up the phone and told Marcus I would be honored to do the shoot. Aaron's work and mission are more than deserving of a feature like this. Hell, he should be on the cover of Time Magazine. 

Aaron is the somewhat infamous director of a local non-profit called The One, Inc., which is often better known by its street name, The Van. The organization exists to serve the needs of the unsheltered homeless community however it sees fit. Aaron always emphasizes the the word unsheltered when he describes his work - which means his focus is primarily on the vast number of homeless men, women, and children who cannot afford the $6 per night beds at the homeless shelter - or the ones who have overstayed their one-week welcome. The unsheltered are the ones who simply haul off into the woods with their few possessions and attempt to brave the elements as best they can.

As Marcus and I continued to talk about the creative direction for the shoot, he suggested a few ideas that would have worked wonderfully with just about any other subject, but with Aaron, all bets are off. He understands the social stigma surrounding homelessness better than most, and he is always careful to portray it accurately. If you don't believe me, just mention the words "cardboard sign" within Aaron's earshot sometime and watch what happens. 

Aaron Reddin, founder and President of The One, Inc., photographed at the organization's headquarters in North Little Rock, Arkansas. January 2014. Photo credit: Jacob Slaton

Aaron Reddin, founder and President of The One, Inc., photographed at the organization's headquarters in North Little Rock, Arkansas. January 2014. Photo credit: Jacob Slaton

We agreed to simply show up at the headquarters of The One, Inc. on the scheduled date and come up with a few ideas on the fly. I assured Marcus that we would have plenty of interesting options to work with once we arrived.

For our first shot (above), we set up in the main warehouse where thousands of articles of donated clothing hang on wooden racks waiting to be given away to anyone in need. For the main light, I used my large octabank overhead with a grid to keep the light from spilling onto the background, while my assistant Michael hand-held a small speedlight behind Aaron's left shoulder and just out of frame to camera right to act as a hair light. I also placed another small speedlight on the floor directly behind Aaron to give a little more depth to the background and to better show the vast size of the warehouse. We shot for about 30 minutes with this setup and tried several different variations, but this shot was the clear winner. 

After the warehouse shot we decided to go outside to set up another shot using the giant wood pile out back as a backdrop. One of Aaron's main goals during winter months is to keep homeless camps well stocked with firewood, and we thought the shot would work well for the story. We carried the big octabank outside with a power pack and I asked Aaron to stand on the logs for a few quick shots. It was incredibly cold outside - possibly my coldest outdoor shoot ever - and I didn't see the need to spend a long time setting up multiple lights. Sometimes the shot just looks cool without much effort. We positioned the octabank high at camera right, as close to Aaron's face as possible without being in the frame, and I took off the grid to give the light a more natural fall-off at its edges. I crouched down low to give the shot a little more "superhero" feel. 

Aaron Reddin, founder and President of The One, Inc., photographed at the organization's headquarters in North Little Rock, Arkansas. January 2014. Photo credit: Jacob Slaton

Aaron Reddin, founder and President of The One, Inc., photographed at the organization's headquarters in North Little Rock, Arkansas. January 2014. Photo credit: Jacob Slaton

My main goal with the lighting in this shot was simply to look like we didn't use any obvious lighting at all. I allowed the sunlight to peek out behind the trees to give the illusion that the main light was coming from the sun itself, which in this case, was only really lighting the back of Aaron's head. I also warmed up the octabank light in post to enhance the sunlight tone for the finished image, which they ended up using (slightly cropped) for the final magazine spread below:

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After the wood pile shot, I asked Aaron if we could get a few shots of him holding one of the organizations 50+ chickens, and although we were nearly frozen solid in the cold, he graciously agreed. We ducked into the chicken coop for a few minutes to get warm, and I snapped a few shots in there with just natural light (gasp!). Here's my favorite:

Aaron Reddin, founder and President of The One, Inc., photographed at the organization's headquarters in North Little Rock, Arkansas. January 2014. Photo credit: Jacob Slaton

Aaron Reddin, founder and President of The One, Inc., photographed at the organization's headquarters in North Little Rock, Arkansas. January 2014. Photo credit: Jacob Slaton

As soon as Aaron got his hands on a chicken, I could see him soften up a bit and show his tender side, and I really wanted to capture that for the story, so we went back to the wood pile to shoot a few more frames with the same setup as before. I love the way this shot turned out. I think it shows the truest picture of who Aaron really is deep down: Tender, loving, sensitive, and endlessly searching the horizon for anyone in need.

Aaron Reddin, founder and President of The One, Inc., photographed at the organization's headquarters in North Little Rock, Arkansas. January 2014. Photo credit: Jacob Slaton

Aaron Reddin, founder and President of The One, Inc., photographed at the organization's headquarters in North Little Rock, Arkansas. January 2014. Photo credit: Jacob Slaton

As always, thanks to Soiree for bringing me in for another shoot - it's always a pleasure working with you guys. Special thanks to my trusty assistant Mikey Mike "Mailman" Hall for freezing your hands off for this shoot, and for not punching me when I remembered I had gloves in my car the whole time, which I forgot to tell you about. And double big thanks to Aaron Reddin, who offered up a grand total of two wardrobe options for himself, which consisted of:

  1. A yellow hoodie
  2. A brown hoodie

We went with brown, mostly because he was already wearing it when we arrived. I love you dude. You're ridiculous. Keep up the good work. Let's go play pool again soon.

To read the full article featuring Aaron, click here. To learn more about The One, Inc. and to find how YOU can help support their work with our unsheltered homeless neighbors, click here. You should also keep up with Aaron on twitter, if you're into that kind of thing.

Tilting Toward Irrelevance: The Problem With Gear Chatter

There's a new thing going on in photography these days and I'm not quite sure I understand it. 

Ever since the dawn of the modern DSLR, Canon and Nikon have easily edged out all competition and shared the number one slot together comfortably. Some DSLR shooters take the time to mention on their website which brand they prefer, but most don't make much fuss of it - and in the end, it doesn't really matter. Both systems work great, and clients don't care one way or the other. 

But with all the amazing new cameras hitting the market these days, it seems that it matters now where it didn't before. 

Every day a new photographer is talking about making the switch to all Fuji or selling their DSLRs and going iPhone only. There are a surprisingly large number of professional photographers out there who advertise themselves as iPhone only shooters, and even more surprising is the number of photographers being hired for work strictly because they are iPhone shooters. 

Now, I'm a big fan of iPhones and Fuji gear. I own both and shoot them alongside my DSLRs often. The images coming out of these little cameras are simply amazing and they certainly have a place in the professional photographers bag (or pocket). In fact, every camera ever made has its place depending on the style you're going for - Holga, Hasselblad, Polaroid, pinhole, everything. 

What I don't understand is why photographers are talking about it all so much now. Sure, I love a nice chat about gear with a fellow photographer, but it seems like there is less calm discussion going on these days, and way more senseless name dropping. 

Aren't the images supposed to speak for themselves?

Should I respect an image more knowing it was shot with a Fuji?

Or is this about respecting the photographer?

Photography is a tough game. Most professional photographers have to take just about any job they can get to keep putting food on the table, all while maintaining an air of ironclad success to the world around them, and sometimes that means jumping on whatever bandwagon drives by at any given moment just to stay alive. We've all done a shoot in a field with an old couch and vintage suitcases, haven't we? We know the game. 

There's always going to be a new thing that generates buzz, and sure, it's fun to watch where the buzz ends up, but in the end - it's all about the images. 

We will all get better if we keep shooting and keep trying new gear and new ideas, but the photographers that will stand the test of time will always to be the ones who simply go about their work, letting the world see it and judge it for what it is without exposition.

I'm excited about the future of photography, but what excites me most is what we can do with all this new gear on the market, not the brand name written across the front of it. The "iPhone Only Photographers" and the "Fuji Only Photographers" will fade soon away when people get used to the novelty of it, and they will end up just being photographers like the rest of us, quietly using whatever gear suits them and hopefully making a good living with it. 

I see a lot of chatter like this on social media these days, and some of the leaders of our industry are not only encouraging it but actively participating in it. This tweet below (retweeted by Zach Arias) says it all:

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I mean, who cares? 

Let's start using whatever cameras we enjoy using, and start letting the images speak for themselves. Canon, Nikon, Phase, Fuji - they are all just ways to take a picture. The only thing that matters is the photographs we get out of them. 

Take whatever camera you want wherever you want to go, but let's see more pictures and less chatter. It's better for all of us, even the big dogs. 

On Assignment for Popular Science Magazine // Dave Lange

Back in November I got a call from the fine folks at Popular Science Magazine to head over to the FedEx headquarters in Memphis to shoot some portraits of a guy named Dave Lange for their February issue.

The shot was for their Q&A page, and my contact at the magazine explained that he wanted a very particular shot of Dave for the issue - a close up portrait with the lighting rig I built for my Man + Wife series. It's always nice to get a job based entirely on work I've done in the past - in fact - nothing could be more flattering. I told them I would be more than happy to deliver the image for their magazine, but in the back of my head I was planning something completely different. 

On the day of the shoot I packed up the custom light rig, along with the rest of my mobile studio and drove east toward Memphis. I knew I could get the shot they were asking for without much trouble, so my plan was to shoot that photo last. I always like to get the safety shot last. It adds extra pressure to the risky shot if you do it first, knowing you better nail it because it might be all you've got work with. I spent the entire drive brainstorming ideas for the shot, and once I arrived I had a decent plan in place. 

Dave's job at FedEx is to ship literally anything anywhere. He is the guy you talk to if you need to charter an entire cargo jet to ship, say, six live elephants from a zoo in Canada to a zoo in the US, or send a tank from Virginia to the Middle East - so I wanted to incorporate this crazy concept of logistics into the shot, but also to show Dave calmly handing it like the pro that he is. When I arrived at the FedEx headquarters and saw Dave's office, I was immediately drawn to the giant map above his desk. The final shot from the first setup is below:

Dave Lange in his office at FedEx headquarters in Memphis, Tennessee for Popular Science Magazine. December 2013. Photo credit: Jacob Slaton

Dave Lange in his office at FedEx headquarters in Memphis, Tennessee for Popular Science Magazine. December 2013. Photo credit: Jacob Slaton

To light the shot, I set up the big octabank to camera left, originally with a grid, but ended up getting rid of the grid because I wanted more light to spill onto the map behind Dave. I toyed around with a few different fill light options (ring flash, shoot-through umbrella, on-camera strobe) but in the end I went with the old standby - a 5-in-1 reflector on the white side off to camera right. It's always the simplest things that work best. 

At the beginning of the shoot Dave was pretty well frozen solid, but he quickly loosened up and settled into the rhythm once we started chatting about our kids. He did a great job taking direction, but he still looked a little stiff and oddly placed on the desk all by himself, so I handed him a coffee mug. It's amazing how much people relax during a shoot when you give them something familiar to hold onto. 

I asked him to tell me about one of his his most complicated shipments of all time and his face slowly settled into the pose you see above. He told me about a time when he shipped several adult whales to a zoo somewhere and how complicated it was to keep them wet and comfortable during travel. He explained how they had to custom build a watertight container for each whale with a hammock for them to lie on for the duration of the flight. He looked upon these things with a sense of obvious satisfaction that everything went smoothly, and that's the look I think I captured for the photo. I also love how the map provides an appropriate backdrop to the image.

The thing I love most about this photo - the thing that I think makes it work for Popular Science, is the even tonal range across the image. Popular Science isn't a magazine where I would expect to see a lot of high-drama portraits and that's why I went with this more even style. There's hardly any pure black or pure white in the photo, which is a style I seem to be working with a lot more lately. It's not the kind of lighting you typically see in the real world, but it's sort of hard to say why not - that's when you know you've got it right. 

After the first shot, I still had to get my safety shot - the shot that the art director originally asked for - so I broke down the big lights and set up my custom rig in Dave's office. Basically, the light is really just two parallel fluorescent tubes mounted to each other about 6 inches apart - the same kind of lights you would expect to see in any office building in America. I bolted this contraption onto an old tripod for extra stability and wired in a regular three prong electrical plug that goes into a standard wall outlet. The lights stand straight up in the air and I have my subject stand just inches from them and I stick my camera in between the two lights and shoot away. 

The general idea with this shot is to get a raw, up-close, true-to-life photo of the subject with every detail in sharp focus (except the nose and ears). Sometimes these shots work, and sometimes they don't. It really depends on the subject. Here's the image of Dave that I sent in along with a few variations of the first shot:

Dave Lange in his office at FedEx headquarters in Memphis, Tennessee for Popular Science Magazine. December 2013. Photo credit: Jacob Slaton

Dave Lange in his office at FedEx headquarters in Memphis, Tennessee for Popular Science Magazine. December 2013. Photo credit: Jacob Slaton

It's a cool shot, I think, but Dave doesn't look particularly great here, which is the only real problem with this light setup - what you see is what you get. There's no hiding anything with this light. I wasn't a big fan of the white on white shirts dave is wearing here either - prison jumpsuits come to mind for some reason. Maybe if Dave ever gets convicted of murder I'll have a good reason to use this shot, but for now I think I'll let it let it marinate on the external hard drives for a while. Anyway, you get a sense of what the light does here. Some people really like the cat-eye catch lights in the eyes, some don't. I think they make the portrait really striking. 

After I sent in the proofs, I got a call from the art director saying he loved the first shots with the map and the coffee mug, which is what they ended up running in the magazine. It's always fun to walk into a bookstore and buy a magazine off the rack with one of my photos in it. Here's the final layout they used for the February isse:

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Big thanks to the folks at Popular Science and FedEx for being so easy to work with! Always a pleasure, guys! Hope to hear from you again soon!

On Assignment for The New York Times // Acxiom CEO Scott Howe

Acxiom CEO Scott Howe / Jacob Slaton for the New York Times

Acxiom CEO Scott Howe / Jacob Slaton for the New York Times

I shoot for the New York Times fairly regularly, and I always take every assignment from them very seriously, regardless of the particular section of the newspaper I'm shooting for, but when Jose Lopez calls, I know I have to be on my A-game. Jose is the photo editor for the business desk in New York, and he knows the difference between good photography, bad photography, and just downright lazy photography. I found that out the hard way. 

The first time I shot for the business section back in April of 2011, Jose called with an assignment on unemployment featuring two couples from here in Arkansas. He told me to spend some time with the assignment and really get to know the couples being featured. For this story, I spent two full days shooting (one day with each couple) and I got tons of photographs that I thought were fantastic. The following day I sat down at the computer and got going on the edit. At that point I wasn't sure how many photos the Times wanted to see, and I figured they would rather see more than less, so I sent in around 100 shots for them to review. Within minutes of sending the files, I got an email from Jose that said:

"Thats's a lot of pictures that you sent me and we need to talk. The most important thing I can convey to you is that ALL of your photos look washed out to us.  DO NOT RESEND ANYTHING until we have had a chance to talk."

Holy shit. That's pretty much the worst possible email you can receive from a client, and when your client is the New York Times, you just want to throw your camera in the trash and get a job at Starbucks after that. My heart stops a little even now reading that email over two years later. 

Jose and I talked and he had a pretty scathing review of my work on the assignment. He wasn't being rude, he was just doing his job. He's a photo editor for the New York Times. Not an easy conversation. I realized pretty quickly in the conversation that I had two options: I could get pissed and tell him to go to hell, or I could suck up my ego, learn something new, and hopefully not lose a good client. After the call he sent me another email with one of my photos that he had edited himself to show me what he was looking for. Seeing the photographs from his perspective was incredibly helpful and I've used his advice on every job I've shot since. I re-approached the gallery and sent back around 20 newly edited images and prayed that he would be happier with my second try. Once the files had finished uploading I got another email from Jose:

"Jacob. This is excellent. Difference of night and day. Your images have contrast and they leap off the monitor. Well done. Thank you for taking the direction that I offered. I will keep you in mind for future assignments in that area. Remember, the way one becomes a master is by doing. Get out and shoot everyday with every lens in your bag. Know what you can and what you can't do with your digital camera. Never be afraid to push the envelope by shooting available light. The image might be grainy and a little underexposed, but if its “the moment,” then you have done your job."

Wow. That's exactly what I needed to hear. Such great encouragement from a guy that I truly respect in the industry. So glad he didn't throw me out and find someone else to fix my mistake. Here's the unemployment story that ran in April of 2011

So when Jose called last week with an assignment to photograph Acxiom CEO Scott Howe here in Little Rock, I knew I had to crush it. He asked for several photos of Scott demonstrating this new software they've developed and a few extra portraits to supplement the story. He told me to "have fun with it" which is both terrifyingly ambiguous and yet completely exhilarating at the same time. I knew I would have only 30 minutes with the CEO, so I started coming up with a mental shot list before I even arrived for the shoot. 

When I arrived at the Acxiom building, Mr. Howe was in the middle of giving the writer, Natasha Singer, a tour of the Executive Briefing Center on the top floor of the building, which looks over downtown Little Rock. I tagged along for the start of the tour and found a good spot to get a simple portrait of Scott on the balcony (he asked me to call him Scott). I quickly set up a light and snapped a few frames. The shots below were lit with a 22 inch beauty dish off to camera left.

Acxiom CEO Scott Howe / Jacob Slaton for the New York Times

Acxiom CEO Scott Howe / Jacob Slaton for the New York Times

Acxiom CEO Scott Howe / Jacob Slaton for the New York Times

Acxiom CEO Scott Howe / Jacob Slaton for the New York Times

I knew these shots weren't going to be anything truly special, but I was happy with the light balance and the sky and city in the background. Scott was super nice and easy to talk to, which makes everything so much easier. There's nothing worse than photographing a subject that doesn't want to be photographed. 

Next, we went inside the conference room and Scott began demonstrating the software, which was the whole point of the story. Acxiom collects extensive data on pretty much every single adult in the United States, and they are releasing this new software that allows consumers to see literally everything Acxiom has on them, so the general theme of the story was "transparency" - I knew I had to get a creative shot illustrating transparency, and I had a few ideas of how to pull it off. But first, I had to knock out the software demo. 

The conference room had a big flatscreen television displaying how the software works, and I asked Scott to stand right in front of it for a few photos. I lit these shots with a shoot-through umbrella close to Scott and off to camera right. The conference room table was huge and I couldn't get the light right where I wanted it, but I think it worked in the end.

Acxiom CEO Scott Howe / Jacob Slaton for the New York Times

Acxiom CEO Scott Howe / Jacob Slaton for the New York Times

Acxiom CEO Scott Howe / Jacob Slaton for the New York Times

Acxiom CEO Scott Howe / Jacob Slaton for the New York Times

The data on the screen was Scott Howe's personal data file, which hinted at the concept of transparency, but I still didn't feel like I had what I needed. By the time he was done with the software demo, we were well over our 30 minute shoot time, so I knew I was running out of time to get something really cool. Scott was making small talk with the writer and I was trying to figure out a way to drag him into just one more shot. I quickly moved my shoot-through umbrella over by the big conference room windows and asked Scott if I could have just a few more minutes of his time. He graciously obliged and I asked him to stand at the window looking out. 

I set the light on half power, moved it close to him on the right side, and stepped outside to shoot through the window from the balcony. I knew I had to overpower the sun which would be hitting him right in the face that close to the window, and I needed to draw some detail out of the clouds in the reflected background, so I stopped down to something like f/11 which worked well with my light power. I was hoping I would end up with a strange reflection on the glass where I could see both the sky and the interior of the conference room with Scott standing well-lit but slightly mysterious in the center of the frame. I snapped a few images and the composition looked great but I wasn't loving his pose. I wanted more "CEO" from him. I motioned to him through the glass to step right up to the window frame and put his hands on the sill. Three of four frames later I knew I had the image I was going for.

The Great and Powerful Oz comes out from behind the curtain to reveal that he's just as scary in real life. This guy knows everything about you. Perched high above the city with an army of worker bees in the building plugging away at their desks combing the internet for anything and everything they can find out about you. I love the dark tones and the expression on his face in this image. I love the combination of the clouds and the conference room ceiling. I love the clarity in his hands and his face and I love how his shoulders evaporate into the sky. It makes him seem slightly ethereal, or even omni-present, which if you think about it, he kinda is. 

Acxiom CEO Scott Howe / Jacob Slaton for the New York Times

Acxiom CEO Scott Howe / Jacob Slaton for the New York Times

The funny thing is that Scott Howe is about as down to Earth as they come. He's just a regular guy who cracks jokes and laughs a lot. He also happens to run one of the biggest data mining companies in the world. He was a gracious host and when I was packing up to leave he offered to help carry some gear for me, to which I politely said no, and to which he happily said "Oh, come on" and grabbed a bag and walked it out to the truck with me. Nice guy. 

A day or so later when I sent the images in to Jose, I was anxiously driving around town waiting to hear back from him when I got a call. I'll probably never get used to seeing "New York Times"  pop up on my caller ID. It was Jose. He started off by saying "Jacob, I'm embarrassed to say..."

"...that I love the pictures you sent in. They are exactly what I was looking for. Great job. I'm embarrassed though because in my excitement, I accidentally deleted all of them. Can you resend?"

Man. What a way to start a call. My heart just about jumped out of my chest and hit the ceiling. I was so glad to hear that he was happy with my work and when the story ran I was even more thrilled to see that they had published my favorite shot from the series - the one with Scott looking out the window at me. Read the full story here

Funny side note: If you look closely at the window shot, you can actually see me in the reflection too - I'm wearing a green plaid shirt. So in a way, this is also the story of how I snuck a picture of myself into the New York Times.  

You never know what you can get away with until you try :)

 

100 Years of the Same Strange Photograph // Rob & Lauren

A few months ago I got a call from a good friend of mine asking if I could shoot some unusual photos for them to continue a family tradition of theirs almost 100 years in the making. Once I got the details I quickly said yes and got to work trying to figure out how I would make everything work perfectly.  

For some unknown reason, almost 100 years ago (93 to be exact) my friend Rob's great-grandparents hired a photographer to take the following photograph of them reading the Sunday Comics from their local newspaper. You can see the date in the bottom right corner of the photo - 1920. 

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Then, at some unknown later date, probably the late 1940's or early 1950's, Rob's grandparents hired a photographer to take a similar photograph, probably just as much as a joke as to start a funny tradition.  

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Then, sometime in the 1980's, as you might expect, Rob's parents had no choice but to carry on the tradition themselves.  

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Rob is the only child of these two wonderful people and therefore it was up to him and him alone to carry on this odd photo tradition. So when Rob called me I was super excited and honored to have the responsibility of making this happen. Obviously, the lighting and posing decisions had already been made, but I had the unique task of matching the color tones and overall timeless feel of the images. 

Rob and Lauren came to my studio with the most recent Sunday funny pages and we got to work matching everything just right. The first photo from 1920 and the most recent photo from the 80's match almost perfectly, but the grandparents shot in the middle has a different, wider angle, so we decided to do both in the end.

After the shoot I dragged all the images into photoshop and spent a long time tweaking the tones, vignette, and softness of the images. I ended up adding some film grain and noise to try to give it that old film look. Once I had it dialed in just right, I made some slight changes to the originals to even out the look throughout the entire series. 

Here's the shots of Rob and Lauren, taken almost 100 years after the original.  

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Obviously, these aren't the most creative or innovative photos I've ever taken but they are definitely some of my favorites. I hope I'm still around when Rob and Lauren's son Hays gets married and starts looking for a photographer to keep this great little family tradition alive.  

What other cool photo traditions have you seen out there on the intrnet? I'd love to see them! Hit me up in the comments with a link!

Chris + Courtney // Man + Wife

Man + Wife round two. This time I'm featuring my friends Chris and Courtney, who are quite possibly the most similarly looking married couple I've come across yet. Chris and I lived together in college, where, in addition to sharing a room, we also shared a mutual love for several very important things including Boy Meets World, John Mayer, and cheap BUT TOTALLY ADEQUATE second-hand furniture. Chris and I would've had the cleanest bathroom in the house, had it not been for Garrett living across the hall.

By the way, if you didn't already know, Girl Meets World is officially happening. 

Here's Chris and Courtney: 

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Chris and Courtney are awesome people and if you ever see them you should tell them how cool they are and congratulate them on having nearly identical features while both remaining positively masculine and feminine, respectively. 

If you're curious how I shot these photos and why, scroll down to read my first post in this series, which will explain everything in awesome detail. 

Cool. More to come... 

Taido + Alison // Man + Wife

So I started this portrait series a long time ago and it has been my most popular thing ever with pretty much everyone. I stepped away from it for a while but I think it's time for a revival. My original inspiration for this was the incredible portrait work of Martin Schoeller, who is entirely credited with lighting a fire inside me for portrait photography. He's the best and I love his work forever. I have yet to find a better portrait photographer than Schoeller. He does both the simplest and the (seemingly) most complicated portraits I can imagine while still capturing a quiet expression on his subjects. I could go on and on. 

Anyway, he has a super complicated and expensive lighting setup for certain portraits and I set about trying to re-create that setup on a budget. I went to Home Depot and bought a couple of small fluorescent tubes like you see in office buildings and built a custom mount for them that holds the tubes about 6 inches apart vertically where I can shoot through the middle of them. I wired in a standard electrical plug so I can plug the whole setup into the wall and run the lights hot, then I mounted the whole thing on an old tripod I had laying around.

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Once I actually get around to shooting with the contraption, I have my subjects sit in a chair and I set up the light-tripod just inches from their face. I get so close with it that I usually have to figure out how to set the tripod legs just right so my subject has room to fit their knees in somewhere, then I pull up a chair super close and put my lens right in between the lights. When I'm shooting with this thing, my subject and I end up being uncomfortably close to each other, which has a really intimate effect and often draws out a raw vulnerable expression, which I think tells a little about who the person is inside. I usually turn off any other lights in the room too, which adds to the closeness and intimacy of the photographs. 

The whole point of this project, which I call Man + Wife, is to portray the modern American married couple and to attempt to offer a visual glimpse into this concept of people being "perfect for each other." I think it is really interesting to see how two people eventually meld into one another over time and create this combination that just makes sense, which is why I end up creating a diptych of the two photos side-by-side for the final product.  

For this first post in the series, I'm featuring my good friends Taido and Alison Chino who are completely awesome people and who just recently moved to Scotland so Taido can pursue even further theological education, so that he can continue to blow my mind with spiritual insight and wisdom. Taido and Alison are both prolific writers, although Taido tends to keep his musings mostly to himself and his thesis supervisors (save his seldom updated blog), Alison shares herself and her family adventures on her blog here. She also has some of the most powerful white girl dreads of all time. 

Stay tuned - I've got a lot more of these to come.  

ReCreation Studios // Camille and Danny - Cool Local Businesses

When I originally started this series, I posted to my Facebook page asking for suggestions for businesses to feature and ReCreation Studios kept coming up over and over again. It was one of the few businesses I hadn't heard of before, so I did a quick search to see what they were all about and I contacted Camille as soon as I saw her hanging peacefully from a bright blue silk fabric attached to the ceiling in her studio. 

When I arrived for the shoot I met Camille and her boyfriend Danny and immediately felt at home with them. They are both extremely chill people and the studio just feels like a cool place to hang around. I obviously wanted to get some action shots of her demonstrating some of the things they do at the studio, but once I saw her style I quickly started thinking of portrait ideas for her. 

For the first shot, I set up my six foot softbox and basically just told them to do something cool. Before they got into their floor workout, I snapped a quick shot of Camille just to test the light and it turned out pretty awesome. I didn't expect to end up using it in the post but here it is. I love the banal, simple, normal, everyday-ness of it. She has that total peacefulness about her and that raw childlike innocence. Also the color tones just kill me in this shot. I love it. 

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Immediately after that shot her and Danny got into this crazy pose, which I call "Super Baby" because I do a really un-graceful version of it with my kids, but which also probably has some other really cool sounding name that I don't know like "Flying Egret." As soon as they landed in the pose I quickly moved my softbox around to the opposite side and snapped a few frames. I had to bring up the shadows quite a bit in post but I think it turned out cool. Again - I love the peaceful expressions I got from these two. They look so relaxed. 

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After the floor workout I asked Camille to show me a little bit of the silk aerial stuff. Honestly this part was hard to shoot because she kept moving and spinning and my light was rarely in the right spot when she landed in a cool position. For these shots I used a shoot-through umbrella on a nine foot light stand and shot on the top of a six foot ladder to stay on her eye level. We ended up with a good set of images from this, but the one I kept going back to was this one. So chill. I love it. Camille reminded me of Tinkerbell from the movie Hook - just flying around in her tiny lantern all by herself. 

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For the last two shots I really wanted to feature Camille's style and try to capture her essence, if at all possible. Since I only met her that day I can't confidently say that this represents who she is and her unique spirit, but it might be pretty close. I also wanted to feature her relationship with Danny, which seems to be part of the charm of their whole business. From the moment I walked in she and Danny were constantly nuzzling each other and holding hands, but not in a "get-a-room" kind of way - it was endearing, actually. Here's two shots of them, which I think are my favorites from the whole day.

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That last shot reminds me of what James Taylor and Carly Simon were probably like back in 1972. So full of love and excitement and potential. 

You should totally check out ReCreation Studios if you're interested in a different kind of workout, or activity, or hobby, or maybe even as an alternative to yoga. They have classes all week long and they offer something for everybody. Their studio is located on north Main Street in Little Rock directly across the street from The Rep.  

The whole point of this series on cool local business owners is to find people doing what they love pursuing something big and Camille and Danny at ReCreation Studios are doing exactly that. So cool to see stuff like this popping up in Little Rock. If you have any suggestions for other cool local businesses to feature hit me up in the comments and let me know!

Thanks again to Danny and Camille for making me feel at home and for letting me barge in and take over their studio to do these pictures! I wish you guys all the best in all your endeavors!

Also, I just realized I've done three posts in this series and all three have been on Main Street. Good job, Main Street. 

Next up, Electric Heart Tattoo, Nomad Skate Shop, and White Goat in the Heights.  

 

Loblolly Creamery // The Soda Fountain - Cool Local Businesses

So if you live in Little Rock you're probably well aware that the city is experiencing some really cool growth in the way of new businesses and just general coolness. One of the places that has seen the biggest transformation in the past few years is the (now) lovely South Main Street, also known as SoMa, thanks to one of those surprisingly well timed and even more surprisingly effective city government campaigns to put a new face on an old area by simply nicknaming it. 

One of the first few businesses to see the potential of South Main was the Green Corner Store, which is now right in the heart of the coolness of SoMa. I had originally set up this shoot with Shelley Green, who owns the store, and I had planned on shooting both her and the fine folks that run The Soda Fountain and Loblolly Creamery, which are both located inside the walls of the Green Corner Store. 

On the day of the shoot, I arrived to find out that Shelley was out sick (bummer) but the Soda Fountain / Loblolly crew (Sally, Rachel, and Dan) were there and more than ready to knock out some awesome pictures. For the first shot, I set up my 60 inch softbox low and to camera left and had Sally stand behind the soda fountain and make up a nice colorful drink while Rachel held a reflector off to camera right to bounce some light back onto Sally's face and also to highlight the soda fountain a bit more. 

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For the edit on these shots, I used VSCO film to give the images that classic look of being shot on film rather than digital. I rarely use VSCO film for these types of shots but I thought it worked in this case since the concept of a soda fountain already has that  nostalgic 1950s feel to it. Sidenote: Since I was shooting directly into a mirror (behind Sally) I had to basically hide behind Sally's reflection and I had to keep my lights well off to the side to keep from bouncing light where I didn't want it.

Next I did a few shots of Rachel, Sally, and Dan all together, each enjoying some tasty treat they offer to their customers. For this shot I kept my big softbox up and raised it up pretty high - maybe 6 feet or so - so the light would reach Dan in the back. I also pushed the light pretty far back so each of my three subjects would land in an even zone of light with little falloff from one edge to the next. You know, inverse square law stuff. I also put a strobe with a reflector directly on the floor in the back of the store to light up the ceiling and the space behind them. 

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The stuff they sell in this store is super cool and the owners and staff are just as awesome. I just love this new-ish push of cool young people making this city awesome and chasing their dreams, and that's why I'm doing this series on cool local business owners. Thanks again to Sally, Rachel, and Dan at Loblolly Creamery / The Soda Fountain! You guys rule and you did an awesome job in front of the camera!  Thanks for letting me barge in and take over for a while! 

Folks, if you haven't checked out the Green Corner Store and gotten a soda and a cone at Loblolly, you really are missing out. It just feels good to be in there. Reminds me of my Mawmaw a little bit. Thanks again guys!  

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Next up in the Cool Local Business Owners series: Re-Creation Studios, Nomad Skate Shop, White Goat, and Electric Heart Tattoo. Stay tuned. I'm having lots of fun with this. 

Soiree August 2013 Cover Story // Behind The Shoot

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So that's the cover image, but first, a little backstory:

I was in Denver on a three day shoot in June and had to catch a flight back to Little Rock late in the afternoon on a Thursday to do the Soiree shoot early Friday morning. My flight was set to leave Denver at 3:45pm and by the time I got to the airport and found my gate shortly before 3:00, the flight was delayed. And again. And then again. 

By the time the delays stopped hitting the screen, the flight was behind over four hours. I had to go through Dallas first, and the last flight to Little Rock out of Dallas that night would be leaving only 20 minutes after I landed there. I called my contact at Soiree and told him he might need to go ahead and set up a backup photographer, but that I would do my best to get there in time for the shoot. 

When the wheels touched down in Dallas I was out of my seat and ready to run. My arrival gate was pretty much as far as possible from where I needed to be and I knew I had a couple of train rides to get around to the other terminal before they shut the plane door. I bolted off the flight and sprinted around to the train and caught my breath as it hunkered along the tracks. When the train doors opened I blasted out and ran past at least twelve gates before I landed at the one I was looking for and my heart sank. The gate was deserted and the screen informed me that my departure gate had been changed to two gates down from the one I had just left. I had under six minutes to get back to where I started. Unbelievable. 

After another soul-crushingly slow train ride back to my original terminal, I sprinted back down to gate B23 and slipped into line as the last person to board the flight. I handed my boarding pass to the gate attendant and laughed as I slouched toward the plane. I dropped into my seat, texted the folks at Soiree, and shut my eyes. It was almost midnight. 

The next morning I woke up at home and packed up my gear and headed downtown to the studio. The theme for the shoot was "Sixty-five Roses," a common monicker for Cystic Fibrosis. The story profiles Aven Emery, a six-year-old girl living with Cystic Fibrosis, and Mackenzie Horrell, co-chair of "Taste of the Finest", an event that raises awareness for the disease. Our first shot of the day was with Aven, a really cool kid who was super excited about getting her hair and makeup done by a pro. 

My setup for the first shot was on a simple white seamless, which is a great easy way to start the day. I set up a single shoot-through umbrella to camera right and that was that. Aven came in holding a bouquet of roses with more in her hair. She was pretty nervous at first at first with a room full of people staring at her and a camera in her face, so I used a trick that always works with kids. We screamed. All together. On the count of three. Her mom even joined in. Kids love screaming, especially inside. A few people poked their heads in from the hallway to make sure everyone was cool and after that Aven was having fun. We shot several frames and when I felt like I had what I needed I asked her to bring the roses up to cover her mouth. I snapped one more shot and it ended up on the cover. Here it is again.

 

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After that we brought in Aven's breathing machine to get a few shots showing what she has to deal with one a regular basis with Cystic Fibrosis. We kept the light setup roughly the same but I raised the umbrella up several feet to bring down the shadows and add a little more emotion to the shot. We originally had the machine off to the side but I thought it worked better under her feet where the hoses catch your eye throwing off the symmetry of the shot. What a cool kid. 

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While we were wrapping up with Aven the stylists were working on getting Mackenzie ready for her shoot. I ducked into the green room to see how things were coming and to start planning out my lighting. Our awesome makeup artist Dustye was finishing up and I snapped this shot with my iPhone. 

 

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I was super excited about this next shot. After talking with the Art Director, Dean, we came up with some cool ideas for a wild portrait on a red backdrop. I set up the red seamless and put a strobe with a reflector about 12 inches away from the paper and popped a few test shots and liked the sunburst style we got from it. Then I set up a beauty dish high and to the right to give Mackenzie some definition in her cheek bones. After a few test shots with an assistant standing in the shadows were looking too dark so I added a six foot softbox directly behind the camera for a soft, even fill. Mackenzie came in ready to get to work and we knocked out a great set of portraits. The one that made the magazine was definitely my favorite from the series. It worked great as the story opener.

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After the portrait we had about five dozen more roses that hadn't been used yet so we decided to see how many of them we could fit into one shot. I ditched the beauty dish and moved the softbox in super close and right above my camera. There was no easy way to get all the roses in the shot with the hands we had on deck, so we grabbed a few people from the hallway and recruited them to stand in as voice-actived vases. Mackenzie had a great time with this shot and she did a fantastic job giving me a solid strong expression. This shot ended up on the table of contents page.

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Once we had the shot I stepped back and grabbed a little behind-the-scenes shot with the extra hands on flowers. Nice job everyone :)

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The shoot was an absolute blast and I think we ended up with some really great photographs. It's always a pleasure to work with the folks at Soiree and I'm never disappointed to find out my shot ended up on the cover. Thanks again to Dean and Amanda at Soiree, to Aven and Mackenzie for doing a fantastic job in front of the camera, and to our wonderful stylists Carrie Parsons and Dustye Helms for making our subjects look and feel fabulous. Well done team!

To read the full story, check out the digital edition here or pickup a copy pretty much anywhere you can find people in central Arkansas. You can also read a quick blog post of the story here