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!

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. 


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.  


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


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.  


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: 


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.


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.