5 FAVORITES OF 2015 | Happy New Year

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It was a year of growth and facing fears for me. Putting myself out in the world creatively, with a new focus and learning to run a business (that helps me eat and actually pay bills) was scary. When you do that as a creative business person, you are met with a lot of questions and it's difficult to stand by your choices. We all think we want to be successful, but I realized that success is actually the thing that frightens me the most. Standing behind your work and your vision is challenging, and learning to be artistic but still smart financially with your choices is a lesson in and of itself. Then there is just the part where you want to become a better photographer and continue to grow in your craft, but (oh ya!) there are invoices to manage and emails to keep up on and packages to mail and it is often hard to find the time for that kind of creative growth in the midst of your to-do list.

With all that in mind, I wanted to celebrate the things (dare I say it) I got right in 2015 (trust me, there were many fumblings on my way there). Below is a collection of my favorite (and strongest) images from 2015. I'll briefly pull them apart technically and share any stories that came with them. If you are a photographer learning like me, and find it helpful, man...that's a major bonus. Otherwise, enjoy!

*All film scans by PhotoVision, all pre-sets by Mastin Labs.

# 1 - THE HAT THAT GAVE BACK

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Mamiya 645AF  |  80mm Lens  |  1/700 at F/2.8  |  Fuji400H Film

You may remember my other post about this portrait session in harsh mid-day light. I seem to have made a habit of shooting at the "wrong" time of day this year, even in personal work when I had full control. I've decided there is no "wrong" time of day, and the more difficult the lighting scenario, the stronger a shooter I become. I used the large floppy hat we had with us to shade my client's face, and put her back to the sun. I always shoot at F/2.8 on my Mamiya 645AF (a medium format film camera) when shooting individual, up-close portraits and details. I exposed for the shadows in the image, which if you can even believe was 1/700 of a second 2 stops over-exposed (that's how bright it was), which gave the image a gorgeous luminous quality. It was extra windy that day and so I made myself a human tripod planting myself firmly in the sand. Film images tend to be more soft than digital and I wanted my focus point to be tac-sharp. With this in mind, I carefully, manually, focused on Debbie's gorgeous closed eye-lid and shot away. Taking some time to create this moment, considering how the harsh light could work in my favor, and using tricks to soften the light around us....created one of my favorite images of 2015. I love how enveloped she is by the golden light, you'd never know this was high-noon.

#2 - THE CUTEST KID EVER

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Canon 5D Mark III  |  50mm Lens  |  ISO 400 at 1/200 F/1.8  |  Fuji Pre-Set + My Edits

Sometimes when I get home and process my images after a family session, I don't even remember taking half of them. In order to capture the special moments that happen rapid-fire, I tend to go into a hyper focused "jedi-like" state. Parents tend to want their kids to look at the camera and smile, and I always provide these images for them of course. However, the ones they wind up LOVING are the more real, candid moments. Sometimes though, kids need a little coaching to do the things I notice them doing off-camera. This little guy was smiling for the camera like a champ, but it all felt a little forced. So I had him jump up and down as fast as he could to get his wiggles out, and then take a deep breath and cover his mouth, and then let it all out in a big "huff." I was ready with my camera, down at his eye level, to grab the shot. I was blessed with plenty of soft morning light and open shade so I had no other technical issues to consider besides composition and focus (always focus on the eyes). He sweetly and authentically did exactly what I asked, with his parents giggling and enjoying the moment right behind me (providing that sparkle in his eye). We found ourselves with a coached moment, that became real and resonated with his personality, that his parents and family friends wound up loving.

#3 - BILLOWS AND WIND

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Mamiya 645AF  |  80mm Lens  |  1/125 at F/2.8  |  Fuji400H Film

I had been worried about the harsh sun at Smith Rock all day, as hair and make-up was only available mid-afternoon. In order to keep our model's hair and lashes in place, we had to shoot earlier in the afternoon than I would have liked. However, the wild-fire smoke that had settled in the sky from miles away created a fog-like filter than enabled me to shoot in a mysterious style of light I doubt I'll ever experience again. This shot was extra special to me because I had sketched it out and kept it on my mind, but knew I'd need to wait for the perfect moment to capture it. I waited for the sun to get low enough that I could place just a bit of light flare behind Montana's head. I asked her to look to her side and close her eyes, to show off her unique and dynamic profile. I wanted this shot to feel like the renaissance or Botticelli, between the light and Montana's lovely features. Right when I asked her to look to the side, the wind picked up creating gorgeous movement...and I was ready for it. I exposed for the shadows to create a light and airy look, letting my camera focus on her dress moving in the center rather than her face. The result was exactly what I had envisioned...which was very fulfilling since I'd been dreaming of the shot for weeks.

#4 - EXCITEMENT + LOVE + BEYONCÉ

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Canon 5D Mark III   |   35mm Lens   |    ISO 400 at 1/1250 F/5.6   |   Kodak Portra Pre-Set

It's probably not hard to see why I love this image, there is so much love and excitement and real joy in this shot. Here's the funny part : I have no memory of taking it. Much like family sessions, weddings can become a blur. You are working in overdrive and your senses are aware of everything as you try and be creative, consistent, but technically sound...while still being charming, fun and encouraging for your clients and their family. It's a tall order, but one I really love being able to deliver on if I can. This image is a step outside my style. I rarely shoot horizontals unless I have to, I rarely shoot with my 35mm and I NEVER shoot at F/5.6...I mean never. However this moment was happening fast! I was standing near the front left-hand side of the ceremony shooting when I started to hear the phrase "I now pronounce you...", which meant I needed to book it to the aisle! Before I knew it, Beyoncé was playing and the bride and groom were dancing their way down the aisle. I remember grabbing my 35mm as I ran (knowing I'd need a wide lens by the time I reached them) -- and I don't remember anything else. I got the shot, and that's all that matters. This image taught me that stepping out of your comfort zone with lenses and style can result in images that you adore, and your clients love even more!

#5 - ALL IS QUIET 

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Mamiya 645AF  |  80mm Lens  |  1/60 at F/2.8  |  Fuji400H Film

This little pony is my heart. I will remember it's warm eyes and gentle gaze my whole life. My husband and I arrived in Iceland after an amazing road trip through Europe. We had a fantastic time and loved every minute, but it was hard on me physically. Due to some struggles earlier in my 20's, my body gets tired pretty easy and in many ways, I'm physically older than I ought to be at just 32. I became really sick on the plane. I was in a lot of pain and I felt guilty about it...I felt so tired. We arrived at our Airbnb to a warm welcome from Dagmar, our gracious host who offered me tea. A huge storm rolled in and we were forced to stay in for some much needed rest. A couple days later, I bundled up and went out in the storm to photograph the sweet ponies wandering Dagmar's property. One pony came up to me and looked right into my camera. I didn't have to call her, I didn't have to wait. She just walked right up to me in the wind and stared into my lens and didn't stop. As I looked back at her through the glass I felt like she was saying "It's going to be okay." I planted my feet firmly on the ground amidst the wind and shot in the sweet spot that I love, 1/60 of a second at F/2.8. This will forever be in my top 5 images. Forever.

I don't know what the New Year holds for you, but I hope that whatever lessons you learned and challenges you faced in 2015, that you emerge stronger and wiser for it. Life is beautiful and difficult...often painful. Yet, it's a perfect gift.

auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne....