Back To School In The Panhandle

Awhile back, a friend suggested I do some back to school portraits for her kids and mine.   Since I broke loose with a wedding and a senior session, this was a no brainer.  All I needed to do was brain storm for a few seconds and hit up Google to see what kind of ideas were out there for back to school portraits that fit into the box of creativity.

We all have been there, the subject of the mass-produced school portrait, as a student, and as a parent buying it.  Granted, the run of the mill portraits are good for what they are, but they are all the same.  Same pose, same drab background and same forced smiles.

Second Grade Back To School

After a couple of weeks, I was able to gather up a few items including a couple of my old McGuffey readers and an old, wooden school desk.  The desk was in pretty fair condition.  A quick sand job and sprayed with some Krylon wood stain in a can, the desk was ready to go.  My friend lives in the country, so we did the shoot around her place.

First Grade Back To School

The boys themselves were more than cooperative, other than they were wanting to eat the apples before they were even used.  Luckily, the apples survived.  I will probably be buying fake apples in the near future to prevent any preshoot meals.

Fourth Grade Back To School

After I got the images I wanted, the boys wanted to head to another location for more pics, which was not an issue.  The boys really cut loose at that location and had a lot of fun.

Back To School Group

Posted in Back To School, Photography

Elkhart, Kansas Senior Session

I recently had the pleasure to create a senior portrait session with Elkhart, Kansas Class of 2015 graduate Colton Boaldin.    When I was asked to be the photographer by his mother, I was more than happy to jump into the ring to create the images.   My vision is simple when it comes to creating a senior portrait session, or any portrait session for that matter; and that is to capture the essence of my subjects in the images.    For me, knowing what interests my subjects have and what they are into are very important, as I use that information to create a shot sheet, or a guideline of what images we’re going to create.

Colton is a member of the Elkhart High Wildcat football squad.  Although I was not much of a football player, and I have gotten away from following the happenings on the gridiron, this image was a no brainer.  In fact, Colton and I created a series of football related images during the session that I am impressed with.  I was also impressed with the quality of the field grass.  In my limited experience as a football player decades ago, the grass quality was always a topic of conversation and when I first laid my eyes upon the grass at Elkhart, Colton and I talked about it briefly, even talking about fields that were not fun to play on.

The image out of the series that I came away with that I like the best was the one below.   Exposing for the sky, and a little help with an off camera flash, I was able to overcome the effect of an overpowering sun to create the image that I had envisioned even before showing up for the shoot.

Elkhart Wildcat Football

Colton is a member of the Elkhart High School FFA Chapter.   For both of us, it was important to capture this part of his life.  Not only is he a member, but he is a leader within the chapter to go along with his life as a farmer/rancher/cowboy.  I arrived at the shoot with a preset vision on how we were going to capture his FFA participation.  Did not work like that though as I saw that the FFA farm is located next to the football field and just like the field, I saw that Elkhart takes pride in their FFA and noticed the nice sign at the entrance.  I don’t mind working on the fly because even if what I have in my mind might be a great shot, once on location my eyes are always wandering to see if there is something that can make images even better and the sign was the answer.    I ditched the off camera flash for the shot and while the actual image that I shot on location stumped me for a few minutes, a test here and a test there and I came up with something that I am really happy with.

Elkhart Kansas FFA

We then moved to the stadium fence where the students had created a sign on the fence that I wanted to incorporate into the session, but ended up with nothing that I was real happy with, so we moved to the Boaldin Family Farm outside of Elkhart to capture more moments of Colton’s life.   I have been to the farm many times and have shot there before, so I was pretty familiar with the environment I would be working in.   During this time, I did created some candid shots of Colton as he prepared his cow and horse for the shoot, but was also able to located an old truck on the property to use.  Later that evening, as we sat around Pizza Hut, Colton’s grandmother told us how that truck was the means of transport for her and Colton’s grandfather during their initial time together decades ago.

Colton wanted to incorporate his dog into a couple of shots and that was a no brainer.  Farm dogs are farm dogs.  I love farm dogs.  They are free spirits who are usually the first ones to greet a stranger upon their arrival to a farm-house.

Senior Old Pickup Portrait

For the last chapter of the session, Colton moved onto his horse.   My last two portrait sessions had worked out great when the sun began to set.  The clouds were somewhat broken up and the sky lit up, especially during the last shoot, into a magical palette of colors that photographers dream of.  Not so much during this session, the clouds had rolled in and there was one small break that showed just a little color.  On top of that, I had lost use of my off camera flash due to an issue that I had not anticipated and since it was my backup, it was time to improvise.   There are photographers and there are photographers.  There is a small segment of photographers who believe that straight out of the camera is the way to go, while the other group embraces the advances in computer technology that allows us to go beyond “SOOC” and create special images that are pleasing to the eye.  Then there are times when nature kicks us in the butt and we have to use that technology to save us.  This is where I was.  I was forced to underexpose this series of images, but knowing what I could do here at my computer, I was not worried and I was able to save the images without a problem.

Elkhart, Kansas Class of 2015 graduate Colton Boaldin poses on his horse during his senior portrait session

With the total loss of any kind of decent sunset, my vision of the last image that I would create for the shoot died a horrible death.  Like I said though, I was not worried as once I got home, I would be able to do something about it.

Colton rides off into what was a poor sunset with a bright future ahead of him

All in all, between the failure of equipment and nature, I am pretty happy with the series of images that we created together that captured Colton’s life.  Congratulations as you have a bright future ahead and thank you for working with me on this shoot.

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Getting Closer To A Supercell

I have developed this strange urge to create a totally awesome supercell image.   The odds are against me though, even though I do live in an area of the country that provides the material every so often.   Last year, I missed one because I pulled off the chase too soon.   The rest of the storm season went well as I was able to create a nice little image library of lightning images, but no supercell.

This year, my timing, has for the lack of a better term, sucked.  Mostly due to job related reasons, i.e. I’ve been working when there has been some wicked storms roll through here, I have not been able to position myself into a good situation.  The first storm I went after probably would have provided decent material, and I did get some decent shots out of the storm, the storm itself had some impressive speed and I could never get far enough out in front of it to get “that shot.”

Fast forward to just a couple of weeks ago, I loaded up to go look at a storm that was rolling through the Oklahoma Panhandle.  I went about 20 miles west of my home base, while keeping an eye on the radar.  Things were not looking good.   The storm was going the wrong way so I turned back to come home.  I made it about 15 miles when I noticed that not only had the storm had turned, but another storm was popping up.  I stopped for a few minutes to capture a couple of shots and I am happy with those shots, they were still not want I wanted.

I drove down a country road for a few miles to another spot and stopped.  The storm had finally developed into something that I wanted to capture.  The sun was low on the horizon and there was a large enough break in the clouds that the sunlight was showing through.  I was hesitant to shoot from this spot though.  Last year, a few of us shot from this location and I had a run in with a rattlesnake, a bat and then the lightning shots that were too close for comfort.

Optima Lightning

Lightning strikes the ground at the Optima Feed Mill

Although I did not position myself to get the best quality image I possibly could due to my own inhibitions, and one shot that I did miss, I kept working at it until I got the three elements into the image that I wanted, sunlight, strong and powerful clouds and lightning.

oklahoma thunderstorm

An early evening thunderstorm rolls over the Oklahoma Panhandle

All in all, I am pretty happy with the image.  It might be the last time this year that I will be able to chase a storm in search of the “perfect” supercell/thunderstorm image, but I know I will have more opportunities in the future.

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Kenton, Oklahoma Wedding Shoot

A few months ago, I was asked to shoot a wedding for a coworker.   Even though I never had shot a wedding before, I was up for the challenge.   I had decided around the same time that I might make a go with shooting some weddings, along with other photography related ventures.  It was time to start making my little hobby pay off, but if a photographer has no material showing their work in a certain arena, that photographer doesn’t pick up paying jobs.

I had studied some wedding photography at that point, bought some books and spent some time on the Internet, trying to formulate a plan.  I had also started to do some portraits here and there, so I had a good idea of where I was going to go with my work and how I was going to get there, I just needed to start acquiring the images to help me start making my move.

As time went by, things changed with the wedding and it was looking like the entire plan might fall to pieces.   Now if there is one trait of mine that helps me out from time to time is I like being outside the box.  Throw away conventional thinking, I’m going to be outside those four little lines.  I spent some hours dwelling on the idea that the bride was not going to get a collection of images from her wedding and I spent time dwelling on the idea that I might be treading water longer when it came to the ideas I had for my creative vision colliding with weddings.

Cue the quaint, little Oklahoma Panhandle town of Kenton.  Kenton is situated about 3 miles east of the New Mexico state line and is in the Mountain Time Zone.  In the last two years, I have been to Kenton and the surrounding area at least four times to shoot photos, so I already had a few ideas on places where we could go.   Also, the Kenton area also possesses the one thing I really, really wanted as a backdrop, a body of water.   The terms “body of water” and “in the Oklahoma Panhandle” usually do not go together, and up until last fall, Lake Etling, was almost dry.   Last fall, I shot around Lake Etling and already knew it would be the perfect backdrop at sunset.

The bride was all for the idea and last Saturday, we showed up several hours before sunset.  I had picked out three locations between Kenton and Lake Etling that I wanted to shoot at, with the last spot being at the lake at sunset.  The first place we started was just on the west edge of Kenton.  Several days earlier, I had picked up a small chalkboard to use as a prop, but then I came across some fancy cut signs in WalMart and picked up a couple.   I was having some issues with using real chalk on the boards, so I ended up firing up the vinyl cutter that I own and ended up creating a couple of signs that would work great.

This first shot was a shot that I had come up with just a couple of days earlier.  I had already had a meeting with the bride and created a shot sheet, but I added this one at the last-minute after creating the signs.  My intention was simple, have the couple on the highway, far enough back from the sign to blur them while the sign was in focus.  The day after the shoot, I posted this image on Google Plus and got a wise crack about traffic.  Believe you me, traffic is one thing that does not need to be worried about.  In the hour and a half I was in Kenton, a grand total of about four vehicles passed through.

kenton wedding

This second image was a shot from the shot sheet.  My intentions were simple with this shot, bride in the middle of the road.  Over the last few years, I have kind of made it a photography trait of mine to create images using a road.  Usually, I’ll drop the camera down low as I will be shooting star trails, lightning or the Milky Way.  For this shot, just like the previous image, I just bent down and looked up at the bride.  Because of the lack of contrasting colors, I went black and white with this shot.

bride in kenton

After running through the list of images to create in Kenton, we moved off southwest towards the lake, in the area of the old Ellard Ranch.  Just a few hours before the shoot started, thunderstorms rolled through the area and the clouds broke up enough to where some sun was still coming through and this image has the start of what was one of the most stunning sunsets I have ever had the pleasure to use in my images.

ellard ranch bride and groom

Shortly after capturing this image, I realized that we were getting ready to run into a major problem.   I had looked up the sunset time and had annotated it on the shot sheet.  But I noticed that we were getting ready to lose the light and we needed to move since our last location was a few miles away and the drive to get there can be slow in places, so off we went.   When we got to the last site, another obstacle was presented to us as some people were occupying the space where I wanted to shoot.  Normally I would have just talked to the people and more than likely not, would not have had any issues with them cooperating, but non-photographers usually don’t get “chasing the light” and I didn’t want to waste time while losing the light.  My “outside the box” mentality rang the mental doorbell and I spotted a perfect alternate site.  Actually, it was not totally perfect but I was willing to deal with the slight imperfection with the site to get the couple into the sunset and get to shooting.

lake etling bride dip

After capturing a few shots at this spot, the people left my “preferred” spot and I had enough light to capture one more “must have” image from the shoot, so we move down.  I had a mental note of an idea on how I wanted this image, but due to the time constraints we ran into, I was willing to settle and in reality, even if I had created what I had on the top of the list, I think it would only score just a point or two more than what I was able to walk away with.

Lake Etling Silhouette

We created a couple of more images before we departed Lake Etling.  The next day at 4 P.M. sharp, the nuptials were scheduled to be exchanged.  I only had one approach to the wedding and that was what I had done when it came to my race photography and just go with the flow.   It was a beautiful outdoor wedding held at The Willows Inn in Guymon.  The ceremony was short, but I arrived a couple of hours before hand and just captured images that I felt would tell the story of Benji’s and Andrea’s special day.   It took me several days to cull the images down to the best collection and create what I believe was the best images possible for the bride and groom.

A year ago, I would never had thought about shooting a wedding, much less a staged shoot with the bride and groom.  When I began knocking down the barriers a few months ago, my confidence began to rise.  In the last couple of years, I have gone from “I hope I can do that” to “easy peasy.”  I still have work to do in this arena, but I can sit here and realize the only limitation I have is my gear as my mind is firing on all cylinders.

Willows Wedding

Posted in Photography, Portrait, Wedding Tagged , , , , , |

Ranch Family Portrait Session

On Saturday, I was privileged to have a family portrait session with the Boaldin Family from Elkhart, Kansas.  I have known the family for a really, really long time as I grew up with the family matriarch, DeLane.  She is my sister and yes, I used that connection to lock down this shoot.  When I decided to go into portraiture work awhile back, I knew what direction I wanted to go with portraits.     My golden rule when it comes to portrait work is I do it outside for the most part, and in the early evening as the sun goes down.    While this may not be totally unique to the photography world, it allows me to create images that are strong and pleasing at the same time.

The first image is something that DeLane contributed to the shoot.  The day was kind of a long one for me as I started out with two meetings, and even though I had left the house with a borrowed chalkboard, I forgot to get some chalk.  DeLane had this sign and another one that said “FARMSWEETFARM” that she purchased from a small business in Kingfisher, Oklahoma.  I fell in love with the concept instantly as I have yet to come across any portrait images with these signs in them.  I will definitely be contacting the company in the future and using some of these custom signs for future shoots.

farm_family_portrait

 

This second image is an image that I believe shows the essence of what the Boaldin Family is all about.  The patriarch, Thon comes from a longtime farming and ranching family.     Thon and DeLane have been married for years and have raised two fine boys in Colton and Westin.

 

farm_family_portrait

 

Even though this is the first time I have worked with a ranch family to create their family portraits, what I love about the concept of creating portraits is the family has access to land that is the perfect setting for their portraits.   To me, it is important to capture the essence of the family in the images.  The last time I created a family portrait, the race car was in the image, along with Johnson Valley OHV in the background.  In the case of this image, the background consists of Boaldin land.  Even though they farm in three states, I was only able to capture Kansas and Colorado in this image.     The boys are involved in roping.   Even though the ropes can be considered props, the boys actually use them.

 

farm_family_portrait

 

This was a fun image to create.  Thon owns a 1979 Ford pickup that is in pretty good condition.   I happen to be into old pickups myself and once again, the pickup was not my idea.  I have to say that a shoot is so much funner when the client has a taste for creativity.  It makes my job easier.  Back in the day before the Internet, cell phones and satellite TV, those of us that grew up in rural areas spent many hours cruising around our towns, usually in pickups just like this.

 

farm_family_portrait

 

This is the last image I created during the shoot.  Actually, the shoot was over and we were all relaxing outside watching a thunderstorm build and move north of the house.  Colton was in the yard messing around with his rope and I was messing around with the camera taking some shots when the color really started to pop in the sky.   I rounded the family back up and created two more images and this is the last one.  By the way, I will be using one of those shots I got of Colton for his senior shoot that I will be doing next month.

 


farm_family_portrait

I had a real fun time creating these images for the Boaldins.  The entire series captured what the family is all about, from where they came from, to how they live their lives to some of their activities.

Posted in Photography, Portrait Tagged |

My First Senior Shoot

After about four years after diving into photography full steam ahead, I got to do my first senior photo shoot with my photo club, The Main Street Shutterbugs in Guymon on Saturday.   It was a charity shoot that we did for some senior graduates who may not have had the opportunity to have a senior photo shoot for one reason or another.

soliz-senior-shoot-guymon

Fraternal twins Kathrine and Katy showed up and luckily for me, they both are filled with personality and made the shoot easy.    I was able to walk away with a collection of decent shots.  It was also the second shoot I did using the Sigma 70-300 DG OS lens that has been in my arsenal for the last two years.  I bought it just for motorsports, but over the last few months, I decided I would give it a whirl as it’s the best lens that I have in regards to quality images.  I spent most of the shoot at 200mm and 5.6.  I would like to have a wider aperture so I can get more blur in the background, but after spending a few minutes with one of my handy-dandy apps, I learned that 200mm and 5.6 would be sufficient until I move up in the world.

soliz-senior-shoot-guymon-2

The only thing that I would have changed about the shoot would have been the wind, but it’s Oklahoma.  There are a couple of keepers that I had to load into Photoshop so I could remove a few stray hairs, but on the plus side, there was a couple of keepers that the wind actually helped out.

soliz-senior-shoot-guymon-5

soliz-senior-shoot-guymon-3

soliz-senior-shoot-guymon-4

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The Classroom

On Monday night, I held my first formal class instructing a group of fellow photographers about Adobe Lightroom.   I held this class at the Guymon Public Library.

I first laid eyes on the classroom several weeks ago and knew I had found a perfect place to hold photography classes.  The classroom is large enough to accommodate a lot of attendess.  It is also blocked off from any outside light and is equipped with a large screen television.  I arrived over an hour before the start of class to get setup.  I used a quick Powerpoint presentation from my laptop, but most of the class was me working through Lightroom on the big screen.

I had eight photographers in the class, which was a better turnout than I expected.   The photographers ranged in Lightroom experience from beginner to experienced and the focus of my class was geared towards the beginners, as Lightroom was something that several photographers wanted to learn and I had the knowledge to pass on.

The class was free and the library allows “for profit” classes to be conducted, with a nominal fee, which I plan on doing in the future.

When I went through a formal instructor course several years ago, the one thing I learned in the class is there might be attendees that might be better at what I do than me and the instructor should always have an open mind, because not only do the students learn, but the instructor learns and I learned a few things in the class.

I had scheduled the class to run for two hours.  Although I never had conducted a formal photography class before, I knew two hours was going to be a tight time frame to fit in everything I wanted to do.  The class started several minutes late, which should be expected.    Then there were several technical issues that were minor in nature, but contributed to the class running late.    I also planned on three practical exercises, but due to running over on time, I had to dump one exercise completely, and had to really rush through another.

All in all, I loved being able to have the class and being able to share my knowledge with other photographers so they can improve.  I also appreciated having the issues pop up like they did as they allow me to improve and adjust my presentation in the future.

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Firefighter Training

c38-guymon_firefighter_training.jpg

The Main Street Shutterbugs, the photography club located in Guymon, Oklahoma got invited to photograph local firefighter training one morning.   The training session, held at the Guymon High School, in my book, was a cannot miss opportunity.   It would be a chance to capture images of firefighters in action, in a controlled environment.

I walked away with around 800 shots that morning.  Shooting the training was an experience itself.  I used my Sigma 70-300 lens for this venture.  This particular lens is my go to lens for a lot of stuff that I do.  It’s been in the dust of off-road racing and lately, I have started to use it as a portrait lens.   For this particular venture, it allowed me to get in close to the firefighting action without having to be close enough to feel the heat, or get in the way.

When I am out shooting with other photographers, I usually look for the space that is unoccupied by other photographers or for a better term, I am looking for the angle that no one else is shooting from.   Sometimes this method works and sometimes it doesn’t.

There are several images I captured that morning that I really like and this is one of them.   The trainer, the firefighter in the middle, guides the attack team towards the fire.  I had the lens stretched out to 300mm, which allowed me to almost completely fill the frame.  I had to do very little cropping in Lightroom.   On the processing side, in my mind, a scene containing firefighters and fire needs to be gritty, edgy and harsh.  There are several ways to go about getting that feeling, but for this image and most in the set, I “cheated” and created some virtual copies of the shot in Lightroom, set to different exposure values.  I then exported the images to Photomatix and used that software to add the baseline “feel” to the image.  I brought the image back into Lightroom, added some clarity for more grittiness and called it a day.

This particular session in the end was a lot of fun because it allowed me to add my creativity to images of firefighters, plus I sold a print of one of the images within a few days after the session.

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Old Granary In Guymon

I have a mental block when it comes to photographing the same thing twice.  Once I have been to a location, I never want to go back to it.  Like they say though, “never say ‘never’ “.

Several weeks ago, after a long drought of not being able to go shoot during the evenings the last several months, I broke out and hooked up with a merry band of local photographers who I had spent a lot of time with last summer shooting storms.  We started our trek in downtown Guymon, Oklahoma; at the Main Street Guymon office.  The MSG office has served as the unofficial headquarters for the Main Street Shutterbugs the last several years, and since most of us in this merry band are members, we use the office as a rally point to gather up, plan our photo trek and head out.

Located just about a block away is this abandoned granary.  When I got serious about photography several years ago, this was one of the first subjects I shot.  In fact, I put that image up on Panoramio and it can be seen through Google Earth.  It’s not a very artistic image by far as I shot it in the middle of the day and my post processing talent was in it’s early days.  When we gathered up on this fine May evening last month, we went to this elevator and just by watching the sky, I was hoping that I would be able to come up with a far better image than I did several years ago.  At some point, I plan on putting this image up on my wall somewhere.

I still have a rule against going to the same location unless my intent is different.  Right now there is an old barn that I am kind of burned out on.  I have not been able to create an image that I am real happy with, but I still have some ideas before I am going to totally mark it off the list.  Sometimes it just takes a different view-point or an expanded outlook to be able to get the most out of a subject multiple times.

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Lake Etling At Sunset

etlingproof.jpg

Last October, I ventured to Lake Etling, which is located within the Black Mesa State Park in the far western portion of the Oklahoma Panhandle. I had ventured out to the area a few times before on field trips with the Main Street Shutterbugs, but this was the first time I went out there by myself. My goal was to do some night photography work.

The Kenton, Oklahoma area, if one pulls up a light pollution map, sits just on the eastern edge of a “dark” spot. What I mean by this is if one looks at a light pollution map of the United States, there are several areas of the country that are swallowed up by large black splotches that signify that the area in question suffers from very little to zero light pollution. When it comes to doing astrophotography, a photographer earns to seek out these places to shoot. Kenton and Lake Etling sits on the eastern edge of one of these dark spots that stretches into New Mexico and if you have never been to the area, it is high on the list of “most desolate spots in America.” In fact, each year the Okie-Tex Star Party is held at Camp Billy Joe, which is just a mile east of Kenton.

I created this image just as soon as the sun dipped below the western horizon. I was hoping that I would get a cloud set that would add to the image, but that did not happen; but that did not deter me. You see, Lake Etling dried up years ago. There are stories and rumors as to the why, but the fact remains that the lake went dry and with the drought that has tightened it’s grip on the area, the chances of seeing the lake with water ever again dwindled. Last fall though, the rains came and soon the rumors flew that Lake Etling had filled up. A few days after the rumors started, pictures started making their rounds on the Internet, but I had to go see for myself and sure enough, there was water in the lake.

Although I knew I would be back to the lake, and I was just a month later, history told me that I needed to create that one image of Lake Etling that not only serves as a historical placemate, but to remind myself of all the good times I had as a kid on the lake. I plan on returning to the lake within the next couple of months in an attempt to catch some clouds, but if I never again get to photograph Lake Etling, this image will serve as a reminder to me of what one of my childhood playgrounds looked like.

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