Desert Darlings Belly Dancing Performs at Burts Tiki Lounge.

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Almost any craft should be approached with some level of confidence. For many people confidence comes from years of training and repetition , other lucky individuals just spew confidence naturally. But the confidence that is necessary to perform in front of a crowd is possibly the rarest and most admirable forms to witness.

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The Desert Dalings Belly Dancing group had this confidence on full display on Saturday night when they performed in front of the crowd at Burt’s Tiki Lounge in downtown Albuquerque. Their unique blend of traditional belly dancing mixed with modern sensibilities provided lasting entertainment for friends of the performers and unsuspecting patrons alike.

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Burt’s is a very familiar venue. It bares the attributes for what you’d expect from any other dive bar; Almost non existent lighting, colorful cast of Patrons scattered throughout the place, a sound check and PA systems woefully out of date and a grittiness that only creatures of the night can really appreciate. The main hook that Burt’s offers as a venue is their communal charm that the bar brings. I’ve never seen them have a cover charge for an event and everyone there seems to be having a good time when there is a performance.

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When I’m in photo mode I’m always looking for one thing out of my subjects, and that thing is personality, and there was no shortage of that on display with each performance. Each dancer had a different quality that they brought with them when on stage. Some were more more reserved and methodical with their movements and others had attitude and improvisation flowing through them giving the show a sense of verity.

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The key thing to look for in performance photography is moment, which can be difficult especially with the fast paced motion that you get from a performance art like belly dancing. Their entire body is always in play when they dance and it’s easy to miss something incredible and capture something that is unflattering. If you can just nail down timing and framing of your images you can get incredible results but you also have to account for a bit of luck when shooting.

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Now let’s not tip toe around the subject, performance lighting generally speaking is terrible. I have yet to shoot a performance where the lighting was perfect and I could do what ever I wanted. Live performance lighting is designed to give things atmosphere and provide a certain tone to patrons, but it’s less kind to the sensors in cameras. If you’re shooting stills at a live performance you’re stuck with high ISO grain, shallow depth of field apertures and motion bluing shutter speeds. None of these things are bad qualities in any ways shape or form (except maybe the grainy ISOs) but it’s unfortunate that you’re stuck with such  limiting conditions.

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If anything can be said about the Desert Darlings’ Performance it’s that there was no lack of confidence that night. Those ladies got on that stage and owned it and that is something to be admired. It takes a lot to take something you work hard on put it out there for people to see and it takes a significant amount of courage to do so.AJA_0359

Girls of Geek: A Grounded, Modern Twist on Disney

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I’m not great at coming up with creative concepts. A lot of the times I have models show up at certain time at a certain place in what ever outfit they pulled out of their closet having done their hair and make up in whatever fashion they felt suited them. Maybe it’s just my style, deciding to work with whatever I’m given and try to create something out of nothing. But lucky for me working with Girls of Geek comes with built in concepts for me to work with. This weekend we teamed up to do a Disney Princess shoot in that had a more grounded twist to it that you’ve probably never seen before.

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Like the million of other shoots I have done in the past I went into this one relatively blind. The location, the outfitting and many other things were completely out of my hands. What I was given was an excellent location that I instantly fell in love with and outfits that looked (and pretty much were) pulled straight out of closets that gave the images a very realistic look to them. A lot of times when shooting cosplay one of the common struggles I have is that the outfit looks like a costume and doesn’t make sense, but the practicality of these outfits made everything make sense in the context of the images.

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You could be forgiven for looking at the images and not realizing the Disney influence in the images right away, especially at first glance but I find that subtlety to adds a level of interest to the photos and brings out the individual personalities of the girls which is what I’m looking for when I’m taking portraits. If you did a sort of blind view test I’m curious as to when you would have the A-HA moment of realization of the theme.

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Like any shoot their was challenges and in photography the #1 challenge is always going to be lighting. My love of shooting on location and not in a studio has the added baggage of giving me set lighting conditions that I have to find a way to work with. In this case, we got a bright mid day sun with harsh shadows. On the bright side (pun intended) the high amount of light let me keep the ISO all the way down at 100 which have the best possible results in terms of image quality. The main way I solved any shooting problems was by shooting strictly in shaded areas which were few and far between but easy enough to find and exploit.

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An added gift at the location was a silo that offered one of the most interesting settings I’ve ever worked with on top of having some of the best lighting I’ve ever experienced. I got all of the controllable elements of an indoor location with the lighting comparable to an overcast afternoon, which is my ideal shooting condition.  My mind started racing with different Ideas that I could possibly do with the location. Not all of them could be accomplished in the time that I had, but it never hurts to keep a few ideas in your back pocket.

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Every shoot I try to do something a little bit different and see what kind or results I can get. In the case of this shoot I played around with the aperture. I always stop my lens down at least a stop to get the proper sharpness. F2.8 has always been my go to on my primes but with all the added light I took the opportunity stop down a bit more to f3.5 and I was blown away by the results. The in focus bits were as sharp as sharp can be and I still got the nice bokeh in the background.

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My favorite part of working with Girls of Geek is the personalities that are mixed into the group. Each of them has a certain quality about themselves that makes them unique but they all mixed together so well to where it almost doesn’t feel like it’s a shoot. It felt like a group of friends hanging out on a Saturday.

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Another thing I enjoy about this group is the ease that comes with photographing them. The value of excellent models often goes under appreciated. Shoots require a high level of collaboration and the better rapport the better the results you’ll get out of the images.

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Editing wise there was very little that I had to do. The main thing I was looking at was the focus. For portraits you need to make sure the eyes are in perfect focus and then work from there. Normally it’s just a few color adjustments and added contrast. I’ll adjust exposure settings until it’s right but nothing ever too fancy.

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All in all this was probably on of the better shoots I’ve had the opportunity to participate in for a while. The results speak for themselves when looking at the images. I couldn’t be happier with this shoot or getting more opportunities to work with the Girls of Geek.

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You can find Girls of Geek all over social media and I’ll leave link bellow. They have also started a new subscription service when where every month they’ll send you a box of goodies. For more info just go to girlsofgeek.com

Social Media Accounts

Twitter: @GirlsOfGeek

Instagram: @Girls Of Geek

Facebook: Girls of Geek

Delina (Cinderella):

Instagram:@DelinaEllise
Facebook: D3lina

Batmanda (Snow White):

Instagram: @Batmanda13

Facebook: Batmanda

Jacqui Daniels (Ariel):

Instagram: @jacquidaniels
Facebook: Jacqui Daniel

Amy Downing (Belle):

Instagram: @teamamy147

Jennifer Heart (Jasmine):

Instagram: @jennifer_heart_

Travel Photography: Virginia/ D.C 2015

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It’s been a little more than a year since I traveled Virginia to visit my girlfriend’s family and friends. The last time I was out there, the weather was relatively cold and I had the opportunity to experience what it was like to get two feet of snow overnight. This time around, I got to experience what a humid summer is like on the East Coast.

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To be honest I didn’t play with my camera much this trip. I came out specifically to spend time with my girlfriend and her loved ones and I didn’t particularly feel compelled to spend my time hiding behind a camera. However there were situations while we were out and about with Emilie’s friends that I brought my camera along.

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One of the first places we walked through was Old Town Alexandria, where we spent most of our time going in and out of the different shops. Normally, this would have been the ideal place to shoot some street photography, however the crowed in the area didn’t particularly catch my interest. Instead a lot of my focus here was on Emilie and her friends as we entered and exited the different shops.

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Later in the trip we took the Metro up to D.C. for the standard Museum and sight-seeing day. The great thing about being in a touristy area is that you don’t have to work too hard to blend in.

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Summers in D.C. and summers in Albuquerque look incredibly different. For starters, D.C. Is a proper metropolitan area whereas Albuquerque can sometimes have more of a wide-spread, small town feel. On top of that, it’s a lot greener in D.C. on account of the humidity.But, in contrast, D.C. doesn’t have the same sky that New Mexico does.

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While in the Museums I didn’t want to get too trigger happy; instead of focusing on the exhibits I focused on my group of people (and some strangers) while still maintaining respect for the atmosphere.

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The lighting in the museum of art was very different from what i am used to. There were areas with really soft flattering lighting, and others with dark areas that had intense falloff. Nothing I couldn’t handle especially with editing the RAW file in post.

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In the backwoods of Virginia I tried stepping out of my normal comfort zone and shooting some nature shots, a realm of photography I am certainly not native to.AJA_0153

While shooting so close to nature I discovered that I craved the convenience of a macro lens (something that I don’t own) which could have let me get in closer for finder detail shots. I found that many of the wide shots that I had taken felt a bit chaotic.

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Of course I couldn’t just get a new setting in front of me and pass up the opportunity for a portrait session. So me and Emilie went out on one of the few days that we had down time and took some photos. The seemingly constant overcast sky provided soft lighting and the foliage gave the perfect backdrop. The drawback of this was the humidity that caused my lens to fog up at the top of the shoot, which called for some editing to make it look like it was on purpose.

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Overall, it was a fun and successful trip and I look forward to going out there again.

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.