Category Archives: Shoots

Hallsted House

Last month I got a call from Kent Hallsted about a very interesting project. For the last 30 years he has been working on building, decorating, and furnishing a 1/12 scale replica of a Victorian row house (don’t call it a doll house. He chose the floor plan out of a book about San Francisco Victorians called “A Gift To The Street” (which I happen to have a copy of). Later a friend found a house on Divisadero that he used to copy for the facade.

Ken’s project started out when he was working at San Francisco Victoriana, a shop that produces vintage millwork. (They happen to be where I’ve bought the moldings we have used to restore our house. They do really great work by the way.) Ken noticed how much wood they ended up throwing away after cutting off unneeded parts, and he decided to put them to use.

30 years later, Ken is now retired, and he’s living in Eureka. His model Victorian sits on a custom Eastlake styled cabinet that he also made. The detail of his creation is just amazing, down to tiny details like the gas lamps aren’t as bright as the electric ones! He still has some more rooms to finish, but as he explained to me, years ago he went through a divorce, and his wife got the furniture, and he got the house. He has since remarried, and his new wife Marcy seems supportive of his time demanding hobby.

I used Google’s street view to locate the house, and since Lori and I passed through San Francisco on our way back from spending Thanksgiving in San Jose with the family, we decided to stop by the house. It’s at 217 & 219 Divisadero if you ever want to take a look. Comparing it to the photos that Kent took in the 80s, the house hasn’t changed much except the tree has grown up so much it’s hard to get a good photo of the front anymore. The big surprise is that the house next door, which in the original photograph shows it with a remuddled exterior, is not a good match for its neighbor.

Vintage Fashion Shoot With Kobi

A couple of weeks ago I noticed a new model profile on Model Mayhem, and while the 6 photos that she had in her profile weren’t professional quality, there was one photo that showed her lovely, long, thick hair in a braid that attracted my attention. That and her diminutive measurements meant she would be ideal for shooting some of Lori’s vintage clothing.

So we scheduled a shoot, and yesterday, she showed up with her “parental unit” (since she’s only 16) right on time. That always makes me happy right off the bat.

We first dressed her in an 1890s ensemble of black silk. We started with a layer of underwear, corseted her in, added a couple of layers of petticoats, and then the final outer layer of bodice and skirt. Adding the Victorian pirate hat, one of my favorites from the collection, she ended up quite at home in our Victorian parlor.

1890s Black Silk Ensemble

Next she changed into a blue velvet bodice that was recently generously gifted to Lori from Laura Hussey. This bodice is probably from around 1888, the same year as our house.

1888 Blue Velvet Bodice

This next bodice is a reproduction piece that Lori made. It features the huge balloon sleeves popular around 1895. We will be adding it to Lori’s vintage clothing reproduction website soon should you wish to purchase it.

1895 Bodice reproduction by Lori Knowles

Next we moved Kobi into the early 1900s with this white cotton jacket from around 1907, also gifted by Laura. This outfit reminded me of the clothes often worn by the lead character in Bramwell, a Masterpiece Theatre series. The skirt is part of an 1898 ensemble and the blouse is from about the same period as the jacket.

1907 White Cotton Jacket

Finally, we brought her back to the 21st century, and let her show off that great mane of hers. Here she is wearing a silk corset cover from the teens.

1915 Silk Corset Cover

Kobi proved to be a pleasure to work with, especially for a first time model. Lori and I are looking forward to having her over again for more dress up time.

Revisiting the Lady of the Lake

After doing a spontaneous photo with Katy that later became known as Lady of the Lake, I decided to do a more literal depiction of the Arthurian legend. I purchased an Excalibur replica sword, a sheer vintage wedding dress from the 1930s, and I had a chain mail headdress piece I got in trade for taking some photos for the chain mail artist. That was the props.

The location is one of my favorite go-to places, which I call Matt’s Pond, simply because it is so remote it doesn’t appear to have any other name on any maps I’ve seen. I enlisted the help of one of my favorite models, Ayrica, to play the part of the mystic lady who rises from the waters.

The thing is though, is that the location is so remote I tend to go there for a full day of shooting. I had saved the Lady of the Lake for the last shoot, and by that point Ayrica had already been in and out of the water, in other wet clothing several times, so by the time we got to the final shoot she was shivering. So I only took a couple of shots before we called it a shoot.

When I got back home and looked at the photos, I loved everything about them except in both shots her eyes were closed, no doubt from the water running over them. I still love the photo, but that one small detail always bugged me.

So I recently decided to try it again. Ayrica is now living in Illinois, so Margo took her place. This time I made sure my lady wasn’t shivering when we started and we were able to do many more takes. Margo suggested the shot from behind with the dress trailing and it was one of my favorites. I stressed to Margo that she needed to keep her eyes open and she did great at that. However, one other problem showed up in editing that I didn’t notice while taking the photos. I wanted to see the flat side of the sword, not the edge so I showed her how I wanted it held. In the sunny shot, it ended up reflecting the dark water, not the light sky, so it looks like a black piece of metal. With a bit of Photoshop I was able to at least make the sword look grey, but it’s not the glistening sword I had hoped for. Oh well, that just leaves open the possibility for yet another Lady of the Lake sequel.

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Firesteed, again

The day after I photographed Brittany Smith, I received a phone call from Kimberly Goodrich, the owner of Firesteed Stables, where I had photographed Brittany. I figured it was somehow related to that issue, but coincidentally, she needed some web design work done and picked me after doing a web search. She had heard that someone had been out taking pictures the day before and was surprised to hear it was me. That made the third time in less than a week that Firesteed Stables and I crossed paths.

Kimberly is trying to sell her property, and a friend had put together a web site but it wasn’t showing up when people searched for horse property for sale in northern California or any other terms. I took a look at the web site and made a few suggestions, the main one being that she really needed better photography. If you’re asking someone to make a buying decision on the web, you need to provide professional grade photos to help that decision.

Getting to photograph Kimberly’s home was quite fun, as I really enjoyed her taste in art, color, and design. From seeing the Frederic Leighton posters upon entering the house, to the tableau with the dagger set up in her living room, the house shows a personality you often don’t see in people’s homes. Going from room to room I almost felt more like I was in a themed B&B than someone’s private home. It’s what I hope our house will someday be, if I can ever drag myself away from the garden long enough to work on it.

After doing the photography, Kimberly decided she wanted me to totally redo the look of the web site, and I used the color scheme of her interiors for inspiration. With it just being a one page web site, it’s not the easiest thing to get it to rank well on Google or other search engines, but at least if they do find it, the page will entice them into visiting, and hopefully purchasing this gem.

To view more photos of this horse property in Ferndale, you can go to the Firesteed Stables web site.

Exterior Living Room Living Room Bedroom

Ferndale Jockey, Brittany Smith

While driving out Price Creek School Rd for the Titus family portrait session, Lori noticed the sign for Firesteed Stables, and commented, “That’s not a horse I would want to ride”. I agreed, thinking that any horse named Fire, Thunder, Tornado or any other natural disaster should probably be avoided. Me, I’ll go with the one named Marshmellow.

However there are people who not only ride those spirited horses, they make their living doing just that. Surprisingly, just a day after noticing that sign, an editor with the Sacramento News and Review called me. They were doing a story on a local jockey, Brittany Smith, and needed a photographer to take some pictures to illustrate the story.

So a few days later I found myself driving through the gate of Firesteed Stables to meet and photograph Brittany. She turned out to be an easy subject to photograph, with the kind of smile that makes every photographer relax. Yep, another tough assignment for this photographer, photographing a pretty woman and her horse.

Being a jockey, she’s also quite petite, and I’m hoping you might see her later on these pages dressed up in some of our Victorian clothes.

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Titus Family Portraits

It’s been awhile since I’ve done family portraits as I’m no longer actively pursuing that part of the photography business. But I love doing them when friends ask.

Such was the case when fellow Ferndale firefighter Andy Titus asked me to photograph his family, including his new born daughter, Quincy.

He picked two beautiful locations for the shoot. We started out at the old Russ house on Price Creek School Rd. I had driven by this house several times and never noticed it as it is hidden from the street. But it is a great old house, with a really lovely garden. Lori and I were given a tour of the home, and every room provides such spectacular views of the garden. They plan to turn it into a wedding venue, and I can easily see it being an in-demand location to get married.

Titus family portrait 20140525-Titus Family-28_1 20140525-Titus Family-35_1 20140525-Titus Family-46_1 20140525-Titus Family-54_1 20140525-Titus Family-66_1 Titus Family Portrait

I was hoping to do the final portrait during sunset, and all day I watched clouds come and go and wondered if it was going to be too cloudy, or not enough clouds for a nice sunset. The family’s patience of waiting for the sun to set was rewarded with a beautiful display of colors over the Eel River valley. Tucker and Quincy missed it, as it had been a long day for them.

Shooting in the Backyard

Sometimes I travel great distances for photo shoots, sometimes I just venture into the nearby forests. But I often forget that my own backyard offers a great location for shooting.

City dwellers often drive great distances to get to a scenic brook, and yet in my backyard, when it’s not flooding and making a mess of our yard, Williams Creek is a pretty, tranquil spot.

While we’ve lived here for 13 years, I had never used the location for a photo shoot. Not sure why, but we often neglect what is closest to us, as it becomes too familiar. While clearing out some of the dead wood and and other debri in the creek, getting it ready for winter, it struck me how lucky I was to have this beautiful spot so accessible.

I was really struck by how the orange moss on the willows contrasted nicely with the still green leaves. So I scouted a few locations and was determined to do my next photo shoot down in the creek.

We dressed Desirae in some of our vintage clothing for the shoot, and while the actual day was quite chilly, the photos evoke a warm summer afternoon, in days gone by.

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Balloons and Background Lights

Most of the time catalog photography is pretty straight forward. White background, light the product, click, you’re done. Occasionally though I get a product that throws me for a loop and requires some trial and error, and a lot of frustration before the answer reveals itself.

Such was the case of this necklace I was photographing last week. This was part of a batch of about 70 pieces of jewelry, and I’ve shot over 500 pieces for this company. Usually, for necklaces, I hang them in front of a translucent panel of plastic that is backlight to give me a pure white background. By hanging the necklace a few inches in front of the panel, I am able to not blow out the edges of the necklace, which is critical when they are silver.

So my first attempt at photographing this necklace looked like this.

Silver and Ruby Necklace

The client came back and said they needed the necklace to be photographed showing the whole necklace, and draped as it would be as it was worn. Ok, I figured I could lay it flat and photograph it that way. However, this opened up a can of worms that had me pulling my hair out for a couple of days.

The first problem was that the necklace wasn’t made to lay flat and it was similar to the problem of trying to make a flat map of the world. Complicating that issue was that I was working with pre-production pieces and the beads were tied so tight that they tended to kink, and the client wanted them to look smooth. Laying flat on a light table, I tried for an hour to get everything to lay correctly. But try as I might, as soon as I would try to smooth the second string, the first string would get jostled and I would have to start over. Short of super gluing the beads in place I didn’t think I would ever get it to work.

The second problem was that by having the necklace right on the light table, by the time I got enough light to make the background pure white, the ruby beads were glowing and the silver beads were blown out.

The third problem was that there were four similar necklaces, and the client wanted them to be photographed as identically as possible.

The final problem was that the client needed the necklaces back the next day to ship them back east which only added to the pressure.

I went home that night trying to think of a solution. I have a mannequin in the studio and putting the necklace on the mannequin I could see how it looked and it did hang much better, but there was no way to photograph the entire necklace that way. What I needed was something that would allow the necklace to drape that way but not have a neck. I thought about building some kind of form out of styrofoam or plaster, but as I needed to return the necklace the next day that left little time to build any kind of prop.

Lighing setup

Then I thought about using a balloon, and if I could find a large white balloon, it would work for diffusing the light as well as supporting the necklace. So the next morning I went to Walgreens and hit pay dirt with a white punching balloon. Returning to the studio, I set the background light on short stand, and pointed it directly up. I attached a snoot to the front, not only to provide some support for the balloon, but even with the modeling light off, I didn’t want the head of the flash to explode the balloon. The balloon was taped to the snoot, and then the first necklace was laid on top of the balloon.

Not only did the balloon provide the perfect curved surface for the necklace, its non-slip surface made it a lot easier to gently nudge the strands where I wanted them without moving the neighboring strands. Once I had the first one in position the way I wanted it, I marked the top, bottom and sides with tape so I could lay the other three in a similar pattern.

The camera was mounted on a 10 foot ladder, and I shot directly down on the balloon.

Shooting position

Then it was simply a matter of taking two shots. The first shot I had the background light on, in addition to the softbox that was the key light. This blew out the background so I would be able to make a mask for the second shot.

The second shot, I turned the background light off and only used the key light, which gave the right color to the rubies and protected the edges of the silver beads.

Then using the mask created from the first shot, I applied it to the second shot. I still had to so some manual masking in Photoshop for the silver beads because the contrast level between the silver beads and the background made it hard to find the edges.

Ruby Necklace

Here is the final shot sent to the client.

Blogging From My iPhone

Several months after downloading the WordPress app for the iPhone I’ve decided to check it out and see what it can do.

So here’s one of my favorite February views. The blooming daffodils mean that spring is almost here.

Springtime daffodils

The Last Roll of Film

Back in February of 2007, Humboldt County experienced a rare snowstorm that in some areas made it down to sea level. That day I had a meeting up in Crescent City and while driving up 101 through Arcata I noticed patches of snow right down to the beach.

I finished up my meeting and made it back to Ferndale around 6, and by then the sky had cleared. I thought it would be a great opportunity to take some shots at night up on Bear River Ridge.

Since at the time only digital camera I had was my Kodak SLR which produces very noisy images from long exposures, I decided to shoot a roll of 120 film I still had. It happened to be 400 asa Portra, a film usually used for portraits as it doesn’t produce the saturated colors that something like Velvia would. Still it’s what I had on hand so I loaded it into the Pentax 645.

Lori and I then began the drive on up to Bear River Ridge. I was planning on taking several pictures in different locations, and so I didn’t immediately head to my favorite spot up there, Kinman Pond. I probably should have.

I calculated (ok, guessed) that I would need a 15 minute exposure. With the clear sky I was hoping to get some star trails in the sky. I set up for the first shot, opened up the shutter, and then climbed back in the truck to get warm. About 8 minutes into the exposure, I was dismayed to see clouds rolling in. Then about 13 minutes into the exposure it started snowing again. Not wanting to be one of these people who get stuck in the snow out in the boonies, we decided it was best to cut it short and head back down.

For four years that roll of 120 has sat in my Pentax 645. Every once in awhile I would think about getting it out to finish the roll of film, only to find the batteries had died. So I would put it on my list to get new batteries and a few weeks later I would actually remember to put them in. Then I would wait for another opportunity, at which point I would pull it out, only to find the batteries had gone dead again.

Finally, last weekend, I got new batteries and immediately took it down to the Avenue of the Giants and finished the roll. Then yesterday, I drove up to Eureka to drop the film off, and today drove back up again to pick up the developed roll. No wonder I switched to digital early on. Who wants to spend 2 hours driving just to see your pictures?

I still need to scan the entire roll of 15 pictures, but here is the first image from the roll, taken on that snowy night on February 27, 2007.