Christopher S. Harrison: slideshow image 1
Christopher S. Harrison: slideshow image 2
Christopher S. Harrison: slideshow image 3
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Christopher S. Harrison: slideshow image 5

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Maine Guide Training 2011

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This past May I had the great privilege to spend a week documenting the Maine whitewater guide training program at Northern Outdoors, along with their sister company, Adventure Bound. What a week it was. I remember how intense the training class I took part in over seven years ago was, and though this year’s class took place in late May after the temperatures had warmed up a bit, it was equally as intense. I arrived prepared to “rough it” in a tent and was pleasantly surprised to find I had been placed in my very own logdominium for the week, which was really great as it allowed me to spread out all my gear, download my daily footage and recharge batteries at the end of each day. For those who don’t know, Northern Oudoors is the premier outdoor adventure company in Maine. I highly recommend any of the adventures they offer, and having worked for them myself, can attest to their commitment to an unrivaled guest experience.

Now, as I write, midsummer is upon us and a heat wave is encompassing the East Coast, as well as much of the country. I can think of nowhere else I would rather be than on a raft heading down the river. The official new Registered Maine guides are enjoying the fruits of their spring training labors along with those seasoned guides who have chosen to spend their summer days on the rivers of Maine and in some of the most gorgeous surroundings in this country. I would like to offer my sincerest thanks to all those at Northern Outdoors and Adventure Bound for allowing me the opportunity to document the guide training journey over the course of that last week in May.  I hope to see you on the river again very soon.

Until next time – CSH

PS – you can see more pictures from the week here: Maine Guide Training
For more information on Northern Outdoors please visit www.northernoutdoors.com
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CT Restaurant Association Golf Classic 2011

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At the very end of each FY over the past 6 years I have been invited to play in the Connecticut Restaurant Association’s annual golf outing. This day has always been a welcome respite from the clanging of duties that come with the job in which I currently choose to “make my living.” This year’s event was held at Lyman Orchards Golf Club in Middlefield, CT. Any course designed by Robert Trent Jones has always been on my list of tracks to play before I die and this gave me the perfect opportunity to enjoy the day with co-workers and customers alike on a course created by a true visionary. Surprisingly, however, this year I wasn’t as interested in the playing of golf as I was in the opportunity to document. I somehow persuaded my Sales Manager to join us despite his many utterances that he would not play, as he had not been active on any course for over the past eight years; work, family duties, Cancer and real world responsibilities had found a way to curtail any links-based pursuits of a former (albeit self-proclaimed) scratch golfer.

On this day, though, the choice was made to tee it up and give it a rip.

So it was that I got to enjoy hitting a few balls, sharing a few laughs and making my way around a track designed by one who knew what is important in life; a good perspective, a clear pursuit and the hope for a good turn.

Until next time – CSH

 

Portrait at a Food Shoot

I have attempted food photography a few times in the past and felt it was important to try and take my images to the next level during a recent shoot at Latitude 41° restaurant in Mystic, CT. I scoured the internet to find a tutorial site and came across a fantastic post by Lee Morris of fstoppers.com that gave me a great starting point: Lee Morris shoots Oak Steakhouse. When I first arrived I introduced myself to the new chef who was finishing preparations on the various dishes to be shot. I enlisted the help of the manager on duty, Lara, in order to get the table set appropriately. During setup I have been making a point of engaging those I will be shooting in conversation in order to find out about their lives, what makes them tick and hopefully finding some kind of common ground in an attempt to make them feel more at ease in front of the camera as well as uncover some genuine emotion. Since food can’t talk it was only natural to engage Lara in some light conversation and find out a little bit about her, how she enjoyed her management duties at the restaurant and how she balanced those duties with her family life as a mother of two. After getting my lights set up the food dishes were brought out one after the next in rapid fire succession. I had to work quickly and with focus in order to try and nail each shot as quickly as possible. I didn’t vary my settings much, if at all, for any of the shots and wrapped up the entire shoot in less than 45 minutes.

Food photography lighting setup

I quickly broke down my setup and as the food mysteriously vanished plate by plate (full staff on an anticipated busy night) loaded it back into my vehicle. Storm clouds had begun to gather during the shoot and as the wind picked up I took one look out into the harbor and was stopped short by the sky. I realized I had, if I attempted it, probably less than 5 minutes in which to try and get a shot. I made the decision to go for it. As I scrambled to unpack one light and stand a large cardboard box went flying down the alleyway. There would be no need to unpack the umbrella. I tried to envision what I wanted to achive in my mind and grabbed a 20 degree grid to use in my light modifier. The wind continued to strengthen and as I whizzed back to the setup location the question remained: who to shoot?! Where did the chef go? It was only natural decide on the artist behind the food I had just completed shooting as my subject, but where was he? A frenzied two minute search revealed he had gone to another venue to prepare for a large party. What now? The heavens would certainly open at any moment, there was no time left. What about Lara? Remember all that light conversation during setup I mentioned? Turns out that groundwork comes in very handy when asking someone to drop everything they are doing while preparing to close outdoor patios and rework dining arrangements to quickly pose for a 60 second portait session in high wind with a storm rolling in. Lara didn’t miss a beat. “Right behind you! Where should I stand? What should I do?” As I quickly answered her questions and dialed in my settings I found myself remembering the advice of Zack Arias from his OneLight Workshop DVD set I recently invested in (ZackArias.com/workshop) “aperture controls the flash, shutter speed controls the ambient; aperture controls the flash, shutter speed controls the ambient…” As I repeated the instructions aloud to myself over and over (I tend to do that from time to time) I finally found the exposures I was looking for and got off about a dozen shots before unplugging my strobe, folding the light stand, racing back to the car and shouting a loud thank you to Lara who, in turn, raced back to her duties. In an instant the sky opened and the rain poured down.

While I endeavor to become a better all around photographer and know I can learn from any type of shoot, I have found that environmental portaiture has become my passion. I intend to dedicate myself to improving at it and seeking out opportunities to practice whenever possible. As it happened on this night it turns out I found what I was looking for.

Until next time – CSH

Stratton ’11

After a wonderful Christmas holiday in a very different environment than usual (blog post to follow), I got to spend last weekend at the “Mountain House” (as my brother appropriately labeled it) just down the road from Stratton Mountain in Jamaica, VT.

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Little Feat

When I saw that a legendary band would be playing a small venue in an historic theater in rustic Vermont I knew I had to go. As I attempt to gain experience as a concert photographer one of the most challenging obstacles has been gaining entrance to the concert with my camera. But, as the blogs and twitters of seasoned concert photographers Todd Owyoung ishootshows.com and Brad Moore bmoorevisuals.com are quick to point out, when you don’t have a pass there are indeed ways you can find to attempt to build portfolio shots if you really want to. With no press pass, my choice last Sunday was to buy a ticket. After a quick search of the Paramount Theatre’s website I found they had one prime loge box seat left; I snapped it up. Little feat was to start at 7:30 and so I got to the site at 7:00. The lobby of the building was already abuzz with t-shirt sales and fans enjoying pre-concert libations. Armed with my smallest Crumpler bag housing my D90 with 85mm f/1.8 and 11-16mm f/2.8 I handed the very nice volunteer door person my ticket prepared for the ever dreaded bag search. I had my new Lumix LX5 (a Christmas present) in my pants pocket as a back-up, but to my surprise I was pointed to my seat sans search and told to enjoy the show. Success! Now that I had made it in I made sure to maintain as low a profile as possible, though I did notice an array of other not so discrete picture takers using semi-professional to professional equipment. Little Feat took the stage at exactly 7:30 and the party started. I was able to use my LX5 to get some acceptable images of the entire band from my box seat:

The 85mm f/1.8 combined with my seat choice worked out pretty well:

Near the end of the concert as the energy was really building and the fervent fans had finally made it to the stage for some dancing I used my Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 to get a couple last shots before I headed downstairs:

As Little Feat returned for their encore performance of Let it Roll I saw the opportunity to get to the stage and join the dancers who very graciously let me right to the front where I got these shots:

All in all it was an extremely successful night and I left feeling good about the experience; not to mention that is was an absolutely AWESOME show! I am looking forward to the day when I will hopefully be able to secure a press pass so I don’t have to be quite so surreptitious, but perhaps the lessons I learn from experiences like these until then will help me become a better concert photographer.

You can see all my shots from the concert on my flickr page here.

Until next time – CSH

Thanks for the Transparency

When I started endeavoring to figure out how exactly to go about making the images I have always wanted to try my hand at (but had never quite gotten around to committing to) a little over a year ago, I began a compelling journey. I hope to be able to continue that journey (with any luck) for a long time to come. I quickly realized how rich the online photographic community was. The phrase treasure trove comes to mind. The myriad photographic and multi-media resources available really showed just how valuable an educational tool the web can be as well as driving home the importance of community (both online and off) and the power of transparency.

My journey started simply by looking at the works of photographers I was familiar with and quickly led into the world of those with whom I was unfamiliar: Richard Avedon, W. Eugene Smith, Herb Ritts, Irving Penn, Eddie Adams, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Ansel Adams, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, Annie Leibovitz and others led to David Turnley, David Burnett, Joe McNally, Todd Heisler, Bob Krist, Vincent Laforet, Chase Jarvis, Joey L., Zack Arias, David Hobby, Scott Kelby, the list goes on…. Each day a new artist would reveal him or herself through the interwebs and I would look, marvel, listen and examine the various philosophies and approaches each amazing artist after the next had shared through their website or blog.

Throughout my searches there was always one overwhelming question that presented itself: how do they do that?! (Especially as it relates to the use of Speedlights and strobes, both in and out of the studio.) This culminated, as it was sure to do, in the discovery of the work and blog of Chase Jarvis, amazing photographer, ever present photographic web guru and proclaimer of the power of sharing and the value of transparency. So refreshing was the discovery of behind the scenes techniques by Chase as well as other artists like Vincent Laforet, Joey L., Zack Arias and the brothers Owyoung (Todd and Chris) that I was encouraged to take calculated steps in attempting to try my own hand at some of the techniques they were sharing. Those discoveries led me to attend my first Photo Plus Expo in NYC last month where I was fortunate to attend a workshop by Zack Arias. At the workshop I finally got to see some of what I had been reading on blogs and watching on video come to life right in front of me. To say that Zack’s presentation was enlightening would not only be a bad pun, but also a huge understatement. He is not only a multi-talented photographer, but a great teacher as well, and watching as he explained the various ways he uses a roll of some white seamless background paper and a few lights to stunning effect I felt as if a secret door had been opened. The workshop exceeded all expectations. Inverse square law? What’s that you say? Throughout his two hour presentation the law was illustrated clearly, and though I’m still not sure of the various algorithms and equations involved, the general principle sunk in. I made a commitment to myself then and there to give some of these techniques a shot when I returned home. That seminar is what precipitated this post.

While at his Photo Plus Expo seminar, “The Many Uses of White Seamless,” a question that was asked more than once was: can this be done with Speedlights? The answer was a resounding yes (Zack is known for his belief that it’s not about the fiddle, it’s about the fiddler), but with some caveats; those being that it would be more difficult to bring the background to a true white and there might be more cursing and potential aggravation because of the lower power of the lights as a result. I decided to attempt a shoot using first Speedlights (2 SB-900s on the background and 1 SB-600 on the subject), then studio strobes (3 Alien Bees 800′s) to compare and contrast the results and experience. The challenge had also gone out from Zack asking that we try placing 2 Speedlights in umbrellas behind (and facing) the model, in order to play with the wrap that results from that lighting set up. These are the results of that test and my response to that challenge. I also created a behind the scenes video that will hopefully help illustrate some of the lessons I learned from this experience. For the final images from the shoots please visit my flickr page here. Also be sure to check out Zack Arias’s entire tutorial on white seamless on his blog here. It spells everything out clearly and is a fantastic resource.

It was definitely more challenging, especially in the editing phase, with the Speedlights, and at the very end of the shoot one of the SB-900s did overheat even though I had an SD-9 attached (have to check the firmware on it). That being said, I think the exercise proved the results can be quite favorable with a Speedlight only configuration. Can you tell which one is which? I’d love to hear your thoughts, suggestions, criticisms…the two shoots can be differentiated by the hair color of the fantastic model (as well as talented photographer), Michelle – her website is here.

Three weeks ago I had no idea that through the use of light I could use one white background to create such different atmospheres. I can only imagine what I might learn tomorrow. If the talented and generous artists mentioned earlier (as well as the many more I have yet to discover) continue to live out their passions and share their visions transparently with the world then the possibilities are endless.

Until next time – CSH

Finding Opportunity Where it Lies

I headed to the Watch Hill lighthouse around sunset this evening hoping to get the opportunity to make some images of the fisherman that I knew would be there – fully outfitted surfcasters going for monster stripers.  If I got lucky perhaps one of them would haul in a big one and I could get a picture of the triumph and make a portrait as well. I brought my mobile lighting solution should such an occasion arise. Upon entering the road to the light, however, I was stopped unexpectedly by the security guard who was guarding the entry. This was an unexpected obstacle as the older security guard that was usually there never had a problem letting vehicles pass at this late time and after the summer season had ended. I was told there were no longer any vehicles allowed down the road. After a brief attempt to revise said policy with what gregariousness I could muster I turned around and found a place to park. I grabbed my equipment and hot-stepped it down the long, winding road, past the security guard, past the stately summer mansions vacated by their owners, through the gate and finally made it to the point. By the time I had arrived all light had vanished and, while there were still fisherman arriving, and though I had my light kit, scoffed at the fact that I had missed what was sure to have been some great image-making opportunities while the sky was still glowing. I made a feeble attempt at practicing with a long lens and SB-900 flash and decided to head back up the road.

When I passed the security guard (who waved politely) on my way out the gate I did not feel compelled to return the gesture. It was he, after all, who had thwarted my attempt to make what was sure to be a monumental image. About ten steps past his truck I stopped in my tracks. Perhaps I could find an opportunity here. Returning to his truck I reintroduced myself, and asked if he and his girlfriend (who it seemed was keeping him company while he stood watch) would be willing to help make an image of the scene. They obliged. While setting up my equipment, and politely apologizing for my display of chagrin earlier, I learned that Andy had just started on the job the previous night. He didn’t know all the protocol of years past but was sure as heck not going to do anything to jeopardize his new job. Employment was hard to come by these days, and in his small town, just the other side of the breachway, there were certainly no opportunities; he was thankful to have found this one. Meghan, his girlfriend, could sit in his truck with him as he surveyed the comings and goings of the fishermen, returned greetings and waves from winter residents as they strolled the empty off-season sidewalks, and made sure the road to the lighthouse remained free of traffic.

I finally got set-up (sort of) and got off a couple shots. I neglected to realize I had stupidly left my EV at -1.3 which certainly didn’t help the noise level any, and though I used 1/2 CTO gels in the two flashes, failed to compensate for the fluorescent overhead that cast a long shadow of Andy into the hedge. Got a lot to work on from a photographic standpoint – that I know; but as I continue with that endeavor I am thankful for the lessons these types of interactions provide. Any time I can practice illuminating a story (both physically and metaphorically) and succeed at getting the subjects to feel comfortable in front of my lens is time well spent. Technical aptitude and fluency will hopefully come with practice.

Whether I would have been able to make any great images of a big catch or well-decked out angler had I not been stopped at the gate is uncertain. The opportunity to make images of fishermen is what lured me to the lighthouse this evening. The story of a young security guard trying to make his way in this world as best he can is what I landed.

Until next time – CSH

A Run & Gun Opportunity

This past weekend I had the opportunity to try my hand at several different types of wedding photography. I was asked to make some marketing photos for Coastal Gourmet Catering at Latitude 41° Restaurant in Mystic, CT.  The photos were to include shots of the event tent and function rooms and were planned to coincide with a wedding that was to be held on Saturday evening. I arrived early and was able to make the desired shots, all of which you can see on my flickr page here.

As a bonus I was welcomed to stick around for the festivities. This provided a great opportunity to practice event photography which I am beginning to like more and more. The weather was absolutely PERFECT and the space provided many different types of lighting (read challenges.) The bad news is I made A LOT of mistakes. The good news is I think I actually figured out how to go about fixing many of them the next time around. I know there will be new mistakes to learn from, but it is refreshing when, little by little, things seem to come together. I have always learned best by doing. The lessons from countless hours of researching various flash modes, equipment how-to and photography videos are filed away in the recesses of the mind as moments pass quickly and continuously by. If a great scene or image presents itself it’s not going to be possible to recreate it or stage it as with planned or studio shoots. These realities forced me to try a variety of different approaches in hopes of “capturing the moments.” The ceremony was held outside and having my 70-300 proved to be a wise decision; since the sun had not fully set at the outset I also added a Nikon CP-13 circular polarizer into the mix.

I made the decision to bring only one camera and since I wanted to capture both photos and video that meant shooting solely with my Nikon D90. I also brought along my 50mm f/1.4, Tokina 11-16 f/2.8 and Steadicam Merlin. I had to get the shots I had been hired to make first so that meant leaving the ceremony to get the shot I wanted of the fully prepared event tent and chefs while the wedding was happening in the background. (Next time I will make sure to get the vows!)

My main goal when doing any type of shooting, whether it be still or video is to try my best to capture the essence of the moment that is unfolding. In order to do this successfully, I am learning, there need to be an arsenal of various techniques available to be used at a moment’s notice. Apologies in advance to all the non-photography geeks out there, but this means to me that I need to work on such things as successfully employing rear-curtain sync (not used in any of these photos – OBVIOUSLY!… NOW I know why it’s needed!), using the right sync speeds,  establishing a keen aptitude with pulling focus, choosing the right time to use dolly shots, incorporation of high quality audio and above all not giving up  on constantly trying new things. You can see from this shot that by the end of the night I was bordering on ALMOST figuring out a couple of these techniques!

When it comes down to video editing I feel like it’s sort of like putting together pieces of a puzzle. I hope to have captured the footage I wanted and that it’s in focus where it needs to be (the Zacuto Z-Finder and new Nikon D7000 might REALLY help with this, not that I have any more room left on my wish list!), and when the results aren’t as planned then hopefully “happy accidents” might reveal themselves. For this video, the song I Gotta Feeling by the Black Eyed Peas, while having become the quintessential cliche wedding song by now, is actually what was playing during a majority of the video shots used. The on-the-fly “run and gun” style of video shooting employed here really appeals to me and I hope I get to try it again very soon.

You can see all my photos of the event here.

Until next time – CSH

Portrait: Radio Giants

When I was asked to make the new publicity shots for Hartford, CT based event band Radio Giants I jumped at the chance.  These guys put on a fun, high energy show and as it turns out are really great to work with as well. We started off by making some shots indoors due to the weather, but when the fluorescents and boardroom blah atmosphere proved too daunting to overcome we moved outside and were able to get off a few clicks before the rain started coming down hard again.

This was my first real attempt at a band portrait and as such it took me a little more time than I would have liked to get set up. That said the entire shoot took about 10 minutes with set up taking about 15.  The gear included:

Camera Gear:

Nikon D90

Nikon 18-105 f/3.5-5.6

Tokina 11-16 f/2.8

Lighting Gear:

Nikon SB-900 Speedlights (x2)

Nikon SU-800 Controller

Lastolite 24×24 Ezybox

Impact 3218 light stand (to boom Ezybox over band)

Manfrotto Nano portable light stand

For more info on my light kit see Bob Krist’s blog here.
(The only difference in mine is the Lastolite Ezybox and Impact light stand because I wanted to be sure to get the fill for the entire band, and I didn’t have an assistant.  A BIG THANK YOU to Bob Krist for sharing how he does it very transparently on his blog and on the fantastic Nikon School DVD “A Hands-on Guide to Creative Lighting.”)

Lighting gear on hand, not used (but should have been):

Nikon SB-600 with Lumiquest Ezybox (for fill, low and left) (and perhaps a CTO gel on that flash…)

If you see that these guys are playing at your local venue be sure to check them out; you can view some more photos of them in action on my flickr page here.

All in all I’d say it was a good first attempt at band portrait photography.  I can’t wait to shoot more.

Until next time – CSH

Departures

The final approach to the area of coastal Maine I am visiting is accessed by a new suspension bridge which has been built immediately next to the one it replaced. As I cross it the blatant juxtaposition of the old and new is striking.  This region is full of such sights.

Making my way towards Acadia I take a right onto the road less traveled by the hoards of tourists bombing their way down Coastal Route 1 unaware of what they have just passed. I was introduced to this area by a friend about ten years ago and since then have felt like I have found the hidden gem that was calling to me ever since I was young.

Waking this Monday morning on the coast, blessedly absent from the weekly conference call replete with anectodal sales regurgitations, I hear in the distance the inviting gurgle of the lobster boat’s engine.  Walking onto the deck, I watch the two men as they check their traps and unload their catch. Perhaps one of their lobsters will be tonight’s dinner.

The roads beckon and while the corporate machine grinds along in my absence I cycle further down the coastal route, further away from corporate reports and expectations, this time for a short 25 mile bike ride. While I have spent much time, and in fact lived in many parts of Maine, since my youth, I am acutely aware of the fact that I never was nor ever will be considered a local.  That being said, more people wave (or nod as in the case of the oil truck driver) than not as I fly by.  The number of cars that pass can be counted using no more than two hands, and all are fashionably polite, entering the opposite lane and providing an abundance of clearance.  If only all drivers were so courteous.  As I pass by homestead driveways the whispers of those who live or lived there can be heard in the wind.  White, Angell, and Siddons invite reflection and solace; they bring back long forgotten memories of hopes and dreams, of country fairs, of the ever present passage of time.  Before I am aware of it I break one of my most substantial rules of the road upon the approach to Little Deer Isle by turning around and returning the same way I came.  I find comfort in the realization that perhaps it is important to examine where one has traveled in order to more clearly understand and welcome where one is headed.  Until next time. -CSH

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