Aloha! This e-Book consists of over 130 images spanning the years 1978 to 2021 along with my memories, thoughts and some mini lessons regarding how some of the images were created. PLEASE NOTE: This collection of images, thoughts and mini lessons is offered for free. Perhaps it is my “official” retirement from commercial photography and/or teaching. I hope you find something interesting and useful here. If you do, then please consider making a donation of any size to the United Cerebral Palsy Association of Hawai’i (https://unitedcerebralpalsyhawaii.org/donate-online/) or a chapter of UCP in your area. This collection represents my 15th (and perhaps last) book or eBook and none of them would be possible without, first, my parents’ love and support over the years, and second, the therapies I received and the advice my parents received from United Cerebral Palsy when I was very young. This retrospective is one way I can give back. I will repeat a request for donations several times throughout this book. Mahalo if you can give and mahalo for 5, now going on 6 great decades either way! It has been quite a ride!
Five Decades of Photography:
A Retrospective of Life, Love, and Learning
Stephen A. Dantzig
All images and content are copyright Stephen A. Dantzig, except images used by permission of the copyright owner. All rights reserved. No portion may be used without written permission from Stephen A. Dantzig. Warning: This is a very long post!
Wow! That is a daunting title. Photography is and has been my life for as long as I can remember. It has been a creative outlet for someone without the coordination to draw or play music. It was the avenue for a shy kid to meet and talk to people. It was a tunnel, with a promise of light, through some of life’s darkest times (ironically this tunnel was often in a “darkroom!) It resulted in a legacy of books, articles, and classes that I hope will long outlive the creator. It was, ultimately, how I met my beautiful wife. My main career would be in a totally different field, but I led a double life for 40-plus years of my adult life. How do you even begin to look back on over 50 years of seeing the world and living life through the lens of a camera? For that matter, how do you begin to choose the images to chronicle what essentially was and is the crux of a person’s life?
The answer to both questions is: “with great difficulty!” The process began a few years ago when it was time to scan and then get rid of about 35 years of negatives and transparencies that were taking up room in the closet! I then began to organize images generally by decade. I say “generally” because, if the truth was told, there are some images that might be placed in the wrong decade! I wound up with images from the 1970’s, 1980’s, 1990’s, 2000’s, 2010’s and now 2020’s. The images make up parts of SIX decades! There were, of course, many images that have been lost over the years, but I was very pleasantly surprised to find the negatives from my very first portrait session when I was a junior in high school (1978)
However, it actually all started a decade earlier, in, I believe, the late 1960’s. The way I remember it was a family trip to Niagara Falls and Canada when I was 8 years old. My father had a small instamatic camera and I kept pestering him to let me take a picture. He finally gave me the camera and I was off and running. My first camera was a pocket 110 instamatic: you had to buy flash “tubes” which came in pack of 3 which each “tube” holding four flashes that rotated as they fired—IF they rotated! I then “graduated” to a used Hanimex 35mm single lens reflex camera: I was in the “big-leagues!” I moved up to a Canon TX (and met Rich, my first life-long photography friend—Rich worked in camera store named Star Camera in Babylon, New York in the mid-70’s and we have been friends ever since). My next camera was probably beyond my skills at the time, but it showed I was serious! I received a $250.00 award from the Deer Park Lions Club when I graduated high school in 1979. I put that money towards what my dad’s photographer friend called “The Cadillac:” The Canon F-1! The F-1 was one of the three best SLR cameras available at the time. I still have that camera 41 years later. I used it in many of my classes to show what f-stops and different shutter speeds look like. It now holds a prize spot on my desk. I was eligible (briefly) for Supplemental Security Income due to my cerebral palsy at about the same time frame. I think I only received a couple of checks before I started working, but I remember buying my first basic studio set-up (from Rich) and darkroom supplies with one of those checks. The darkroom and simple studio lights are long gone, but the backdrop stand is still in the corner of what was my studio in Honolulu for over 15 years.
Life got busy with a new job, graduate school requirements in the late 80’s, and shooting whenever I could, but I still had a burning love for photography, and it was it time to “put up or shut up!” I “put up.” I bought my first Bronica medium format camera and convinced a local photographer to take me on as an apprentice. I spent 5 years at Bill Higgin’s Creative Photography studio, and he became one of my closest friends and best mentor I could ever ask for. I used that Bronica system as well as a 4X5 view camera for well over 10 years until I was introduced to digital photography through my work writing for the Photoflex Web Photo School. Ben Clay from Photoflex, introduced me to the idea of photographing and writing articles about photography. This “chance” meeting at a photography trade show in Los Angeles would turn into a 23 year “side” career as a photography author and teacher.
The images chosen for this book represent many of the important people, times, and lessons that made of this amazing 50-plus year part of my life. I did not, with very few exceptions, include “snapshots,” or photographs of friends just hanging out together. Therefore, my snapshots from junior and senior high school as well as college are not included, even though I was the pain in the butt with the camera through those years.
The editing process, as noted above, was difficult. The images had to have had some impact on my life, or were part of my photography education and/or publications. They had to represent an adequate cross-section of my work: portraiture, fashion/glamour, product/still life, architecture, landscapes, nature and a few personal images. There are many models, for example, who are either not represented here, or may be only shown once or twice. I hope the models who are not represented her do not take offense: you were critical in my development in photography—but that is a nice way to say that the images were pretty bad! Some of these models have been represented in previous books of mine (some previously published images are duplicated here),
So, without further ado, here is my life (to date) in photography!
While I believe I bugged my dad for my first camera, it was the 1970’s when I got my first “serious” cameras: A used Hanimex SLR (Single Lens Reflex) followed by a Canon TX and finally, in 1979, “The Cadillac:” the Canon F-1! I didn’t know how a SLR worked and was thoroughly confused by the appearance of a piece of the Hanimex in my viewfinder, but the images were fine! It would be a few years before I learned (with the help of the F-1) how SLRs worked. The F-1 had (has) an interchangeable viewfinder and I learned/realized that an SLR camera was based on a set of mirrors: light enters the lens and hits a series of mirrors that “show” you what you would photograph. That broken piece of the Hanimex was hidden from the film in the viewfinder. Anyway, I carried my camera everywhere and became known as the pain in neck with the camera in junior high school. Actually, I think I was still using a 110 instamatic in junior high school because, ironically, I did not take the photography elective in my shop class in JHS. There was a darkroom where I believe students were able to develop 110 film, but I elected ceramics or something like painting with wood carvings. I promptly fixed that in high school.
I must have gotten the Hanimex during that summer, because I had an SLR all through high school. I convinced my guidance counselor to let me take Photography 1 as a sophomore (“But that is reserved for juniors and seniors!). I got into the class in my second semester as a sophomore (my high school was 10th, 11th, and 12th grade—9th grade, which technically is high school, was part of my junior high school). Photography 1 reinforced the basic technical aspects of exposure control as well as introduced me to the darkroom: a magical place full of creative opportunities and “interesting” smells! My introduction to darkrooms came in 1977 and I had and/or worked in darkrooms until I moved from California to Hawaii in 2003! I had begun the transition to the much less stinky Photoshop by then. As a side note, there are a lot of comments now about how an image that is “Photoshopped” somehow isn’t real or doesn’t count. Photoshop, just like the darkroom, is just a tool for post-production where much of the “magic” happens. The only difference is that your hands don’t stink after a session with Photoshop!
The images that start this volume were created in 1978 during a two-week section of Photography Workshop (Photo 2) that introduced us to studio lighting. Ms. Denise Kaplan was the teacher, and we turned the long thin room into a studio for those two-weeks. One week was devoted to photographing still-life images (I created a mediocre image of a cornucopia). The second week was for portrait lighting. The assignment was to find a model to pose for you, light the set (using “hot” or quartz lights), process the film and print “contact sheets” (a system where you placed your film–cut into strips–on a sheet of photographic paper held in place by a piece of glass) in the darkroom, edit the images, then print and mat 2 selections for grading. I received an “A” for the assignment and a 43-year love affair with the studio began.
The idea of finding a model for my first shoot was daunting. I was involved with many aspects of high school life, but I was still a pretty shy kid when it came to approaching girls. In many ways asking someone to model for you is very personal because both of you—photographer and model—are going to have to trust each other deeply during the photo session and both would have to give of themselves for the session to be a success. I did not know these things at the time, but those two tenants—trust and respect—are critical to every photo shoot. Fortunately, the first girl I approached said “yes.” This photograph of Joan was my first “formal” portrait.
I mentioned that we were using “hot” lights in the “studio.” “Hot lights” is simply a term for lights that are on continuously compared to a strobe or a flash that fires a much more powerful (depending on the setting of the flash) but brief blast of light. Hot lights tend to be relatively weak (“bright” to our eyes does not necessarily mean bright for a camera working to provide a proper “exposure.”) Hot lights often mean a relatively slow shutter speed when compared to strobes. However, they are great tools to begin with because you can literally see the effect of the lights before you shoot. “Seeing” the light is a skill that you need when using strobes and, in my opinion, takes a while to develop.
This was the second image of Joan that I submitted for my assignment and shows my first introduction to “light modifiers,” or tools you can use to alter the way the light looks. In this case I used what are called “barn doors.” They are, as the name implies, “doors,” or shields that you use to selectively block the flow of light to your subject. Other terms for such tools include “flags” or “GOBOs” (I assume because this thing you use “GO”es “B”etween your light and your subject).
Darlene: We had two photography classes and a cinematography class in our high. I had taken the photography classes by the time I was finished with my junior year. I would take the cinematography class as a second semester senior, but I wanted to learn more about studio lighting! (As a side note, I truly wish I had grabbed a passion for the cinematography class—I did OK, but it wasn’t LIGHTING! I learned 35 years later that I was so very wrong. I hope that this retrospective teaches you about photography—and life—but there are two main lessons I truly hope that you take from this volume: respect your models and learn everything you can about all of the visual arts because they are all connected.) I had exhausted all of my photography options—or so I thought. There was an “advanced independent study” option—I think in most areas, but definitely in the arts. Ms. Kaplan accepted my application to study studio lighting as an independent class. The problem was that my schedule was full for my senior year. I had taken the required 3 years of science needed to apply for college and convinced my guidance counselor to let me drop the full year class in physics to take my independent study the first semester and cinematography the second semester of my senior year. I still remember talking to Mr. Burns:
“Let me get this straight: You want to drop physics, which is the study of light and its properties so you can study lighting for photography!”
He signed the add/drop form, and I was off and running! I wish he could read some of my advanced lighting books for the shear irony that I now appreciate (most of) the physics involved in lighting! Life does throw some curve balls your way! This image of Darlene was taken I believe early in my independent study class.
Cathy: In hindsight, this is one of my favorite—and perhaps most successful–images that I have ever created! First, it shows the continuation of my early exploration of light. I created a larger light source by pointing the quartz light into a projection screen. Second, the pose and expression on Cathy’s face match the lighting perfectly. I mentioned that hot lights are not as powerful as we think they are. My best guess is that I shot the image on Tri-X film (one of the most versatile films ever made in my opinion). Kodak Tri-X film was ASA 400 (almost 2 stops “faster” than Plus-X at ASA 125 and a full 2 stops faster than T-max 100). This meant that you could shoot a faster shutter speed at the same ASA (ISO in today’s world) and f-stop. Even so, I must have been shooting at a large f-stop (small number) because Cathy’s hair and shoulder are already “soft.” The concept here is called “Depth of Field.” We will examine this concept in detail throughout this book.
Big Sur, Central Coast of California, circa late 1980’s
The 1980’s was a significant decade for several reasons. I was in college in the early 80’s and continued my budding passion for photography—especially model photography. I talked myself into a photography class way over my head in my freshman year. It was a senior level 4-credit class called “Conceptual Thinking Photography.” One of the students took off to Los Angeles to photograph intimate portraits of Hollywood stars for her “thesis” and here I am with a high school portfolio and a big head! I wound up with a good grade because my teacher told me that he grades not only based on work produced, but on the potential he saw in his students. He held a fragile dreamer in his hands and made the conscious decision not to crush my dreams with an appropriate grade based on what I turned in…or maybe he was able to judge each student’s progress individually. Anyway, I was able to contact him years later and thank him. He remembered me and the story.
The ‘80’s presented a major “crossroads” for me. I kept shooting through college and graduate school for my psychology career. I brought my “studio” to Rutgers when I moved into an apartment for grad school and kept it in our closet. I occasionally turned our living room into a studio (still using “hot” lights) and one of those images is included below. However, I felt a moment—or moments—of “put up or shut up” when I moved back to New York to get a “real job” and work on my doctoral dissertation. I promptly set up a very small studio in the basement of my parents’ house in the “playroom” that was next to the laundry room (aka my darkroom in high school!) However, I still felt lost. I made my decision: I bought a Bronica medium format camera and more importantly, convinced my now late, but great friend Bill to let me “apprentice” with him in his Babylon, NY studio. They were among the decisions that would shape the course of my life.
But first, back to the college years and the good ole Canon F-1!
Ruthann was a on my floor during my freshman year of college. I created this image on a very cold day in New Jersey as part of that class that I didn’t belong in. I chose this image for this volume for a couple of reasons. One, it reminds me of me as a young student trying to figure things out and for a comment made about this image from a classmate of mine in “that” class. I honestly don’t know how the exposure worked for this image: the abundance of snow would “fool” the camera meter into under-exposing the image, but the image turned out fine. Perhaps I adjusted the exposure as I would now (about 1 “stop” “over-exposed” to compensate for the meter reading all the white as gray), but I doubt I knew enough back then to do that.
The second reason for me including this image was a comment a classmate made on the last day of the semester. He asked me for a signed copy of this image. I asked why and he said: “Because you are going to be famous someday and I want one of your first originals!” The original was actually in color!
Pam: How do you begin to describe the impact of working with your first “serious” model and the influence she had on your career and life? Pam is the younger sister of Craig, one of my best friends since high school. I was still a senior in high school when I first approached Pam about modeling. It became a working relationship that would span many years and a friendship that continues today. Pam and I learned a lot together, but she continued to work with me after she became a much more established model than I was as a photographer. It was a learning experience that I won’t ever forget and a friendship that I will always cherish. This image shows my beginning understanding of light and shadow: Sometimes it is better to let the sun act as your edge or backlight rather than the main source of illumination for your images.
Pam again, this time with me trying to figure out how to use a flash outdoors. I knew enough even then that on-camera flash was awful. I remember bouncing a powerful Metz portable flash into an umbrella (I am sure I taped the flash handle to the light stand that held the strobe). I did not have a light meter that measured flash at the time and I honestly had no idea about balancing the ambient/flash relationship with the background, but this image was an important beginning (and a little lucky!
An early attempt at photographing “headshots” with my friend Craig (yes, the same Craig). Craig would go on to be a great supporter of mine for many many years and was one of the influences behind my autobiography Get Up, Your Bus Is Here. He now runs a hugely successful Rockstar Marketing/Inspirational Bootcamp. I believe this and the following image were taken on the same day with natural overcast light.
Pam and Craig: This image was taken the same day as the last image of Craig. The “flat” nature of the light makes me think that the sky was acting as a huge softbox. Both images do show some highlights, so the cloud cover may not have been that thick: I would now probably add a flash to give a little more contrast and direction to the light while maintaining the highlights in the hair from the sun.
Olga: Olga was another model who was incredibly influential to my early development as a photographer and also remains a friend today. I met Olga while working at the library at Rutgers as an undergraduate. We were polite acquaintances as undergraduates, but she agreed to model for me when I moved off campus to enter graduate school; she and I remain friends to this day. This was when my “studio” spent most of its time in the living room closet. I would drag it out and set it up whenever I could. Many of those times were when Olga would “sit” for me. This image is probably the best of the bunch and was shot with “hot lights.” Even though hot lights have power issues that tend to lead to either a higher ISO or a slower shutter speed than you might like, I would recommend that a new photographer use them so he/she can begin to “see” light. Strobes, especially ones without modeling lamps or adjustable controls, are hard to learn to work with…as I was about to learn!
Time for a friendly reminder: This is a fundraising effort! I hope you are finding something interesting and useful here. If you do, then please consider making a donation of any size to the United Cerebral Palsy Association of Hawai’i (https://unitedcerebralpalsyhawaii.org/donate-online/) or a chapter of UCP in your area.
I made two major decisions after returning to New York after leaving Rutgers (I still had a dissertation to write, but that is in a different book!) The first was to upgrade to a medium format camera (Bronica) and the second was to find a mentor. Both decisions were critical in my development. The difference in image quality from 35mm to medium format was staggering, but the gear was much heavier—to carry and on the wallet. The tutelage of Bill, my mentor for many more years than the five years I spent in his studio, was invaluable. I mentioned in my autobiography that Bill never “taught” me anything. Rather, he chose to critique my work and force me to figure out how to improve the images. He was the best teacher I could have asked for. The following images represent some of the work created during those five years. I cannot honestly say whether the last few images of the “1980’s” were actually created in the early 1990’s. They are organized here by the lighting styles that evolved over that time span.
Dawne: Dawne was amazing through those early years. She and Despina (later) worked with me through the transition from “hot lights” to strobes. The problem was that I could not afford good strobes and I certainly could not afford a “flash” meter to help me judge my exposure. I remember creating two “X’s” on the floor of my tiny studio in the basement of my parents’ house (where I lived for 9 months after returning from Rutgers). I placed one strobe over each “X” and shot a roll of film at each f-stop to gauge the exposure for future set-ups. I placed one umbrella 45-degrees camera right and one 45-degrees camera left. It worked, as you see from this portrait of Dawne and her mom (which they still have 30+ years later). However, the lighting is terrible. Bill called it “Xerox lighting.” This is the lighting set-up you want for “copy” work, but the flat light is terrible for people photography.
Star Camera was now Babylon Camera Center and Rich and his wife were the owners. The camera store had moved across the back parking lot of Bill’s studio. We were a very tight group through independent—and then co-dependent—events. I knew Rich from the Star Camera days as had Bill, but Rich met his future wife through Bill (if my memory of the events hold true.) Bill had several stunning 40”X60” portraits of Colette in the studio. Mariana and Jennifer worked at the camera store at the time and we, in turn became friends and they agreed to model for me in my basement studio. Bill had “critiqued” me enough for me to abandon the Xerox lighting approach, but one small umbrella was a relatively harsh source of light and created shadows on the opposite side of my models’ faces. It would be a long time before I really understood “quality of light” issues. In the meantime, I knew I was not supposed to use two umbrellas and one umbrella did in fact create the desired “highlight” and “shadow” sides of my images, but way too much as Bill “delicately” pointed out (“You are going to give that to her? It’s kind of dark on the shadow side.”) In typical fashion, Bill would not tell me how to fix it, but would drop hints for me to figure out. In this case he told me to go to the Babylon lumber yard and get two packs of “house wrap.” What the heck was house wrap and how would it help?
Bill’s genius would soon shine through as I stopped by the lumber yard the next day. Remember, I lived in New York at the time and winter was tough on houses. “House wrap” was what you covered your house with before putting up aluminum siding. The packs were 12 2 foot by 4 foot corrugated pieces of very thin foam core with a brown paper backing. The front, however, was covered in a shiny silver sheet! The packs cost about $13.00 each. I know had 24 2 X 4 foot reflectors that I could cut into literally any size I needed (do you have any idea how much a 4 X 8 foot reflector would cost from a photography supply store?) There are still remnants of that house wrap in the studio I used over 40-years later. The image of Mariana is an example of trying out the house wrap with a single umbrella for a main light.
The image of Jennifer is significant for the hair light! Dawne and I worked on figuring out the hair light for a very long time and it worked here! Remember, I did not have strobes with modeling lights to use to aim the light. I was not even able to control the power of some of my strobes! I screwed a bare bulb flash into the ceiling of the basement and had to try many things to get it to work. One of my favorite memories is talking to my now very good friend Al about how I controlled the exposure of the hair light. I started by saying that I wrapped a handkerchief around the flash. He laughed and finished the thought: one fold, one stop, two folds, two stops! Life, and lighting, became much easier once I had reliable adjustable strobes—and a light meter!
Posing is as or more important than lighting in any area of fashion or portrait photography. This is particularly true when it comes to executive portraits. You job is to build the rapport needed to have your subject relax enough to produce the corporate image desired. In all fairness, rapport was not an issue for this image because the young executive was my roommate Jim at the time. I don’t remember much about the lighting because the image was created in Bill’s studio, but I learned that posing men was a very different skill than women!
Light has always fascinated me. I wish I had understood more about light when I created these two images of the Golden Gate Bridge. The images were created about 30 minutes apart from opposite sides of the San Francisco Bay. The light source was the same for both images: the sun, however the effect is very different in the two photographs. The first image is the iconic view from San Francisco looking across to Sausalito (I have fond memories of a wine and cheese lunch at the harbor in Sausalito!) The second image shows the equally iconic Bay Area fog from Sausalito. The images are dramatically different because the atmospheric factors acted as a huge light modifier from the western view. It would be many years before I understood the impact and role of different light modifiers and how to control them, especially when photographing outdoors.
The late 1980’s and early 1990’s were critical years in my development. I was “working” with Bill and trying to figure it all out in a very small basement studio in my parents’ house. A small studio with very low ceilings can be a humbling experience. However, it is like learning to drive in a big city: once you get over the fear and figure things out it is easy to drive on a country road—or shoot in a large studio. I also moved to Los Angeles in 1994 and my “career” took a sharp right turn!
Few families have had the impact on my development as a photographer than the Nikas sisters had. I started to work with Despina (she was there when I was taping “X’s” on the floor of my basement studio and shooting at every 1/3 of an f-stop to figure the exposure of my strobes). She then introduced me to her sisters Rafaela and Stasia (who then introduced me to her husband Russell). It turned into 4 or 5 years of great fun and incredible learning leading to lifelong friends.
The sisters: My new Bronica lens was too “long” to use in my small studio, so I literally cut a hole in the upstairs foyer wall leading to the stairs down to the basement. I would shoot through the hole from upstairs for full-length or small groups. Unfortunately, this angle caused an effect called “Keystoning,” which is not a desirable effect when photographing people. Keystoning occurs when you tilt your camera up or down. The area of the image that is closer to the lens appears larger. It worked out OK for this image.
Despina: This is one of my favorite images that I captured of Despina—and there were hundreds over the years. The irony is that I wasn’t photographing her that day: I was photographing her younger sister Rafaela! I had worked with Rafaela many times by that time, but she was still under 18 years old, so the rule was that Despina had to be there. We got some great shots of the two sisters that day, but this “grab” shot was my favorite. I was photographing Rafaela and turned to see Despina in a moment of quiet introspection, doodling her name in the sand with a grass reed and pushed the shutter release.
This was an important image in hindsight. I was not using strobes outdoors at the time and I was using the “magic hour” setting sunlight to photograph Rafaela by the surf. The magic hour light was falling beautifully on Rafaela and it was an easy lighting task. However, Despina was sitting behind me which meant that I would be shooting into the setting sun. The abundant sand created enough of a fill source that the exposure worked. The sun created a beautiful hair and back light that separated Despina from the background. Many years later I would figure out how to use the sun for this very purpose while using a strobe/ambient light combination as main lights
Stasia, Russell, Rafaela and I were all good friends by the time these next two images were created. They were both taken in Bill’s studio, so the lighting was pretty much set beforehand. It was just a matter of letting them go and push the shutter release while they played. Both images earned awards of merit from the Professional Photographers of Los Angeles County, which means they were actually created in the 1990’s when I lived in Los Angeles and returned to New York for a visit.
Dawne: As noted, the late 1980’s and early 1990’s were years of intense study for me in many ways. I was writing my doctoral dissertation for psychology, learning to be a school psychologist and studying photography in every spare moment. Bill was an incredible mentor, but I was also attending as many seminars as I could. The annual PhotoEast Convention in New York City was always a must. The speakers at this event were among the best photographers in the world and the tradeshow was unmatched. My assignment from Bill was to visit every booth at the show and bring back any and all promotional materials. He also gave me a similar assignment in the studio: drop everything when the monthly RANGEFINDER magazine came in and read it cover to cover including ALL of the advertisements. He wanted me to think about out how what the advertisers (or merchants at the tradeshow) were selling could help my photography—and then figure out how to make it myself! One example of this was “soft-focus filters.” A name brand filter could cost well over $150.00 (in 1989), but we made our own by buying pieces of cut and seared glass from the local glass shop. We would add either stretched black nylon over the glass or use Duco cement to make our own filters for about 35 cents each!
I didn’t just go to the seminars at PhotoEast. I brought my portfolio and asked the speakers to take a look at my “not very good at the time” work. Most speakers took a look and were supportive, but honest about where I was in my progression. A couple of these photographers became good friends for many years and one, David Mecey of Playboy fame, is still a friend 30 years later. Anyway, I learned about a light modifier called a softbox during this time and learned how to build my own softbox. A great friend of mine built one for me and this image of Dawne is one of my favorite results from that light box. The light is so soft and beautiful. This image hung in my studios for years to come. (The softbox was made of plywood painted white on the inside with a shelf to secure the strobe and a bottom compartment for storage. A white sheet hung down the front of the box. The strobe was aimed at the back of white box so a large flood of light bounced back and was further diffused by the white sheet. The entire box sat on caster wheels, so it moved easily around the studio.)
Film tests: There was a new black and white transparency film out and I wanted to try it. I liked this image of Dawne, but the film had kind of a purplish tint to it which was not good in the pre-Photoshop days. It was an easy fix with a simple black and white adjustment layer with the 2021 era of Photoshop.
Diane is another lifelong friend that I met through photography in the early 1990’s. This image was actually created after I had moved to Los Angeles. I have never been a huge fan of the “faster” films with the increased grain, but I wanted to try something different. I was shooting mostly medium format film by then and the grain is still apparent with the ASA 3200. I liked the results and would use that film in future shoots for specific reasons. It is all about knowing which tools to use for a given purpose.
The increased grain is more apparent in this image of Michele captured at about the same timeframe but using 35mm film. The smaller film size means greater magnification when making prints and everything, including the grain structure, gets magnified. Personally, I think the look on Michele’s face and the mood of the image is enhanced by the grain. The sepia tone was added in Photoshop.
Time for a friendly reminder: This is a fundraising effort! I hope you are finding something interesting and useful here. If you do, then please consider making a donation of any size to the United Cerebral Palsy Association of Hawai’i (https://unitedcerebralpalsyhawaii.org/donate-online/) or a chapter of UCP in your area.
Drinda and a series of firsts: I met Drinda during one of my annual vacations to Los Angeles while I was working in New York. I had August off from work and would head to LA to visit friends. The first image shows the sometimes ridiculous lengths I would go to in order to “get the image.” The rock was part of El Matador Beach in Malibu. The house above Drinda was street (or parking lot) level. We dragged my medium format camera and tripod down a steep hill to a “staircase” to the beach. In other words, we climbed down a cliff to get to the beach. Thankfully, some wonderful person offered to help us back UP the cliff when we were finished! I entered the image into my first “print competition” as a member of the Professional Photographers of Los Angeles County and it earned my first Award of Merit!
The next image of Drinda is personally significant to me on many levels. Technically it is important because I had just taken a four-day commercial photography workshop with Will Crockett. I shot negative film up until the seminar with Will. To be honest, it was a daunting idea to shoot transparency film because the exposure had to be perfect every time. There was always a lot of “wiggle” room with color negative film. Will taught me how to control my exposures to an incredible degree and I have never shot color negative film since then. The shoot with Drinda was one of, if not the first, all-transparency film shoots I had done. (I also learned that I needed glasses on that shoot, but that is a different story!)
This image, however, is incredibly important to me for a very different reason. I mentioned earlier in this retrospective that my mentor, Bill, made me stop everything and read RANGEFINDER magazine each month. RANGEFINDER was THE publication for professional photographers. I was living in Los Angeles and had my studio in the living room of a huge apartment when Drinda and I created this image. I had also begun to write articles for other photography publications and decided to take a huge chance and approach RANGEFINDER. My soon to be good friend Bill Hurter was the editor and asked if the magazine could run a profile article about me…and the result follows:
My image of Drinda was on the cover of the magazine that I read all the way through for years. It remains my only national magazine cover of my career and it could not have been more meaningful. I went on to write technical and profile articles for RANGEFINDER for several years and Bill introduced me to Craig Alesse at Amherst Media and my book writing career was launched! Sadly, Bill is no longer with us, and I hope he knew how much he meant to me, professionally as well as personally.
I had the opportunity to work with Lisa Marie Scott in 1996. Lisa was the Playboy Playmate of the Month for February 1996. I photographed her on two occasions: once in the studio and once at the Vasquez Rocks Park in Northern Los Angeles. My studio at the time was in the LA Connection Comedy Theatre and I got to use the stage for my shooting area when it was not being used by the comedy troupe. The entire stage was painted black, so I went with a black-on-black theme for part of the shoot. I wanted to accentuate her long black hair while using a subtle lighting scheme. I loved the result, but Playboy did not, and my career as a Playboy Photographer ended as quickly as it began!
The second shoot with Lisa is famous for my (what I thought was a good) tripod falling over with $5,000.00 worth of camera equipment resting on top. Ouch. Too make a very long story short, I got lucky; the camera and lens were fine, and we were able to continue to shoot. The only thing I “lost” was one of those 35-cent homemade filters! I upgraded to a monster tripod that I still own the very next day. This image was created AFTER the tripod fell and I have used it in my classes on many occasions to emphasize the need to NOT CHEAP OUT ON A TRIPOD!
I also tried a different technique call “cross-processing” where you overexpose color negative film and then process it as a transparency. The result, as you see, was pretty interesting, but in hindsight it probably was not a great idea to experiment on a once-in-a-lifetime (or last-in-a-lifetime photography opportunity!) Live and learn. I did run into Lisa on occasion after the shoots and she was always friendly and supportive.
Natasha: I had moved my studio from the theatre to my apartment by now. It was a LOT easier to work when the lights were essentially set up and just had to be moved where I wanted them. Natasha was and is just one of those incredibly special ladies who make the world a better place just by being in it. She married my great high school friend Craig (you “met” him before) and they are both beautiful examples of creating an amazing life through the good times and otherwise. Natasha was modeling when I first met her in the early 1990’s. She went on to create and run Peak Models and Talent, a very successful modeling agency. She introduced me to a number of models: each of whom played a very important role in my then fledgling writing career: I started to write and publish information about every shoot I conducted and continued this “style” of work for 20 years, encompassing several hundred magazine/eZine articles and 11 books/eBooks. As a side note, this is one of many reasons why it is important to get a model release for every shoot you do (unless it is a fully paid shoot for a client where a release would be obtained, but perhaps not with the wide rights you need to publish and republish your images as time goes on.) There is a stack of model releases spanning 40+ years in my safe!
This is an important image from a technical point of view because of her white outfit. White is difficult to photograph and you need to be aware of the “quality” of your light sources. Larger light sources produce a broader light (i.e., a “softer”) light that allows you to keep the details in your whites. Smaller light sources have more contrast and can “blow out” your whites even at the same exposure—ESPECIALLY with digital photography.
Johnny: The image is a basic headshot and was not a radical change from what I had learned to that point. The photograph made this retrospective because it is an image of special man. This collection is subtitled “A Retrospective of Life, Love, and Learning.” Few people loved life and his fellow man more than Johnny. He was a very close friend until the day he passed away. His faith in me was unsurpassed and I will always love and miss him. Aloha oe my friend.
Asa: I’ve forgotten how or when Asa came to my studio, but I was still shooting color negative film, so it was before the Will Crockett workshop. I still shot black and white film even when I had transitioned to color transparency. This image was my mediocre attempt to pay tribute the great George Hurrell, a legend of 1930’s and 1940’s Hollywood photography and lighting. I still like this image and I hope it does some justice to Mr. Hurrell. The lighting was a single main light in what would be called a high “loop” position (45-degrees camera left, but at a higher angle).
Angela: The major lesson that I learned from Will Crockett was the absolute need to control your lighting and exposure. This is particularly true when photographing a white background. The white needs to be “overexposed” to go white without detail without bouncing enough light back at the camera to create flare or degrade the main image. Remember, this was before digital photography and Photoshop/Lightroom: The image shot on transparency film had to be perfect straight out of the camera.
Michele: I actually met Michele at my “day job.” She went on to model for me every few weeks for over a year. I “perfected” my 4-light commercial lighting set-up during that time. The first image was from out first shoot together. To be honest, it wasn’t going that well—nothing was “wrong,” but we were not “gelling” as a team yet. My assistant Michael and I were adjusting the lights and Michele was sitting there with her head down waiting for us. We were ready, but I “saw” this shot and waited. I signaled for Michael to not say anything while I had my finger on the shutter release. Michele eventually got curious and looked up. I pushed the button when she did and captured one of my favorite images. She made some comment about me being a brat or something and the ice was broken. Every shoot from that point on was better than the last. Sometimes you just need some patience.
Our make-up artist was Heidi at the time. I had photographed Heidi so she knew how I worked from both sides of the camera. She had the idea of creating a 1940’s WWII style image and Michele was the perfect model for the project. We put a swing-jazz CD in the stereo and I just kept pushing the shutter while Michele played on the set. The image was called “Dance with me, soldier” and received an Award of Merit from the Professional Photographers of Los Angeles County.
The difficulties of shooting a white outfit and also a white background were discussed earlier, but the challenge is magnified many times when shooting white outfits against a white background—especially when the white outfit is delicate lingerie. My “trick” was to use a very large softbox as my main light for a soft quality of light. The main light was set ½ a stop less than the overall exposure, ensuring that the whites would be slightly underexposed to keep all of the detail. I added spotlight aimed at her face to bring the exposure at her face up to what the camera was set for. The background was again overexposed, but Michele was positioned far enough away from the backdrop to avoid flare. Michele was from Hawai’i and our conversations increased my interest in the Islands. Little did I know that I would move to O’ahu a couple of years later where I met and photographed her sister Monica for several years.
Georgia: I met Georgia through Peak Models and Talent. I was writing articles for the Photoflex WebPhotoSchool and building my studio article by article (I earned credits that I could redeem for more gear; I would then write about the gear, earn more credits and so on). Two of the newer pieces of lighting gear were a very large reflector set and a “halo.” A halo is essentially a combination of a softbox with an umbrella. The sun sets into the ocean on the West Coast, so I was attempting to use the halo with a strobe for my main light by the pier at Venice Beach. I did not learn how to use a strobe outdoors that day, but I did learn an important lesson: halos become huge kites on a windy beach and the whole strobe idea planted itself into the sand! Fortunately, the large 77”X77” gold reflector came in very handy to bounce the sunlight (now a back light) back onto the front of Georgia and we got some beautiful images.
One of the main jobs of a photographer working with assistants is to teach them what you know. Harry Lang is a great friend to this day and was a super assistant during my last few years in Los Angeles. The irony is that he probably taught me as much or more than I taught him. He taught me to push the envelope and get out of my 4-light commercial lighting set-up comfort zone. He taught me the value of asking “What if” we did something different—like use a small light source with more contrast for a main light? Well, this image of Georgia was one of the results. Harry’s “lessons” would become the foundation for a book on softboxes I wrote years later where I had to make up different lighting combinations using different styles of light modifiers. The scan of the transparency turned out with a bit more contrast than the original transparency, but points out the need for extreme exposure control when shooting on high contrast media like transparencies–or digital capture. Thanks Harry!
I was beginning to learn to photograph interiors and products in an attempt to broaden my appeal to potential clients. I joined the Studio City Chamber of Commerce and volunteered to photograph Polaroids of Santa Claus at the annual holiday festival. I also met several merchants in need of photography beyond fashion and headshots. One gentleman ran the local kitchen and bath showroom and asked me if I knew how to shoot kitchens. I said: “Sure!” I had no idea, but I knew I would figure it out. Interior photography is quite difficult, so expect to pay a premium for a professional interior photographer. The shoot turned out well (even when we “pulled” the Polaroid showing a beautifully detailed reflection of our light source in the glass of the shower in a different photograph!) We had to quickly change the angle of the light source to illuminate the glass shower without the reflection. Major lesson in the “angle of incidence equals angle of reflectance” learned. Ironically, this image became my first magazine cover and earned the Judges Award at the year end awards ceremony for the Professional Photographers of Los Angeles.
2000’s: The start of a short-lived “large format” camera career, the BIG move to Hawai’i and the progression of my writing experiences.
Bill gave me his old Calumet 4X5 view camera during a visit to New York. View cameras are very different beasts compared to single lens reflex cameras because you have to work out the light lost in the bellows of the camera. Focusing is also a challenge because the front and rear elements of the camera are adjustable via a series of tilts and swings. The camera is design to allow you to alter the perspective to keep all of the angles in your image straight. The problem is that the focal plane changes as you tilt and shift the components. However, a properly composed and exposed 4X5 transparency is truly a thing of beauty. Here were a couple of my attempts at high end product photography.
We had to be EXTREMELY careful with the Western Wear—the boots and hat were worth over $2,000.00! This image won an Award of Merit from the Professional Photographers of Los Angeles County.
LA Times: This was one of “those” moments that certainly make the highlights reel of my career. Eric Slater of The Los Angeles Times called and asked if they could run a feature article about me and my photography…and, oh, can you put together a shoot for us to document…in 3 days! “Sure!” I called my friends Natasha, Drinda, Michele and Diane and amazingly they were all available and more than willing. “Picture of Determination” ran as the lead Section B story in a Sunday edition of the Times. This image also ran on the cover of Santa Clarita Lifestyle Magazine.
Mom and Dad: This is by far one of my most personal and important images that I have ever created: my parent’s 50th Anniversary portrait. It is not technically perfect (I hadn’t yet learned how to photograph eyeglasses without catching a reflection of the lights), but it did not and does not matter. I was able to photograph two of the most important people in my life for one of the most important day of their lives to that point. It is an honor that I cherish, especially since they have both passed on.
Time for a friendly reminder: This is a fundraising effort! I hope you are finding something interesting and useful here. If you do, then please consider making a donation of any size to the United Cerebral Palsy Association of Hawai’i (https://unitedcerebralpalsyhawaii.org/donate-online/) or a chapter of UCP in your area.
It was the early 2000’s and I was still living in Los Angeles when a major shift in my photography occurred: I switched to digital photography and have never looked back. I was still writing for Photoflex and earning credits. I finally earned enough for the big prize: an Olympus E-1 digital camera! A lot of my wedding photographer friend had a tough transition to digital because, in contrast to the popular thought, digital was definitely not easy. Every capture medium, whether you are talking black and white film, color negative film, transparency film, or digital, has a range (or latitude) of exposure information that you can capture. At some point you lose whites and blacks. The latitude of digital photography, especially in 2002, was MUCH more narrow than negative film—the medium of the time for most wedding photographers. You could, and I did, routinely overexpose color negative film, but you could not, and still cannot, do that with digital photography. My friends bemoaned the fact that they were losing all of the detail in the brides’ dresses.
The latitude of digital was much closer to transparency film, so I was used to living with strict exposure control. I had the opposite problem: I found that my early digital cameras underexposed my images and had to learn to adapt. You did so by “calibrating” your light meter to the camera. My first cameras were as much as a full stop under what my meter read! This became a problem when my later cameras were closer to an accurate reading and I would then overexpose my images! The lesson is to test any new camera to find the correct calibration with your meter.
Paul: This image was a corporate headshot for my good friend (also former assistant) Paul. Paul wanted an image that had a little more of a fashion edge to it. We used one softbox in that loop position described above for the main light and a second light for a hair/separation light. I did not photograph many men in my career, but this is one of my favorites.
Aiko: Aiko came to the studio one weekend to do the hair and make-up for another model. English was her second language and I spoke no Japanese “Nihongo wa sukoshi mo wakarimasen!) The shoot went well and we were reviewing the images after the shoot (one of the incredible benefits of digital photography). I asked her if she did any modeling. “Me? Model?” was her answer. I said: “Yes, next Saturday, 1:00 you, here, model!” She showed up and we went on to do two shoots before I moved to Hawai’i. I love this image with its simple elegance. I believe it was created with a single light source: what Photoflex called a small Stripdome. It was a thin short softbox that created a uniquely “soft” light with a good deal of contrast. This was a lesson for me in what I was learning was the “inverse square law” of light. Notice the dramatic fall-off of light from Aiko’s face to the bottom of her dress.
Anna: Anna was another model that came to me from Peak Models and Talent. She was the ultimate professional and a pleasure to work with each time we shot together. She modeled for some of my early workshops (a harbinger of things to come) and wound up on the cover of my third book for Amherst Media. She has gone on to a successful career in Hollywood and we are still in touch almost 30 years later.
This image was also created at the pier at Venice Beach California. This time we let the diffused light from under the pier act as the main light while the sun provided the hair and rim light.
Monica: This image of Monica was captured during my “first and last” visit to Hawai’i. It was created using just sunlight on a beach in Southeast O’ahu. This Week Magazine was on every street corner in Waikiki as well as the airport. The outer islands of Kaua’i, Mau’i and the Big Island had their own versions of the magazine. The cover of this iconic magazine was a prize that was coveted by many photographers. The magazine would rotate the covers among the various editions, but this image of Monica was my first of 8 separate covers that I created for the magazine.
Kat: I met Kat on the same first trip that I met Monica. We created this image on the same beach as Monica’s cover shot and this became my second This Week cover.
Kat and I worked together for several years including the creation of this second This Week cover with her. She was also the cover model for my second book for Amherst Media. This image was created at the Wai’ole Tea Room in Manoa on O’ahu. I was experimenting with reflectors and scrims (large transparent sheets used to soften harsh light sources) as well as using strobes outdoors. I had to shoot a slow shutter speed (“drag the shutter”) in order to maintain some detail in the bush behind Kat. It worked, but I still lightened the background a little in postproduction. The magazine flipped the image for the cover.
Nikki: I met Nikki during my second trip to Hawai’i and first visit to the island of Kaua’i. Kaua’i, of all the Hawai’ian Islands, is my favorite. There is something magical about that island. Nikki and I became fast friends and worked together on many occasions over the next 6 or 7 years, including this cover shoot on a beach on the East Coast of Kaua’i.
Apryle: I told the art director of This Week that I was going to Kaua’i and she asked me to photograph Apryle for a cover. Apryle was a young teenager who had won a cover model search. I met her and her mom in the normally very sunny Poipu. Well, that day was overcast and cloudy and I knew that the images were not cover quality and she would be disappointed. Two days later was a bright sunny day and Nikki and I had scheduled her shoot. I called Apryle’s mom and fortunately they were available, and the flower lei was still fresh. She got her cover that day!
Sanna: My first trip to Hawai’i included a few days in Lahaina on Mau’i. Sanna was a hostess at a popular restaurant and she agreed to model for me. She wound up going to school in Southern California when I was still living in Los Angeles. We met for a few photo shoots in California and this image, shot in my studio, wound up as a This Week cover. Studio images rarely make the cover of that magazine because they want to show a beautiful Hawai’i location behind the cover model. The lighting was my, at the time, standard four light set-up.
Marissa: Marissa was photographed under a pavilion at a park on the South Shore of O’ahu. The pavilion provided soft even light, but the exposure difference between the shade and the bright sun behind her was too much: I would get a silhouette of Marissa if I exposed for the background or a totally white background with a lot of flare if I exposed for her skin tones under the pavillion. I used a strobe within a halo to add some dimension to the light illuminating Marissa and balance the exposure between the strobe/pavilion and the background.
Tasha: Tasha was photographed in a local park that became very familiar to me because I taught classes there for 10 years. The lighting idea was similar to the photograph of Marissa, but there was no pavilion for shade. We created the shade by holding a scrim over Tasha and using the strobe in the same way as under the pavilion. The scrim was carefully placed to allow the sun to act as a hair light.
Hawai’i is also known for some spectacularly beautiful land and seascapes. Waimea Canyon on Kaua’i is one of those locations. I pulled off the road and placed my (now very heavy) tripod over the guard rail so I could lean as far as I safely could in order to get this image. Scary!
I mentioned that Kaua’i was my favorite island, and while that is true, the other islands are incredible too. Mau’i is beautiful, especially the famous Hana Highway. I drove the long winding road twice and have taken tours twice. The drive is as treacherous as it is gorgeous: let a local person who knows the road drive while you sit back and enjoy the scenery. Trust me, the tour guides know where to stop, like at this 100-foot waterfall. The rainforest is darker than you think, and greens tend to absorb more light than you might realize. I did not have my tripod for this trip, so I had to hand hold the camera with a fairly slow shutter speed. Fortunately, I was able to keep the camera steady enough for this image.
Moloka’i is one of the smallest of the Hawai’ian islands and her history is as tragic as the sea cliffs and deep valleys are stunning. Moloka’i is home to the Kalaupapa Peninsula, Hawai’i’s infamous “leper colony.” People who contracted Hansen’s Disease, or “leprosy,” were banished to die on the peninsula. The law was passed in 1866 by Kamehameha V and was not repealed until 1969, after antibiotics proved to be a cure for Hansen’s Disease. I did not go down to the community but photographed the peninsula from the overlook. The various kiosks around offer a brief history of the colony. There are many excellent books (fiction and nonfiction) that describe what happened. It is a sadly beautiful place and I hope to visit the actual community someday.
O’ahu is an island made up of two major mountain ranges: the Waianae and the Koolau Mountains. Both are beautiful, but the Koolaus are more accessible, so it is easier to appreciate the sheer majesty of these mountains. Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens is a public park often off the path of most tourist spots. The park allows incredible views of the mountains in a very up close and personal way. I love the sun bouncing off of the palms in the foreground of this image. The palms are purposely offset to add a compositional component to the image. Lighting and composition are equal partners in landscape photography.
Big Island: Hawai’i is still about the ancient culture and “mana.” There are few places where the past lives with the present as much as on the Big Island of Hawai’i. The volcanoes that made the island are still active and the twin peaks of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea are among the largest mountains in the world. Actually, Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain from sea base to summit (not sea level to summit) in the world and her sister mountain is the largest mountain by area in the world. I had the rare opportunity to travel with a tour to the summit of Mauna Kea and visit with a friend who worked in one of the telescopes that search the far reaches of space. It was truly one of the most magical experiences of my life. This relic of a house gave me a hint of what living on the mountain must have been like. I added the infrared type black and white effect in postproduction.
The summit was breathtaking. I was literally well above the clouds as the sun set below me.
I came up with a personal project as I was driving around O’ahu. The ocean is obviously everywhere and foliage around the water lines is equally ubiquitous. I’ve also always trees, so I decided to combine them into a trees and water series. The project never really took off, but I do make a conscious attempt to use both in my compositions whenever possible. This one is one of my favorites. I love the strong leading line of the trunk as it breaks into two large stems, almost inviting you to the beach and the water.
Brooke: I’ll use the beach to segue back to model photography. This shoot with Brooke on the Northeast corner of O’ahu was one of the major “aha” moments in my learning to use strobes outdoors. The background, as you can see, was clear. The sunlight hitting Brooke was hidden by clouds over the Koolau Mountains. The initial results were terrible, so I kept increasing the shutter speed. The background got darker and the ratio between the ambient light and the strobe changed: the undiffused strobe became more apparent and looks more like direct sunlight. I figured out a “rule” that made my use of strobes outdoors much easier: get the exposure of the background first and then adjust your strobe/ambient combination to give you the effect you want.
Kat and Keoni: Similar poses, different lighting effects: Kat, the model from my This Week covers, was photographed in my friend Stan’s studio. I had just moved to Hawai’i and was looking for a studio to share. Stan replied to an ad I had posted in a local photo lab. The studio share idea did not work out, but we went on to become very good friends, do many projects over the years and were co-best man at each other’s weddings.
There is a very effective lighting technique where a harsh spotlight is placed in front of a soft box. In some ways the effect is similar to the image of Brooke above where the spotlight is softened by the larger light source. In this case, however, I used a small stripdome as my “large” light source to create a harsher version of “hard-soft lighting.” Kat was known at the time for her incredible smile that graced several This Week covers (including the two above). We wanted to create an edgier, more fashion-oriented look for her. The lighting was my job. The rest was Kat!
The pose is similar, but the effect is different because in this case, there was only one light source: a larger softbox. I think the kick on Keoki’s hair and neck was spill from the lights hitting the backdrop, but it could have been a separate light. It was almost 20 years ago!
Teresa: A chance announcement at the end of a breakout digital group of the Professional Photographers of Hawai’i led to my “permanent” position in a studio share “hui.” I stayed with the hui for 17 years until I finally closed my school of photography in 2020. The studio was a massive space in a warehouse in Iwilei. We eventually moved to a smaller space in Chinatown, but it was sure fun to have more space than you would ever need. It was in this studio where I really began to explore multiple light sources and understand the interplay of quality of light issues and the additive nature of light. Teresa was lit by 3 or 4 different lights of different sizes and “qualities” combining to act as the main light for this glamour portrait. She and I worked together for many years.
Brandy: This image of Brandy is an example of what became my signature beauty lighting set-up. I built a mini “room” around a table with either black flags or silver reflectors depending on the look I wanted. The main light was a large softbox high and directly in front of the model (“butterfly” lighting) with a large silver card on the table as a bottom reflector. Hair lights were placed behind the flags. I began to use Photoshop as a postproduction tool to enhance the glamour look with this image.
Da Girls: Make-up artists Toni Farley and Tiffany Pestana-Breaux came up with the concept for this incredibly fun shoot with three young friends. The hardest part was keeping up with Sam, Cassie and Serena as they played out the silly theme perfectly! It remains one of the most fun shoots of my career. Sam said it best: “So serious…with fruit!” We had a blast!
Naomye: Where and how do I start talking about Naomye? She is the model that I have probably worked with over the longest time frame: I am guessing 15+ years. I met her through a former assistant who had worked with her when I had just moved into the Chinatown studio. She has gone on to model for many of my classes over the years. I was writing for the major photography e-Zine ProPhotoResource at the time and each month the e-Zine would have a featured photograph—like a cover. This image was one of the “covers.” The lighting was simple: a large softbox camera left with a large white card as a reflector camera right with a spotlight illuminating Naoyme’s hair and a second one lighting the dark brown backdrop. Wait, the backdrop in this photo is green! Yes, it is green because there was a green gel taped over the back light. One backdrop can become as many different colors as you have different colored gels! Dark backdrops yield rich colors while light ones offer more pastel colors (see the image of the Nikas sisters above for an example).
Raeceen: I became a season ticket holder for the University of Hawai’i Wahine (women’s) Volleyball team in 2006. I wound up photographing several of the players (after their playing days were over) and one of my player/models was Raeceen Woolford. Raeceen went on to become Miss Hawai’i 2009. This image was the first of three shoots with her and shows a very simple, yet effective fashion lighting set-up: one softbox in the butterfly position to illuminate her head and torso while the natural falloff of light left her outfit dark towards the bottom of the image. Raeceen lean over forward and quickly straightened up as I grabbed this almost perfect hair across her face image. The gap that shows her eyes was actually in the image, but I did lighten her hair a little in postproduction.
Rayna: Rayna was the first former Wahine Volleyball player I photographed. I met her in the stands at a Spring exhibition game at the Stan Sheriff Center and approached her about modeling. It took a few months (and a rather funny story that I share in Get Up, Your Bus is Here), but we produced several shoots together and she modeled for several of my classes over the years. This image was from our first shoot across the harbor from Honolulu. My outdoor lighting system was beginning to come together. The image was created midday, which is usually horrible light. My friend held a scrim over Rayna’s head to soften the harsh midday light, but very carefully positioned the scrim to allow direct sunlight to hit Rayna’s hair and shoulders. A strobe in a halo combined with the ambient light to match the background exposure.
Jayme: One of the shoots with Rayna included her good friend Jayme. Jayme was the libero/defensive specialist for UH before we began working together. This image was created during a different shoot with Rachel, another close friend of Jayme’s. The lighting was a simple set-up: there was a large softbox camera left which allowed the left side of Jayme’s face to be in a soft shadow. A stripdome was used as a hair light on the same side as the main light to keep the pattern of light going from right to left and the backdrop was lit by a third strobe. I have used this image in my intro classes for many years as an example of the low noise that is created by choosing a low ISO with digital cameras. The image was compared to an image of Jayme captured during an actual game with a higher ISO with the resulting increase in digital noise. This image was further contrasted with the high ASA film image of Michele that we saw earlier. The point was that choosing a higher ASA film to produce a grainy effect was often a creative choice with beautiful results. Noise, on the other hand, is rarely attractive. Fortunately, the newer digital cameras are doing amazing jobs of limiting the noise at higher ISO settings.
Jaime: This image of Jaime, in hindsight, was an outdoor version of my studio beauty lighting set-up. The shade of the pavilion created the soft overall light while a large silver-gold reflector on the ground bounced the sunlight back into Jaime’s face. A strobe in a halo balanced the foreground with the background.
Jacqui and LeGran: I often used this image in my classes to talk about how and when to “break the rules.” The rule broken here is the placement of a strong vertical component in the center of your image because you run the risk of creating two competing images. Good advice, but “never say ‘never.’” I think that the tree and positioning of Jacquie and LeGran create a sense of tension in an otherwise standard scene. Are they OK? Did they have an argument? Is the relationship working? An image that generates more questions and emotions is a powerful photograph.
Nikki: In contrast, this IS a relatively “usual” image, but I still like it. The key is to underexpose the whole image and allow the setting sun to form the silhouette of your model. Nikki was carefully positioned in front of the setting sun and the image was darkened further in postproduction. The sun rays behind Nikki were brought back up a little to add to the effect.
I love the simple composition of this image of a catamaran on an island in Fiji. It is the “rule of thirds” in picture form. The image is painfully boring with the cat fully centered in the photograph. The placement of the cat in the bottom right corner gives the image room to breathe and the body of the boat leads your eye to the mountains in the far background. The long black mast breaks up the beautiful blue sky. It is an incredibly simple image, but it reminds me of that wonderful and peaceful day.
Athena: Athena was a beautiful young lady I think I met on that same tour. She was relaxing by herself towards the end of fun-filled day (I even napped for an hour or so on a hammock while the rest of the tour played volleyball on the beach). I approached her and in her broken English, she agreed to a photoshoot on the boat on the return to the main Fiji island. The captain of the boat was all for it and fortunately we were heading East, so the setting sun provided beautiful light. The two sails provide a “frame within a frame” for the composition. It was a very pleasant surprise shoot. I never heard from Athena again, even after sending her some images via email.
2010’s and some life-changing photographs!
Angelika: I met Angelika through my friend and former assistant/studio mate Christopher. He had photographed her and introduced us. The lighting was what became my go-to white on white set-up (described above). Angelika, and the photograph, are beautiful, but this became one of the most important shoots of my life…for a reason that is surreal! Angelika is from the Philippines and her “sister-in-law” later became…
Joan:…My beautiful asawa (wife) Joan! The story of how I met Joan and our long immigration story—including my first four trips to the Philippines is detailed in Get Up, Your Bus is Here: Living MY Life with Cerebral Palsy Second Edition, but here are some of the images! I certainly can never claim to be a very good wedding photographer, but I had photographed some weddings for friends, so of course I brought a camera to my own wedding. It was nothing extravagant and I even used the camera’s lousy built-in pop-up flash! My friends were “covering” the wedding for real, but these two are my favorites of all of the wedding photos I have taken over the years.
The pop-up flash was used primarily as a fill light.
I bought THE ring after my first visit to the Philippines and had to keep my mouth shut for a few months. This image of the ring was created with the soft light coming from the large window in my living room and a white card placed on the opposite side of the ring.
There is nothing technically interesting about this image: I used the pop-up flash in one of my less elaborate cameras. However, it does tell the story: She said “yes!”
Joan and I spent a week on this beautiful beach in Boracay during my first visit to the Philippines. The rock is known as “Willy’s Rock” and forms the shape of a dog crouching. There is an always crowded stairwell leading to a statue of the Virgin Mary on the top of the rock. We have plenty of closer photographs of the rock and Mary, but I like the composition of this image. I like the expansive sand and sky with the shadows and clouds leading your eye to the rock.
Color and symmetry are often overlooked composition components. The amber colors of sunset dominate this photograph overlooking Manila Bay, but the light and building in silhouette set the composition. The symmetrical flashes of light diagonally across from each other tie all of the elements of the image together.
Photography is an incredibly powerful storyteller, even when the photograph is “grabbed” from a seat in a kalesa (horse-drawn carriage). The life and challenges of Chinatown street merchants is colorfully depicted in this image that I created during a personal tour of Intramuros and Chinatown in Manila, Philippines.
El Nido, on the province of Palawan in the Philippines is truly one of the most beautiful places that I have ever visited. Palawan is a series of islands on the extreme west side of the central portion of the Philippines, separating the Sulu Sea from the South China Sea. El Nido is at the extreme northern tip of the main island Palawan, so it juts out, unprotected from the elements, into the ocean. The many rock formations created by centuries of wind and rain are truly amazing. It was very difficult to choose one image of the dozens created to represent the spectacular scenery, visible via island hopping tours, but this one works!
I have used many cameras over the last 6 decades, but the “GoPro” really did open up possibilities that my “standard” cameras could not. This image of life underwater in El Nido is one example. Underwater photography is an art unto itself and shares an incredible world that is largely unseen. It is a world worth exploring.
The “rule” says that the best images are created with sun setting behind you with the light streaming over your shoulder. I say that that is partially true: it is very easy to create beautiful images in that kind of light (like the image of Athena above). However, what happens when the porch of the cottage you have during your once-in-a-lifetime vacation in one of the most beautiful places in the world faces WEST—where the sun sets in front of you? Well, it is time to break the rules! Now, I promise you will get less than memorable images if your camera is on “auto” or even if you “properly” expose the image on manual mode. Remember, a “proper” exposure is relative to what you want to create. In this case I “severely” underexposed the image to create not only a beautiful image, but one that dramatically tells you about the location.
We return to fashion photography for the next four images where we created beautiful light where it did not exist for this type of photography. The images of Tasha and Sharon were created using natural light, reflectors and a strobe in a beauty dish.
Tasha: A plexiglass mirror from a glass store scrap bin was used behind Tasha to bounce what little sunlight into her hair for a subtle hair light. Remember my mentor Bill’s words: What are the photo ads trying to sell you and how casn you make it yourself.
Sharon: Sharon was positioned next to a closed restaurant wall as the sun rose and began to shine over the building. The shade created soft even light while the reflector bounced warm toned light back into Sharon’s face. The strobe provided the overall illumination for the image. The shutter speed was slowed down to allow the detail in the wall behind Sharon to show.
Angelika: In contrast, I shot with the fastest shutter speed I could (before learning about “high speed sync”) for the images of Tasha and Angelika on a yacht in the harbor.
Tasha: The sun was high in the sky and slightly behind them, so the shutter speed had to be fast to underexpose the background and allow the strobes to “overpower” the sun
Part of photography’s power as a storyteller is its ability to portray different emotions as noted in the two very disparate images that follow. One is a moment of introspection and sorrow while saying a final farewell to a good friend while the other is a moment of joy on the day Joan became a United States citizen.
The image of Max saying goodbye is another example of underexposing an image in order to tell the story.
The image of Joan was cropped to add to the impact of the photograph.
Nature finds a way to preserve itself even in a “concrete jungle” like Waikiki. The mother and baby bird were captured as they managed to thrive in a tree within the newly designed International Marketplace. The marketplace was recently turned into a very modern mall and yet nature remains on full display. Many mahalos to the marketplace worker for pointing me in the direction of the birds. The image was cropped for effect.
In contrast, the image of the pigeon in Waikiki’s other famous banyan tree was framed in camera and is shown as shot.
The baby bird in the mall indicates nature’s rebirth within the “human jungle,” but sometimes the concrete jungle itself can symbolize rebirth. The two images of the Liberty Tower where the twin towers stood brought a sense of closure to me years after my home city was attacked.
The second image was created by making a duplicate layer and turning it black and white. I used a layer mask to “paint” the original color version of the tower back in.
Speaking of “Liberty,” here she is in all her glory. The promise that she made to Joan was depicted in the photo of her citizenship day shown above.
Strong leading lines have become one of the major considerations in my set of composition tools. I don’t use them in every image, but they can be very effective in leading your viewer’s eyes to your main subject. The strong railings of the walkway lead you right to the beautiful Byodo Temple in Kaneohe on O’ahu. The first image in this series is kind of a teaser, raising your expectation of what is to come.
The second image is the beautiful temple nestled among the Koolau Mountains. The Koolaus cut through Central O’ahu and normally sit among a thick cloud cover with the sun above or behind the clouds. The temple is nestled into the foothills of the mountains, so you are essentially shooting into a very large diffused light source, creating a lot of flare to degrade your image (for, example, the contrast needed is “eaten” by the flare). The “new” Dehaze filter in either Lightroom or the Camera Raw Filter does an incredible job of decreasing the flare, increasing the contrast and bringing your photo back to life. It is sort of like using a high contrast filter or paper in the darkroom to add life to an underexposed negative!
Postproduction has been a part of photography since day one. We would manipulate or even create composite images in the darkroom all the time. Programs like Photoshop have just taken the process out of the dark and into places that generally smell a lot better! This image is a composite of a studio shot of Joan and a photo of the flowers from when we got engaged. I learned the technique during a virtual Photoshop Summit that took place during the Covid lockdown.
We talked earlier about the role your shutter speed plays when photographing people with a strobe outdoors. Here are two more examples: my buddy Robert introduced me to a new advance called high speed sync, meaning that you could sync your shutter with the strobe at incredibly fast speeds. The high shutter speed in the first image allowed me to photograph Joan with the sun essentially right behind her. The relatively high ISO of 400 helped to blend the ambient light around Joan’s face with the strobe for a pleasing ratio.
The second image used the opposite technique of dragging the shutter enough to show detail in the foliage behind Joan. The background was also lightened a little more in postproduction.
Steisha: Were these two images the end of an era? The beauty images of Reina and Steisha were among my last studio images. In fact, the image of Steisha was created during my last studio shoot (so far!) I left the studio hui shortly after this shoot just before the Covid shutdown. The original was in color and was converted to black and white while the highlights were manipulated in postproduction.
Reina: However, the glamour beauty image of Reina, created a few years earlier, was all lighting and captured in camera. I added a spotlight to my usual beauty set-up. We have talked a lot about underexposing images for effect. This was essentially the opposite: I over-lit or overexposed the image to create a “glamour” look. It worked!
One question that will arise every time you pick up a camera is whether to photograph the details of the scene or provide a global view. The answer is a creative choice dictated by each scene. I was given the unique opportunity to sail off of Honolulu a couple of years ago. I got some great shots of the coastline and Diamondhead (and even a whale breaching off in the distance), but my favorite images from that day were the detail images of the sailboat.
Similarly, this “closer” image of the ocean hitting the East coast of O’ahu had more impact to me then the farther crops. The power of the wave hitting the shore is very apparent here and the fast shutter speed froze the drops of water. A slow shutter speed would have created a beautiful image as well, but it would have been a much more peaceful feeling.
In contrast, sometimes THE image is a broader view like the one of the back side of Kualoa Park. The image was captured with a drone, one more of the cameras I have played with over the years. The best camera is the one that is right for the job or situation, and that even includes cell phone cameras!
I love this image of the Wailua River on Kaua’i. Joan and I had kayaked the river a couple of days earlier and has plenty of “detail” images. However, thIs photograph sets the river within its natural context. I love the tree, and yes, there was a lot of thought about where to place the tree and how to frame it.
The image of the wave crashing against the East O’ahu shore showed the impact of using a fast shutter speed. The next two photographs show the beauty of using a slow shutter speed. We actually brought a tripod and neutral density filters with us on a trip to Singapore because I wanted to capture THIS image of the Merlion with the water from the fountain blurred.
Similarly, waterfalls, like this one on Kaua’i, generate a more “romantic” feeling with the water blurred. A tripod was used to create this image as well.
Depth of field, largely controlled by your f-stop, is the creative counterpart to shutter speed. Shutter speed, as seen, controls how you show motion in your image. Depth of field determines how much of your images appear sharply focused. The Merlion image above shows the water blurred, but the entire marina appears sharp. In contrast, these two images, also created in Singapore, show a much “shallower” depth of field that draws your eyes directly to the flowers.
A smaller f-number (like f-2) corresponds to a larger lens opening, and perhaps counter-intuitively, a “smaller” or more shallow depth of field.
Postproduction, as noted above, is as much of the creative process as framing and exposing the image in the camera. These four images show the after-postproduction results. I used an infrared black and white adjustment for the lake image at Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens to create more of a surreal look.
A black and white adjustment places the old Waialua Sugar Mill on Mau’i in historical perspective for me
The sepia tone effect applied to an old, rusted truck by the defunct Koloa Sugar Mill on Kaua’i gives it a nostalgic feel.
A high contrast black and white adjustment gives Vasquez Rocks Park in Los Angles and “other-world” type of look. It can be fun to take images and play in postproduction to see what you can do, but it does help to shoot the images with some idea of what you want to do in postproduction.
The monochromatic look of the sailboat off the coast of Kaua’i looks like it was created in postproduction, but it was captured mostly in camera.
Your images do not need to be elaborate in order to create a particular feeling or emotion. I love the peaceful feeling of this simple silhouette of Joan on a beach on Kaua’i. I spent years learning very elaborate and complex lighting set-ups, but sometimes the most simple approach is the most effective. I simply exposed for the background and Joan became somewhat underexposed, creating the semi-silhouette.
The last 7 images of this collection were created in 2020-2021, representing the start of my 6th decade of photography (1970’s, 80’s, 90’s, 00’s, 10’s and now 20’s)! 2020 represented a significant change in, uh, “focus” for me. I closed Hawai’i School of Photography at about the same time I left the studio. I have not left photography by any means, but I have “retired” from commercial photography and teaching—for now! Photography is once again a very personal exercise engaged in for the sheer simple pleasure of creating images and preserving memories. I leave you with these final images…again, for now!
I have loved the old church buildings ever since I set foot in Hawai’i for the first time in 2000. The Queen Liliuokalani church in Haliewa has always been one of my favorites. The church and the attached graveyard are steeped in Hawai’ian history. Apparently, many of the Ali’i from the monarch years are buried here. I have always only been able to see church from the road driving by until Joan and I bought a power wheelchair. I was finally able to see this landmark church up close in 2020—twenty-years later! It was worth the wait. The next visit is to the old Kawaiihao Church in Honolulu!
This old tree is part of the Foster Botanical Garden in Honolulu. Aside from the use of strong leading lines as a compositional tool again, this tree reminded me of the “Groot” character in the Guardians of the Galaxy movie series!
The use of repeating shapes can also be an effective compositional component. These flowers, also in the Foster Botanical Garden, reminded me of another science fiction movie: I immediately thought of the “Clones” hanging from the arms and waiting to be deployed off of the machines that built them in the Star Wars saga!
Sometimes you just get lucky: the image of the bee was also captured at the same garden. The shutter speed was fast enough to keep the flowers and the body of the bee steady, but slow enough to show the wings in a blur, indicating that the insect, was indeed, still moving and collecting its food and cross-pollinating the plants. Nature at work!
…And then there is Dune, the new addition to our family! The first image was pure soft window light, still one of the most beautiful light sources available.
The second shows that there is still more to learn after over 50 years of photography than spanned the course of 6 different decades. I cannot claim to understand much of the technique used to create the image of a sleepy Dune, but there are color grading tools in Photoshop called “Look Up Tables” or “LUTs,” that can be used to add unique and creative color shifts to your images. This is what has kept me involved and has maintained my 6-decade love affair with this art form: there is always more to learn! Here’s to continuing the 6th decade and moving into the 7th!
Rebirth and emergence from Covid: Joan and I visited the amazing Bishop Museum in one of our first outings since the Covid pandemic hit in 2019-2020. I love the symmetry of the columns in this image, shot with only the light provided by the museum. The noise level at ISO 3200 is very acceptable from my “new” Canon 5D MIV. Enjoy and embrace progress!
My career in photography has truly come full circle. I started by studying books and articles on photography as well as working with key mentors and taking many seminars over the years. I am back on the learning circuit with all of the new advancements in postproduction techniques. I had the unique honor of being the author/teacher for many photographers in the years between these extremes…and yes, I am incredibly thankful to those who trusted me for information and knowledge and extremely proud of those former students who took my lessons to the next level and surpassed my own efforts and skills. That is what a life of love and learning is all about.
We end this collection with my series of book covers, because, as I write my final reflections for this volume, I realize that teaching was, in fact, my best education. It was an honor to work with everyone associated with this retrospective and the many many more who are represented here in spirit. Mahalo, Salamat…Thank you! Aloha o’e.
Models: Stephanie, Kat, Anna, Lyndsey, Ashlee, Katrina, Sharon, Thalia, Ashley, Rayna, Jayme, Tasha, Angelika, Kellene, Susan, Angelika, Kailyn, Tasha, Joan, Naoyme and Marshall.
Last friendly reminder: This is a fundraising effort! I hope you are finding something interesting and useful here. If you do, then please consider making a donation of any size to the United Cerebral Palsy Association of Hawai’i (https://unitedcerebralpalsyhawaii.org/donate-online/) or a chapter of UCP in your area.