Working Around Challenges

St Barbara renovation 2010

Most of the challenges I faced as a photographer were weather related or just normal human dynamics. Someone forgetting to pick up the flowers, shy ring bearers, or the tuxedos for the groomsmen did not include the shoes. Occasionally there were delays because of broken wedding dress zippers, late flights, or the DJ went to the wrong venue. I thought I had seen and experienced it all.

There was one wedding that presented a challenge that was not under anyone’s control. The church that the bride and groom selected was undergoing a major renovation. The church was a beautiful and famous venue that was a photographer’s dream. When the couple informed me of the location, I was very excited as I never had the opportunity to photograph a wedding there before. My excitement was quickly tempered when they informed me that there was a major renovation underway that may not be finished in time for the ceremony.

St Barbara renovation 2010

I did not become worried, but the couple suggested I take a look for myself so I could plan the workarounds. Even the most perfect settings had visual challenges, exit signs, trash cans, lighting issues, etc. After hundreds of weddings, I felt I could handle anything.

When I visited the church, the outside looked perfect. beautiful grounds and archways with flowers and character. Plenty of photo opportunities with no visible work going on outside. I asked myself, “how bad could it be?” When I entered the sanctuary however, I was met with more scaffolding than I had ever seen on the inside of a building. After the church staff confirmed that it would still be there for the wedding, I became concerned.

The alter would be clear, and the first two rows, but the rest of the church was visually obliterated by metal pipes and wood planks from floor to ceiling. Photos of the ceremony at the alter would be achievable, but from very limited angles. There was no way to get an entire perspective from the balcony, or the back of the church, which were some of my favorite shots to deliver.

One of the most important and required shots at a wedding is the traditional bride being walked down the aisle. Even with the casual, photojournalistic style that I did, it was an expected photograph. Normally an easy shot from the front looking back up the aisle, the scaffolding made it nearly impossible to get a clear shot. There was a small space from the doors entering the church to where the scaffolding began. My window to get the shot was just a few steps of the bride before the scaffolding came into view. In order to ensure that all subjects have their eyes open, multiple photos are required. Many great shots are ruined by the shutter catching the blink reflex inopportunely. The other challenge was using the right lens. The distance and tight perspective required a longer zoom than usual. Longer zooms also require a steadier hold, and there is less depth of field for focusing. I had about 3 seconds to get it right. This was definitely the highest pressure shot of my 300 wedding career.

My suggestion to aspiring photographers is to carry enough equipment to handle any situation. More than one camera body and flash, and many lenses with varied and overlapping focal lengths. I have experienced the best and newest equipment malfunction, and was alway glad I carried back ups. With some experience and luck, I pulled off the shot that you see above.

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Logo

Wikimedia Commons is a media repository containing over 63 million files that are free for anyone to use. Anyone can also contribute photos, audio, and video to it. Contributions of quality images are welcome, and there is a monthly photo contest anyone may submit images to.

All of the media is licensed under  Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License and may be copied or used by anyone that follows the terms set by the author.

Wikimedia Commons is a tremendous resource and opportunity for an experienced or aspiring photographer. Submitting images to Wikimedia will help you get found and noticed as a photographer. Images that are on Wikimedia perform very well in searches, especially very unique and specific images. If you have the same image on your own website , and on Wikimedia, the Wikimedia image will almost always show up higher in the search results.

For example, do an image search for “Sundial on Windsor Castle”. The first image that appears is one that I submitted to Wikimedia 3 years ago for a photo contest. The image is also on this site.

As you can see, as of the date of this post, it is still the first image that shows up. As with any image, the file name is important and should be very specific. The Alt text, meta data, and description should also match.

I recommend that all photographers become part of the Wikimedia community and contribute images, and participate in the monthly photo contests.

Your contributions will help you become discovered, and will help your images perform well in searches. Most importantly, you are contributing your work to a Global Community and providing educational content.

The sundial is not just a one off, try a search for “Saturn V Stage 3 Engine”, and my image on Wikimedia appears first. Same with “Engine HMS Warrior”. Not every image will be always be first, but the more specific the image, the better it will perform. Try “Rainbow over Denali National Park”, or “HMS Warrior Main Mast” and both appear in the top row. When you click through, the author’s name appears in the file information.

Wikimedia Commons is also an excellent resource for students to find high quality images that can be used without copyright concerns.

Infrared Wedding Photography

Infrared Wedding Photography
Infrared Photography © Paul Haberstroh

Infrared Wedding Photography is created with film or a sensor that is sensitive to a spectrum of light that is not visible to the human eye. Infrared Wedding Photography was one creative tool I used to distinguish myself from other photographers, especially at weddings. Not many photographers in my day used infrared film for several reasons. Infrared film was expensive, challenging to handle, challenging to shoot, and challenging to develop. The film required handling in complete darkness, making roll changes on location not a very convenient option.

Camera meters are not calibrated for the infrared wavelength, and infrared light does not focus at the same point as visible light. Metering was mostly a guess, using liberal bracketing until I had enough experience to narrow the exposure settings. While an #87 or #89 filter gave more dramatic results, I used a #25 so I could actually see through the lens. Since I shot mostly weddings and portraits, I needed the flexibility to hand hold and move around. The results were dramatic enough, and my clients really enjoyed the Infrared Wedding Photography images.

Kodak HIE Infrared FIlm
Kodak HIE Infrared FIlm

Kodak HIE was the best choice for black and white Infrared film at the time with predictable results in the infrared wavelength (~750-900nm). I preloaded it into my vintage Olympus OM2N that I had since college, and shot a roll at weddings, conditions permitting.

Much to my dismay, Kodak announced in November 2007 that it was discontinuing HIE due to lack of sales. I bought all I could find within my means, and I still have a roll in the refrigerator for sentimental value. For complete technical data from Kodak about HIE Infrared Film click here.

Rollei still makes an Infrared film, and Ilford makes an extended sensitivity film (SFX).  There are also digital camera conversions that yield good results, or you could use Photoshop to simulate an Infrared Photography effect.

Polaroid Image Transfers

Wedding Polaroid Image Transfer
Wedding Polaroid Image Transfer from slide film.

A very unique and artistic technique of photography is the Polaroid Image Transfer. The process involved the transfer of an image from slide film to Polaroid instant film, and then to watercolor paper. The process was very demanding, but yielded truly unique images that the wedding couple was thrilled to have.

Color reversal film, or color transparency film that is used to create slides, is also known as “chrome” a colloquial truncation of the legendary Kodachrome and Ektachrome monikers, which predates the homonym browser by over 70 years.

In addition to shooting black & white, infrared, and color films, I always brought a roll or two of slide film to a wedding. Anyone who has shot slide film knows it is unforgiving in its exposure latitude. In order to make a good Polaroid Image Transfer, you needed to start with a properly exposed slide.

With a properly exposed slide in hand, the next step was to transfer the image to a piece of instant film. Polaroid was the dominant brand in the day, and my choice was Polaroid 669. This film came in 10 exposures per pack and was the same instant film I used to test exposures using an interchangeable back on my Mamiya RZ Pro II. The film was readily available in the day and reasonably priced.

Polaroid Day Lab
Polaroid Day Lab

The device required to facilitate this step was a Polaroid Day Lab. It functioned like an enlarger, with the slide being projected onto the instant film. If you have ever used instant film (which is making a comeback by the way), you know that you throw the gooey piece away and keep the print after waiting 60 seconds for development. In this process the opposite is true, you throw away the print and keep the gooey part after a 30 second wait. This is where the fun starts.

During the slide to instant film transfer process, a piece of high quality watercolor paper (I used Arches hot pressed) was soaking in warm water. When the 30 second development time was up, the image was separated and the emulsion side was then rolled firmly onto the wet water color paper with a brayer for two minutes. If all went well, you had an original, artistic image when you peeled the emulsion side from the water color paper. After the paper dried, it was lightly ironed to flatten it out and then sealed with a clear spray for durability and longevity. Here is a gallery of some wedding Polaroid Image Transfers I created:

Slide film and instant film are still available, and the Day Labs can be found on leading auction sites.

The Iguana on Aruba that started it all

Iguana Aruba
Iguana on Aruba

Photography was always a family hobby. We had cameras by Rolleiflex, Kodak, Agfa, Polaroid, and DeJur. For my college graduation gift, my parents gave me an Olympus OM2N that I still have and use. I never thought of photography as more than a hobby until I received an interesting phone call one day.

I had taken a hiatus from the corporate world, and had just returned from traveling to Aruba. Of the many photos I had taken, there was one of an Iguana on Aruba that I lucked out on. This shy lizard came out of the bush just for a quick moment, only to disappear from the sound of the shutter. I was hand holding a 300mm lens patiently, and was rewarded with this one shot.

When I answered the phone, the young women on the other end said, “I saw your lizard, do you do weddings?”.  At first I thought it was a friend playing a joke as I had mentioned this image was selected to be displayed in a wildlife and landscape galley in Denver.

I responded that I did not, other than a friends wedding or two that I had taken photos at as a guest. The young women responded that she really liked how I captured the Iguana, and she was looking for a fresh style for her wedding. I invited her to look at some of my other work with the understanding that I was not a full time professional. We met and agreed that I would be her wedding photographer. The wedding was a success, and to this day I use many of the images for my portfolio. The bride was very happy, and the next thing I knew she was sending many referrals to me! Within a year I booked enough weddings to make a living at it! 300 weddings later, I never thought an Iguana on Aruba would cause a career change!