Runnin' and Gunnin'
June 10th, 2024
I used to location scout. I would drive to a location, walk the area, plan out shots, then take little notes on my phone to keep track of which person went where. These days, I'm lucky if I even open up Maps to send my client an address. Instead, I send an intersection and take my chances.
It's not that I'm lazy... probably.
Rather, I genuinely enjoy the challenge of making the most from an unknown set of variables. There's something professionally rewarding about showing up to a shoot with only a vague idea of what's around, quietly cursing under your breath that, "the light here sucks," and then pounding the pavement in search of the spot.
So how does one know when they have reached the spot?
It's simple! Your subject looks good in the scene, your background exhibits good depth and doesn't feel visually busy or cramped, your foreground is free of debris or other visual distractions, and you have room for both tight and wide crops. For me, personally, this usually also includes glass panes to use in the background, or as a foreground element through which to shoot.
The following set exhibits everything I just described - see how it all comes together.
Kaia @ Wilhelmina Denver - May, 2024 - Denver, CO
Flipflops & Mosquitos
May 28th, 2024
There are two certainties when shooting at the river:
1. Mosquitos exist, and you are invading their home by showing up at the river.
2. Walking barefoot in rivers is dangerous, painful, and slimy.
Almost all the river content I shoot is a carefully choreographed dance of looking for good overhanging shade, avoiding thwacking the model with branches, and keeping one's balance. The balance thing is probably the most important - fall in the drink and you'll be a real sad panda. The river is indifferent to your injury or suffering, so do not give it the satisfaction. Along Clear Creek, just west of Denver, there is a warning sign which reads something like, "Six inches of water is enough to move a car. Rivers are dangerous!" 
Ain't that the truth!
But river shoots are the best way to spend a day. If I sound like a broken record about this, then by now you can assume that I'm telling the truth. 
So I put together a list of tips for making the most of a river day, in the hopes that you and yours might safely enjoy this thing which I've been hyping up for ages.
1. Bug spray is legit. Bring some with you but do not get it anywhere near your camera gear. Jungle Juice (the REI brand of mosquito repellant) works well but it's pretty nasty on plastics because Deet (the active ingredient) is a toluene, a solvent which can melt plastic into sticky goo. Wash your hands thoroughly after applying strong bug spray, before you handle your precious camera.
2. Flip flops are king and queen. They enable for safe navigation of shallow streams and rivers without slipping and falling, camera-in-hand. Water shoes are fine too, if you're a fucking dork. 
3. Learn to shoot in open sun. Stop down, ramp your shutter speed up, and tell your model to look cute while squinting. If you're shooting someone with light eyes, have them keep their eyes closed until you're ready to snap the picture. Next, tell them to aim their gaze in the direction of your voice. Finally, count them down, and have them open their eyes right as you snap the photo.
4. You go in the water first. You go in the scary part first, too. It builds trust, or something.
5. Do not mess with strong currents or enter water above your knee. You're carrying a camera, and river shoots are about having run, staying safe, and getting bomb photos. You're not going to get a cute picture while fighting for survival. Remember that car thing from a few paragraphs earlier? You don't need to wade up to your nostrils while holding your camera above your head. This isn't the special forces, guy. Calm down.
6. Don't overstay / overshoot your welcome. Just because you're having fun, that doesn't mean your model isn't having fun and freezing her ass off. Work quickly and efficiently. Nail your focus and don't let someone suffer while you experiment.
Happy trails!
Alexis @ Select Miami - July, 2019 - Golden, CO
Workshops & Results
May 15th, 2024
Teaching takes up the majority of my time from August to May. I love teaching. The only problem is that a jampacked teaching schedule leaves very little room for photography bookings.
Enter: The Workshop
Cramming multiple models into a single photoshoot, under the pretext of a teaching demo, has become my go-to answer for how to shoot, teach, and fill my creative cup all at once. 
Increasingly, I've felt like portraiture relies on showmanship to make a photoshoot feel fun, comfortable, productive, etc. Showmanship is a difficult skill to teach in a classroom, though. It's partially a language-set; good portrait photographers know what to say, and how to say it, to evoke strong poses from their clients. Moreover, directing a portrait photoshoot is also about maintaining an energy in the room, both to keep things running smoothly, and to maintain a creative mood. Presenting the workshop as a fun, and educational experience for everyone is the whole point - and it's something to experience in-person, because that energy cannot be drummed up under a different pretense.
Let's be clear: portrait photography is way more than just showmanship. But if you were to ask me, "what keeps my clients coming back?" I think the real answer includes more than just the work itself - it's the collective experience, the finished photos, the energy, and the simple fact that a good photoshoot is a damn good time.
Emma @ Block | Honour @ Wilhelmina | Lexi @ Wilhelmina | Davonta - April, 2024 - Denver, CO
Dudes & Beauty
April 28th, 2024
I let the seasons guide what I enjoy shooting. I know that sounds backwards. When it's summer, I like shooting swimwear and tall-grass lifestyle photos. When it's winter, I adore shooting studio beauty. I go where the season takes me and I don't see much sense in trying to shoot studio stuff in the summer.
I realized this past winter that I don't have nearly enough shirtless dudes in my portfolio anymore. But male beauty is both easy to shoot and it caters to an audience I've probably ignored for way too long. Long story short: I vowed to change that.
"Wait, why is it easier to shoot?" You ask.
Hair. The answer is short hair. Also social expectations regarding how much retouching men's skin needs. But mostly, long hair is a pain in the ass to photoshop so any time I get a model with short hair - usually (but not always) dudes - my life in post-production is way easier.
Anyway, I had it in my head that dudes and beauty somehow didn't mix. Yes, I know this is wrong. So to you, dear reader, please know that you can make a man look beautiful, happy, approachable, and sexy in almost all the same ways you can shoot a female subject - and nonbinary models too! So get more shirtless dudes in your portfolio. 
Or don't. It's your America.
Devonte - February, 2024 - Denver, CO
Pools & Glass
December 1st, 2023
Making the most out of studio time is its own artform. In an ideal world, every photographer who rents studio time would get the chance to tour the studio, see it during different times of day, then make an informed decision about when to rent for the perfect shot. HA! 
Truth is, I enjoy the challenge of going in blind. I think being able to pull a great photo out of any lighting condition is one of the main reasons I'm good at my job. I say this not to gloat - I've taken plenty of shitty photos, too. 
Learning how to read light; when to back light, when to front light, where to find the right shade, this comes down to practice in the field. Lots of photographers take the easy road and only shoot during golden hour - but what do you do when your client can only shoot in the morning? Learn to modify, learn to adapt, learn to back light... whatever gets you through the shoot. Oh, and anyone who gives you flack for blowing out your backgrounds can blow it out their backside. What's more important, a perfect background or perfect skin tones?
Anyway, sploosh.
Heather - August, 2021 - Denver, CO
Color & Feel
November 12th, 2023
Fall is my busiest season, by far. I think folks panic when they realize the leaves are turning. If my normal Spring and Summer schedule is two to three shoots per week, the Fall Rush averages closer to five shoots per week.
And sometimes everything comes together just so...
Diana - October, 2023 - Lakewood, CO
Rust & Exposure
November 6th, 2023
I moved to Portland, Oregon in the summer of 2008 because it seemed like the place to be. I think I would have been happy anywhere, but Portland turned out to be a fantastic place to start my career. At that time, in Portland, one could be nearly broke and still thrive. For reference, I was probably maybe making around $15k a year.
From 2008 to 2010, I learned what it meant to be a professional photographer; how to take pictures, how to edit pictures, how to get clients, etc. I'll post work from that time period on this blog at some point, I'm sure.
In 2010, a friend and fellow artist approached me to shoot some images of her textile work for an upcoming interview. Her name is Rio Wren - her work is gorgeous, check it out:
I see these images as noteworthy not because they are visually up to par with my current work, but because these were pictures for something - for someone. Some two years into my career, I was finally living up to my raison d'être (French: reason for being) a photographer.
Bonus: My first cover. I still have the hard copy somewhere.
Rio Wren & RAW Textiles - June, 2010 - Portland, OR
November 1st, 2023
Let's talk about nostalgia for a minute.
A) Photographers are constantly trying to find ways to stay relevant - on social media, to their private clients, for agencies, whatever.
B) Purchasing power and brand decision making are increasingly being handled by a generation of people (Millennials and Gen-Xers) who grew up with disposable cameras which used on-camera flash.
C) Current social media trends for Gen-Z suggest that technical picture-taking ability is secondary to moment-capturing ability. Photos don't need to look good as long as they feel good.
Enter, what I have affectionately dubbed, Shittycore.
Shittycore is my attempt to bridge the above categories into a unified whole - it connects A to B to C through well edited but intentionally sloppy photography. It combines the direct flash nostalgia of a disposable camera with the moment-capturing vibes our zeitgeist demands.
This technique isn't new. This technique isn't original. Neither of those things matter.
Rivers & Streams
October 20th, 2023
I declared myself a Professional Photographer in the Fall of 2008. For the next seven years, I steadily built up my business and I earned enough money to survive... barely.
Rent was cheap and I was fortunate to have help from friends and family.
The Summer of 2015 marked a turning point in my career. Up to this point, the vast majority of my outdoor work had been done in urban areas. I thought of myself a city photographer... for no real reason. Maybe I was lazy and didn't want to drive? I was living downtown, after all.
The model with whom I was shooting had orders from her Agency to get some nature-y content so we hit the road and started looking for good fields. We stumbled across a little park in a mountain canyon in Colorado which had a shallow stream and shooting angles everywhere.
What I had really stumbled on was my first reliable stream of income as a photographer. Suddenly, I was a swimwear photographer... in Colorado. Private bookings started rolling in as people wanted their own river swimwear shoots. Agencies reached out and asked if I could get their up-and-coming-starlets swimwear tests so that they could then ship their models out to the coastal markets: LA and Miami.
Now, after another eight years, swimwear content makes up the majority of my fairweather bookings. I adore it - I can think of no better way to spend a day: tromping up rivers, shooting portraits, and avoiding falling into the drink (a story for another post, perhaps).
This was the shoot which started it all.
Azurea - July, 2015 - Golden, CO
Capricious Youth
October 11th, 2023
My early work was sexy. Way sexier than it is now.
My early wallet was empty. Way emptier than it is now.
Those two issues are related.
The early years of my career were built on the notion that Sex Sells. I grew rapidly on social media, I built a reputation of being polite, professional, and respectful - and my images were most definitely spicy.
I was learning and I was having fun. By virtue of the content I was shooting, I was also vacuuming up praise from internet strangers who liked boobs and butts. Go figure!
The one thing I wasn't doing... making any meaningful income. I wasn't actually doing the "sells" portion of Sex Sells.
Private bookings can be extremely lucrative, if your client can use the photos you provide them. But sexy photoshoots often exist in this weird, selfish space where only the photographer benefits from the publicity and distribution of the images. The client doesn't want to use, distribute, or share their own naked body on the internet, on websites, in print, etc.
Building a portfolio of only sexy content might make one grow rapidly on social media, but it also discourages commercial clients and their larger wallets from booking.
So let this be a warning to young photographers out there - enjoy your time learning and exploring the industry. Shoot all the sexy content you want! But consider that to survive as a professional photographer, your job is to take photos people will use. If you cannot provide paying customers with images they can use, folks will quickly identify that your business does not provide a worthwhile service. You will be stuck in collaboration-land until you change your content.
Paris - February, 2015 - Portland, OR
Glass & Repetition
October 8th, 2023
For several years I lived in a fancy condo made of concrete and glass. I shot a ton of beautiful work in that space.
I also shot a ton of repetitive and uninspired smut.
Today, my feelings about my work during this time, are bittersweet: so many of the people with whom I worked were nothing more than meat through the grinder. There was no experimentation and no creativity. Just sexy photos in a swanky apartment... for what?
So I present the following set to you now - not because it's "iconic" or remarkable, but because I think it's important to acknowledge that this is what I was shooting.
I don't hate these photos. Quite the contrary, I love this set. But I will also admit that I produced dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of images just like it.
Alina - July, 2014 - Denver, CO
Spikes & Icons
October 4th, 2023
What makes an image "iconic?"
Is it just virality? If an image gets distributed around the world, or around the web, does that immediately qualify that image for "iconic" status?
Can shitty images be iconic if they're so bad they take on an identity of their own?
People have, on multiple occasions, labeled images from this set as "iconic." I'm not sure if they're just being nice, or if there is something so unique about the images that they have truly achieved iconic status.
You be the judge.
Amy - September, 2012 - Denver, CO
Digital Dust
October 3rd, 2023
What is the fate of digital photos once they've been retired from public view? I ask in earnest because I think this is a problem which plagues every professional photographer.
The vast majority of my work - thousands of finished images - sit quietly on external hard drives. Were these tangible objects in a museum archive, they would slowly collect dust on a shelf.
I'm sure there are photographers who might round up the strongest of these archived images to make into a book, but I'm admittedly too cheap for such an endeavor.
As such, I hope you'll accept this humble blog as my way of blowing off the digital dust from my old sets.
A quick disclaimer - these images are not going to be shared in chronological order. Also, some images are intended for mature audiences only.
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