You Haven’t Got It Until You’ve Got It

The great thing about digital photography is that we are no longer bound 12, 24, or 36 frames at a time. And we don’t need to waste time during setup to snap a few polaroids. And yes, as a commercial photographer, it is in my best interest to be economical with my shots if for no other reason than the amount of time needed to edit 1000 shots is obviously much great than 100 shots. That said, however, I’m not afraid to keep shooting until I’m sure I’m got the shoot, and more importantly, until the client is sure as well.

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Chris Sommers

Chris Sommers, Pi Downtown

Those of us who live downtown are super excited about the new branch of the Pi chain of pizza restaurants that just opened up on Washington Avenue in St. Louis. Sure, it’s a chain but it’s a local chain and their pizza is kickass (albiet a touch pricey). I caught up with Pi co-founder Chris Sommers at the shiney new downtown location to photograph him for Feast magazine’s My Stuff column.

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Chef Rob Uyemura

Backyard Grilling with Rob Uyemura

Another of the fun assignments I got to shoot last month was a quick portrait of Rob Uyemura for Sauce Magazine. Rob is the executive chef at Yia Yia’s Eurobistro in Chesterfield. Rob reviewed several cookbooks about fresh-from-the-soil produce and the creative brief was for a portait of him cooking out of one of the cookbooks. According to Rob his kitchen wasn’t photo-ready, so I ended up shooting him in his backyard grilling up some lovely ribs and some really delicious looking produce that he’d just picked from his garden.

I love living downtown but I would kill for a garden. Growing up in PA, I always had access to fresh vegetables and fruits straight from my dad’s garden – nothing tastes quite like fresh picked corn, tomatoes and onions. Maybe I can talk my building into letting me put a garden on the roof deck that no one uses …

Jermain Todd, Owner of Mwanzi. Photograph by Jonathan Gayman

Jermain Todd

Recently I had the chance to meet local artisan Jermain Todd, who I photographed for Sauce magazine. Jermain owns Mwanzi, an eco-friendly design-build-supply firm. Among other things, Jermain makes really excellent furniture out of local wood, whether it’s reclaimed or trees he acquires from people around town who need to cut them down for whatever reason. You’ll be able to eat on some of his tables at the new Pi in the Mercantile Exchange downtown. I met up with Jermain at another small business, WunderWoods in St. Charles where he was going to pick up the wood for the Pi tables. Jermain is a cool guy, the type of guy you want making your furniture for you – the shoot was a lotta fun.

Maddie Earnest, Local Harvest

St. Louis Taste Makers

I have a fascination with the food culture, which is one of the reasons I jumped at the chance to photograph some of the influential people in the St. Louis food scene for a feature in Feast Magazine. As I mentioned in a previous post, one of the people that I photographed for this project was mayor of St. Louis, Francis G. Slay. I also photographed chefs, business owners, architects and sommeliers. I love doing studio portraiture, and this project ties right into my focus on the people who live, breathe, and eat the food industry.

Here are a few of the local food crew I photographed back in December.

You can read interviews of these and the other Tastemakers over at Feast Magazine’s website. Very interesting and well worth the read.

Catherine Neville

Catherine Neville, Publisher of Feast Magazine

If you’ve been following my blog for the last few months, you will have noticed that I’ve been doing a lot of work for Feast magazine here in St. Louis. Feast is one of two excellent food publications that I work with. As a photographer interested in food and food culture, I am lucky to live in a town that has a large enough food community to support all of the great writers, photographers and food lovers that contribute to these publications.

Another of the notable assignments I was given over the last few months was a portrait of Catherine Neville, publisher of Feast. Cat pens a “From the Publisher” column for each issue which is accompanied by a different photograph each month. Many publications use the same image for the editor or publisher each issue. New art each month adds a nice, fresh touch to the magazine. When the photographer who usually shoots the feature was had some scheduling conflicts, I was pleased and flattered when Feast hired me to fill in for a couple of Cat’s portraits.

Cat is a great subject to photograph. Despite her concerns about looking uncomfortable in front of the camera, I’ll be honest: it would be pretty difficult to make a bad photograph of her. Each month she either stands or sits in an interesting chair against a white seamless. The real challenge for this portrait was finding an appropriate chair for the sitting versions. As I’ve mentioned in the past, we don’t have a lot of furniture in the studio yet, and after trying a number of different chairs (including one I borrowed from the lobby of my building), Cat suggested that we try my psuedo-modern-wobbily-Ikea coffee table. It turned out to be a great idea. Beautiful!

I have been doing a lot of studio portraits lately (including an exciting project that I’m wrapping up this week) and have really been joying working with people again for a change. I love shooting food, but do you have any idea how hard it is to make a bowl of soup smile?

On Assignment: Mayor Francis G. Slay

When people ask me what I like about St. Louis, almost always the first thing that I mention is the awesome loft that Dr. Fiance and I were able to buy here. In New York, we had approximately 450 square feet in the East Village (which was the largest apartment that we’d ever had in NYC). Now we have a space considerably larger than that, and a significant part of that extra space is dedicated to my studio. I don’t operate a commercial studio at home, but the space is large enough that I can do a full seamless backdrop setup. This came in very handy last month when Feast magazine asked me to make a portrait of the mayor of St. Louis, Francis G. Slay.

I’m not going to lie, I was a bit nervous about this assignment, although not because it was to photograph the mayor. I am not a stranger to photographing influential public figures. I have photographed some heavy hitters over the years, including the mayor of another major city: in 2008 I made a portrait of Rudy Giuliani while a staff photographer in New York City. He was running for president at the time and it was quite an experience to be sure. But that was in a hotel conference room, not in my home studio!

In the end, when the Mayor Slay arrived my professional experience kicked in and I managed not to make a fool of myself (I think). In truth it was just like any other shoot, and once I got started I was able to concentrate on getting the shots that I needed for the assignment. Like most public figures, the mayor was used to having his photograph taken, and was a confident and cooperative subject.

Mayor Francis G. Slay of St. Louis

This was a great project to work on. I’m a big fan of the mayor, particularly his influence in the ongoing revitalization of downtown St. Louis. And interestingly, this project also tied in with my current focus on food and food culture because my photographs of Mayor Slay were used in Feast magazine as part of a feature called Tastemakers: Entrepreneurs Who Shape the Way You Eat. Great stuff!

Model Mania

Boy, do I need to work on my posing skillz. I was tossed into a studio with three lovely models last Thursday without any thought or prep and kind of panicked. “Yeah, um, well, oh wait, don’t move that looks great….beautiful…”

Sigh. After a while I got comfortable and was able to give some coherent instructions, but without having a goal in mind on the spur of the moment I feel like I should have had been able to do more. Considering that I almost never work with models in this capacity I assume that practice makes perfect. I have to say that working with models is excellent, and after working with real people all the time it’s nice for a change to shoot people who do this for a living and are able to give you something good, no matter how twitchy your instructions are.

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Model: Vanessa Rubio

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Model: Autumn Stein

I had a great time though, looking forward to more time in the studio. If you want to see more, I put all the images from that session on Flickr.

DIY Small Format Snoot – Silver Edition

As I’ve mentioned before, a large part of my job is to make portraits of executives at my firm. The new visual identity for the firm which was officially launched today calls for environmental-style portraits rather than studio shots. The more of these that I do, the more I realize how similar all the shots in our office is becoming. There are only so many straight portraits I can make in our building before they all start looking the same.

I had to make a portrait of a new executive last week, and since she was able to give me 45 minutes (as opposed to five or ten minutes) I took the opportunity to explore a few alternative options to the basic conference room table shot.

For one of the shots, I opted to experiment with my home-made snoot which I made a few weeks ago and haven’t had a chance to play with before. Rather than using and old cereal box (which has become the blog-favorite material) I chopped up a silver pocket folder from an old design job that I had laying around. I put the silver-side in, and then taped up the outside with gaffers tape to make it look pretty. Then I added an extra strip of tape to the top with a piece of velcro to hold it snugly onto my 580EXII. The added velcro turned out to be very usefl when I was moving the light around during the shoot -I never had to worry about the snoot sliding off even though it was angled down on the subject.

DIY-Silver-Snoot

Initially I thought that the silver would help intensify the light, which would in turn allow me to use a lower setting and increase my recycle time. This turned out to be true. However, I got an interesting added bonus to the silver interior: the light when absolutely bonkers inside the snoot and came bouncing out in a really cool pattern on the wall behind the subject. The main light targeted the subject’s face where I aimed it while the secondary light patterns coming from the reflected interior shown on the wall with less intensity around her.
DIY Snoot - Silver edition

I love the hard shadow behind her and then the softer light patterns all through the frame. You can see where the direct light is hitting on her face and shoulder and then the lighter reflections all around. All this from just one light on 1/4 power. Obviously, in a situation where it would be more critical to focus the light to a specific area, my silver snoot wouldn’t work as well, but in a case like this it added much more depth to the portrait.