Dense Fog Advisory

•April 6, 2010 • Leave a Comment

“Dense Fog Advisory” would be a great name for a band. Or my memoirs.


Administrative Isues

•January 20, 2010 • Leave a Comment

If you were trying to reach and were sent here instead, welcome to my blog! Unfortunately, due to a billing error at my server company, my website is down temporarily. In the meantime please feel free to peruse my random thoughts on the contemporary and historical practices of art photography. As you’ll quickly be able to tell, I’ve been on an ebb tide lately, with no new post in nearly two months. Hopefully things will all be back to normal soon.

In the meantime, please consider making a donation to the relief efforts in Haiti. The easiest method is by texting “HAITI” to 90999. $10 is added to your regular cell phone bill to benefit the American Red Cross.

Zone Zero Friday 2009

•November 27, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Zone Zero: Pure black, as defined by the Ansel Adams Zone System

Black Friday: The day after Thanksgiving Day in the United States, one of the busiest shopping days of the year

Zone Zero Friday: A day to consider fine art photography-related purchases to use as holiday gifts

I was hoping this year’s post would be filled with some great offers submitted by users and announced by artists and galleries… not so much. The economy affects artists as much as anyone else, and there’s not much room to discount when it comes to these kinds of purchases. But I’m going to do my best to give a quick run-down of some budget-conscious photography-related gift ideas.

One discount that has been announced – and the source is appropriate, considering the Zone Zero reference – is from the Ansel Adams Gallery, offering 15% off any item purchased on November 27 – just use discount code AABlackFriday at checkout for your discount.

And since Brooks Jensen first suggested the Zone Zero Friday concept, I should mention some of the great products available from Lenswork. A subscription to either the print or extended versions of the magazine would be a great present for any photography enthusiast. Lenswork has also re-introduced their Folios with digital printing. Alumni Stu Levy and Jeff Curto, among others, have folios available at reduced prices right now. There are also some great holiday deals on back issues to complete your collection. Just click on the Holiday Specials page. And of course Brooks offers his folios and images from the recently-completed New 100 Prints Project.

A number of photography books have been introduced in the last year. I recommend you visit Photo-Eye to browse their great selection. Errata Editions has announced a second release of limited edition reprints.

For portfolios and prints, you can read my post from last year for online sources. But in light of current economic hardships, I really want to recommend that if you’re interested in purchasing artwork you visit your local gallery. There’s usually at least one art gallery even in the smallest of towns that will have work by local photographers for sale. This not only benefits the artist, it helps these great resources for local art and culture.

Finally, since there’s no advertising on this blog, once again I feel justified in reminding you that my own work is available for sale in a variety of formats. Just contact me – I’ll be running a number of different discounts over the holiday season and into the new year.

And one last idea. If you don’t like the idea of trying to choose a print or even a book for someone whose taste you might not be entirely familiar with – give them a gift certificate for a local portraitist. Everyone from Olan Mills to the highest-end portrait artist will sell you one, and a new family portrait will never go out of style as a treasured present.

A tip: If you’d like someone to consider a fine art photography gift for you this year, leave a comment with something you’d particularly enjoy – and then include a link to this post in your holiday wish list this year. Maybe someone will notice your request and give you something you really want this year.

Happy Thanksgiving

•November 26, 2009 • 2 Comments

I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted, but it’s been a trying month and neither writing nor photography have been foremost on my mind. But as difficult as things have been, I have plenty to be thankful for today – family, friends, health. I am thankful for Alyssa Stefanko, who was born to model Zak and his wife Jessica this past weekend. I am thankful that somehow I was able to pack and move a three-story house and I’m not paralyzed. I am thankful that despite all the issues those I love are dealing with, they are alive and healthy and have the wherewithal to deal.

I’m also thankful to you, dear blog readers. Since I backed off from commercial portrait work, my main artistic interaction has gone from my clients to you. So I’m excited to give you a couple of announcements that are targeted right at you.

First, you’ll notice something new on the sidebar over to the right. Above the twitter feed, there’s now a button you can click on to subscribe to my updates by email. If you’re not into that, remember that you can also get updates by subscribing in an RSS feeder, or by checking out my twitter feed, where new posts are always automatically announced.

Second, I am beginning work on a 2009 Annual Portfolio, which will showcase some of my work from the past year. I will be mailing these to a select group of clients, colleagues, friends, and family – but as a loyal blog reader, if you’re interested in receiving a copy, just let me know and I’ll hook you up.

Tonight I’ll be preparing my second annual Zone Zero Friday post, then getting an early night so that I can get out to the doorbuster sales. But first – food! And family, of course. Again, happy Thanksgiving to all.

Creating a Family Album

•October 25, 2009 • 1 Comment

As I’ve said before, my mother’s large family has been in an uproar the last few months in the lead-up to my grandmother’s ninetieth birthday. In the last post, I described the creation of the Family 2009 series, which was really just a starting point for a project I’ve mentioned before, a book I presented to my grandmother for her birthday. The idea was to have an individual portrait of every member of our family, from my grandfather down to my youngest cousin, accompanied by snapshots of each of them throughout their lives as well as other photographs meaningful to our family.

Since I know some of you might be interested in putting together a similar project, I’m going to give you the step-by-step of how I went about completing the album.


The first step was choosing a format, then adapting a layout to fit. I chose to have the final album printed as a 12″x12″ book, so the format was pretty easy to work with. The publisher I used offers a set of downloadable Photoshop templates for each format. This gave me a blank square file with guidelines already set up so that I could be sure any images would be within the printed area of the paper. Before I could lay out each of the pages, I had to think about how I wanted the album to flow. This was the general setup I came up with:

  • A title page with two horizontal portraits (one of my grandparents soon after their marriage, and one of them with their children after their children were adults but before grandchildren began arriving).
  • A spread with two vertical portraits on the left (each of my grandparents’ parents) and a comprehensive family tree on the right.
  • 18 spreads – one for each member of the family. On the left side, four snapshots meaningful to the subject; on the right, a single large vertical portrait.
  • After these spreads, a page with four portraits of my grandparents as a couple throughout their life.
  • Then three pages with 9 small square photos (laid out 3×3) of family life over the last 60 years.
  • The last page was a timeline of meaningful events in our family’s life: births, deaths, marriages, divorces, and important celebrations and other milestones.

Using this table of contents, I was able to design my individual page templates. I ended up designing six: two horizontal portraits, two vertical portraits, two different templates with room for four photographs apiece, one large vertical portrait, and the 3×3 grid of small snapshots. (I didn’t use a template for the family tree or timeline pages; these were just blank files with the image or text dropped into them.)

It was important to have these templates designed before beginning with any of the content. If I had tried to lay out each page as I got the photos, it would have been daunting. As it was, before I had taken a single photo or done a single scan, every page of the album was sitting there waiting for me.

In creating the templates, I simply made large black outlines in the appropriate sizes; the outside mats were white, and the inside was empty, so that I could align the images once I had them scanned into Photoshop.

The Portraits

In creating the new portraits, I used a simple set of guidelines: natural light, white backdrop, black and white. I also felt it was important that these portraits have a certain formal weight; therefore I asked the subjects not to fake a smile. I’ve found that the easiest way for a subject to assume a natural expression is to ask him or her to take a deep breath and then exhale, and then hold that face. Many will smile, but it will be a natural smile. Those whose natural expression is more serious will usually look far more attractive with that serious but natural expression, than they will with a forced smile.

Of the eighteen people to be included in the album, I was able to execute new portraits of twelve. My grandfather and one of my cousins have passed away in recent years, and four others were unavailable. For each of these I chose to use the most recent formal portrait I could find. For my grandfather, the last portrait that was made of him individually; for one cousin his wedding portrait; for another his senior portrait; and for the other three I was able to use portraits I made last year. Obviously these six did not have the same attributes of the other twelve, but they did have the most important: each was a formal, individual, portrait with a certain weight to it. Those that were in color I converted to black and white, so that there was a flow to them.

The Snapshots

My task was now down to collecting and scanning 99 photos (18×4 + 9×3). Luckily I have good access to the bulk of our family archives, and it only took me two weeks to identify and scan about 70 or 80 of that number. For the rest I identified exactly who I still needed the most photos of, and then asked around for pictures of that person. In at least a couple of cases I was able to pull photos off Facebook, and in all the rest other family members came through for me.

The Family Tree

Being the family genealogist in my father’s family, I already have my own personal data entered into an excellent, simple, and free program – Legacy Family Tree. It was the work of a matter of hours to enter the information on the rest of my mom’s family, and then I was able to use the program’s automatic features to create image files that could be combined to create one that spans six generations. That graphic I just dropped into one of the blank 12×12 files.


For the actual printing and binding, I used a service I’ve used before and that I can’t recommend highly enough – SharedInk. Specifically, I utilized their Professional Photographers service. But if you’re not a pro there are plenty of resources for you. SharedInk has a non-professional service; some other photo book publishers include Blurb, Snapfish, PhotoWorks, and MyPublisher. With some of these you can upload your own file layouts like I did; with some you can only upload your jpegs and use their pre-set layouts. Depending on your preference, you’ll want to check on your options before deciding on a publisher. And of course if you are a pro, I do recommend making the investment to joining SharedInk’s professional program – they offer a generous trial period so check it out.

Once I had my files uploaded to SharedInk’s site, it was a matter of choosing the cover (black linen), setting up a title (I went with a simple “The Adams Family” in silver – though I could also have uploaded another file to use for an inlaid photo), and ordering the book. Less than two weeks later it was in my hands.

The Benefit

As a family, we have thousands of photographs – I expect if you come from a large and close-knit family you know exactly what I mean. But there is a real difference in knowing these photos are lying in boxes in the closet, or even collected in loose albums in the bookcase – and having a bound book printed with beautiful photos from the life of your family.

If you have any big events coming up, or even if you’ve just been trying to decide on the perfect meaningful Christmas gift this year, I really recommend you give some thought to creating your own published family album.

Portfolio: Family 2009

•October 21, 2009 • Leave a Comment


As my family has been anticipating the celebration of my grandmother’s ninetieth birthday, the time seemed right to do a series of portraits of each member of the family. Obviously not all the family could be photographed: death has hit us twice in the last few years, one cousin was out of reach, and scheduling conflicts made it impossible for me to get to Birmingham to photograph another cousin and her children. Still, with twelve completed portraits (including a self-portrait), I managed to document current likenesses of two-thirds of our family.

This set of portraits served as the basis for the book I mentioned in the last post as having presented to my grandmother on her birthday. Later I’ll write more on the process of turning twelve 8x10s into a fully-fleshed family album.

The entire Family 2009 series can be seen here.


New Portrait: My Grandmother on Her Ninetieth Birthday

•October 19, 2009 • Leave a Comment

A portrait decades in the making… surrounded by (in reverse order) her grandparents, parents, husband, and children.

My Grandmother on Her Ninetieth Birthday

This past weekend was a whirlwind, with a huge party, lots of immediate and extended family coming into town, and a whole lot of time spent eating and visiting and playing outside with the little ones. Aside from a not-too-formal family portrait taken as the party was wrapping up, I mostly enjoyed the weekend as a grandson rather than a photographer – though for the shots I did snap, feel free to look up the album on my personal Facebook page.

The highlight of the weekend for me was the presentation of a book I had made up for my grandmother, which included new portraits of many of the family along with a selection of photos from our family archive. (This is separate from the Echoes of My Grandmother project, which is still simmering on the backburner.) I’ll have a bit to write about the book over the next few days.

For now, though, a huge “happy birthday!” to my grandmother as she enters her tenth(!) decade.