Mother Nature Doesn’t Do Favors: Shooting With Alissa Narvaez

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As a photographer you’re always looking for something new. A new location to shoot at, a new concept to try to bring to life and even a new ways to shoot. But the one thing you’re constantly looking for is a new model to work with. Alissa Narvaez has been someone who’s been on my radar for possibly a year now and after a long wait I finally got the opportunity to work with her in a very casual shoot in Old Town Albuquerque.

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The motivation for shooting with Alissa primarily comes from her creative mind. Looking through her instagram, she keeps a trove of brilliant creative design work as well as some high concept makeup works that she does in her spare time. This was probably the most casual thing we could have shot together considering the immense amount of creative possibilities, but despite being a clearly talented individual this was the first time she had worked with a photographer taking the photos of her. This however was not much of an issue because I’ve become accustomed to shooting with newer models. While my directing skills are not quite up to par, my main goal with any kind of shoot like this is to get the subject comfortable with a camera pointed at them. The rest just takes time and practice.

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Now the big kicker of this whole shoot was the fact that mother nature didn’t want to cooperate. Now that we’re in the long days of summer, I scheduled this shoot fairly late hoping to catch everything right at that golden hour where the sun is low and the light is warm, but nature had other plans. Just as I was out the door to heading into Old Town Albuquerque storm clouds started rolling in. The clouds weren’t so much of an issue, they create nice even and soft lighting. It was the wind that was being a pain. Alissa has a lot of hair and it got caught in the wind a lot. On top of that, the clouds had rolled in so late that I had to bump my ISO higher than I really wanted to. However, my motto for photography is role with the punches; despite the challenges, we were able to tie things together and make some beautiful images.

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Over all it was an extremely pleasant shoot with Alissa and I look forward to continuing working with her as she wants to do more professional shoots. Chances are she’ll be the next Tara and will be working with all the photographers and doing all the photo shoots in no time at all.

Gothic Shoot with a Piercing Twist

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Tara (aka Ravensnow as she’s known on her new modeling page) has long been one of my favorite people to work with since we both started almost 2 years ago. Recently she’s been blowing up working with photographers from all over the state, making friends with a stellar makeup artist known as Stormie Steen and getting spoiled in the process by photographers and re-touchers.

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Even though Tara has been making her way up the modeling ladder she still keeps in mind why does it in the first place, for the fun of it. Whenever anyone at our shoots (Me, Tara, my girlfriend Emilie ect.) comes up with an idea whether it be a pose, a prop or even a location or theme, the general consensus is always “fucking go for it.” That’s the kind of attitude that I love when it comes to shooting with Tara.

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Everything in the shoot just happened to tie together almost perfectly. Tara’s hair and makeup (Done by Stormie Steen), her wardrobe choices, the location (just a stairwell behind the Albuquerque Convention Center), the prop machete and the corset piercing (Done by Scott Self) all blended together in a very horror-esque Gothic way that also somehow accidentally  had a bit of Harley Quinn influences in there (don’t know how it happened but it did.)

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On thing that I wasn’t expecting out of the shoot was how well the location worked out. Location scouting is always difficult and there is always a level of exploration that goes into finding the perfect area. When I was having the conversation with Tara about where we would do the shoot she said she wanted something that looked very dark and abandoned. I remembered the stairwell at the back of the convention center and how it fit that mold perfectly for what she wanted. The climate was very controlled, nobody was ever really around and there was a nearby outlet that I could hook extension cables to in to order to get my lighting kit set up.

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What was also perfect was the location outside the stairwell. This was the part that took a little exploration. Right outside the stairwell was a well shaded are with lots of space, Some concrete and even some nature which allowed us to get some other aesthetics in with the set.

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The best thing that came out of the exploration was this sort of tunnel are that ran along the street with it’s own walkway. The lighting that it gave off was unique and perfect for portrait shooting. Of course a lot of it ended up getting blown out in the highlights but in the case of these images it worked extremely well and it’s ads more of an ethereal feel to the images that the stairwell didn’t have. I intend on using this location again in the future, I just need to figure out what that will be.

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Editing wise everything was very simple. Stormie’s makeup was so well done that there wasn’t much for me to correct and everything else was my standard contrast and color correcting. Tara of course had some input on the edits this time around. She probably has a more critical eye than I do. I tend to be very conservative with my edits and I’m trying to take in the models input more and more. I need to remember that I don’t necessarily have to follow the same rules for Photojournalism as I do for portraiture.

 

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It was great to be able to work with Tara again and hopefully we both continue to do awesome things, together and separately+, well into the future.

BTS Shooting Before the Shoot.

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Candid Photo journalistic work is my jam, it’s more of what my background is and I feel like the photos just come out better when I take them in a much more natural setting.

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Portraiture, though, has a much bigger market and people enjoy being part of that process a lot more. So in my great big reunion with my friend Tara we came up with idea for her to get temporary corset piercings done by Scott Self of Evolution Body Piercing out in Albuquerque New Mexico.

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What was so impressive about Scott was how professional he was about what he does and making sure he used a sanitary work environment. We even had a brief conversation about the States broken licencing practices and the issues he has seen with it. Needless to say if I ever decided to get a piercing one day I now know who to go to.AJA_0028

Tara of course being true to form was an absolute trooper and a joy to work with. She got through the piercing process in no time at all and with no complaints what so ever. You also have to appreciate that she had just gone through lasik eye surgery the day before, which was something I was concerned about going in and it turned out to be a complete non issue.AJA_0026

The resulting photos came out amazingly and the photos from the actual portrait shoot are some of my new favorite images in a long time. Stay tuned for those. AJA_0035

Impromptu Belly Dancer Shoot and Terrible Lighting.

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Stop me if you have heard this one before, a photographer, his girlfriend and some buddies walk into a bar… Okay so there is no actual joke there just a description of your run of the mill Friday night. What was different about this Friday night was that my buddy had a friend named Shannon, who was in a belly dancing performance at a Tractor Brewery in down town Albuquerque. I just happened to have my camera on me like that stereotypical photographer I am and so I offered to take some photos of his friend’s performance and have a couple beers… because why not.

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I have seen belly dancing performances before in the past and they haven’t particularly been something that has caught my interest but this one was a bit different. It had more a burlesque sort of vibe to it which was complimentary to the scene that the show was taking place in. It turned an event for which I had low expectations for  into a rather gratifying experience that was well worth having my camera out for.

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Now of course like in any impromptu photo situation there is a certain amount of factors that you can’t really account for. In this case it was the lighting set up that the bar was using. Now bars normally have terrible lighting to begin with but in all fairness I pretty sure they didn’t design them with photographers in mind. The stage had a single light set up that had more blue gelling in it than anything I’ve ever experienced in my career. The light definitely went with the vibe of the activities and worked really well for the shows atmosphere  but like most performance situations the lighting was not intended for photography purposes and I just have to accept that.

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From the back of my cameras LCD screen there was very little to complain about when looking at the images. Even though I’m shooting in raw the camera is still presenting an internally processed image based on what ever profile settings I have punched in. I keep it on a neutral setting with contrast and saturation turned down for video purposes (It helps with color grading.)  It wasn’t until I got home and brought the images into Lightroom that I notice just how drastically the lighting affected the images. The amount of saturation that the blue light casted on to the images was nothing short of insane. The only real solution I had was to bring down the saturation all together. Little did I realize that most of the exposure was coming from that blue light and as I brought down the saturation the exposure went with it. This called for a very nuanced balancing act when it came to post processing

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After spending a lot of time toying with the images and figuring out what was going to work and what wasn’t I ended up with these very stylized images that almost have a black and white feel with a blue ting to them. Almost like a stylized noir type image. Normally my images aren’t too over the top with how stylized they are but given the situation I think I should be given some slack for going the direction that I did.

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Now the perfectionist in me is frustrated by how these images turned out because I didn’t get the freedom to do what I wanted with the images. But the creative part of me is quite satisfied with how everything turned out because I think photography and art in general is best when you are given limitations to work in. A lot of time artist want to ignore convention and style and just create whatever they want and while that may give them artistic fulfillment the work ends up suffering from being difficult to understand or even look at. I like to work within a box and create things based on what I’ve been given and not with what I wish I have. I’m not nearly as much of a control freak when it comes to my art but at the same time I’m not just throwing buckets of paint on a wall and calling it a master piece

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The impromptu nature of this shoot really did bring out the things I love about photography. The way that everything is just constantly moving and the limitations that I had to work around has a way of igniting that part of my brain that is about problem solving and wanting to do things differently than what i’m accustomed to. AJA_0084

 

So I guess what i’m trying to say is that it was a very good Friday night out.

Media Training for New Mexico’s First Responders.

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It’s summer time, the weather is hot and dry, school is months away and I’m constantly trying to find ways to keep myself busy. Often I look for any kind of freelance gigs to cross my path and this last week Merritt Allen of Vox Optima LLC hired me on to help out with a training seminar for media relations during an emergency response situation.

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At this seminar we had numerous representatives from local and state agencies that can be found at the scene of any number of high stress emergency situations. The goal of the class was to teach organizations the importance of having a media communication plan in order to get important information out to the public while as maintaining control of information that could be constantly changing and possibly highly sensitive to the situation.

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On top of being run by Merritt, who has years of experience as a Public Relations expert, we also involvement by Floyd Vasquez who is my former New Mexico in Focus producer at New Mexico PBS. Having a familiar face who I’ve worked with in the past made things a lot easier to assimilate to the situation and make it look like I know what I’m doing and talking about.  AJA_0013

Even though both Merritt and Floyd have been in this line of work for longer than I’ve been alive they were incredibly helpful at making me feel like I had just as much to contribute to the conversation and the material even though I had specifically signed on as a camera operator and I’m still just a college student.

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Despite being there as camera operator and pseudo instructor I left with learning a lot about what goes into covering a developing situations and how the relationship between the Public Information Officers and reporters is vital to getting the story out accurately and in a timely matter.

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The biggest take away from the seminar was that in and emergency situation every one is there to do their job. The media is trying to get information to report, emergency responders are trying to gather information while getting control of the situation and PIO’s are there to make sure that the information that is getting out is accurate and isn’t going to cause interference with the on going situation.

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I really appreciate Merritt Allen and Vox Optima LLC having me out to work the seminar and I hope I get to work with them more in the future.

Denver Comic Con 2015: Lessons From a Large Convention

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Denver Comic Con 2015  by a landslide was the largest pop culture convention that I have ever attended. With over 100,000 people in attendance over the Memorial weekend, the challenges that I thought I knew about candid photography in a convention environment couldn’t have been more frustrating.

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At any kind of comic convention crowds are a given. No matter how large the space is, no matter how well designed the flooring is, there is always going to be an issue with crowding. What I wasn’t expecting with how dense the crowding was going to be at just about every turn. Many of the shots I had taken were lost or ruined by the amount of people blocking  subjects or intruding in parts of the frame. The only real solution to this problem goes back to the age old saying- if the shots not good enough, you’re not close enough.

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I found myself being uncharacteristically timid during my time in Denver. Maybe it’s because I hadn’t been in one of these candid environments in a long while but I found myself being further away from my subjects and not being in the scene that I was shooting. As time went on I got better about it and just needed to kick off the rust but a lot of my work suffered because of it.

 

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Another tenant I forgot when shooting in Denver was patience. While going through my edits when I finally got home to Albuquerque I noticed that large sum of my photos were severely out of focus. I had forgotten that when shooting in continuous auto focus you need to give the camera time to lock focus and not just start shooting the moment you point the camera. Even when I was on the floor shooting I knew that I had hit the shutter too early. Some photos had more obvious flaws then others but none the less many were lost because of a itchy trigger finger.

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A big thing that could have helped me in my photos would have been to slow down. Today’s camera technology has conditioned many to adopt a spray and pray technique that may yield some lucky grabs but it doesn’t replace good technique when it comes to getting a high percentage of keepers. Often I set myself up with gear like Prime lenses to make sure I take my time but I noticed on many of my snap shots that I had issues with composition and camera shack that wouldn’t have been there if I had just slowed down a bit.

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One thing that could have helped me was actually bring my desktop to edit at the hotel every night so I could see my work from the past day and see what I was getting. Having the opportunity to reflect on my work and see what was working and what wasn’t could have helped improve my shooting that weekend. It’s like going back and watching tape the day after the game. But of course hindsight is 20/20 and you can’t don’t get any extra lives.

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Though there are plenty of frustration that came out of shooting this convention there are still some stellar diamonds in the rough in this take. Any photo outing you can be expected to take hundreds of images expecting that maybe only 10% of them survive the gauntlet of editing. I left Denver Comic Con with almost 900 images on an hard drive and by the time I had it widdeled down there were about 268 left on the block that got toned and exported. So over all I can’t say the entire outing was a failure. I just believe I could have done better.

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Once I had made it down from Albuquerque, kicked a stomach bug, and found time between errands and my day job, I got to editing the photos and the trend began… So much black and white. I’ve recently had complaints that I do it too much but quite frankly photography and photo editing like any art form is subjective. My decision to make photos colored or black and white comes out of a feel for the images and if I feel like that image works better in black and white that’s what I’m going to do to it. If a client was paying me for a shoot and specifically asked for all photos in color I would, but in my own creative freedom I’m going to do what works best for me and my sensibilities.

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There are certain set of instances where black and white has advantages over color; such as low light situations using higher ISO’s. The noise looks more like film grain in black and white and you don’t have to worry about lost color detail because you’ve thrown the color out the window; also busier backgrounds aren’t as distracting which befits candid shots well. Color can still work in these situations but you never really know how it’s going to work out until you spend some time toning the images.

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Cosplayers put a lot of work into their outfits (some more than others) and they want the pictures taken of them to show of as much of the costume and details as possible. My shooting style doesn’t really do that very well. I am much more concerned with getting a good image than I am showing off a good cosplay. Elements like interaction, juxtaposition, action, and raw emotion are more of what I’m looking for in a shot. Not how well made the costume is. A good costume can go a long way in catching my eye and dragging my lens to it but if that photo doesn’t come out that way I want it to I’m not going to share it with the world.

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What I love about these conventions is their diversity. People from all walks of life, backgrounds and mentalities come to these things for one purpose and that is to just have a good time and celebrate the things they are unironically enthusiastic about. It can be done in almost a million different ways, dressing up, meeting people who have worked on some of your favorite pieces of entertainment, or just buying new things to add to their nerd collections. You definitely run into some interesting characters at these things.

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However after several years of attending these events and shooting them the way I do, I seem to be developing a since of Convention Fatigue. I maybe end up attending 3-5 different conventions a year and the more and more I attend them the more I feel like I’m just going through the motions. Last year Denver Comic Con was my favorite convention I had ever gone to. This year it just felt like another convention just this time with 100,000 people crowding around.

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Denver Comic Con didn’t particularly do anything wrong this year. They just didn’t offer anything new for me. Perhaps I just need to take a hiatus from conventions for a while. Albuquerque doesn’t have a Summer con this year so that gives me an opportunity to get some distance from the nerd circus and be able to come back to it with a fresh take.

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But who knows, maybe that’s just the nerd flu talking. Knowing me I’ll end up caving and submitting for another press pass for the closest convention before anyone knows it. But for now I think I deserve a rest.

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