Shoot for the Moon

April 5, 2012 

Stop me if you've heard this one.

I'm bad at portraits. Blah blah blah. I'm working on improving my portraiture. Add asinine alliteration and assonance before promising to avoid the same mistakes.

OK, maybe my schtick is getting tiresome after 3 1/2 years, but such are the constant neuroses of creative types. If I'm not constantly setting new goals and learning on the job, what's the point, right? Luckily this job affords a lot of revisits, if not mulligans.

Through the lottery of schedule rotations though, some assignment types come rarely, and my chances to photograph bands and musicians have been sparse.

Sears-portrait-studio-type shoots of 45th Parallel and bagpiper Jarrett Rice for the Desert Thistle Pipe Band were a couple of early boring forays:

My New Year's Eve concepts were better, if not a bit obvious, for photos of Elm & Olympia,

but they're lacking in execution. The fake champagne spray is poorly composed and not sharp, while the inside shot could have used more logistics planning to get the confetti really flying. That was back in December 2010, and unless I'm forgetting something, that was my last band for Atomictown in more than a year.

Then a few weeks ago, I had a chance to photograph Ghost Animals. The local guys had talked their way into opening for their idols, Foxy Shazam and were going on the cover of our weekly entertainment section. I called up guitarist Tarik Merzouk to come up with location ideas and was happy that he had no interest in perpetuating bad band backgrounds.

I picked out a then-dry spot in a Finley canal. The location was fun to navigate,

and we started with this setup:

Some wind is good for dramatic effect, but high winds coupled with dry sand makes for squinty expressions — a detail I should have been paying more attention to while checking the back of my camera. We stepped down for another shot, which ended up on the cover:

It too suffers from a bit of squint and I should have had somebody on the right doing something else to help balance the frame a bit.

About a week later, I met up with 17-year-old country singer and songwriter Cale Moon at his Benton City home. I wanted to do a shot outside despite the high wind and he mentioned his 1981 Ford F-250. It had a well-worn aesthetic and its size helped show Cale's age visually, so I asked his mom Heidi to park it in a way I could use Red Mountain as the background:

The first pose looked like it was pretty uncomfortable for him,

and we settled in on versions of the same setup:

The last one ended up being the cover shot after second and third looks at its predecessor started to bug me. I like his expression and tighter framing in that shot, but the RV poking out of him killed it for me.

Then I turned his bedroom into a studio,

getting a couple shots that had some nice bedroom elements, but were a little cheesy,

before going with this shot to accompany the story inside:

I thought the shots turned out pretty well, but I decided to try something new, just to make sure I could screw something up. Inspired by Johnny Andrews' clever video of Erin Bode for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Listen videos, I wanted to try a simple, one-take video of Cale performing "The Best of Friends":

His dad Nathan set up their sound board and I plugged our audio recorder in to get some better audio than the on-board mic of the Canon 7D could gather and tried to move around smoothly while focusing on different parts of Cale and his room. There are definitely a few janky parts — like when I tried to zoom in against the wishes of the sticky zoom ring of my 24-70/2.8 at about the 1:11 mark.

I hope it's fun to watch and listen to, and offers a glimpse into his personality and family life. The best part was having a new skill to focus on polishing. In our second iteration of Tri-City Herald video, I'm resisting the urge to do basic boring newspaper videos — shot and loosely edited in the mold of an extremely low-budget television news package. I want to see video used in a way that video makes sense, offering a storytelling angle that still photos and words cannot.

I can't wait til the next band story to try and come up with something a little more creative, and while I can see the learning curve that rises ahead, I'm excited for the challenge.

Until then, you'll just have to read about my typical adventures on the job.

For perhaps the steepest and most expensive learning curve of all...

Check out Silver & Light, a wonderful video about photographer Ian Ruhter's quest to create truly one-of-a-kind photographs. And if you think film is expensive caress your wallet gently and offer soothing words when you realize that each photo Ian makes, successful or not, costs him $500.

Other northwest photojournalists should check out NW Photojournalism's April 12 meeting, which calls for show-and-tell of your greatest photographic failures. Sadly, like all their Thursday meetings, I can't make it over to the wet side for this one either. That's probably for the best since I have so many whoopsidaisies to choose from.

Chip Litherland did the exact opposite of failing to utilize the incredible access he got at a Miami Heat game. I bought one of his old cameras a while back, but I can't seem to make pictures as good as him. I'm guessing it was damaged in shipping.

Wired's RAW File has a cool feature on a small Jasper, Ind.-based paper's commitment to strong photo documentary work.

And for this week's brain melter, check out this artistic collaboration between JR and Liu Bolin. Don't know who they are? Just click the link. I can't sum it up without totally ripping off what Petapixel has on the article.

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