Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Music in the Night

Calendar cover image - cello

To see this picture bigger click here

This year to prepare for our annual calendar shoot Martin Finesilver and I started out with a trip to the always inspiring Prop Room in Toronto, which is like a candy store for photographers and prop stylists. We had been particularly excited about the vintage toys and instruments during previous visits, and this time it was the instruments that really spoke to us. Some were not in great shape, having reached the twilight of their existences, so I set about imagining where it would make sense for them to be...and envisioned them in sort of an equally abandoned kind of environment. As it happened, I knew the perfect place -- a backyard nearby, that to my great delight as an artist had been allowed to fall into disrepair. I am hardly alone finding beauty in old abandoned spaces. Thus was born this year's theme of "reprising yesterday's beauty -- composing with instruments no longer played in gardens no longer tended".

To achieve the depth and drama with a bit of mystery that we wanted I elected once again to use my signature lighting style which required that we shoot at night. In this case we really needed darkness, so, once the sun went down, there was no real limit to how long we could take to shoot, other than our desire to get the necessary exposures made in one night. We arrived well ahead of sundown to position each of the six instruments while we could still see easily. Then we waited for sunset.

Pre-shoot position-only test shot

As the last hint of daylight disappeared, we realized to our surprise, this late in the season, that we should have brought bug spray, at least for Martin, as the mosquitoes were out in full force. I had on long sleeves so as not to reflect light into the scenes, and I tend not to use chemicals like that around camera gear, anyway, so it wouldn't really have helped me. However, I was the one overheating in the unexpectedly warm evening air.

Soon after sunset we realized to our distress that every time we moved near the motion controlled outdoor lighting we triggered the sensors and flooded the scenes closest to the house with light. But that's what duct tape and black fabric are for! And if that hadn't worked I'm sure we could have cut the wires (kidding...we could have unscrewed the lightbulbs).

We shot tethered to a computer to facilitate collaboration and to ensure we really covered all our bases image-wise. During the whole process I couldn't help thinking back to the 'old days' when we often used very small apertures to get the most depth of field possible in still life and product shots. We had to shoot in the dark to do that, too, so we could pop the strobes multiple times, while the shutter was open, to get enough light onto the film. (I had, in fact, started using my 'organic' lighting technique even back then, but it was a much scarier technique to employ in those days, as you really didn't know what you had until you got the film back from the lab, and you had to get everything you needed in one exposure.) Anyway, once we figured we had all the exposures needed to go into the final composited images we carefully packed up all the delicate old instruments using our trusty flashlights to help us see what we were doing and cleared out well before midnight.

The next day I took one more set of shots back in the studio, thinking we may incorporate into the calendar some images of a beautiful old music book we'd also rented. In order to get the desired effect I knelt down beside the book and used canned air to turn the pages while holding a cable release to trip the shutter. I got some cool shots, but in the end we didn't use any of them as they just didn't fit with the design.

We didn't end up using any of the book shots.

Once the printing was completed thanks again to Stewart at The Ideal Printing Company, all that was left to do was assemble each set of pages, put them into their holders and insert those into pretty little organza pouches, then start delivering them. As usual I am already thinking ahead to next year's calendar while giving out the current one! But I think I can say that Martin and Mark and I all agree this is our favourite to date. So a huge thank-you to them, again, for their creativity and design!

Assembling calendars before putting them in organza pouches.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

"Fantasy in the Forest" Creator Jamie Brick

Jamie Brick, Sculptor in his studio in South Frontenac, Ontario

To see this picture bigger click here.

Every summer on the third weekend of July sculptor Jamie Brick mounts a magical, multi-artist, multidisciplinary exhibit in the forest near his home in South Frontenac, Ontario. I first met Jamie at another art show in Toronto some years ago, and was immediately taken with his whimsical and often humourous sculptures which range in size from smaller than a finger to the size of a person. I had the good fortune to be invited to participate in his Fantasy in the Forest show when it was still on his home/studio property. It was a beautiful, inspiring and memorable weekend. Now the show has grown and moved to a new, larger spot in the forest, somewhat less far off the main road than his home, making it much more accessible for the artists and the visitors. And I cannot wait to experience it next summer.

Anyway, Jamie's show is not really what this post is about -- I just want people to know about it and go -- it's about my latest portrait of a creative person in his space, and a bit about me wondering why I keep doing these! Once again I was lucky enough that a fascinating artist was willing to go through the process of working with me in this particular way. And, in this case, given Jamie's whole fantasy theme, my kind of surreal lighting couldn't have been more appropriate. Furthermore, with my love of small and interesting spaces, I felt I pretty much hit the jackpot with Jamie's tiny magic kingdom of a studio, although it's hard to tell from this blah looking pre-shoot snap how truly magical it is:

Me standing in for Jamie during set-up while there's still light

But yes, it's true, for a brief moment my first thought upon completing the actual shoot (and prior to the all-important digital compositing part of the process) was "Why do I keep doing these?". They're stressful to do, and they don't really fulfill any identifiable purpose, other than adding to my portfolio of "pretty pictures", although they do invariably provide the subject with an unexpected and artful portrayal of themselves. They're hard on the subject who has to stay pretty much impossibly still, a great technique, however, for people who don't want to have to smile. They're also incredibly restrictive in terms of poses and expressions possible, ideal again, though,  for subjects who like the idea of the portrait photo circa fiddling around with different expressions or poses or having to engage with the photographer or the viewer. Ideally, and again almost impossibly, the whole shoot takes place during a fairly short window of time -- while there is just enough light left that it looks dark-ish outside but not totally black. And, frankly, they're kind of nerve wracking because I'm never really 100% sure I'm really capturing everything I'm going to need to make a successful final image...kind of like the old days (or even worse given the fleeting nature of the lighting) when we shot film and had to wait to get it back from the lab to really be sure we got the shot. Although, realistically, I know enough to make sure the bases are covered, not getting the shot is never an option, and I haven't screwed one up yet.

However, after the pressure of the shoot, and the tedious process of digitally puzzling together bits and pieces of all the separate exposures required, it's very satisfying when it all comes together and I have an image I like that would have been very difficult, if not impossible, to create any other way.

This shoot had the usual challenges plus a few extras...there's always something unexpected. In this case it was the candles. I needed to shoot most of the exposures without the candles lit, then light them for the final exposure. For some reason, when it came time to light them, we could not get them to burn. Over and over Jamie tried, one candle lighting just as another would snuff out. It took so long that by the time we got them lit, the light had pretty much gone, and the chandelier had spun to a completely different orientation from the one it was in during the previous exposures, meaning more Photoshop work for me. Plus, it was getting really hard to see.

Exposure for the candle chandelier

Additionally, I would have liked to move some of the bigger sculptures around but that would have been way too time consuming and invasive; I had already moved a bunch of the smaller pieces. So I just had to shoot them where they were, fitting Jamie in between them in as balanced a way as possible. Luckily, although the floor was not super solid and stable -- never a good thing when you're doing multiple exposures -- I was able to set up the tripod on another level of flooring separate from the part of the studio we were shooting, and just avoid walking on that part during exposures, so at least the tripod didn't move.

A bit more about Jamie Brick, this from his website: "When asked about his history Mr Brick responded with a straight face that he was abandoned as an infant, taken in and raised by a pack of wild medieval rabbits. This unusual upbringing reflects in this artist's eyes as he sculpts, stone, wood and mixed media into creatures from a world that lies just left of centre." Jamie produces an eclectic mix of both self-directed and commissioned art, including interior design/art like this banister in his family's home,

Hand carved banister in Jamie's home

and his more well-known body cast based work (of which you can see examples in the image at the top of this post). And yes, for those who want a really personal piece of Jamie's work, he will put your body in one of these breathtaking sculptures.

Sunrise view of Draper Lake from Jamie's studio

I hesitate to share the fact that Jamie and his wife Annette have converted his old studio into a cottage which is available for rent (during months that don't require an insulated building) along with a little boat, and that the lake is full of fish. My son would like to catch them all himself when we return next summer, so he'll be annoyed to know I'm telling the world about this beautiful secret place. Given that it's now listed on airbnb he can't really blame people's finding out about it on me.

Jamie Brick is exhibiting and selling his works at the One of a Kind Show in Toronto from Nov. 26 to December 6, 2015.

As for me, I am probably going to keep doing these portraits because they make me happy. If you know anyone who wants one...

Thursday, October 1, 2015

WoodGreen Community Services Annual Report

This past spring I had the pleasure of working with the ever-inspiring contributors to society and Toronto at WoodGreen Community Services on their Annual Report, for the fifth year in a row. This year's theme was based on the concept of WoodGreen's many programs and facilities functioning as community hubs. New this year Gravity Inc. has produced an interactive microsite to go with the traditional printed piece. Every year the photography required varies in volume, and nature, and this year it required more conceptualized and staged shoots than in previous years which made it particularly interesting for me!

I have many people to thank for all their time and help including a bunch of WoodGreen staff members and clients, as well as friends who helped with things like giving me access to their condos so I could shoot the cover (thanks JC!). Even more than previously, since we had more staged shots to do this time, we had the challenge of creating happy, comfortable models out of real people who are busy doing their jobs and living their lives and in many cases don't like having their pictures taken, so patience and sensitivity were required. Not surprisingly things did not always go quite as expected, and there were some funny moments.  Here are four things that I won't forget:

1) The cover shot (above) was actually a composite of several shots because I wanted the park to look like a hub of activity and there were never enough people in it, where I wanted them to be, at one time. Once I had the composite completed, weeks later, I realized that one guy looked kind of familiar and upon closer inspection I realized that I knew him. The funny thing was, I actually met him after I took the picture(s), the very next day, in fact, at a meeting with two new clients, of which he was one.

2) Another shot we had to do was at the grand opening of a new state of the art communal kitchen facility. The plan was to select three to five people and feature them in front of the bustling opening party happening behind them. Before the party started we planned exactly where they would stand and previsualized what we hoped would occur in terms of people in the background, etc. At the appropriate moment my liaison asked the selected people to take their positions while I climbed up onto the chair I'd staked out as a shooting platform. As I looked down on the little group finger poised over the shutter release button ready to shoot quickly as soon as they were ready, I watched with concern as more and more people joined the group until there were about fifteen people crammed together and almost nobody left in the background. Due to the nature of this group of individuals, and the circumstances, there was really nothing we could do except take the picture. Ultimately the shot was not usable because it didn't make sense for the story it was to accompany,  so instead of five, or fifteen people being featured, nobody got to be featured, as the designers chose a 'random' shot of the whole party/room.

3) We were fortunate enough to get an opportunity to photograph WoodGreen program director Diane Dyson with Cathy Dandy of CAFE (Community Assets for Everyone), and Karen Pitre, Special Advisor to the Premier on Community Hubs -- three important and very busy women -- at Queen's Park (see below), and we were clear that we would have a very short window of time with them. We had preselected an outdoor location only to find upon arrival that it was fully under construction. The next outdoor spot we liked we were told by the guard we couldn't use. Then we were told we should expect to shoot inside, in an office area. Concerned that this might not give us a visual appealing background we asked to check out the office while we waited for our three subjects to arrive. As the scheduled shoot time came and went, with no sign of the subjects, and no access to the potential shoot areas, we despaired that the shoot was just not going to happen. Finally, the women arrived and we were led outside to an area we had been led to believe we couldn't use. Apparently under certain circumstances it might be O.K. so we should just go ahead and shoot a few different options so that if any one view wasn't allowable, another might be. I had a light to set up and no assistant, so it was a mad dash to set-up and shoot two different set-ups crazy fast.

4) And continuing with the theme of very limited time, we needed to get a carefully previsualized shot of a group of children with the director of one of WoodGreen's day care locations. In this case we had had the opportunity to scout the location so we knew exactly where we needed to set up the camera and lighting, and the children's guardians for this one group had signed model releases. We had one limited window of opportunity to shoot this group during their regularly scheduled outside time, and very little opportunity to coach or direct them. The biggest challenge was keeping the kids in somewhat the right places, not looking at the camera, while getting the lovely and patient Liz to walk through the door over and over again so that I could catch her in good looking mid-stride in the right place. Anyone who has worked with children, especially those who have no tangible incentive to cooperate, bless their little hearts, knows the numerous challenges one is likely to encounter. So it took more than one shot to get acceptable images of the inside kids. And with nobody outside to help except the person holding open the door (you can see her hand in the final shot if you look closely), we knew we would have to shoot additional shots of the outside kids to show them in appropriate spots, doing appropriate things, as well. Thank goodness for Photoshop (and designer/Photoshop whizz Brenda)!

And thanks, again, WoodGreen!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Stills and video: Soldiers in the woods for Wolf Pack

Recently we headed up to Brechin, Ontario to spend a day capturing video and stills for a Canadian defense company (I can't tell you who they are or I'd have to kill you) who make a high tech imaging system used by military and law enforcement to combat evil. The primary objective with regard to the video was to create material for the product's training programs, required for training exercises overseas. The still photography was to be more for website and collateral use.

The budget for this particular phase of the client's marketing and instructional efforts was very limited as they are in the early stages of their foray into video, with a plan to produce lots more going forward. So we had a skeleton crew...photographer (me) with assistant Dusty Parr, camera man/director/DOP Kevin C.W. Wong (shooting with his RED system), camera assistant Mark Moher, the company's marketing director Eva, who had to dress up and double as a "bad guy" very briefly, a few times, and two "actors", one of whom (Jeff), as the company's ex-military chief training consultant, was an invaluable acting coach since he had full knowledge of correct procedures including proper weapons handling techniques. As Jeff acknowledged, it was pretty much inevitable that actual working soldiers would be highly critical of any inauthenticity so it was important to make the action and circumstances look as close to real as possible.

The day started off with collection of military wardrobe and gear from MAG (Movie Armaments Group) very nearby in the Film District. Then it was off on a two hour drive to a rural property where the "soldiers" would be setting up a tactical surveillance system in the woods surrounding a house.

The location property owners had and were happy to lend us two ATV's and a garage as a staging area. It was a 28 degrees C day, relentlessly sunny and hot (the  thermometer in my car still read 28 at 8:00 p.m.!), and we had to get back and forth from the garage to the woods at least 200 yards across a field a number of times with piles of photo gear, video gear, props, water and snacks. I had, as usual, brought more than I needed, or at least more than we had time to use, as the video shoot, which was being done with natural light, took precedence. I had wanted to set up fancier lighting but there simply wasn't time, so I had to go with a simpler one light set-up. It turned out that this actually worked well, in that we needed to achieve a balance between illuminating and separating  the 'soldiers' and the product from the background while maintaining the look and feel of proper camouflage, with a bit of motion blur thrown in to add excitement.

Being in the woods should have offered some relief from the sun/heat, and it did, except that the ground was unexpectedly boggy and the hoard of mosquitoes, also seemingly hiding from the sun, attacked anyone who dared venture into the trees where we were shooting. The poor actors, in full battle gear, were sweating bullets the entire shoot and drank bottle after bottle of water as they attempted to keep hydrated. The mosquitoes even bit through the camo uniforms. I sweated in a long sleeved top with a hood to protect myself from the sun, the mosquitoes, and any other bugs that might fall out of the trees into my hair. (If there were ticks they weren't going to attach themselves to me!) Kevin, Dusty and Mark just got bitten a lot.

Anyway, as far as shooting stills went, although I had hoped to shoot over Kevin's shoulder where possible it just wasn't practical, given what was needed from the stills in this particular case, so there was a lot of waiting around, followed by doing the fastest lighting set-up we could possibly do and shooting for maybe five minutes then tearing down and moving to the next position. But we got the shots!

The next day we were in town on an abandoned building set, where it was also really, really hot for the poor suited up actors, again. However, it was a fantastic location which allowed us to get shots like this one:

"Soldiers" clear a room using the Wolf Pack system

This project was yet another opportunity to do something cool for not very much money...and I have to say, as much as I love to work with producers and a full team of assistants, wardrobe, props, hair and make-up etc. there is something very satisfying about a small team rallying and pulling off a really successful shoot on a shoestring budget!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Jamie Ruben Film & Media Composer and Guitarist

Jamie Ruben in his studio

Another creative portrait of a creative artist in his space! In this case at the home studio of Jamie Ruben, Toronto film and media composer and guitarist known for his work on HBO's Vice, among other documentaries and feature films. It's in this studio that Jamie creates his magic. Our mandate was to create a signature still image in keeping with the realm in which Jamie works: highly creative and imaginative, and well beyond the 'recognizable'. As such, I was allowed and encouraged to take the images well past realistic representation, which I love to do. Really, it was a trifecta of favourites for me: getting to work with a fellow artist, making a small-ish and somewhat modest space look somewhat more substantial and interesting, and getting to bust out creatively.

A few notes of interest: Because of the lighting technique we were using, which involved the lens being open for prolonged exposures, we had to shoot at night, so we didn't even start until almost 10:00 p.m. Nevertheless, the creative spirit overtook both of us so we were energized throughout, partly I'm sure, thanks to the beautiful musical phrases Jamie spontaneously sprinkled out in between every exposure. Thankfully, he was unusually adept at remaining very still during the long exposures, which greatly facilitated the process. 

Given the size and layout of the room we were very limited in terms of composition, so I pretty much had one possible angle to work with, through the doorway to the studio. Thus, we just composed Jamie and the props accordingly. Once again, it was amazing what we were able to accomplish in a fairly small space.

Although we succeeded in getting a magical, full colour shot of the composer in his studio, as we had set out to do, we also, ultimately, got this bonus shot, which I'm not at all sure I don't actually like even better. 

Jamie Ruben alternative shot

This image resulted from cropping and reworking one 'failed' frame from the main, wider angle shot we were working on. (Sometimes I feel, as a professional, that I should never admit to a happy "accident", but what the heck...they happen all the time, especially in the digital age ...may as well be open to them!) We really only realized after completing all the frames necessary to the main shot (which was made up of multiple exposures to be comp'ed together) that we had something really usable as a tighter composition. Even later I realized how effective the tighter shot would be in black and white. And, then I took it a few steps further by (horror of horrors) adding a few layers of filters and effects. (I say the "horror" bit because, once again, as a pro, one does not necessarily want to be caught resorting to funky Photoshop filters, but again...who cares? I love the result, and they are the perfect tools to morph an image further past the boundaries of reality, and not take forever to do it). 

Both images are on my website at at the beginning of the Creative People section. If you're interested in seeing the transformation of the space through lighting and compositing please call or e-mail me and I'll show you.

One final note: once I completed the post-production and Jamie uploaded the pics to his website, I actually didn't love the way his main shot fit into his site layout, so I made one quick adjustment, just on his file, specifically for that use, and now it fits perfectly (here's the link again: Jamie Ruben).

If you need to transform a person or a space via some creative photography e-mail me at and let's chat.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Four80East - "Positraction" Album Promo Art

Rob DeBoer and Tony Grace of Four80East

How lucky am I to get to work, so soon, with another pair of masters of their art? This time I'm happy to say we had a budget and luck was on our side (more on this in a sec). My clients were internationally acclaimed jazz musicians Tony Grace and Rob DeBoer of the band Four80East, "an electro-jazz collective that’s all about the groove".
Their new album "Positraction" will be available in stores really soon...July 17, 2015, so while the album art was done, they still needed promo shots of themselves with their friend's (and my friend's) old Chevy Malibu, which is featured in the album art, and which, coincidentally, I've shot before. 

After our pre-pro meeting we had a good idea of the ideal location and the guys and I set out in different directions to find it. I was about to give up for the day when I came across the perfect place...a new parking lot right on the waterfront not yet fully set up to accommodate paying customers. I could not believe my luck, and the spot was approved immediately. But would it still be empty on the day of our shoot? Although we had a budget for this project, it didn't include location permits. So, on the days leading up to, and including the morning of the shoot day, I checked repeatedly. Sure enough the lot remained empty, except for one artist sitting painting at a little table, one time.

It wasn't just the location we needed to be clear, but the weather. And the week of our shoot we seemed to have more rain storms, and heavier rain storms than I can recall in one week in June in Toronto. Miraculously the day of our shot was the one dry day of the week. We had actually wanted, ideally, blazing sun for that California sun-drenched look. Unfortunately it was a fairly hazy day, so we had to create highlights and flare with lighting. We also had the challenge of getting light into the car. But this was all easily doable because once again, as I often do, I brought more lights than I really thought we'd need, just in case.

The other big unknown was whether the car would start. Furthermore, the owner of the car, who was the only one who knew for sure how to coax the finicky engine into actually engaging, was not allowed to drive it for another few weeks because of a recent surgical procedure. So Pete (car owner) had to accompany Tony out to the car's resting place in front of a friend's house way uptown and see if they could get it going and make it successfully downtown. It was with great relief that my assistant and I pulled into the lot to see the car almost exactly where it was supposed to be. The few times we had to reposition it it started pretty much no problem. It wasn't until the end of the shoot, I think because I had my back mashed against the console to do this shot

and accidentally turned on the hazard lights, that the car actually died. Thanks to the lovely and talented Victoria Dixon who was just finishing packing up her hair and make-up kit...she jumped into action and offered her van for a jump start.

We did have a couple of mildly tense moments when another small photo team showed up, and two different sets of police arrived. The other photo shoot turned out to be just a guy and girl and a car, so they drove up, took a few shots, stopped to chat briefly about the car and took off. The first set of police pulled up in a police boat, disembarked and started walking towards us. Had anyone been doing anything wrong, like holding an open beer in a public place, for example, we could have been in trouble. Thank goodness nobody was. I didn't stop working for a second. Cedric (Swaneck, assistant extraordinaire) said hi, and they kept going right on past us to a restaurant across the street. By the time the second set of police arrived I figured they were just stopping for food, too, which it seemed they were. 

Of course, all this time we had had a 'Plan B' given the uncertainty of the car and the location and the weather. I had repurposed one of my hand-painted backdrops to match my vision for an in-studio portrait of Tony and Rob and had set it up, with lighting, back at the studio. So once we finished in the parking lot we headed back to the studio and did this:

One final note about our miracle location: when I found it I knew we had lucked into a rare opportuntiy which wouldn't exist for long (ie. a big empty, unmanned lot right on the waterfront). A week later the gate/arm was down blocking the entrance.

To see more about Four80East and their awesome new album just Google them...they are everywhere! In fact, here's the shot they posted on Wikipedia:

To see larger versions of my two favourites of these images please see my website at
And to contact me please e-mail me at

Friday, June 12, 2015

Publicity Photo Shoot for the Play "Stones In His Pockets"

Stephen Farrell and Mark Whelan in Character

I had a friend many, many years ago who used to exclaim "Good humour!" whenever he heard a funny story. For some reason I could hear his words echoing in my mind as I thought back on my shoot with actors Mark Whelan and Stephen Farrell soon (November 2015 at the Alumnae Theatre in Toronto) to be starring in the play Stones in His Pockets by Irish writer Marie Jones. The play is set in a rural town in County Kerry Ireland which becomes overrun by a Hollywood film crew, and features two actors who play, between them, fifteen characters.

We had a budget about as limited as a budget could be (it's the arts!), so Mark did the location scout himself and we met on the designated shoot date in a parking lot at a park. Because we were limited by various work schedules in terms of the time at which we could shoot, we were just going to have to make the light work whether it was cloudy or sunny, and regardless of the direction of whatever light there might be at shoot time. This is why I always bring some kind of lighting! I was either going to have to create some directional light where there wasn't any, or combine with and/or overpower the light was there.

They had the idea of making a poster for the play that evoked an old fashioned Hollywood movie poster, so there may be some more monkeying around in Photoshop during the poster design phase. But that's later. At this stage, Mark had a very specific idea about the background...he'd found a spot here along the lake shore in Toronto that was reminiscent of a rocky shoreline in Ireland, and showed a spit of land in the distance that, again, somewhat mimicked an Irish coastline. Unfortunately when we got there, Mark was not sure exactly where he'd been so we started off marching along with all our gear, some of which I had cleverly disguised as picnic stuff (we didn't have permits to shoot there) by draping a  flowery blanket over it, only to discover we had gone to the wrong part of the park.

When we finally found the right spot, the sun was not quite in the "right" spot and the branches near Stephen's face cast really creepy, ugly shadows on his face. So I set up a light to overpower the sun catching S's face, and on top of that, being the consummate actors that they are, they just kept moving around as the sun moved, to keep their faces out of the sun, while still looking comfortable and in character.

One of the reasons it's good to have a photo assistant on any shoot is that if the light isn't firing he or she will tell you this. I wish we'd had one with us! Sometimes it's easy to see the flash going off (for example in a studio), and sometimes it's not (for example outside in the sun).  So after a number of misfires when Mark and Stephen pointed out that the light wasn't flashing, I stopped shooting, figured out what was wrong, fixed it and reshot at least as many frames as we'd missed. 

The next thing to go wrong was the CF card in the camera. Once every huge number of captures (honestly, it's incredibly rare for this to happen... I think I've had this happen maybe twice in all my years of shooting digitally) a card will suddenly fail for no apparent reason. The camera I was using for this shoot was not the one with dual CF card slots for redundant shooting, so I had to yank the now and forever more unreadable card and reshoot whatever we thought we'd missed, again! Luckily Mark and Stephen were such pro's they had no trouble continuing their performances pretty much indefinitely, so we still got a couple of hundred frames (not including the outtakes) to choose from in the end, and we definitely got the shot. In fact they saw so many they liked they decided to use a series of them on their website (to be launched in the next few months) instead of selecting just one "winner". Too many good ones is a very good problem to have.

In fact, my favourites were different from theirs. So to see my first choice please visit my website at and to contact me about this or any other shoot, e-mail me at

I'll announce their Facebook page when it's up and you'll see their selects and be able to read more about the play, which I can't wait to see!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Author Jeff Rubin's New Book: The Carbon Bubble

Detail from book jacket author photo of Jeff Rubin

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to photograph bestselling author and economist Jeff Rubin. His new book The Carbon Bubble What Happens To Us When It Bursts is available May 12, 2015. You can read more about it on Penguin Random House's website. The book is currently available for pre-order online at Amazon, Chapters-Indigo and McNally Robinson.

Jeff was gracious and accommodating as we rearranged his furniture and invaded his personal space for the better part of an afternoon. We had, as usual, brought more equipment than we ultimately needed, which really should always be the case, since otherwise we're using the backup gear, meaning something's gone wrong! 

We knew we wanted a more casual feel so while we started with a jacket we quickly progressed to a couple of different, more casual shirts. As the shoot was scheduled on very short notice Jeff was his own wardrobe stylist, assisted by me. One option we both really liked was his new blue plaid linen shirt (Harry Rosen), but it was so bold we switched out of it pretty quickly. Thankfully I caught the fact that the collar was folded wrong in the first few frames so when we ended up choosing one of those as an option (of course!), although it was a bit of a pain, I was able to composite his head from that frame onto the shirt from another frame to solve the problem. (Honestly, I didn't really need to do this, because they're probably not even using this shot, but I couldn't stand the fact that a potentially usable frame had a giant deal-breaking flaw in it, so I challenged myself to fix it as quickly, but seamlessly as possible. If they want to use this one, now they can!)

Finally, a quick thanks to Cedric Swaneck my intrepid assistant who can set up a Photoflex OctoDome way faster than I can. We didn't end up using it. But setting it up for nothing wasted a surprisingly small amount of time!

Available May 12 Penguin Random House

Friday, March 27, 2015

Art of an Actress

After a bit of a break from doing these I was excited to do a new creative-person-in-her-space portrait with my friend Kate who has a background as a professional actress. The potential to do something really fun was obvious. I scouted her house for possible locations. I must say, I cannot help but get a  warm, fuzzy feeling when someone tells me, with some trepidation, that their place is small and kind of cluttered. These words fill me with joyful anticipation and I was not disappointed. The second I saw the family music nook, I knew we had our spot. Fortunately, Kate's family are warm and generous and artists themselves, so they indulged my needing to move their furniture and belongings all over the place without blinking. In fact, they often move the furniture around, themselves, to accommodate various filmic and photographic undertakings, so I admit I was a little thrown when I arrived and discovered that many of the things I remembered being in the nook, and wanted there, were not. Note to self...always bring the reference shots to the shoot. We found most of the props (I'm calling their stuff props), but I knew something was missing and it wasn't until after the shoot that I figured out it was the Christmas garland I had loved and anticipated using. I somewhat made up for its absence by making the hanging triangle move. Then I stressed for a while thinking about where to get a garland and when/how to shoot it so I could add it in during post. But in the end, I decided against doing that, feeling it really wasn't necessary. Now I'm looking at it again and wondering, though...(Stop it! There's enough going on!)

On to lighting. It was always going to be a lot about the lighting. And that's when I hit obstacle number two: hardwood floors. The one thing about this kind of fluid lighting is that nothing can move, not the camera, not the set, and, for at least a few of the frames, not the subject. I realized as I checked focus over and over that something was throwing the focus off, and it had to be some slight movement. It was the floor. Old house, wooden floor: bounce. Not good. But too bad! I decided to do like the artist, played, I think, by Catherine Keener (who I love) in the movie Synecdoche, New York, 2008. Her art exhibit requires viewers to don head-mounted magnifiers so they can see the tiny, tiny art. I LOVED that scene (or scenes...pardon the faulty memory). So, my art will, similarly, just have to be small, too. Not that small. But sadly, this image is just not going to be able to be shown really big, or the slightly compromised sharpness will be apparent. (That said, you can see it a lot bigger than this in the Creative People section of my website.)

This lighting technique, once again, left me needing to take many bits and pieces of different frames and composite them together post-shoot. I'm not even sure how many I ended up using. Quite a few. But I got what I wanted, which was, essentially, one page out of a make- believe illustrated work of fiction and imagination, inspired by a lovely mum and a music nook.

Thanks, again, to the inimitable Christine Cho of Christine Cho Beauty. Collaborating with her is always a joy. 

I'll sign off with a picture of me lighting the triangle...I am not supposed to be showing up there. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

Latest Lensbaby Portrait

I don't know how many years ago it was that I bought my first Lensbaby lens, but I remember being so excited that finally there was going to be a way to somewhat mimic, on a 35mm camera, the tilt and shift aesthetic I used to achieve with my 4x5 view camera. Not exactly, but it was a start. In the case of the Lensbaby, unlike a 4x5, you have to manually bend the lens into position and hold it there with your fingers while you release the shutter. This can be incredibly challenging and depending on the aperture you choose -- the wider ones exacerbate the blurry edge effect -- you can find yourself missing a  lot of shots. I realized immediately that as fun as it was to create images with this lens it wasn't going to have a lot of commercial application. Until Lensbaby came out with the 3G which allows you to lock the lens into position. As long as you weren't shooting anything moving this was a huge leap forward as now you could step away from the set and not lose focus and have to start all over again, every frame.

After my first Lensbaby but before the 3G I bought a 2.0 which incorporated magnetized aperture rings, a big improvement over the cardboard ones in the previous version. I used the 2.0 for many what I'd call candid portraits and got a lot of interesting and flattering portraits of my favourite subjects - people who don't like having their picture taken. Honestly, there's nothing more satisfying than creating a successful portrait of someone who doesn't think that's even possible. And doing it really quickly and in an unusual and creative way. (I also shot a lot of still lifes, but that's another topic for another time.) 

After adding their modular wide angle with macro lens to my kit, I finally bought what I'd say is my favourite Lensbaby lens combo of all, the Control Freak with the Edge 80. I can't be the only customer of theirs who now owns a lens with their secret nickname on it. (No, not "Edge", although I like that.) This combo incorporates a longer lens length than the original Lensbabies, allows focus and position locking, and has replaced the all around blur with more of a pseudo tilt shift capability, in that the focus falls off from one side to another instead of in a circular pattern; in other words, as they say on their website, you get a "slice of sharp focus, bordered by blur."

There aren't a ton of paying jobs for which I've used these lenses, but I still pull them out when I want to take that extra step away from harsh reality and step into a visually modified, more surrealistic realm, where my subject and I can be surprised and delighted by our captures, over and over again.

This portrait of my friend of a zillion years, commercial director Pete Henderson of Someplace Nice, came about because I wanted to test my new hand painted canvas backdrop. Of course, using a focus- destroying (in a good way) lens like the Lensbaby 2.0 kind of negated the testing of the background part of the exercise, as you can hardly see it. But I did, somewhat serendipitously, end up with a few unexpectedly telling and intimate portraits. Thanks, Pete.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Personal Branding Photography

Years and years of shooting for commercial, editorial and corporate clients have resulted in my being very well positioned to offer a high quality version of one of the newest trends in individual self-promotion: personal branding photography. There are two relevant articles from the Globe and Mail to which I can direct you with these links: Article 1, Article 2.

As with any kind of photography for which someone is going to pay, there is going to be, and should be, an expectation of a fully professional approach. The parameters will vary depending on the nature of the client's business(es) and her goals and focus. But as more and more women, in particular, enter the ranks of small, medium and large business owners in Canada, they are requiring more effective ways to brand themselves and, essentially, support their legitimacy in the minds of media savvy clients and customers. Nothing is as reassuring as authentic portraits that exude the professionalism, attitude, and integrity you, as a successful and trustworthy person in business, embody.

It's amazing how many bad photos there are in online profiles (from selfies, to professional photos that are just not flattering). You can think all you want that how you look should not have anything to do with your success in business or in life, but people do, at least initially, judge books by their covers, so you may as well put forth the best cover you can! 

In the case of the successful and well-established independent business owner pictured here, we spent about four hours between scouting her home office, choosing wardrobe, enhancing her make-up (with which I helped personally as we did not hire a make-up artist), setting up in three different spots and shooting. We went with the most pared down version of a session in that it was just the two of assistant, no hair and make-up, no wardrobe stylist, one location. Had it not been mid-winter and snow-covered outside, we may have added an outdoor shot, if appropriate, to round out the profile. Simple as the shoot was was, though, I will just mention that each shot was carefully lit. I can't believe I'm saying this (because there should be no question) but yes, even the simplest shoot requires lighting. 

Once we completed the session Laurie was able to view a password protected web gallery from which she could download unretouched low res Jpegs for her use. She also selected several favourite images with my help which were then professionally retouched. These files were provided as high res master TIFs and will be the ones she uses for print and collateral marketing materials, and specific requests such as those by clients and organizations requiring profile materials in support of speaking engagements, contributions, etc.

I look forward to collaborating on many more of these comfortable, but energetic, intimate but professional shoots with other accomplished, inspiring and entrepreneurial women*, who understand the value of polished personal profile imagery.

*What about men? The next great personal branding shoot I do for a male client I will review on this blog, with his permission, of course.