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The Soldier and the Squirrel introduces children to the Purple Heart

through a loving story of a friendship between a newly wounded soldier

and Rocky the squirrel with his backyard friends. This story began as a

blog during my first year in bed after my incident. With much

encouragement, it is now a book and has been placed in the

Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum. Please watch the video

on the About page to learn for the Soldier & Rocky are changing children's

lives.

 

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Tuesday
Mar092010

Wedding Mojo for Him



The ring festered a hole in your pocket for weeks. You were afraid to leave it at home as she might find it, or you might forget where you put it. You broke every logical bone in your body and paid the appropriate price ratio per income as stated in your future mother-in-law’s Emily Post book. Perhaps you even went a half-karat larger than her best friend’s ring just because you could. You got down on your knee, or your blackberry, and popped it. You asked the one question, which will eternally change your life forever. You asked her to m…..mmmmm……mmmmmaarrrr…..mmmmaarrrrrry……you. She said yes. She cried, you cried (even if it was just on the inside).  Suddenly life shifted into a blissful arena of congratulations or Mazeltavs and you realized, hey, maybe there is something to this whole getting married thing after all….
It was as though someone sprinkled pixie dust on you and your beautiful fiancé, yet slowly you realize the sprinkles are falling on her side of the silver lining. Well-meaning friends send suggestions and referrals to her inbox, stacks of bridal magazines collect on her nightstand heckling your edition of GQ, and suddenly it seems the most important dress in her life is a complete enigma to you.

This is the most exciting time of your life. It just seems the one moment you’ve held off on your whole adult life, the proposal, took all of thirty seconds, and the wedding planning euphoria can go on for a year. How did this turn out so unbalanced?

This is about getting your “wedding mojo” back. This is about saying to yourself, it’s ok to want to be a part of the most fantastic experience you and your partner will have for the rest of your life, along with the possibility of children or winning the lottery. Planning a wedding is not just for women anymore. It’s the perfect opportunity for two people to venture into the world of decision making as a team, with a guideline and structure, excitement and joy with every florist they uncover.

When little girls are growing up, most are sociologically raised to dream about their wedding day. This has been engrained in our bone marrow. Men however, are not only raised without this expectation, but are then thrown into this blender of expectations after the proposal. The only thing the florist seemed to ask you in the consult is whether you were allergic to carnations (in my not-so-humble opinion,  the first thing you do is run from any florist who even mentions carnations…)

Take a moment, light a cigar, tell your honey your catching up on the sports stats in the other room, and let’s begin…

Planning a wedding is not just about the wedding. It’s time to stop, and realize you are no longer one person living your life a certain way. From now on you have a partner with which to share not only life’s burdens, but life’s pleasures as well as the decision making. Getting married is one of your first greatest pleasures, one that will be shared by the people closest to you in your lives personally and professionally and will forever be the barometer for every decision you make together in the future. You will be able to reflect on how you worked together, how you came to certain decisions, and when and how either of you decided to compromise.

Am I a psychologist? No. Have I seen enough weddings to fill a lifetime? I’m workin’ on it…and through each wedding I’m privy to many dynamics between a bride and a groom and in many cases the groom truly is happy to “just show up”. Nowadays however, it seems there’s been a shift in the groom. He is more aware of not only the delicacies of their woman’s desires, but grooms nowadays are also more involved in the finances of the planning, even more of a reason to maintain that open communication during the planning stages. This is not only a chance for you to be more involved in the creative aspects of the planning, it’s also a chance for you both to be aware of the budgeting and planning of a day meant for both of you to treasure, leaving you with a sense of pride that you entered your lives together as best friends, on the same path, with the identical objective of honoring one another’s ideas, preferences, and visions while protecting your most valued asset, the respect you have for one another.

The greatest suggestion I have prior to any of the following logistical bullet points in planning your day, is to sit on the floor of your living room tonight and face each other. Hold hands and look into each other’s eyes. Before you launch on this planning journey together, take note of who you are in this moment, before any of the decision making begins, before the world has opportunity for opinion, and chisel in your mind the exact people you are right now. It is the person in front of you who has your back, who is your best friend for life, and it is their opinion, their wishes, their priorities, which should mean more than anyone else’s. This is your day, to be shared in front of others, with their wishes respected of course, but ultimately a wedding is symbolic of how the rest of your life will proceed. You are a team, with a mission to love one another and protect one another against the world, and it starts now…

So, don’t be afraid to step up tonight and take your fiance’s hand, and let her know you are looking forward to venturing through this crazy period of planning together. Let her know you actually have an opinion when it comes to flowers if you do, and speak up about the fact you've always wanted to eat those tiny, miniature corncobs from the movie Big and that you've secretly longed to toast with Tequila shooters...

On the more logistical and dry note, adding a touch of structure to the mix, here are the groom’s official duties…Besides of course being the voice of reason when it comes to those bridesmaids’ dresses…

Emily Post's Duties for the Groom:


  • Select the engagement ring – although now-a-days brides may also be involved in choosing the engagement ring.

  • Choosing his wedding party: best man, groomsmen and ushers

  • Choosing the attire for the groom’s wedding party – in keeping with the style of the wedding

  • Selecting thank-you gifts for his groomsmen

  • Arranging – and paying for – lodging for his groomsmen

  • Selecting a gift for the bride

  • Compiling the groom’s part of the guest list and making sure that his parents provide their guest list.

  • Planning the honeymoon – Today, this, is more of a joint venture

  • Choosing wedding bands together

  • Arranging for and purchasing the marriage license

  • Making arrangements for transportation from the ceremony to the reception site, if necessary

  • Planning the bachelor party or event (if applicable)

  • Giving the ceremony officiant the fee or donation, or arranging for the best man to present such fees

  • Standing in the receiving line, if there is one, or  - with the bride – being sure to greet all the guests at the reception

  • Making toasts and responding to toasts at the rehearsal dinner and the reception

  • Dancing the first dance with the bride, dancing with the couple’s respective mothers and the maid/matron of honor.

Thursday
Mar042010

Wedding Planning 101

OK, what the heck does a photographer know about planning a wedding? I mean, all we do is show up and shoot, right?
In actuality, it is the photographer who is essentially the mole of every wedding. It is the photographer who is there from beginning to end, has seen what works, and what doesn’t, and we notice when things run smoothly, or not, and why!

First of all, if you do nothing else first in planning your wedding, re-frame your mind, your thinking, your entire DNA and reboot...you are now a Bride and a Groom.

The first thing to do is plan for TWO budgets. Create a low-budget wedding, which will get you into Heaven with a fast pass. Then plan a higher-end gluttony budget, which will result in a temporary stay in Purgatory. Why two budgets? Because this will allow you to really clarify what means the most to you, and what you can do without! Think about it! When you have to sit and think about what is MOST essential to your day, your priorities are set and you have that referral base to refer to when you start to get out of hand and the local psyche ward needs to be summoned with their ceremonial bridal straight-jacket.

1.    Once you have determined what is most important to you, get those vendors set in stone EARLY. Did you know most photographers book about six months in advance?


2.    Saturday is not always the best day to get married...There are many vendors who are willing to adjust their rate for a Friday night or on a Sunday! The most popular day to book is Saturday, so the demand is there and the pricing on all vendors as well as locations are at their peak. Also, really think about an off-season wedding! You’d be surprised at the extra-delightful tone you would receive on the other end of the line by vendors if you approach them with a January, February or early March wedding. This is slow time for the industry and everyone has come off of the holidays. This is a great time to look for deals even from the most elite vendors ;0)


3.    Don’t be afraid to look at vendors your other vendors recommend. First of all, if they recommend someone, there’s usually a reason. The vendors I recommend, I’ve seen in action, I love not only their work, but their personalities!!!! Remember, as I said, vendors are people too, and the personalities of your vendors will help to dictate the personality and vibe of your entire day! You may have found a florist with gorgeous flowers, but what if they don’t work well with others, what if there are certain restrictions with the church or with the reception area and they get super cranky and upset the planner/coordinator and then the florist doesn’t care as much as they used to so your flowers show up an hour late and the photographer is off schedule and the portraits are late, so the mother of the bride is cranky which results in an argument which is heard by the priest…..well….you get the idea…

4.    On items that mean a lot to you both, make sure both bride and groom meet with each and every essential vendor together. I was pleasantly surprised when my manly hubby-to-be actually cared which flowers we used! You end up learning a lot about each other and realize that the decision-making you are enduring and sharing together in planning a wedding is a wonderful blueprint opportunity for how you will be making other decisions in the future. This is a time, which will be the barometer for future negotiations. Don’t be afraid of this experience, embrace it and realize that this event is a gift to yourselves as a couple embracing the rest of your lives.

5.    Remember that a big wedding is not always going to be the most memorable. Well, to rephrase….you may remember the debt….but please, from the bottom of my digitally archived heart, know that your guests really don’t mind if they don’t go home with a silver plated shot glass from Tiffany’s. (well, ok, I’ve secretly longed for such a treasure, but we’ll keep this to ourselves…)

6.    Your friends love you, THAT’s why they are there! OK, you may have some social climbers and dysfunctional family members as well, but in the end this is a party for you and your loved ones. Period end of story. Don’t forget this when planning your wedding. Select flowers which make you FEEL beautiful, which will brighten the hearts of those you love. Don’t go picking bouquets to impress. If you choose elements for your day because they feel right to you, it will all fall into place. This may seem whimsical, but I’ve seen it over and over again.

7.    Don’t be afraid to hire a wedding coordinator for Day-Of services! Many coordinators offer this service at a minimal expense in the larger scheme of things!!! It is a GIFT to yourself and your family, your mothers especially, to have that one contact person for all of the vendors, who ensures that your day will go smoothly. They do it all that day…and are your best friend so that your maid of honor and best man can do their jobs of tending only to you, not running around trying to contact the linen guy because the tables aren’t set yet!

8.    If you are getting married outside, if there is even a 10% chance of rain, MAKE SURE YOU HAVE BACK-UP TENT PROVISIONS!!!!! Make sure the site, or your planner has this locked in. I shot one of the most beautiful weddings in Malibu where it got completely rained out and the entire table settings were drenched,favors were ruined, and the entire reception had to be reset during the ceremony...

9.   Think of your wedding as your baby which is growing and festering inside. It is your belly, nobody else's, and you have the right to tell anyone not to touch it. Your wedding is your personal space, to be respected. Yes, if your parents are paying for part or all of it, it is the loving thing to do to inquire as to their suggestions, but in the end it is up to you as to how you will remember your day.

10.  Most of all, remember NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS, LIFE IS ABOUT STORIES! Not every wedding is going to be perfect, there will probably be little things here and there which can go wrong, but at the end of the day there are only three people who need to show up: You two, the minister, and well…..let’s make it four (your photographer…;0)
Wednesday
Mar032010

Angelino Magazine

We are so grateful at The Iraq Star Foundation for this coverage 
by Angeleno Magazine of our Night of Honour event! 
Thursday
Feb252010

Bensko's First 48


The First 48 is my baby....

Fresh for Spring, and ready to rock and roll.



Monday
Feb222010

Finding Purpose in a Glass Bowl




A hard cover edition of Time’s Haiti Tragedy & Hope sits on my desk as I type this, a woman’s silhouette bathed in devastation graces the cover. The tragedy has been covered by more photojournalists than anyone could imagine, the images searing. In Port-au-Prince, a child stands by the hospital bed of a dying father, a young boy stares into his future with a bandage embracing his scalp. A dump truck drives by carrying hundreds of bodies on their way to a mass grave. The captions are not simply descriptions of the images, but also reflections by the photographers themselves. This publication affected me not only as a photographer, but as a mother, wife, and fellow human being, forcing me to reflect upon the enigma that is life's purpose.

This blog is not only about the people of Haiti, but about fourteen children in particular of the Ettienne family. When the first earthquake hit, their house was still standing, but fractured. The parents, each brothers and sisters themselves, decided it was safer for the family to sleep outside on the grass until they could repair the home. It is because of this decision that the children are alive today. You see, when the second earthquake hit, the house collapsed. The children and mothers survived, however each of the men, the breadwinners of the family were at work, and have never been found.

I was introduced to the Ettienne's situation by my friend of twenty years, Dr. Wendy Walsh.

A few weeks ago Wendy went to the supermarket, a woman was bagging her groceries. The same woman who had greeted her for years, but that day there was no smile. She looked down as she bagged, sad and introverted. Wendy, concerned, reached out grabbing an unexpected moment and asked what was wrong. The woman’s name was Jennette Ettienne. She was from Haiti. Those 14 children were her nieces and nephews, and she had just learned that not only were all of the children ages two and up now living in an open park, but that they had not even a tent over their heads.




Within days I received a Facebook invite from Wendy asking her friends to please come to her house that Saturday night for pasta, to meet Jennette and her brother Robert, and to contribute whatever they could to her family. (Both Jennette and Robert moved to the states from Haiti ten years ago, working in Los Angeles at eight dollars an hour and living together in order to send the monies home which support their three siblings, fourteen children, as well as their seventy-five year old mother.




Many responses to the invitation were regretting their inability to attend. I had had a very difficult week myself, as my childhood friend had died a few days prior. My initial response to Wendy’s invitation was also a regret. Then I spoke to Wendy on the phone, and life shifted. Wendy’s passion for the Ettiennes was intoxicating Suddenly, in my own selfish moments of darkness from losing my friend, a match was lit.




My teenage daughter, Macky, and I arrived at Wendy’s home, to a lovely crowd of people, pasta and dishes she'd started preparing at 3:30 that morning, and a glass bowl. In a matter of thirty minutes my daughter turned to me after speaking with Robert, and said her life was changed forever. That night I learned a great deal about Haiti. Prior to the earthquake in Haiti the unemployment rate was 85%. Why is it important to give where there seems to be little hope or future? Why put forth efforts in a region where for decades the government has been operated by individuals who have obsconded with international aid before and purchased mansions, keeping the wealth from the people of Haiti? The industry of agriculture used to be fruitful, however due to poor educational systems and lack of regulations the land of over-processed and soils are now unfit for crops. The industry of tourism which at one time saved many residents by creating jobs, became a wild circus of again unregulated chaos and the cruise ships stopped visiting, Americans became concerned regarding safety and health issues. With tourism, the population in Port-au-Prince exploded from 500,000 to now over 3 million people. Now, 1 million of those people are living in parks. Many of these people do not own even a tent, and the tents that were for sale at $300 a piece in town, are now sold out. The cost of charging a cell phone is $25. In essence, cash is now king in Haiti. The ability to wire fund allows the recipients to purchase most necessities available in Port-au-Prince if you have the means. Yes, there is aid, food and water trucks visit tent camps, but getting to the trucks is a risk of physical and emotional health. Lines are hours long, sometimes a full day to receive  rations needed. Most women are now sole caregivers of children in their care, with no men to assist. Most men had jobs were at work at the time of the quake and have never been recovered.

That night, Wendy's glass-bowl-gathering placed a total of $1000 in that bowl. The Ettiennes could now obtain the tents they needed. The next day, Jennette and Robert purchased the tents and they were shipped. But this was just the beginning…




Last weekend my husband and I were fortunate enough to introduce Wendy, Jennette and Robert, to our friends in our own home.  We copied Wendy and put out pasta and wine, and a glass bowl. We set the glass bowl on the coffee table as our loved ones greeted one another with laughter and hugs, embracing Robert and Jennette and for a moment, hopefully reminding them of some sense of hope. Jennette and Robert shared their family’s story. At the end of the evening the bowl was gifted with $700 and handed directly to the Ettiennes. Their warmth, their humble gratitude, the love experienced at this gathering was more grand than any dinner party or five star evening out. Lives were changed that night, not because we had all met someone famous, or because someone won the lottery. It was simply because we all were grounded in a tangible reality that we were helping specific individuals, friends, who will benefit from our union.




There was another moment that evening which rests in my heart. Prior to the Ettienne’s arrival at our gathering I had a flash, an idea. Wendy texted me the names of the children on their way to our house. We pulled out fourteen tea lights and set them above the fireplace, one for each child. As the evening commenced, each candle was lit as we spoke the children’s names, and these children were forever seared into my heart.




There now lies in the core of my being a longing to meet them, to know them, to truly understand them. I feel a pull to visit Haiti, to photograph, capture the hope left in their eyes, to sleep in the tents we have raised for them, to be cold at night and hot during the day, to be hungry and thirst. Time will tell if I will be able to sit with the Ettienne family in person, but in the meantime there is work to be done, more glass- bowl-gatherings to procure. The next one is coming up and this time Robert is going to prepare a cultural evening with a fully Haitian buffet including Ox Tail…and I will devour every morsel as I listen for the slight reverberation of the glass bowl as it receives another gift.

The question many ask is why should we help this one family, when millions are in the same situation…how can this truly make a difference? We were created as individuals made to connect with others on an individual level

l. When man first set foot on this planet we didn’t have mass communication, television, CNN, newpapers, or book stores. Amazon….that was just a jungle. It’s a time for us to reconnect with the core of our being and remember the importance of connecting with fellow human beings on an intimate and authentic level, beginning one relationship at a time.


This is our chance to make a difference in the lives of fourteen children who we are connected to, who have mothers who love them no less than we love our own. Fourteen children who still see  hope in the world. This is why we should help, because we are meant to, and this is our chance to be a part of helping where there is no opportunity, where there are no jobs, where where they deeply and truly need....us.

It is my belief we are here not to become famous, or be rewarded for magnificent feats. I believe this because anyone I know who has achieved great stature whether it be celebrity or wealth, still carries burdens, many of which were birthed by their perceived blessings. Although I sit here the hypocrite with hopes that someday I too might achieve a certain level of success where I can make a difference in this world on a grander scale, it was simply these children which secured my belief that one's purpose in life need not be something aggrandized by others to have an impact, or have meaning, but can actually begin in one’s living room...with a glass bowl...


If you too would like to donate to the Ettienne family,


kindly make payment to Jennette Ettienne. Mail payments to:

Dr. Wendy Walsh

171 Pier Ave. Suite 393

Santa Monica, California

90405

The Fourteen Ettiennes: Melline, Chrisner, Roodiery, Rosedaline, Chrisson, Claude, Nickenson, Wisly, Wislene, Valencia, Fitho, Joiner, Jouveline, Wilbelline
Wednesday
Feb172010

Groomzilla

As I arrived at one of my very first weddings, the bride glowed, a long radiant gown and train befitting a formal ceremony. Her father stood with chiseled features absorbing every pore in her face as memories of her childhood danced on her face. She swept through the courtyard, her dress flowing in the breeze as I captured black and white imagery of her leaning over and whispering in her grandfather's ear. This was going to be the most amazing wedding ever. The stage was set, the characters were in place, the guests had arrived, and suddenly in the depth of my soul I felt the odd vibration of the theme from Jaws reverberating in my spine. I turned around, he stood tall, basketball player tall. He was big, his groomsmen towered over me like Soprano henchman in bowties. Although startled, I smiled and held out my hand as this was the groom, the precious enigma which had eluded me for 6 months, the knight in shining armor who had swept this beautiful girl off her Cinderella heels. My Groomzilla had arrived...


My outstretched hand waited, his eyes glared an absent gaze as though his soul had drifted into the middle realm until this unfamiliar exercise in manhood recoiled at midnight and he could then come out to play. He turned to the grunts of his fellow Neanderthals, pointed forward toward the lair which housed his maiden of sacrifice, and left, leaving my hand as a receptacle for fly waste. In that moment, my heart imploded, my ID deflated, and everything I thought I knew about human beings flew into the apse of that cathedral. It was at that moment I realized that not only will there be clients you don’t connect with, there will be some who could care less if you even exist. You see, I had never met the groom, only the bride, and the last thing he cared about was photography.


As far as he was concerned, I was a gnat to be ignored or swiped at if I came within the parameters of his bubble. He had a very thick bubble, one with walls of selective hearing, as though only the bride could hear me speak and she had to translate my directives to him in Neanderthal.


I picked up the pieces of my psyche and slinked into the cathedral, my assistant by my side staring at me, waiting for my affirmation that all was still right in the world. My second shooter stood firm in the upper balcony blissfully unaware of my emotional crux. I smiled, all was fine. I was a professional dressed in a lovely black dress appropriate for such an affair. I could have actually been a guest had I not been schlepping lenses and batteries or had a 2-inch blister on my shooting hand from last week’s mitzvah. The groom was simply nervous, he didn’t really understand that I was that photographer his fiancé had been speaking about for months, who’s images she adored, and wanted to name their first born after….OK, I digress…


It must have been a simple misunderstanding, I was sure. Had to get my head back in the game, the same game these Soprano henchmen were in. I lifted my chin, got out the long lens, readied myself as the groom stood at the alter, the organ began to fill the stained glass with shards of deliverance. As the doors to the cathedral opened and the light poured in behind her, I grab her figure in the center of my glass and then out of nowhere, like the antichrist whispering in my ear I hear, “my dear, whatever you do, do NOT use flash and do NOT cross the aisle”. I whip my head around to see the nun in piano key garb flit through the side door, returning my gaze rapidly to the money shot about to go down the tubes. Once again my nerves rattled, I regrouped, my second shooter still in the balcony. The bride walked down the aisle with a beaming father, but this time each step this bride took ebbed to the soundtrack of the single woman’s death march. Her lilting expression quivered like a child learning to ride her bike, her daddy attempting to steady the handlebars, and at the end of the aisle he let go. She smiled at him to comfort his broken heart, protecting him all the while knowing that she was the one who needed saving. Don’t let go of the bike, Daddy, stay just a minute longer. The guests won’t go anywhere, don’t let go, don’t let go…..And yet just as is scripted, in every wedding she’s imagined and played over in her dreams since she steadied those handle bars, just as she had planned for 6 long months, he let go...


She turned to her groom, his face pocked with fossils of adolescent acne and eyes demanding her gaze, and in that moment became the very woman she knew her parents wanted her to become. She knew now that she had the perfect union, the perfect future, the perfect life…with my Groomzilla.


The ceremony came and went. Now it was time for the portraits. Portrait time with the hearing impaired, I mean the groomsmen. As I attempted to raise the level of my voice to garner the attention of the bridal party, the groomsmen meandered through the lawn like elephants swinging their tusks, whipping nibbles from the bridesmaids’ bouquets and lapping their tongues in the air as they guffawed their many tenors. It was then the groom leaned into the same ear blessed by the antichrist and said, “if you don’t control this crowd, no one will…” He turned, and returned to his herd. Instead of being the true gentleman and husband of his new bride, and simply directing his pride to the portrait location, he waited for me to assert myself, to earn my right to life, to pass this test of credibility. I succumbed, I channeled the town cryer, announcing each shot. The suggestion to move in close to one another was met with questioning jeers from the henchmen as though I were speaking in Swahili with a French accent. We proceeded to the sand...a dream of the bride. The bridesmaids were amazing, gleefully flitting off their heels and running into the sand, leaving in their wake the bevy of buffalos snorting at the sea of sand as though each grain were from the planet krypton threatening the demise of their people upon contact. They stopped, a frozen breed, one by one their heads cocked in my direction, eyebrows inverted and palms to the sky…..the leader of this pack….my Groomzilla.

I love my job. I truly love my job, but everyone has that one day in their career when they stop and say to themselves, "Someday we'll look back and laugh at this". This writing is my laughter. As a matter of fact I'm absolutely gaffawing inside.


We finished a perfectly executed portrait session. They huffed and puffed and blew my heart down. I swore, if I lived through that day, that hour, that reception, I would never eat anything unhealthy again….I would become a saint and build homes for children in Malawi…..

The band played on. The moments of the bride trying to talk her groom into certain poses, her playfulness ignored, his cool hand luke now baring the golden ring he obtained through the grace of gods, were dissolving into misty ocean fog parading by the windows. To all in attendance, this was the most magnificent wedding they had ever seen. I turned around the images in a matter of a week with each and every image catered to as I would the most blissful of shoots. To top it all off, the images of this wedding were published in a major magazine. But the accolades were bitter sweet. This entire experience could have been completely different.


You see, the groom is the leader of the groomsmen. His energy will dictate their energy. He will lead and they will follow. It’s up to you to learn beforehand what makes your client tick, who he is as a person. I may have seethed a touch of sarcasm during my telling of this tale, but truly everything that happened was ultimately my fault. I’m the captain of the ship. I needed to know who I was working with so I could better understand how to direct. How can you conduct music without knowing the instruments in the orchestra? You can’t promise a quartet and then have a trombone show up and expect to create soothing music. I was so thrown off by this seemingly illogical and antisocial groom, that I immediately overcompensated in trying to make the bride especially happy that I ended up a puppy chasing its own tail hoping I’d catch it and that my owner would notice.


In the end, even with the images published in a magazine and their wedding a featured article……I received a call from the groom. Hoping for a moment of gratitude I puffed for a lovely conversation, only to sense a slight hesitation……,”Micaela, we love your work, but we were hoping there would be more close-up images like you see in the magazines…”


If life is about lessons, I learned a lot that day. I learned that even the worst of days breeds herds of knowledge for me to pull from, bits of experience hopefully not lost in the Swahilian translation. But most of all, I learned that it's essential not only for my client to like me, but for me to understand my client. I must have a solid grasp of who they both are. It's OK if photography isn't his thing, but if I had taken the time to meet with him as well, I could have garnered this jewel of information and chiseled it as armor for the big day. I have encountered but one Groomzilla in my career so far. I understand there are others out there, captured in fumbling shadows, lurking amidst the herds...I stand ready in wait with my cross-hairs, I mean my camera, loaded...
Wednesday
Feb172010

Depth of Field is Not Just the Number of Cowpies You Are Standing In

What the heck is depth of field? Photographers hear it all the time…shallow depth of field, greater depth of field. Now that Aperture and Shutterspeed are clearly cemented in your brain, let’s look at why they are so important.

A shallow depth of field is when the part of the image closest to the lens is in focus, and everything behind it is more out of focus. The extent to which this occurs is dependant upon how wide you open your Aperture, or how small your f-stop number is, as well as the focal length and distance the subject is from the camera.  The smaller the f-stop number (ie: f/2.8) the sharper the immediate subject and the more blurry the background therefore providing you with an image with a shallow depth of field. This is a technique popular with portrait photography where the family or individual is crisp but the background has a blur or a haze. This is because the photographer set the f-stop to provide a shallow depth of field.

My colleague Rick Rosen explains Depth of Field with the following:
Depth of Field is a factor of:
1. The focal length of the lens. The longer the lens the less the depth of field at any given aperture and focus point when compared to a lens of shorter focal length.
2. The aperture. The more the lens is closed down to a smaller aperture (larger f/number) the more the depth of field will be at any focus point.
3. The distance from the camera position to the subject. The closer the focus the less the depth of field will be at any focus point. The farther away the greater the depth of field will be at any aperture.
4. Depth of field extends 1/3 in front of and 2/3 behind the focus point. This is the relationship at infinity focus but as you focus closer that ratio changes to eventually become 1/2 in front of and 1/2 behind the subject.

From my personal experience, be careful when shooting groups. Upon photographing more than one person in a group, make sure each person is within 12 inches of each other in reference to their distance from the camera. Everyone should be no more than 12 inches behind or in front of their friend or family member is when you are choosing an extremely shallow depth of field such as 2.8 (or in some cases lenses can run as wide as a 1.2 or 1.4. Be careful when using a small f-stop like this as one person will be in focus and the rest will look like they are in a drug induced haze...) Distancing yourself from the subjects can create a greater depth of field eliminating this issue, also allowing you to shoot at a larger f-stop. Also, using a longer focal length and smaller f-stop can trip you up if you are shooting a single individual as if you are shooting at 1.4 and focus on their nose, their eyes will be out of focus.

You achieve a greater depth of field when you set a larger f-stop number such as f/3.5 up to f/22 etc and distance yourself from the subject(s). In this case, you would be more likely to be shooting a sports event or landscapes. Remember, the smaller the opening (larger the f-stop) the less light is allowed in, so you will need to consider upping your ISO and possibly slowing your Shutterspeed if you are not using a tri-pod. This is why many landscape photographers use tri-pods. They most commonly shoot at dawn or dusk, in low light situation. In order to photograph a crisp landscape with a greater depth of field, and with an ISO of 100 to allow for low noise, they need absolute stillness as they will need to set the shutter open longer, sometimes for a minute for more at a time.

So there you go! Let the barn door open and set the cattle free! OH and don't forget to wear your boots...
Tuesday
Feb162010

The Three Scoops of Photography

Just because one has an instinct for taking pictures, does not mean he/she intuitively understands the basics of photography. Like a teenager placing the cherry on his much coveted dessert, he knows it tasted great, but it’s not until he’s an adult when he will stop and ask what made that sundae so good…

The three scoops of photography are the Aperture, Shutterspeed, & the ISO. Understanding the dance how Aperture, Shutterspeed and ISO work together, is key to obtaining properly exposed images and achieving the aesthetic you see in your mind’s eye, no matter if you are an aspiring shutterbug or one rockin’ the town. You’d be surprised how many people make a living in this industry without grasping this essential concept of how these three scoops of photography work together.

One photographer of note started his business without even knowing what Aperture and Shutterspeed really were and took a course at her local community college in Photography 101. After that, she took out a loan for $20,000, bought a full-page ad in a national bridal magazine and started charging 10g a wedding. My goal is not to create monsters here, it’s simply stating that even though some photographers do have the confidence to break out like Godzilla at Legoland, sustaining a career which offers you true fulfillment or legitimacy will not be possible without truly understanding the basic elements of photography.

First of all, the goal here is get you out of Automatic Mode on your camera. The only way to do that is to actually understand Aperture, Shutterspeed and ISO. Oh goody! Isn’t this fun? Here’s some nitty gritty for your photo kitty….

Aperture
In regard to Aperture, think of your eye. The Aperture is essentially the pupil of the camera. When the pupil dilates, it opens up, letting in more light. The confusing part of the Aperture is the numbering system. In photo speak, the smaller the

Aperture, the larger the opening. This does make sense if you think about it though, as the Aperture is considered one “whole”. If an aperture could open all the way to be a wide as possible it would be at 1. Most lenses open up to 3.5, a really solid pro lens opens to 2.8 and my favorite is my 1.4. The benefits to having a lens with a “wide” Aperture capability is that when it is opened wide, it lets in more light, allowing you shoot in lower light situations without using flash. Now, the smaller the opening, the less light allowed in, and the number goes up, ie: 16, 22. Etc. These numbers are called f‐stops or the f/number. That’s why in photo books you will see them referred to as f/2.8, f/3.5, etc.


Shutterspeed
Shutterspeed is the amount of time that the shutter is open. In the days of film, it was the time the scene was exposed. In digital photography shutter speed is the length of time that your image sensor ’sees’ the scene. Think of yourself driving in a car watching the scenery fly by. The faster you go, you get quick sharp glimpses of what is outside the window. The slower you go, you capture more detail information in your mind. When you want to photograph someone or something that is moving or jumping, it’s ideal to “up” your Shutterspeed to capture your subject, usually to around 125-250.

Remember, the larger the Aperture, the smaller the f-stop number!

The Smaller the Aperture, the larger the f-stop number, isn’t this FUN?!

ISO
In fancy speak, stay with me here cuz this hurts my brain…. ISO is actually “the speed of photographic negative materials” (formerly known in the film world as ASA).

The ISO number tells you how sensitive your camera is at that moment in relation to the amount of light you are shooting in.

The higher the ISO number, the more sensitive your camera is to the available light, and the more likely you will be able to capture the image in lower light situations. In the old days, you used to have to switch the entire roll of film to a different film ASA, but nowadays, it’s simply switching the dial on your camera to alter the ISO (the ASA equivalent). The reason I explained the Aperture and Shutterspeed first, is that the ISO affects these settings in order to create a proper exposure. Now, of course it’s so easy to stop and say, but why don’t I just use flash? But what if you can’t use flash such as in a performance or at a wedding, or you simply wish to avoid that “flashy” look.

There is a trade-off however in being able to up your ISO to craziness that many camera bodies allow nowadays, like 3600….Unless you are operating with a high end body, your sensor is sensitive now not only to light, but to all elements involved…which means more information from the actual camera and sensor, which results in more digital noise in your image. For some this can be a creative choice, for others it’s an unexpected annoyance needing to be resolved with the use of noise reduction filters which can add an unrealistic element to the photograph taking out the authentic capture.

I hope this bit of rehash wasn’t too dry…sometimes it’s necessary to bite the bullet we’ve shot into our creative psyche and nosh it a bit so the metallic skin embeds in our teeth leaving the aftertaste we need to appreciate that hot fudge sundae of life that is photography…
Saturday
Feb132010

Shooting from Body Parts

There are 3 ways to shoot. From the head, the heart, and the hip.  Learning to shoot from each of the body parts at the same time is what I like to think of as the tri-fecta of perfect capture. 

Think of the last time you prepped for a shoot. Were you too fatigued to be inspired,  or your mind was on the Superbowl and the fifty bucks now gasping in someone else's snakeskin wallet. Had you shot the same family four years in a row and  now as teenagers they want nothing less than to be in your presence that day because Lady Gaga was at the mall dressed like a snow cone on crack…

It’s days like this some shooters figure they know enough technically that  all they really have to do is get the shots and fix the lighting later in Photoshop, rather than put forth that extra bit of effort to seek it out, or inspire their client. This is called shooting from the head. Although a necessary element to photography as the head is where the information lives, the key to being successful on days when your creativity has taken a spa day, is knowing how to compensate by shooting from the hip, and the heart, as well as the head.

The key to activating all three aspects of this tri-fecta is to first accept that they exist in tandem, and never rely on just one of them to get you through a shoot. Shooting from the heart is pulling on your own personal emotional energy store, not one you've manufactured just for this shoot. I mean giving yourself the ole pep talk of why you started shooting in the first place. When you look into those children's eyes, think of your own children. When you hug your client upon arrival, remember that each parent is entrusting their memories to you, and each bride is somebody's baby. Allow yourself to feel the experience on a gut level. (I would have called it shooting from the gut, but that just sounds wrong....)

Then there's shooting from the hip. This is definitely not what it sounds like, because there is nothing casual or unscripted about this. This is about embracing the physical energy supply you must not only muster for this shoot, but have access to on a daily basis as a working photographer. For some shooters,  they fast for a couple of days prior to a wedding to clear their head and their body. If I did this I would collapse. For others it’s a yoga class prior to the event or shoot. Some people need a good night’s sleep and a breakfast of scrambled eggs, others need a Vente 5-pump Chai Latte with non-fat, no water and an extra shot….(that would be me…).You’d be surprised how much your client feeds off your energy, your charisma, your ability to inspire THEM. They do not expect to simply show up for a portrait shoot and not be instructed on how to pose, or not to have their experience framed in some way. Your attitude, your joi de vivre (I've always wanted to use that in a sentence) will make or break a session. Even as a photojournalist performing a portrait shoot, there must be a sense your client has that they are not operating without a net. If it means inspiring yourself by bringing red lollipops for the children to play with, go for it! Go to the local grocery store and buy a bunch of solid colored helium balloons and watch their eyes pop as you exit your vehicle...

It’s a personal reflection as to what it will take for you to connect with your head, your heart and your hip shooter within. 

The greatest athletes in the world have to get into their headspace before a game or competition, but they don’t do this by simply replaying the rules in their head. They rev up their enthusiasm, they pray to fill their heart, they cheer on themselves and the other players involved. Every event you shoot should be looked at not only as a competition to prepare for, but an experience that will determine if there will be another shoot or event to follow. Just as in athletics, just as in the movies, you are truly only as good as your last shoot. Head, hearts & hips, unite...


Friday
Feb122010

Valentine Engagement Special


Book with Bensko by the end of March

Receive one night's accommodations at the SLS Beverly Hills...

Life is good.

310-990-8389 to arrange a consultation