Today was a weird day and I’m not quite sure what to make of it. I’ve been struggling lately with tapping into my creative center and finding purpose in my work. Not the first time, and not the end of the world either. But it’s tough when you are constantly trying to find and define your voice and more questions arise than answers.

I’ve found two solutions to this in the past. One is to pick up my camera and go. This turns on my eyes and allows me to see the world around me as the photographer I am, while turning off the doubts and ghosts in my head. The other solution is to immerse myself in some other art form, whether as a doer or as a viewer. This often is woodworking, or film, or painting, or books, or music.

Today, I did both. I grabbed my camera and headed out to Chop Suey Books in Carytown, and then the Virginia Museum of Fine Art. Not looking for anything in particular, just inspiration.

I found time as well to hit a local thrift store, which is something I enjoy doing. I usually peruse the many frames that are always there, with the department store art and scientific looking botanical prints. On this particular visit, I imagined what it would be like to see a piece of my work there. I turned the corner and saw on a shelf 10 small prints of mine, each hand signed, that I had printed, hand mounted and sent as a promotional piece to a few folks, don’t even remember to whom or how many. The box and packing materials were gone, and on the back of each was a sticker stating the price: 50 cents.img_20190131_122124158

My first reaction was sadness, that my hard work had ended up for sale second hand for a paltry sum. (To be clear, these prints were never intended to sell, but to promote larger prints of the work, already framed, for display and sale-the abstract image at the top of my blog is one of the series, as a matter of a fact.) But, then I imagined the vast amount of such artwork and promotions most of the folks that were likely on my mailing list receive, and how they have to manage that. I envisioned that person clearing their office, and deciding these had some measure of value. Not being able to bring themselves to throw the pieces in the trash, they donated them. And, hence they sit on a shelf in the For the Love of Jesus Thrift Store on Midlothian Turnpike and can be had for 50 cents each. Get ’em while they last!

I’d be interested in hearing others thoughts on what I should take away from this experience. Leave me a comment!img_20190131_122201914

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In a meeting earlier this week, I was asked about the process through which I create an image and how that often leads to multiple variations of that image. I think of it as building the final shot one block at a time. I move in small increments so that I can exercise greater control over the process, but am ever mindful of the final target. Because angle changes between subject and camera will alter the effect of the lighting, I tend to begin with composition and framing, and later move toward fine-tuning the lighting. Once all the stars begin to line up, it is imperative to make sure lights, table, camera stand, etc. are stable and not bumped, as different elements can be added, subtracted, or moved to create our variations later in post-production.

Take this photo, for instance, which is the initial “base” image. The basic set up is the bottle and glass, which, in itself, required several shots- with/without condensation, optimal lighting on the bottle, optimal lighting on the foam, optimal lighting through the beer in the glass and bottle.saxman160128_foodstudy-141 copy

Next, the cap on the surface created an element near the bottom of the frame, which helps add interest and weight there. Or, perhaps it is more interesting leaning against the glass?saxman160128_foodstudy-141b copy

Nice, but the cap did not make sense because the bottle still had a cap on it AND it was full of beer. So, what might explain that? A second beer bottle, opened, must be somewhere nearby- perhaps it is pouring into the glass?saxman160128_foodstudy-141e

That’s pretty cool, but it still seems bare at the bottom and in need of some “earthiness,” something that harkens to the organic nature of the product. How about some grains from the neighborhood brewing supply store…saxman160128_foodstudy-141f

Yeah, that softens up those hard lines on the right edge of the frame nicely. What else tells us about the product? Hops. Hops do…saxman160128_foodstudy-141g

Add a bit of contrast and burn the edges of the frame to help call attention to the product, and VOILA!

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So there you have a nice clean beverage shot that is really 6 shots which provide options and alternatives for the client. To work this way and build a photo from the ground up, it is necessary to enlist attention to detail and planning, be very careful around the camera and the set, and to be open to the possibilities that may arise in process. Send us an email, jeff@saxmanphoto.com, and let’s discuss how we can build an image for you!

All content is ©Jeff S. Saxman and any use without prior written permission is strictly prohibited. Thank you for respecting my work and my livelihood!

 

Spent some time in NYC over Thanksgiving. Took in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, in which my son, as a member of James Madison University’s Marching Royal Dukes, participated. It was cold, but I never seem to sit still for long in New York, so we managed to stay alive, with the help of bourbon-infused coffee and multiple coats.

_MG_4974_MG_5008It’s a great experience, running around that town, particularly during the holidays and particularly with the three people in the world that mean the most to me (you know who you are…). I’m not sure I could ever be in NYC long enough to lose the sense of awe I experience there. I feel small, but a part of a larger whole, a platelet coursing through the cross-street-veins and the avenue-arteries. The approach to the city, driving north on the NJ Turnpike, is deceiving- from the warm seat of my car, I can see, across Jersey City, both ends of that magnificent skyline, betraying the boundaries that seem impossible once you are buried in its core.

_MG_5059_MG_5084And, I must admit that I am THAT guy. You know, the one that stops in the middle of a busy sidewalk and gawks upward at the sky, endlessly pointing his camera to spires and antennae and penthouses, effectively wearing a sign that says in bold type, “I’M NOT FROM HERE. TAKE MY WALLET.” Except, I’m not sure I could help myself if I were from there. Just as I won’t ever stop marveling out the tiny window of an airplane at 35,000 feet, I can’t imagine the incredulity that hits me in NY could ever dissipate.

_MG_5030_MG_5065So, thanks, New York City, for a good time and thanks, native New Yorkers, for not taking my wallet. Hope to see you again soon.

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It is often interesting to provide a bit of “behind the scenes” insight into what it takes to successfully create imagery that satisfies the client’s needs, a peek behind the curtain, if you will. Recently, we were asked by Senior Living Executive Magazine to create imagery that spoke to the need to balance financial considerations with the necessities of work, food, and energy. The concept of a board on a fulcrum arose, with a symbol of finances on one side, and symbols of the other concerns, balanced precariously, on the other side.

We settled upon a pink piggy bank as a symbol of our monetary concerns. Unfortunately, the one piggy bank that could be found that matched our vision of its general shape also happened to be white in color and wearing both a tiara and a tutu.SAXMAN170914_Argentum-107

The tutu was not a big deal, as it simply pulled off, leaving a couple spots of adhesive that were easily removed digitally.

The tiara, being a part of the overall molded shape, presented more of a challenge. Not removable, it covered a large portion of the head and, at the angle we desired, obscured part of the rear ear. It was clearly necessary to find another portion of the pig that mimicked the shape in that area, photograph it cleanly in that position with that lighting, and then digitally combine with the original image. Rotating the pig so that the front ear was roughly in the position of the rear ear, and creating a source capture, did the trick.

The color shift was done simply by altering settings in Lightroom, masking the color to the perimeter of the pig, and applying to the final photo.PigProgressionx4

These techniques were tested prior to the actual shoot, and then repeated with the pig in the final file.

On the day of the shoot, other challenges awaited, primarily how to “balance” a collection of disparate items precariously, yet realistically. We knew that digital post-production would be necessary, but I wanted to minimize it and capture real shadows and overlap of items wherever possible. Therefore, I ruled out shooting each item independently and simply cutting them together, as that would look “fake.”

I decided to try to combine as many items as I could into one shot, using clamps, wire, gaffers tape, pins…whatever it took to get things together realistically. Real balancing was out of the question, but I knew the support system placed strategically behind the objects could be digitally removed. This was difficult enough, but it also needed to be accomplished with a pleasing composition that fit the client’s design requirements for cover text and masthead.

I had imagined being able to bring 3 or 4 items together at a time and that ultimately we’d have to composite 3 or 4 separate images to create the final file. As it was being built, however, it became evident that it was not only possible to get all the objects together, but preferable, as it would ensure our composition was balanced (pun intended) and fit within the confines of the art director’s layout.SAXMAN170915_Argentum-143

The support system had to be secure enough to allow multiple exposures to be made, as many of the items required slightly different, or specific, lighting. Needless to say, great care needed to be taken around the set, as any bump of the table, any props, camera, or a light stand might send us back to the beginning of the process. After completion of the arrangement, a creative decision was made to swap the butternut squash with a spaghetti squash, so the stability of the contraption proved essential when doing this.4SourceShots

A few extra odds and ends needed to be shot as well, such as source to cover the unfinished end of the plank everything was balanced on, and the replacement of the fulcrum with a large wooden dowel that better fit the color scheme. And, of course, the pig rotated so that the tiara could be replaced.2FinalSource

And the final result…FinalX2As always, all images are copyrighted and any use without prior expressed written consent is prohibited. I appreciate your respecting my work and livelihood!

Please see more interesting images at saxmanphoto.com.

I had the good fortune to be invited to a friend’s house on the Rappahannock River this past weekend, just near where it feeds the Chesapeake Bay. It’s a beautiful area full of wildlife and scenic vistas everywhere you look. On an average weekend, it is a wonderful place to be, but this weekend we were treated to a particularly fascinating show. Throughout the day Saturday, multiple rain storms rolled through in dramatic fashion, only to yield once again to clear blue skies and sunshine. Clouds on the horizon during our sunset spin in the boat were tall and strong and filled with lightning.

My thanks to the generosity of friends. This was a welcome and much needed time in a sacred place.

Weekend on the Rappahannock River, White Stone, VirginiaSAXMAN180623-7385SAXMAN180623-7470

If this past Saturday in DC was gloomy, chilly and damp, sunrise on Sunday brought the opposite: blue skies, sunshine and (nearly) seasonal temperatures. Our plan had been to roll out of town in the morning, but we couldn’t resist the opportunity to check out the Cherry Blossom Festival on what was likely to be the absolute peak day. So, once again, we put on our walkin’ shoes and climbed aboard the Metro.

Like the day before, I found myself focused on people watching, but it was even better. So many cameras! So many selfies! So many smiles and poses and serious photographers!

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My wife and I spent the past weekend in Washington DC, enjoying the sights with our son and his girlfriend. I hesitated bringing a camera because of the added responsibility it requires and the prospect, as we are running from museum to museum, of merely capturing what has been captured countless times already. Plus the weather was not looking to be very cooperative. But at the last minute I decided to grab my 5D MKII, sans bag, with just a single prime lens (Canon L Series 100mm Macro– love it!). I figured I’d stuff it in my jacket if the weather turned wet.

Our itinerary for Saturday included the National Portrait Gallery, where I expected to take somewhere around zero photos. However, as we walked the gallery my attention was drawn toward not just the artwork, but the interaction between the gallery-goers and the artwork. It was, at times, intimate, as if I were invading a private conversation between a former president and an art lover. Other times, it called to mind the cult of personality, and the attendees were merely subjects of the larger than life representations. From Washington‘s grandeur to Lincoln‘s indifference at having his photo taken; from James Buchanan‘s stern admonition to John Adams‘ secret; From Chester A. Arthur‘s attentive listening skills to Obama‘s calm in the space between the adoring crowd and his life’s foliage, it was an interesting and challenging approach to recording my time there.

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