Friday, October 14, 2016

Anatomy of a shoot: How the 2017 Travel Guide cover came together

For the past several years I have had the pleasure of working with the Tuscarawas County Convention and Visitors Bureau as their photographer.  Through my tenure as their photographer I have had the opportunity to visit many sites throughout the county as well as many events capturing what makes them unique with my camera.  Every year a decision is made on what the next years travel guide cover should be and what photographs would be included on it.  Normally that's a process that involves the staff at the bureau and they choose different shots from over the past year to fit the theme.  But for the 2017 cover, the director of the bureau wanted something different that would stand out and tell a story.  Something we've never done before.  And we had a big story to tell.
Located in the south-east side of Tuscarawas County is a town called Dennison.  In Dennison is an old rail station that has stood for years until being turned into a now nationally registered historic landmark and museum.  During WWII, the station was used for as a stop for troop trains traveling east filled with soldiers heading off to war.  But something special happened at this stop.  Members of the community began coming out in force, giving what they could, to supply a little bit of home style comfort for the troops heading off to the unknown.  For the 4 years the canteen was in operation, 1.5 million US servicemen visited Dennison for some coffee, donut and a smile.  So for the 2017 cover my boss wanted to capture that.  Luckily, I had an ace up my sleeve for this.  
One of the things I wanted most for this shoot was authenticity.  I didn't want to just have some young guys dressed in what looked like GI attire for the shoot.  Luckily for me I knew some people.  I've gotten to know historical reenactors over the years from taking pictures at several events and I have gotten to know that these folks strive for one thing.  Being as authentic as possible.  So I put out a call to one of the leaders of the group and explained to him the story that we were wanting to tell. He was all for it and put out the word to the group.  With people lined up and a date set, we were ready for the shoot!
One of the things I always try to do before a big shoot, and this one was no exception because of the scope of the project, is to visualize how I want the shot to look.  There were a lot of variables to take into consideration.  First, we were shooting outside.  Second, it was morning so I had to be concerned with harsh lighting from the sun at an angle.   Third, well, just about everything else that could possibly go wrong.  I knew lighting was going to be a problem because the area of the train car we were using was going to be in the shade so I packed up my strobes and extension cords.  I also knew I had never produced a shoot like this before, so I packed just about all the other equipment my had and we headed down to the location.  
When we got there, (myself and my always ready assistant and daughter, Molly), we got the light set up and started taking some test shots to try and zero in the lighting as best I could.  We didn't have clear skies, but we didn't have heavily clouded ones either, so the lighting was a little "muddy". Meanwhile, the director and the graphic artist responsible for the cover design showed up and we went over a few last minute ideas.  By that time, the reenactors showed up and it was go time.  The museum also a few staff members dress in period clothes representing the locals that would come down to the stopped trains and provide the treats.  I wanted to get this shot from several different perspectives and in the end the wide shot was used.  Below are the images I took.

  In the end, I was very happy with how these turned out.  For me, I've never put together a shoot like this.  Now it was time for the post production and that was handled by Dave Ramsell at Grantstreet Creative.  Dave took the images I shot and did the final magic to end up with this:
Since the sky was so murky, he replaced that and then modified the image having it go from the modern in color image to a more sepia/black and white.  In the end, getting the authentic nature of the people in the shot really paid off.  Of all the images I've taken over the years, this truly is the most special to me as a photographer.  I hope you find it that way too.
My deepest thanks to the 502nd PIR, Company B - 101st Airborne Reenactors for getting up early and coming out to help support this. Thanks to the staff of the Dennison Depot for their assistance with the space and the portraying the local volunteers.  A huge thank you to Dave Ramsell for giving the image that extra magic to make it as awesome as it turned out.  And of course, to Dee Grossman, Executive Director of the Tuscarawas County Convention and Visitors Bureau for giving me the opportunity to help mold her vision into reality. 

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Still chasing stars

Now that I have more free time on my hands thanks to the non-existent day job, I thought I would try some more rounds of going out under the stars to capture some star trails recently.  I love doing night photography like this.  It's an interesting process really.  You spend upwards of a couple of hours outside at night after dark in hopes that your focus is set right, the exposure and f/stop you decide on using is correct and also the environment plays nicely with you as well.  Recently I started using a new shutter release, a Neewer LCD Timer Shutter Release Remote Control, that allows you to set the desired shutter speed you wish.  It's nice because the Canon will only go to the maximum of 30 second exposures and I've been wanting to try longer.  But what I found out is while doing 60 seconds can give the same results, and much fewer images to have to smash together when stacking them for processing, things burn in harder on each image so if there is light pollution like I usually have where I do star trails, the highlights really get burnt in hard which makes post a little harder to do.  I don't have an area where I can go that's completely dark.  I'm still holding out hope that I can making to northern Michigan to a park up near the top of the lower peninsula that has some of the lowest amounts of light pollution around, but that's in the future. For now, I'm going to continue to stroll down to Zoar and capture the timeless beauty of the building framed in front of the timelessness of the universe.  I've included some recent examples below with details, but if you want to learn more on how to do it yourself, I created a "cookbook" that's available here.
I love how this image came out.  The Garden is Zoar was designed to have a large tree in the center of the garden that is meant to represent Christ with 12 trees surrounding it which represents the apostles. All the time, the stars quietly circle of that. This was 30 second exposures, 800 ISO for about 90 minutes. I wanted to go much longer but a cloud deck started to roll in and lost the stars quickly.
Here's an example of a 1 minute exposure taken over a period of 2 hours at 800 ISO on a 40mm lens. It was rather troublesome to get the detail on the side of the hotel to come out properly.  There is a lot of light in Zoar both from a streetlight right to the left of this image and all the traffic along the main road.
Here's an example of another 1 minute exposure per shot at 800 ISO.  There is another street light at play here, but it actually adds a nice mood to this image.  The only thing that bugged me with this shot was the light pollution from Canton, but others that have viewed it felt it added some nice qualities to the image. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The enigma that is the Zoar Hotel

If you're from the area or even passing through on your way to Atwood Lake, you know the Zoar Hotel.  It's not at all hard to miss.  Sitting at the south end of town, rising above the shops and B&B, the building stands empty and dark with just a simple sign announcing its existence.  I was fortunate in the past to have access to the inside of the building and since then have longed to return to see it. Today, I had that opportunity.  
When you enter the building you cannot help but "feel" the memories that the building holds. Through the years it has served as a stop for weary travelers, (including former president William McKinley who was a frequent guest), a restaurant,  a popular bar in the basement "Rathskeller" and a private residence.  But as long as I have lived in the area, it has remained empty without inhabitants.  And unfortunately time and the elements have been catching up with the old building.  There have been efforts in the past to raise needed monies to renovate the building, but as I write this I am unaware of any in progress.  From what I've heard through others it's a state/local issue.  So the building sits awaiting its fate either way. My main goal today was to try and capture images of the building that I hadn't in the past.  Some little detail or other nuance that really popped.  I had also hoped for a cloudy day to help with the lighting as I only wanted to use natural lighting and not any flash/fill lighting.  I got lucky as we've had a dreary rainy day today.  So with tripod in hand I ventured into the structure.  I knew my best shot at capturing the images I wanted to was to use bracketing in my shots.  Several shots of the same thing with different exposure settings to capture all the details both inside and outside the windows.   When I was done and got back home, I was very happy to see what I had captured.  It's aging interior mixed with its unique finishings.  I would give about anything for a Delorean that when 88 miles an hour is reached you can travel through time.  I would go back about 100 or so years so I could see what it looked like in its glory.  The people that lived and worked there.  The travelers passing down the canal or rail line. Perhaps even a president.  All we have from that era are a scattered set of pictures on the wall of the village museum.   For now, we have these images to appreciate what it's like inside the building.