Saturday, May 7, 2016

Mother's Day is Sacred, but Some of the Presents are Not

If I sound like I'm boasting, then that is just too bad, because I have the best Mom in the world. Some of you may try to disagree since you are fond of your own mothers (but you'd be wrong). Sorry.

One of my favorite photos of my Mom
Mother's Day is upon us and if you live 3 states and 10 hours away like I do, then celebrating the holiday in person can be a challenge. And let's be honest, almost anything delivered by a stranger seems kinda impersonal.

Back in the old days, kids used to make treasures for their mothers at school. I am not sure that they do this anymore, but there's probably "an app for that", which will send a text to your Mom in emojis.

My Mom treasured our childhood creations beyond measure and perhaps even sanity. When we were moving my Mom into her new apartment I remember seeing a brown lump in her display case. I said "Mom, I hate to tell you this, but the cat got into your cabinet and made a #2 on shelf #3." Apparently, it was not the cat's creation but something that I made in kindergarten from clay. It was a dead ringer for a turd so the mistake was natural.

However, that was not the worst present that I ever made for her. At summer camp I found a twisted piece of wood and decided to carve an animal for her. After hours of whittling, my masterpiece of an elephant was complete. Years later she told me that her friends always got a chuckle from seeing the elephant that had a human phallus for a nose. I guess I put a bit too much detail into that part of the sculpture, but my Mom displayed it for years on the living room shelf. Talk about supporting the arts in the face of critics! Thanks Mom!

I think that Mother's Day is a great invention because ungrateful children might overlook the sacrifices that their mothers made for them. I'm not even talking about basket-ball sized bellies for 9 months or the thousands of diaper changes. It goes deeper than that because raising a child through adulthood is even harder than carrying a half-baked baby.

Mothers are the defenders, caretakers, teachers, nurturers, disciplinarians, moral compasses and role models for us growing up. Without a woman's more sensitive influence on our upbringing, we might still act like a bunch of knuckle-dragging Neanderthals.

Mothers turn us into better adults, or at least they try their hardest. No teacher, coach, boss or priest cares more about a child's happiness or success than a mother. I don't know the science behind this, but I have a feeling that it has something to do with protecting your own. I can prove this with the example that parents are willing to try a lot harder with their own kids than someone else's "brats". Don't say that out loud, but you might agree internally. Is that too honest? hmmm.....

I personally owe everything that I have to my parents. While I look like my father and have similar mannerisms, I owe just as much of my personality to my mother. I am not even sure that she knows how much she influenced me so I am going to set the record straight.

I have written over 500 blog articles for this blog, and my Watch Hunter blog and I inherited my love of the written word from my Mom. She is sharp as a tack and does not miss a beat. She can tell you a story in such great detail that you can skip the book and the movie too.

My mom brings people together always introducing people in a way that breaks down walls. Both my mother and father allowed all kinds of folks into our home at different occasions. They did not cast stones upon people who might be on hard times or had made mistakes in their lives. They did not see race or class as a barrier and interacted with everyone who visited with the same "make yourself at home" treatment. I try my hardest to follow their example.

I experienced compassion from my mother and learned what a powerful tool empathy could be. In fact, I have never met another like her who would go so far out on a limb to help. Even when that limb was cracking under the strain, she would keep pushing further out to save the other person.

A vivid memory comes to mind from my childhood. My Mom had befriended a coworker who became very ill, in fact, deathly so. For months she would visit him in the hospital when all of his friends and family had abandoned him. It was not a pleasant experience for her because this young man understandably went through all the stages of someone who is faced with his own mortality. He often took his rage, sorrow and manic energy out on her... the only person who gave a damn. It was the early 1980's and this new thing called AIDS was killing gay men in epidemic proportions.

My mother brought us children to the hospital one day to visit Kerry in the later stages of his disease. The skeleton before us with purple bruises all over his body was terrifying and pitiful to my young eyes. I witnessed the great sadness and caring for this stranger that my mother had. By example she showed that sacrificing time, effort and love can be more powerful medicine than what comes in a bottle. She showed that compassion is the medicine for the soul.

My Mom taught me how to laugh... and boy, do we have a good time. Because my father was such a wildcard with a bigger-than-life personality, the wit and cleverness of my Mom's funny bone was often overshadowed. I really don't think people know how hilarious she is. Perhaps, I think this because I can tell her brutally honest observations that I call "jokes" and she gets them, and then tells me that I am a bad boy... but still laughs. We have many for-your-ears-only inside jokes that I don't necessarily share with others... they would clog up their P.C. filters.

I think that I have just scratched the surface, but this is an article, not a book. Just take my word that my Mom, Carol Hughes, is an American original as great as blue jeans, apple pie and rock 'n roll. So, Mom, have a happy Mother's Day. The flowers in this article were stolen right from my own yard in Atlanta and are waiting for you to see them in person. These digital flowers will never fade and never need watering.

Escorting my Mom at a wedding. I think I might have feinted during the ceremony.... oops.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Headshot Portraits for an Atlanta Engineering Firm

Many of my clients are right in my own back yard. This is especially true with an engineering firm that is located just a mile from the studio. This certainly makes the drive shorter.

Every company has preferences for the types of head shot portraits that I shoot for them. I show examples of styles that I have used in the past and ask if they would like any of the styles that they see. This puts us on the same page so that there are no surprises. This corporation chose a gray background style that has a slight gradient. The lighting ratio on the face is fairly close so no heavy shadows here. 

I have made head shot portraits in just about any kind of corporate room you can imagine from a claustrophobic closet to a normal conference room to a gigantic warehouse space. I can set up a portable studio in the space reserved for me... even a front entrance.

I shoot photos tethered to a computer so that I can show the victim, err, I mean subject the images. This usually makes clients happy because they will not be surprised with a photo that they dislike. I can also give contextual feedback that help the subject improve their posture or smile. 

In the end, I provide finished photos at the ratio they need for their web site (4x5 or 4x6) and another 1x1 ratio portrait for social media sites like Linked-In that use square proportions.

 I am always thrilled to work with neighbors and this was no exception.I even got to meet the office mascot who was notoriously shy. One click of the shutter, and this guy bolted.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Mother and Daughter Photos in Virginia

I have known Susan and her mom, Becky for a very long time... maybe over 30 years. Susan was my sister's friend and I tried to keep those 2 out of trouble...let's just leave it at that.  Here is a photo of me and Susan in the 1980s. I had found a wig and was trying to do my best Bon Jovi impression.

Embarrassing? It was not as bad as my early 90's mullet.
The current Susan is to shown to the below, and I think she has aged pretty well.

I try to get back to Virginia a couple of times a year, and my mother asked me to take portraits of Susan and Becky when I was there. I was glad to do it so we met at a local park that I had not seen before. I never know what a new location will offer so I got there early to find the best spots available. Luckily, there was a grove of trees and covered picnic tables. It would have to do since the rest was soccer fields. You can kinda see the location behind us. The lovely lady next to me is my own Momma.

These were important photos to take because I knew how terrible a year Becky had endured with a cancer diagnosis and painful treatments. These were to celebrate the relationship that mother and daughter have. Even if they want to strangle each other at times, they still love each other greatly.

Becky is a trooper putting up with the stagnant stuffy Virginia heat for our photo session.

Yes, they ladies wanted to show off their cool sunglasses.

 The sun was certainly bright, but nobody melted.

I hope that these photos will bring them memories of good times.

Monday, April 18, 2016

A Halloween Wedding in the Theme of Pokémon

I know what you might be thinking? What in the world do costumes, Halloween, a wedding and a popular game named Pokémon have to do with the ceremony of matrimony? My answer is "who cares?".  I think that people should be able to do whatever floats their boat on their wedding day.

I had to research Pokémon and here is all you need to know from the Pokémon Wiki: "Pokémon is a multi-media franchise that's owned and developed by the major Japanese games manufacturer, Nintendo. It is second only to the company's Mario Brothers franchise in terms of profitability — making it the world's second most lucrative video game franchise. Pokémon gets its fan base hooked on creature collection — to complete what's called the Pokédex — in order to achieve various goals and to improve their combat abilities. The franchise exists as several video games, a trading card game, televised anime, manga, and theatrical films."

Pokémon Characters
A corporate client of mine asked if I was interested in shooting her son's wedding and then told me about the theme of the event. I actually looked at the calendar to make sure that April Fool's Day had not snuck up on me.  She was dead serious though so I told her that I would get back to her with an answer.

You see, I gave up shooting weddings a while back. I tell people that they are like surviving a 10 hour battle without food, water and with dwindling ammunition. My opinion is that wedding photography is some of the most demanding shooting (outside of a war zone). The pressure is high to get the photos and you do not get a second chance. You have to be on your game and stay there. God help you if anything goes wrong like your bride eating a handful of Xanax and washing it down with a couple of bottles of wine. That is a true story and the reason I got out of weddings. No thank you.

Regardless of my self-imposed wedding retirement, this was one of my favorite clients, and she needed a favor. I decided to help her and see what kind of wackiness might transpire given the ingredients that she described to me over the phone.

The location was going to be a driveway at her home and it was going to happen on Halloween day. I have shot weddings in driveways before. It can be a challenge to make it look like the wedding is not happening where you park your cars at night. Luckily, there was a valley of Fall foliage behind the chosen location, which is better than seeing neighbors' houses.

The other issue was the time of day. It was going to be at 1 o'clock when the sun can potentially be harsh and unflattering causing deep shadows and contrasty images. Of course, there are ways to counteract this, but it gets more difficult in a fluid situation and a wedding party of 14 people. On the day of the event, the wedding gods blessed me with diffused cloud cover, which is like using a giant overhead soft box... in layman terms, perfect lighting for weddings.

We decided to make the group photos before the event to get them out of the way. I think this is great because it is time to party after the ceremony. I generally don't think guests like waiting around while the wedding party is being photographed so this solves that issue immediately.

Here are the ladies. I should point out that the clothes they wore were "inspired by Pokémon", not actual character costumes. This is provides more variety and room for personalization than the matching uniforms that many wedding parties wear. 

Here are the men. These guys cracked me up. The big hands are obvious but did you notice the medieval style cod piece? It's there and I cannot show the other photos... ha ha.

I used my trusty Einstein flashes and a giant umbrella to push fill light into the portraits. Technically, I was shooting into the sun so I was lighting the shadows to make them more even with the lighter background.

 The setting was a tiny nook in the front yard. I tried to create the illusion that we were  not surrounded by houses and cars. I am not showing the other groups I photographed, but there were many.

The procession to the ceremony was a great time to grab less formal photos of the wedding party.

The flower girl was dressed as Pikachu, the most famous Pokémon character.

The ceremony was short and sweet. The couple read a passage from a favorite book that was beautiful. It was all over in a flash.

Afterwards, guests moved inside for cake and food. If the front yard was tight, inside was even tighter once  each room was filled wall to wall with people.

I grabbed the couple for a few more outdoor photos when they were not tending to their guests. These ended up being my favorite photos.

Because they were in untraditional wedding attire, I approached their portraits as character studies.

That took the portraits out of the context of a wedding and to me become more mysterious. 

They defy explanation and I like that about them. The world needs more mystery in it and I hope people wonder "what is the story here?"

I enjoyed meeting the wedding couple and their friends. They were some of the coolest young people that I have met who marched to the beat of their own drums. That individuality in itself should be  celebrated in our homogenized world. This is one wedding that the participants nor I will forget.

And, just to see how many themes we could stuff into one wedding, we got light saber photos. This ended up being the coolest theme wedding that I have shot to date. I wish Harry and Devon a long happy life together.