Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Breakfast with the Grinch at Melia Atlanta Hotel

I have been photographing some interesting events during this holiday season. One of the more unique photo sessions happened on the top floor of the Melia Atlanta hotel. Their event room has incredible views of downtown Atlanta. Several of the patrons watched a holiday parade from this bird's eye view.

Photo by Melissa Witcher
The guest of honor was none other than the "Grinch Who Stole Christmas" fresh from his musical play at the Fabulous Fox Theater. I did not see the play, but I can tell you that the stage makeup for the green meanie looks like it took several hours and a few assistants to put on.

I might have accidentally let that slip in front of a child who did not know who was coming to breakfast. I guess I let the Cat out of the Hat. I had figured that most parents would have warned their children that they would soon be seeing a 6 foot tall green hairy monster. I am just glad that the Grinch does not hide in my bedroom closet at night because I might not be able to get to sleep.

To everyone's delight, the Grinch was a complete sweetheart. He knew which children to tease and which ones to be gentle with. I was very impressed that he could read the moods of children that quickly. Not only that, the actor was a man of 1,000 faces and could change his expression and body language in an instant. No two pictures of him were alike. This guy was good.

After visiting with every family, it was time to take portraits with the Grinch. This was the main reason that I was hired. The goal was to take photos of guests with the Grinch and print them on the spot as a memento with a a graphic overlay as seen below.

The whole process from start to finish had to be completed in about an hour before the guests left. That was pretty ambitious considering that each photo had to be combined with the graphics and printed which takes about a minute each. I shot over 40 different groupings that had to be printed so there was not much room for error. Everything had to run smoothly, and luckily it did.

To ensure success, I had set up the portrait area an hour before the event. Scouting an area and pre-staging are the most important insurances that a photographer can give himself. Surprises cost time and and unwelcome anxiety. I enlisted the help of my friends above to check everything.

At the time that I was going to take the photos, the morning sun was blasting through the windows making bright pools of intense light in the portrait area. I try avoid situations like this as much as possible when making these kinds of quick portraits. The fastest fix was to pull the curtains and add a flash to evenly light the scene from camera left. I have found that curtains are my best friends when trying to tame extreme latitudes in exposure.

The little girls pictured above had just given the Grinch a present and I think it touched his cold green heart... just like in the book. Just a few minutes before this, the Grinch was trying to get the girls to join him by stealing Christmas presents... that rascal!

Photo by Melissa Witcher
No Dr. Seuss-themed event would be complete without green eggs and ham and a huge bowlful was available on the buffet.... They were pretty good! The food at the Melia Atlanta Hotel is top notch.

A special "thank you" goes out to Melissa Witcher who helped me by taking candid photos and setting up the event. Check her photography out on her web site at www.melissawitcher.com.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

I Just Photographed the REAL Santa Claus!

I was hired to photograph a Christmas party where Santa was going to make a guest appearance. Being a big kid myself, I was excited to see who was going to walk through the front door, and I was not let down. Imagine the surprise a child might have being greeted by Santa Claus himself!

We have all seen actors that get picked to play Santa in holiday commercials. Some of them kind of look like famous St. Nick, but others just look like geriatric fat guys pulled out of a local BBQ joint. Not his Santa... he was impressively authentic.

I am here to tell all those other fake Santas to step aside, because I think that I finally met the real Santa. The only thing missing was the bag of toys and the reindeer which he could name in order. I could not.

This jolly old elf was not like those sidewalk Santas in their in their stuffed, poorly fitted red suits. This Santa had style and was dressed in such a way that he felt like a timeless character from a different century.

He had lace at his wrists, heavy leather boots and a twinkle in his eye letting everyone know that he was having a grand time talking to the children and adults alike. The beard was real and spectacular.

We were all put under his magical Christmas spell and there was no doubt that the real Santa had taken time off from his hectic pre-Christmas schedule to visit us. He was so good with the children, and their eyes were wide with wonder.

Everyone at the party took turns telling Santa what was on their list. I overheard everything from Legos and video games to new cars and fancy bottles of wine. How he can keep track of all of this is anybody's guess.

I can barely remember what my wife asked me to get at the store. I hope Santa has modernized his operation with computers and a database of who is "naughty and nice".

Some of the adults at the party were very naughty trying to get Santa to have a mixed drink. Don't they know what would happen if Santa got a DUI? Christmas would have to be canceled!

I printed the portraits on location so that everyone got a 4x6 picture souvenir. The rest of the photos went online so that parents could print or download them.

The last photo is a special thanks to the standing gentleman who was the father of Alicia, the hostess. He was gracious enough to be my Santa stand-in while I set up and tried different lights. He was a class act.

I think I saw him and Santa exchanging stories of Christmas past.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Photographing a Miniature Christmas City by Department 56

In preparation for photographing a Christmas party, I visited my client's home to check out the location in advance. I do this in case there are logistical issues that need to be solved before the day of the event.

There was a second reason for the visit which consisted of a room of highly collectable Department 56 porcelain buildings that had been arranged as a Christmas city.

The display spans over 25 years of collecting and many of the items are no longer available. It is difficult to explain the scope of the display and how detailed each building and figurine is.

My task was to photograph the display while maintaining the candle light charm of the city. It would not do any good to set up flashes that over power the ambiance of thousands of tiny lights. Each lamp in the display tended to illuminate the immediate surrounding areas in tiny pools of light... just like in real life. The Christmas tree in the background actually snowed... I know it's hard to believe... Just go with me on this...

Not knowing exactly how I was going to photograph this was part of the fun. I had several theoretical plans and told the clients, Bob and John, that I was going to experiment. In the scene below, I used a long exposure and a flashlight to light paint buildings.

To get the full size of the collection, I created a mosaic from 5 photographs combined later in Photoshop.

Bob and John have strong ties to New York City  (Bob's father was a NYC fireman) so it is fitting that my favorite photograph included the iconic Empire State Building. Rumor has it that a wedding will be happening soon for them in a hotel overlooking Times Square. Congratulations to them both.

By the time I was finished shooting the display, I felt like I had actually visited a real city by helicopter. Check out the rest of the Department 56 Christmas City Gallery.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Playing Catch Up With My Neglected Blog

I just checked and it has been almost half a year since I have regularly posted a blog article. A lot has happened since that time. Most of it has been very good, but there have been a few tragedies too.

Mainly, I have been burning the candle at both ends keeping up with a hectic and demanding freelance schedule. At times I felt like a juggler tossing knives and flaming torches... and luckily, nothing got dropped... except this blog and maybe cleaning the house on a regular basis.

Anyway, stay tuned in the coming weeks as I try to catch up with the backlog of articles and thanks for reading.

Photoshop Aging Tricks for Portraits

It is not often that my clients ask that I make them look old in a portrait. In fact, I often get the opposite request to make them look thinner, younger and more like Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie.

To illustrate a concept about the aging process during a PowerPoint presentation, the presenter planned to show a photo of what he looks like today and then magically, he would change before the audience's eyes. This was done by slowly morphing one photo into the other. The effect was 25 years of age added in 5 seconds... similar to the effects that many adults feel around screaming children (ha ha).

I did not have very long to produce the "aged" photo so I had to work quick and dirty in photoshop. I thought of all the old people that I have ever met and how time changed their faces. In Bill's case, I made him bald, gave him age spots, sagged some skin, deepened the sockets of his eyes and gave him long fluffy eyebrows. I had to show restraint because I wanted to keep my client's portrait looking professional... just more advanced in age as a stylish gent.

They liked the first aged portrait so much that they asked me to make a second one. In this case I enlarged the nose and ears which actually keep growing our entire lives. I had a lot of fun with this project because it was so opposite of any retouching request that I have ever gotten. See if you can count the differences before and after.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

New Banner Stands for Tradeshows by Presentech.com

Presentech's Tradeshow Product Offerings
As a graphic designer, I have worked with Presentech in Atlanta, Georgia for probably close to twenty years. As a service bureau, they are unmatched in the small and large format digital print services that they provide. The kind of trust that is built up by such a long relationship is not easy to find in today's "save a penny" internet world. If you have ever been let down by generic online sellers like I have, then you know how important it is to be able to talk to real people who can help with a rush project or product advice. They have always delivered which has gone a long way to build my own business.

The biggest difference between Presentech and other print related service bureaus, is that they do not wait to make improvements to their products and services. Any time I talk to them, they are expanding or improving upon the products and services they offer... the latest upgrade being in the highly competitive trade show banner stand category.

I should know because I update their web site and have the unique viewpoint of what goes on behind the scenes and also use them as a service provider. I see the products before they become available to the public. I have sold many of these banner stands to client who need something portable to catch attention at tradeshows.

Presentech's banner stands include the top of the line EXPOLINC banner stands, premium retractable banner stands, non retracting banner stands and value banner stands. I highly recommend their products and you should check out the Presentech web site if the need arises.