Being There

Finally, after much anticipation, the big event–my nephew’s graduation day.  Of course, it wouldn’t be my family if we didn’t have a debate as to the necessity of celebrating high school graduation by going to a ceremony.  My family doesn’t require a reason for a debate.  If there’s a question to be asked, someone asks it.  If Hamlet were my relative, he wouldn’t have asked “to be or not to be.” He would have asked, “I am.  But why?  And is it really all that important?”

In any case, we had a pleasant surprise when Sam and Ellie appeared at the house at about 2PM in the afternoon (they were supposed to be at school).  This afforded us the opportunity to take some more pictures!

We gathered in the front yard and I set up my umbrella stand.  This is when I learned about why photographers own sand bags.  Having been a huge fan of Mary Poppins, I was only disappointed that it wasn’t strong enough to carry me away.

Fortunately, with 8 people standing around, it was much easier to find an assistant than a sand bag.

I went through the standard combinations:  Grad with his girlfriend.  Grad with his grandparents.  Grad with his parents.  Grad with his brother.   I’ve really got to start paying attention to group photos to figure out some better poses–I really am horrible at directing people on where and how to stand.

After finishing up pictures, the grads went on their way and we started getting ready to meet them at graduation.  We had a grand plan with three of us going an hour earlier than the rest to get good seats.  However, I got confused on what time we were leaving and we were 15 minutes late.  Then, we stopped to grab food on the way.  When we got there, the best seats left were up behind the stage.  We had a good view of Sam’s seat, but not of the stage since we were behind it.

Having shot my older nephew at the same place 2 years ago, I decided to try to improve on my shots by adding a teleconverter to my 100-400mm lens to try to get tighter on Sam than I was able to on his brother.  This was a fatal mistake.

I have tried to remind myself when choosing lenses to ask whether light or length was more important.  In this case, both were.  However, the loss of light caused by adding the teleconverter was critical.  Few of the shots taken with it on worked–I had too much motion blur because of too slow a shutter speed.

I was very sad about my failure at getting tighter shots, but I did take the teleconverter off just in time for Ellie’s walk across the stage.

After the ceremony, as we searched for the parked car, the sky was so cool, I had to stop and take a shot while everyone else looked for the car.

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Love Looks

While processing the photos of my nephew (alias Sam) and his girlfriend (alias Ellie), I sighed and thought “Aww.  Young love!”  But when I flipped through some recent photos of my brother and my sister-in-law a few minutes later, I realized this had nothing to do with age.  My nephew’s face is just a younger version of my brother’s when they are with their respective partners.

It’s an interesting phenomenon.  Sam looks very little like my brother except when he’s around Ellie.  Then, it’s like his dissimilar features mold themselves into a shape that exactly resembles my brother’s face.  Who knew that falling in love could be hereditary?

But shooting both Ellie and Sam with one small strobe on an umbrella stand and in the confines of the family room proved to be challenging.

First, there was the issue of light.  Lighting one person is much easier than lighting two when there’s only one light.  Getting light on Ellie, sitting furthest from the light, was quite difficult.

This led to the second challenge, depth of field.  Opening up the aperture to try to overcome the shortage of light led to a very shallow depth of field, which led to portraits of one subject with another person in the frame instead of portraits of two people.  However, I still like some of the resulting images.

The need to shut the aperture down a bit to increase the depth of field to get Ellie and Same both in focus increased the problem created by the third challenge.  Because we of where Sam and Ellie were, traffic kept moving in and out of the room behind them.  Of course, some of the best expressions on their faces were in the shots with people behind them.  This led to extensive use of the “blur” brush to reduce the distracting background.  I am not fond of doing that much editing, but it’s my nephew.

It occurs to me that perhaps it would be easier if I could shoot in the same environment more than one time.  It’s hard to master something when there are so many variables changing each time.  But then again, it’s the variables that make it fun.

I think about photographers who have marks on the floor and who have their subjects go through a formula of poses.  I suppose this would be extremely efficient and may even help guarantee that the subject gets a decent portrait, but I don’t know how the photographer keeps from getting so bored s/he stops paying attention.  And what happens if someone comes in who just looks horrible in that particular set of poses?  Do they have formulas for such variables?

If there’s one lesson I’m sure of, I have a hard time paying attention to all the details when I feel rushed.  I guess I need to find someone who really wants to model for me.  And then, I need to take my time.  What’s that old expression?  Haste makes waste?

Safety Portraits

Graduations seem to be a bit more complex than they used to be.  My older nephew graduated on Memorial Day two years ago.  I can see why that might not have been so popular–especially in a suburb right outside of Indianapolis.  Improving upon that plan this year, graduation was on the Thursday before Memorial Day.

However, it was also the last day of the school year.  Graduates were supposed to go from school to graduation and be there at 4PM for rehearsal.  Then, they would be fed dinner while their families arrived and filled the stands.

Following graduation, the graduates return their caps and gowns before being released to join their families.  It wasn’t clear that there would be any opportunity to get a picture of my nephew (let’s call him Sam) in his cap and gown.

So, the night before graduation, we took a few shots in the back yard just in case.  While we were at it, I took a few of my brother and sister-in-law, too.  My sister-in-law is wonderfully easy to shoot–I caught an all-out crack-up with one eye closed in one shot (not shown) and she still looks great.  My brother and nephew are a bit more challenging.  I don’t know why.

As I worked with the strobe on a stand with an umbrella out in the yard, I was reminded of a recent class I attended back in Chattanooga.  The instructor expressed disgust at the cliche shot of a graduate in front of the school sign.  While we were lacking a school sign, I realized I was shooting extremely run-of-the-mill portraits.  But, honestly, I had no idea what else to shoot.

Later, I did some searching for cool shots of graduates.  What I discovered is that the interesting images were either interesting because they were shot in really cool locations or they were so abstract, you couldn’t see the person who graduated.

Given no control over time of day or the location of the shoot and assuming that we all wanted pictures where we could actually tell it was Sam in them, I need more experience to come up with a really creative approach.

As it is, we got some cute shots of Sam in his cap and gown along with some nice shots of my brother and sister-in-law.  And, Tisen had a great time playing ball with whoever wasn’t involved in a shot.

Although, Tisen did have a bit of a run-in with the screen door.  He didn’t realize I had to open two doors to let him out and did a complete face plant into the screen in his hurry to join the party.  Later, when only the screen was closed, I slid it open and he stopped dead in front of the open door, poking with his nose to make sure it was really open.  The dog is not only a fast learner, he can count!

Portraits in Suburbia

It’s that time of year again:  graduations.  I have begun to divide my life into stages by the kinds of events we celebrate.  Long ago, it was our own graduations and those of our friends.  Then it was weddings.  Next, it was baby showers, followed by divorces (well, that wasn’t usually a celebration).  Then there were second marriages (and occasionally third).

Now, I seem to be participating in the same cycle of events one generation removed.  Because I have friends in many age groups, these events continue in waves depending on how old my friends are.

The high school graduations of my friends’ children started ten years ago.  Those were followed by weddings, and a few baby showers (although babies seem to be coming later and later in people’s lives).

But, this time, it’s my nephew who completed high school.  This event led to us taking Tisen on his longest road trip ever.  Fortunately for us and for Tisen, my brother’s family is willing to accommodate Tisen so he didn’t have to stay in a kennel.  I’m not sure either one of us would have survived the separation anxiety.

The other unintended consequence is that I gained a couple of new models for portrait shooting.  It’s a good thing my nephews were unwarned of my intention to shoot some portraits or I might not have seen either one of them during our visit.  However, I managed to get a few minutes of their time before they got too impatient with me.  What is it about the men in my family that they can’t sit for more than 10 minutes to let me practice portraiture?

They might have been a little intimidated posing next to my strobe on an umbrella stand–I don’t think either one of them has ever posed in front of an umbrella before.

I had fun trying to create some more dramatic lighting by casting shadows with the light.  My youngest nephew seemed to think the lighting was a little too dramatic, but he played along patiently anyway.

Tisen, never one to pose in front of a flashing umbrella, spent his modeling time discovering the joys of the ‘burbs.  I believe the thick, green grass right outside the door was a first for him.  At home, he can cross an asphalt parking lot to find a small patch of grass or walk to the park to roll in a short, spongy variety of grass.  Before he came to us, I doubt there was much grass in his life.

Unleashed and let out the door in the heart of an Indiana suburb, Tisen seemed at first confused and then overjoyed by the large yard to play ball in.  Although there was no fence, Tisen stayed well within the invisible confines of the property lines as if he was  afraid he would get lost if he got too far from me in that endless expanse of grass.  I am now worried he will resent returning to his urban life.