I tried to cut this down to 10, but I really couldn’t. So if you only want to see 10, skip to number 5 you will not see the first four. 😉
We are into the new year and I’m sure I’m not supposed to be looking back now. I probably missed that window as far as YouTube and marketing strategies go. But, I do think that it is really important to look back on your own work. I think that as photographers, we so often are always looking for outward influences that we forget what makes us, us. I was looking back deeeeeeep into my Instagram feed. While doing that, there were a lot of photos in there that I cringe to think that I thought was publishable (side note, there is something pure about old IGs, back when we all were posting what were doing right then, not trying so hard to have perfect feeds all the time). But, while looking through those, I saw a lot of photos that I had forgotten and plenty that I saw thinking, hey I kinda like that. There are so many photos we take that we don’t realize that they mean in the moment. Sometimes the subject changes it’s relationship to you. Someone is in a photo that you didn’t know well, but now are close. Or there is some hint of a photographic idea there that now has blossomed into a big part of your work. It is good to go back and be inspired by yourself. You are the photographer you are today because you took those photos. Most aren’t perfect, but reminding yourself of the steps you took and being inspired by your own work is a really important step.
So, with these 14 photos, I am going to quickly tell about the image, but I am going to spend the bulk of the time with each image talking about what in that photo I want to take and keep as a part of the current trajectory of my photographic journey. I do want to note that I’m not going to include any images from my recent trips to Nepal or Bali and Singapore. I think that both of those will get their own videos, but I just don’t feel like I’m ready to dive into them yet.
This photo was taken in the central Andes of Ecuador. Actually, the first 4 images were all made in Ecuador while working for Heifer International. For this image, we were following a member of the local co-op as she went out to harvest fodder for her sheep and alpacas. She was a character and we had been laughing with her all afternoon. I was taking photos as she cut this straw, and then slid in right as she hoisted it onto her back. Right before she stood up (which is not very high because she was well less than 5 ft tall), she looked at me and gave me this laugh of “I can’t believe you’re here dude.” It was a laugh that was at herself of “this is just a normal day, I can’t believe you care.” and also “you silly skinny tall guy. I can’t believe you’re here in my field.” None of those were malice, but just a laugh with the oddity that this moment held.
In that, what I want to take away is that desire to get into the lives of people. It takes time. It takes honesty and it takes openness from both sides. It takes respect. But, that built trust opens doors to angles or smiles that you wouldn’t see otherwise.
After being in the Andes for a few days, we went to the Amazon of Ecuador to photograph cocoa farmers. I love this photo because of the color, and the way that the bright fruit pulls your eyes into her as she cuts down the pods. Also, I really had a wonderful time talking to her. Her name is Digna and she also has a daughter named “Lena.” She called her daughter “Mi pequeño terrimoto” or “my little earthquake.” So when my Lena is going nuts, I can’t help but think of this one.
My take away from this image is the subject amidst the chaos. This is a way of thinking that I am working really hard to embrace in my work right now. It is a way to find clean lines and ways of guiding the photo viewer through a whole story and into the subject of the photo.
As we were still in the Amazon, we followed another Heifer participant out into the jungle to harvest yucca plants. It was an ominous day as we headed out and we really should have been prepared (2 of my cameras stopped working after the rainstorm). But, I was following Magola as she first walked through a cornfield and then out into this sea of deep green.
If it isn’t obvious, the thing I want to take from this is simplicity and isolation of your subject. This is kinda the exact opposite of the last photo. What I think makes this photo is that this woman wearing red is standing in the middle of the greenest greens you’ve ever seen. She naturally just pops off the page and you know what this image is about. I want to be inspired to continue to make it easy for everyone to know the image and then in time, discover the other details there are to see.
This is my favorite portrait from Ecuador. Rosa was a character. We made a video for Heifer hasn’t been released yet where she explains how to process chocolate. She was just a character, but also has a really hard background. She was open and honest throughout the process, being one of the first people who have ever trusted me enough to cry while I was videoing them.
So, what I want to take away is the abilty to photograph strength. It isn’t that this is a film photo. It isn’t that the colors pop. It isn’t the sunset light. It’s the strength that she exudes. I know that so many people have strenght like that and I’ve made few photos that better encapsulate it.
So, you knew that we were going to get some baby Lena photos in here, right? I mean, come on. I’m a dad talking about my favorite photos of the year. Duh. We were headed home from a camping trip in the van and were waiting to take the ferry across the Puget Sound. As we were sitting there, Lena climbed up on my lap and started to pretend to drive. I guess I didn’t take this photo. So it probably shouldn’t count. Oops. Whatever, it’s still a favorite and pure joy.
I love this photo because I think it’s their relationship and wedding day all wrapped up in one photo. For Kendra and Grayson, their dog Mosbey is their world. He is the derpiest Bernese Mountain Dog ever but is so cuddly. So, I was framing up this photo of Kendra and Mosbey looked and swung his big tongue straight into the frame. It was just too perfect.
My takeaway here is simply to remember that the better you know your subjects, the better you know how to make images that pull their world together.
This is a photo of Jim and Linda hunt. They are both really inspirational people in my life. Jim was one of my professors that took me to Central America in college, a study abroad tour that changed my life. Together they started and Linda ran a non-profit that supported me while I was living in Peru. At the time of this photo, Linda had stage 4 cancer and it wasn’t looking good. I wanted to make a few portraits of her and of them together as a thank you for their impact on my life. Luckily, she is doing better, so this isn’t a memorial photo or anything.
The takeaway, take good photos of the people who matter to you. It might be awkward. Film might be expensive. But, there is nothing better than having images full of heart and connection that will actually last.
In the middle of summer, I went down to Sisters, in central Oregon for a wedding. After the ceremony, we headed out into a grove of pines in the high desert to make photos. I just love this sequence so much. It is weird. It looks different than a lot of the other photos from the day. But I wanted a photo that represented the fact that a wedding day is a coming together moment in a long journey.
My take away is to think outside the box. I am a really good reactionary photographer but I’m not a very good conceptual one. I’m always blown away by the inspired work I see everywhere and the way emotion is created, rather than sought out. I just want to tap into that more.
For an engagement session with Chen and Felicia, we hiked 20 miles into The Enchantments. This was one of the last photos we took on the day while they were still dressed up. We were beat. We were dirty. But, I love how this came together. They first took a dorky photo of them flexing. But, then I told them to kiss. Chen dropped his arms, but Felicia kept hers up. It was too perfect.
Take away, do hard stuff and keep trying things. You might be tired. You might be out of ideas, but just try to keep going for one more step. Also, know when you did it because you don’t want to drive people crazy and you need to stop sometime. This was the last image in that set and then we headed home.
We were in New York photographing the wedding of an old friend. She had been a Young Adult Volunteer (if you’ve never heard of it, it’s kinda like the Peace Corps but through the national Presbyterian Church) in Guatemala at the same time I was in Peru. We’d stayed in touch over the years and it was an honor to be asked to photograph their day. With that, she was also able to invite her host mom to the wedding.
The take away is that the best photos aren’t always the most important. I think Benj Hasich has the quote that “the most important photos aren’t the most epic and the most epic photos aren’t the most important.” (or something, sorry if I’m butchering it). But, I love this moment. They were crying. It was beautiful. It made me wish that I could have invited my Peruvian family to my wedding. It’s a moment of connection and love that bridges cultures, but it’s also just a photo of two women hugging. I guess, it’s important to know how to make it more.
I loved every minute of this engagement session. From when we piled into their Honda Element until late at night as we sat on the tailgate, drinking beer and talking about life. It was a day that showed me so much about how April and Jenny love each other and the way to best photograph that, both in their engagement and for the wedding photos too.
Take away, get to know people and how to get out of the way of expressing their own love for each other.
Is adventure maternity photos a thing? Well, it should be now. I love this photo because it’s a successful experiment. Don’t get me wrong, I took a lot of normal digital images here too. (here is a few examples) But this one is done on very expired film and developed in my kitchen. I love how I had to overexpose the old film by giving it a slow shutter speed. That allowed for the motion in Alicia’s dress that I wouldn’t captured otherwise.
The takeaway is get the shot, but never be afraid or too cheap to try new stuff. Because sometimes it fails and you still have the stuff you know you got. But sometimes it breaks the mold. You might not know what to do with it once the mold is broken, but it opens your creative eye to a new corner of what is possible.
The big take away from this one is to remember to do your homework. I konw, I’m not supposed to start with the takeaway, but let me explain this photo and then it should make more sense. David and Michelle and I had planned to photograph them amongst larch trees in the North Cascades once they were orange. We had a pretty small window with our schedules on what was possible. And then it snowed and we couldn’t do the sunset option we had originally planned. I had done this particular hike in the past and using GPS was able to figure out exactly how far and how much vertical gain it was to this particular point that would have the sun rising behind them. Sunrise was at 7 am and it should be about 2 hours of hiking. So, that means starting the hike at 5. And, since the parking lot was 2:45 away from Seattle, with a little buffer time to tie shoes, that meant we needed to be meeting in my driveway at 2 am.
Here is the thing about doing your homework, when you do it right, sometimes you’re really rewarded. As we were hiking up, we could see that the sky above us had clouded over with clouds coming from west heading east. We could see this shrinking line of open sky to the east where the sun was to come up. There was some pretty colors, but once the sun crested the peaks, we had about 10 minutes to make photos before it disappeared up into the gray. But, because we had done the homework, this happened. Oh, and I made this photo on film too, so bonus awesome.
You didn’t think I was going to only have one Lena photo in here, did you? On this last one, it’s one of my favorites of the year just because it’s so her. She is lively. She makes me laugh. She is a character and is always exploring. I love this photo because it shows so much of that off.
So, the takeaway is to take film photos of your kids. I say film in specific because I take photos of Lena all the time. But, I love that I A) can’t look at them right away and B) won’t take too many. Both of these help me make a photo and put the camera down to keep living life with her. I can’t quickly edit it and then throw it up on her IG. I can’t keep trying to get it right. It just happened and we move on. That definitely means that I have hundreds of garbage film photos of her. But, the ones that I love, I really feel will help me remember who my daughter is now.
Anyway, I’m going to end this quickly because I can’t imagine anyone is still watching. I promise the next one won’t be so long.