October 20, 2012

Kilburnie the Inn at Craig Farm

It's been almost four years, since I last worked for Mr. Johannes Tromp – enthusiastic Dutch owner of a beautiful historic inn in Lancaster, SC. I met him, when I was shooting a magazine fashion spread in his place – Kilburnie the Inn at Craig Farm - and he was an excellent host. He must have liked the way we worked all day tirelessly to try to get the best possible shots, because in the end he asked me, if I would be interested in shooting his place for marketing and a potential book use. I happily agreed and during the next couple of weeks produced exterior and interior images, that are still featured on Kilburnie website today: http://www.kilburnie.com/  . It was 2008…..

So, as you can imagine, I was pleasantly surprised, when a couple of weeks ago, my phone rang and it was Johannes telling me about a new addition they’ve just built. The next day I was off to Lancaster to see it with my own eyes and it was something really extraordinary. I was so excited about a chance to continue my photography work on the Kilburnie project!

Within a week I shot about fifty shots for the targeted 10 final shots selected by Johannes from the online proof gallery. After the image selection, I worked on the images on the computer and finalized them on a CD-ROM, that I delivered to Johannes personally. 


He was very happy with the results and I am looking forward to see the images on his website and his new book, that he is working on at the moment.

I would encourage everyone to visit Kilburnie. It’s a great place to stay on your vacation, business trip or if you plan a wedding or a similar event. You won’t find any place like this anywhere else!

February 4, 2011

Three Times of Murray Whisnant

It was a memorable shoot with Mr. Murray Whisnant yesterday. He definitely deserves to be featured in my new exclusive "Personalities on Location" portrait project I have just started.

An architect, designer, inventor, furniture maker and artist, Mr. Whisnant was awarded the FAIA designation and the Kamphoefner Prize in the early 1990's. He was voted one of the top 50 architects in America by Town and Country Magazine. In the Triangle, his best-known building is the 1968 Van Hecke-Wettach Building, the UNC-Chapel Hill Law School. He still continues to delight his friends and family in Charlotte with his "outside the box" ideas.

So I was pretty excited, when he finally agreed to meet me in his Charlotte office to discuss a possible photo shoot. During our meeting, he showed me two new architectural projects he was working on and his self-designed furniture pieces in a showroom, which is a part of his office. I explained my approach to the on location portrait work and importance of environment helping to define my portrait subjects. He said, his house, that he designed himself, might be a good location. He also mentioned, he might have already a spot in his mind. So we set up our shoot for the next morning.

There was no sunlight when I arrived in his house at 10 a.m. The spot by the pool, he originally suggested, wasn’t really looking its best in winter, mostly because all the plants and greenery was dead. It was also very cold, which would have made pretty difficult for him to pose for an extended period of time and looking comfortable at the same time…… So we opted to finding a different location inside the house, where it was warm.

His studio on the ground floor was an extraordinary space, but unfortunately would have required major rearrangements for the shoot. So we moved to the main area upstairs, where I found two possible views. I choose the one with a stronger composition and a better layering. Then we discussed his placement in the frame and saw three options....and I came up with an idea: Why should we be limited to one pose only? Why not taking advantage of a camera mounted on a tripod ... and take multiple exposures, placing him in 3 different spots in the frame and combining them in one final composition later. I shared the idea with Whisnant and he seemed to like it.

I tried to visualize the final image in my mind all the time and to make sure the posing was appropriate and natural for the particular spot ... Anyway, we went through the whole process quite fast and by 12 p.m. I was out of his door...

What you see here is the first version of the portrait I finished today..... all comments are welcome!

January 14, 2011

November 12, 2010

Michael at the Orchard

Why do I like this image so much? There are many reasons. I still remember taking it on an early summer morning at the Orchard at Altapass in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I was teaching a photography workshop there and Michael was one of our "students".

He was different than most of other students. Very quiet, with a glimpse of a kind, but detached smile, in his own world most of the time. As a former radiologist, he has always been close to photography .... but his photography world was very specific and his creativity developed in a special way. He would see faces in trees and dolphins in stone structures and signs leading to invisible access points. He had a gift of seing beyond the obvious.

So in that early summer morning, as I was gazing over the orchard trying to keep track of our students, I saw him walking the orchard road. Suddenly he stopped and put his doctor suitcase down. He stood as still as a statue for a minute or two and then he started mounting his camera on a tripod.

And suddenly, it struck me. That scene was in a perfect compositional and emotional harmony, and when Michael stepped into his own world, he became a part of what he was photographing. I could see myself in him as I was taking my own portrait. The experience was quite extraordinary and the shot is still one of my favorites.....

June 28, 2010

Portrait of Music Director John Herrick

I have started this "environmental portrait project" recently. I shoot creative and interesting people I know or my friends know. I do not focus just on the face of the subject, but I like to include its environment to get a better feel and understanding about the person I am portraying. It can be a workplace, house, studio, garden, backyard or any subject's favorite location.

Last week I collaborated with my friend, art director Matt Merkel and took a portrait of his friend - music director John Herrick. We met at his house early in the morning and I realized immediately, that John was a very kind and talented guy. We scouted his house and backyard, while having a cup of coffee and a nice conversation and we decided to use his beautifully lit screened in porch. John works on his porch frequently and his sassy cat often accompanies him there, resting on a glass table. So while I was setting up my equipment, Matt added some props as musical instruments, sheet music and he moved chairs to make a better composition for the shot, as we had discussed earlier.

We started shooting with a camera on a tripod and John in different scenarios - drinking coffee, making notes, playing flute - and I observed the cat on a glass table very carefully. So when it moved close to John and "stroke a pose", I was ready to capture it. We kept shooting for a little longer and used a nice sculpture of the Buddha in the background, instead of the cat, just to have more options and variations to choose from later.

After the shoot we packed everything up and talked with John about his house as a great source of inspiration and wonderful place to work and rest. Then we said goodbye and headed back home, where I worked hard on the images, while discussing several versions with Matt online. Finally I decided the version with the cat is the strongest one and I will use it for my portrait portfolio.


April 8, 2010

Blooming Peach Orchards, somewhere in South Carolina, U.S.A.

I was invited to join my friend photographer Kelly Culpepper on his project dedicated to orchards in South and North Carolinas. Peach trees were in full bloom, so we decided to take a trip down there.
After a little scouting we found one orchard with a small group of people working on pruning blossoms. We got out of car, set up the cameras and started shooting.

We started with overall shots and then came closer. The people were a little surprised, they did not know what was going on, but stayed friendly and focused on their work.

After a couple of minutes their boss approached us asking if we had permission and what exactly we were doing there. Kelly explain to him, that he has been coming there to shoot for many years and mentioned the guy James we had met there before. Unfortunately James was the owner of the competing farm, which we were immediately informed about. Fortunately as the conversation grew, it loosened up a bit and when the "boss" realized it's not any official business, he let us shoot freely.

We continued shooting more images with and without people in them.

Then we decided to take a little break and went for a cold drink to a nearest restaurant. When we came back, we choose a different orchard and shot images in and around it as well. After the dusk we came back home to Charlotte.

Next day I worked hard to edit the images and to get them ready using Adobe Lightroom. I used only basic adjustments and some panorama stitching in Photoshop. Then I used the Web module of Lightroom to produce a web gallery and to upload it to my server. Here it is: http://www.robandrobertson.com/orchards2/

It was a great little adventure and I am looking forward to take more photographic trips with my friend Kelly.

December 8, 2009

Shooting in the Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC

If you have ever visited Washington, DC, you probably stopped at the Sculpture Garden right off the National Mall. It's a really nice place to walk while admiring the great works of art in the form of big sculpture installations. And as most visitors would do, you would most likely have your camera and would be ready to shoot.

    Sol Le'witt - Four Sided Pyramid, 1999
     The diagonals are always very strong compositional
    elements. The tree on the side balances the sculpture shape nicely.

But, how to get the most from this great visual opportunity without the luxury of expensive equipment, no time limitations and a team of supporting people like most professional photographers would have available? Let’s say you only have your little "point and shoot" digital camera and about two hours to shoot. Can you get any images that would really impress your friends and family?

     Joel Shapiro - Untitled, 1989
Do not be afraid to come really close to your subject. By cropping tightly I eliminated
distracting elements in the background and let the sculpture shape itself to work 
nicely within the frame borders.

Of course you can! The secret is that the most important tool for any image creation is the photographer’s eye – your eye! If you have a good eye, you can more than likely make better pictures with your little camera than some pros with their expensive SLRs and all that equipment. I used my little "point and shoot" Fuji camera to take all the images shown here.

Claes Oldenburg and Coosje Van Bruggen
Typewriter Eraser, Scal. X, 1999
Vertical format and a strong diagonal shape make
this image dynamic. I also saturated colors a little
more and darkened corners in post - production.

So my advice to you would be to relax and to take your time. Don’t approach the subject (in our case a sculpture) in a hurry taking one or two snaps and moving to a different subject. For the first couple of minutes I don’t take any shots. I just observe the subject from different views and angles – not just moving left or right, but also changing the height of the camera and distance from the subject. I examine not just the subject, but everything in the frame – using the camera’s viewfinder or LCD without actually taking the picture.

David Smith - Cubi XI, 1963
Beautiful directional light shows the quality of stainless steel surface and its texture. I explored
different angles and camera positions extensively before taking this shot.

As we all know, lighting is the crucial element in photography. You probably won’t be able to influence available light in the garden very much, but you should try to take advantage of it instead. See how the shape of a sculpture and the whole image mood changes just by taking a shot lit from the front, side or back. Think and decide what light direction would emphasize your subject the best.

Mark Di Suvero - Aurora, 1992-1993
Find interesting details! This sculpture didn't look very
good in direct sunlight that particular day, so I decided to find an
interesting detail - framing that would make it pop out.

Another good idea is after you are done observing your subject would be to take a first shot that best “describes” the subject (see first image below) – the kind of shot you usually see in the books. Your next step would be to find your own creative way, how to capture the same sculpture by using a different camera angle, zoom, crop and light direction. Imagine how many people may have already taken the same shot of this sculpture. Try to find an interesting shot that nobody else has taken before (see second image below).

                                        George Rickey - Cluster of Four Cubes, 1992
                         Examples of a descriptive shot and its creative interpretation.
               I shot the sculpture as a whole first to show it as if it was a part of an art history book
               (first image). My next step was to find my own unique interpretation (second image).

Spend as much time with each subject as you can and force yourself to relax and to stay focused on the subject at the same time. Use your imagination, study your subject and focus on your visual thinking.

Louise Bourgois - Spider, 1996
The importance of a right camera angle. I realized it was essential for me to take this shot with
the camera positioned very low to make it successful. Look how the spider's head is just above
the building thanks to a low camera angle.

And when you are back home in front of your computer going through your images don’t hesitate to experiment with severe cropping, creative color changes or even black & white conversions – just to see if that would help your subject and ideas pop out from the frame even more!

March 13, 2009

Shooting Will Smith Porcelain Piggy Bank

I recently finished a very interesting project for A Child’s Place – non profit organization helping homeless children. They were getting ready for a big fundraiser in May, where they had beautiful artsy piggy banks for auctioning. Most of them were personally signed by well known celebrities - one of them was Will Smith’s Piggy Bank, signed by Will himself.

So my job was to take “portraits” of piggy banks to be featured on an exclusive website promoting the upcoming fundraiser (http://aswineevening.com/piggies.html ). My goal was to photograph the pigs the way to minimize all distracting reflections on the porcelain surface. Matt Merkel – the art director and graphic designer – worked with the images further. He had to extract them from the background, resize them and place them on the new website. That’s why I couldn’t use a white background – the selecting and extracting pigs from the background would have been very difficult.

The reflections were the main problem. I tried different approaches – big soft boxes, large reflective panels, light bounced off the white ceiling and walls, but nothing worked. We could see big white reflecting spots all over the piggy banks and if we zoomed in the shot, we could see all the studio reflecting there including us!

So I had to try something different and pretty radical. I surrounded the working table with white paper, including the front side – I just cut off a hole for the lens to stick it through the paper. I used two strobes with reflecting umbrellas to light the pigs from sides through the paper. The 640 Ws strobes had to be set on full power, because lots of light was absorbed by paper and umbrellas. That way we achieved a beautiful soft wrapping light with almost no reflections in the porcelain surface.

To make the post production – and extraction of piggy banks from the background – easier, I used a dark grey background. It made the piggy banks shapes well defined and easier to select later on.

Matt and me had lots of fun shooting this project and it was really tempting to keep Will Smith’s Piggy Bank for myself – I am his biggest fan! Well, at least I have a couple of good shots of it to remember a good cause – money raised by auctioning piggy banks will help many children to make their life happier…..
(images shown here are straight from the camera with no retouching done)