Author Archives: Mike

photo education

Great Photo Education Resources

I am asked a lot how I learned photography.  “Did you go to school for this?” is a common question from clients who enjoy my work.  I didn’t study photography in college.  And though sometimes I wish I had, there are so many photo education resources available now that one can hone their skills without attending a college or university.  My training was “up through the hawse pipe” – experiences in the field with people and programs that provided opportunities for me to get better.  I’ll share some of my mentors in a future post, but listed below are some of the photo education programs that can help you become a better photographer.

New York Institute of PhotographyAs long as I can remember I dabbled with taking pictures.  In the late 1990’s I realized that I really loved photography, and I wanted to learn more about it and be better at it.  I enrolled in the Complete Course in Professional Photography at the New York Institute of Photography (NYIP).  The home-study program is designed for anyone who wants to improve their photography skills, but is oriented especially for those who want to earn some money with their skills.  The best aspect of the program for me were the assignments.  After completing important lessons students are given an assignment that requires employing the techniques articulated in that lesson.  You submit your photos to an instructor who provides clear, constructive feedback about what you did well and where you may have missed the target.  When I took the program the feedback was delivered via cassette tape in the mail (I suspect now it’s done online), and when I was expecting a response from my instructor I would run to the mailbox everyday in anticipation.  I valued the personal, specific insights because each assignment made me better.  I still remember the foundational lessons I learned in the NYIP course and use the skills I developed in every photograph I make.  I highly recommend NYIP.  They are accredited by the N.Y. State Department of Education and their faculty have some legit credentials.  You can check them out at www.nyip.edu.

photo educationMaine Media Workshops –  In 2007 I had the great pleasure of attending a Marine Photography Workshop through Maine Media Workshops.  I had been working as a commercial boat captain for a decade and most of my photography at the time was on the water.  The workshop was held in Newport, Rhode Island and led by Allison Langley, one of the premiere marine photographers in the world (www.langleyphoto.com).  Each day we had the opportunity to make photographs around town and on the water, and the following morning Allison would critique our best images in front of the class.  Though harrowing, the feedback gave me pointers that I could incorporate into my work that afternoon and, cumulatively, made me a better shooter.  One of the most significant benefits to the week came at the end when Allison encouraged me to do more with my photography.  The strong encouragement from such an accomplished professional inspired me to dive in deeper and become a part-time pro.  Maine Media Workshops offer programs in a wide variety of subjects, ranging from still photography to film making to post-production.  Their main campus is, obviously, in Maine, but they also conduct travel programs in beautiful locations all over the world.  Learn more at www.mainemedia.edu.

140419-274Kelby One I would argue that the internet has done more for photography and photographers than just about any other art or industry.  And I offer Kelby One as evidence to support my argument.  Kelby One is a repository of video training lessons created by some of the most renowned photographers and visual artists in the world.  Pros like Joe McNally, Joel Grimes, and Tamara Lackey and many others offer in-depth workshops on how they make the beautiful images for which they are known.  Want to create better portraits?  Watch Joe McNally’s two-hour program on using flash.  Looking to improve your Photoshop skills?  Watch Matt Kloskowski share his wizardry.  No matter your interest there is at least one title, and often several, that will deliver the goods.  Kelby One is a subscription service and costs $25/month or $250/year.  I can not recommend Kelby One highly enough, as it has been the single biggest boom for my abilities in all areas.  Join now at www.kelbyone.com.

These are just three of the influences on my path.  The good news is that there are countless photo education resources available.  Many community colleges have outstanding photography programs taught by accomplished photographers.  There are skill-specific workshops conducted throughout the country and all over the world that make for a terrific vacation week.  And yes, the internet is filled with articles and how-to videos from amateurs and pros alike.  Look around and take advantage of the opportunities.  Of course, the best way to improve your skills as a photographer is to take pictures.  So don’t forget to do that as much as you can.

caregiver canines

Caregiver Canines Project Becomes Traveling Exhibit

I learned recently that the collection of portraits I made for Caregiver Canines will be touring the Ocean County Library System in 2014 and 2015.  I’m thrilled!

Caregiver Canines is an amazing organization doing beautiful work.  Based in Toms River, New Jersey, Caregiver Canines matches volunteer therapy dogs and their humans with older adults for regular visits.  Most of the senior citizens, referred to as “receivers”, are living in their own homes but are no longer able to own a pet.  So the Caregiver visits provide the receivers with the opportunity to experience the joy that only a dog can provide.  The relationship is ongoing, with the same dog visiting the receiver every visit.

caregiver caninesBetween August 2013 and May 2014 I had the privilege of creating portraits of the receivers and their Caregiver Canines dog.  I visited the homes of the receivers, set up my portable studio, and tried to make an image that would portray the connection between the canine and the human.  When I began I expected that I would see a bond between the two, but I could not have anticipated how meaningful the relationships are to the receivers.  Often when I was setting up the dog would arrive at the home and all conversation with the senior would stop so they could devote their time and attention to their canine friend.  As I would get to know the receiver they would often tell me stories about pets they had in their younger years, and I could see how happy those memories were for them.  It was clear that the Caregiver Canines visits were one of the highlights of each week for the older adults.

The portrait project was completed in May, and on May 14 we had an exhibit at The Regency Memory Care Club in Toms River.  We printed and framed large prints and invited our human and furry “models” to come and see their pictures.  Supporters of Caregiver Canines attended, as did several local politicians and community partners.  I was gratified to hear all of the kind comments about the work, and especially when people would tell me that they could see the emotion in the photographs.  It was a beautiful evening.  The event was covered in a front page article in The Brick Times.

And now the exhibit lives on at six branches of the Ocean County Library.

Caregiver Canines 2014 – 2015 Photo Exhibit Schedule

October 2014: Lakewood Branch
November 2014: Jackson Branch
January, 2015: Lacey Branch
March 2015: Point Beach Branch
September 2015: Upper Shores (Lavallette) Branch
November 2015: Manchester Branch

Several of the branches will be hosting an opening reception when the exhibit arrives there, and I hope you will join us there (I’ll post dates and times on Facebook.)

For more information about Caregiver Canines, including how you can get your dog certified as a therapy dog and volunteer to do this great work, visit www.caregivercanines.org or call 732-505-2273.  Many thanks to Lynette Whiteman and Danielle Maley for making the project happen, and to all of the volunteers for participating in the project.  You bring joy and happiness into the homes of your receivers every time you walk in the door.

(Click on a thumbnail image below to enlarge the gallery.)

portrait of the human spirit

Portraits of the Human Spirit in Cape Town, South Africa

 

Main StreetOn my trip to Africa in November I spent a few days in Cape Town, South Africa.  Cape Town is at once a beautiful metropolitan area with the glitz and glamor of bustling city AND the home to some of the most impoverished communities in the country.  While there I had the privilege of meeting with the good people of The Lalela Project, a NGO whose mission is to provide educational arts to youth affected by extreme poverty.  The Lalela Project is working in schools in some of the “communities” (a South African euphemism for “shanty town”) to deliver after school enrichment programs that allow young people to express themselves via art.  To learn more about their incredible work visit www.lalelaproject.org.

As part of the visit I had the opportunity to tour one of the communities.  I have spent a good deal of time in struggling and downtrodden urban environments in the United States, including working in Newark and Trenton and Camden, New Jersey.  While I am extremely sensitive to the plight of and compassionate toward the residents of such places, I consider myself fairly hardened to the reality of life in those areas.  In spite of that, I have never experienced the level of poverty I witnessed in Cape Town.  We entered the neighborhood via a locked, barbed wire-topped fence that was in place to protect the nearby school.  Homes were built of plywood and corrugated aluminum and other available scrap materials, and it appeared that a stiff breeze could take down an entire block.  Electrical power was available from a centrally located, government-provided pole, but the wiring took the term “DIY” to an extreme.  The streets and alleyways were strewn with litter and trash, and there was the unmistakable odor of sewage permeating the air as gray water flowed down the street.  The living conditions were deplorable.

Truck GuyWhat was more striking than the environment, though, was the spirit of the people living there.  As we walked the street we encountered people curious about who we were and why we were there.  We were met with smiles and handshakes and, in one case, an impromptu dance performance.  I asked permission to take photographs of the residents and, more often than not, as I pointed my camera my subjects would stop and pose and smile.  Children approached us and wanted to connect.  The community residents were living in unimaginable poverty and yet shared a generosity of spirit that made it hard to leave.  They were beautiful people inside and out.  And they reminded me of the toughness and resilience of the human spirit.

 

 

 

 

Old Lion

Animal Photography of a Different Variety

Old LionI’ve just returned from Africa.  Two full weeks in one of the most beautiful places on earth.  I was fortunate to experience two safaris, a few days on a beautiful beach, and a visit to Cape Town.  As you might imagine, the trip yielded thousands of photographs of a variety of subjects, many of which will be featured in upcoming posts.  The highlight of the journey, though, was the opportunity to do some animal photography of a different variety.

It’s hard to describe accurately a safari experience.  Early on it’s a bit overwhelming.  Beautiful landscape, awesome creatures, unbelievable light, and a magical/mystical/spiritual atmosphere.  In many ways it would be hard to take a bad photograph in Africa.  And during my first few hours bouncing around in the Land Rover I pressed the shutter release with wild abandon.  Then I settled down and reminded myself of the old adage that it is better to make photographs than to just take them.  So I asked myself the question “What do you want your images to convey?”  The answer was straightforward, and it was the same as it is with all of my photography, whether animal or people: I want to capture the essence of the subject.  With that in mind I set out to make pictures that would convey who these amazing creatures are, their unparalleled beauty, the environment they live in, and the depth of their spirit.  Their essence.

Even after reconnecting with that foundation I still worked the shutter release hard.  But when I peered through the lens I sought the elements that would tell the story of the magnificent beings I was seeing.  Just like I do with all of my photography.

VanessaChris

A Picture Perfect Beach Wedding

Family PhotoI don’t do weddings.  I’ve been bragging about that for years.  Tried a few back in the day and, well, it just wasn’t my thing.  I admire the heck out of the wedding shooters who do it well.  Wedding photography is all about long days and lots of running around and putting on your extrovert to get Uncle Fred and Aunt Beulah to smile for the camera and…it just wasn’t my thing.

So when I received an email with the subject line “Wedding photos?” I almost hit delete immediately.  A little voice in the back of my head told me to check it out, though, and when I did I was immediately intrigued.  Vanessa began with the word “Hey”.  In the few words that followed Vanessa shared with me that she figured because I photographed dogs and she and her fiance Chris were going to include their three dogs in their wedding, that it followed logically that I would be their wedding photographer.  I had to admit she made a good argument.  But I don’t do weddings.  I decided to call her and let her down easy.

By now you’ve figured out what happened.  When I spoke with Vanessa a few days later she made it impossible to say no.  Her personality and charm were endearing, and the story she shared about how she and Chris met and how it was true love complete with cupid shooting arrows and…I had to say yes.

A few months later I drove down to Ocean City, New Jersey early on a Sunday morning to join Vanessa and Chris and their families and friends for a picture perfect beach wedding.  It could not have been more perfect.  The weather was beautiful and I could feel the love Vanessa and Chris share.  True to the promise, the ceremony was 10 minutes long, after which we spent some time shooting on the beach.  I drove home that morning thrilled to have been a part of Vanessa and Chris’ special day, and excited that I captured some beautiful images for them to cherish in their future.

But remember, I don’t do weddings.

pet photography

A Pet Photography Session with Stella

One never knows how a pet photography session is going to go.  You can talk with the animal’s humans and get a sense of the pet, prepare your gear, conjure some ideas for scenes and lighting and props, and be ready on time.  But how the shoot goes is really up to the pet!  This is never more true than when the model is a puppy.  So when I was preparing for my shoot with Stella last week I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.

I could not have asked for a better model!  Stella, though only seven months old, was a star.  When her mom Patty opened the door Stella sat dutifully a few feet away waiting for permission to greet me.  It was clear that she was turning inside out with excitement, and yet she sat in place and waited until she heard “scram”, the magic word (Stella’s humans use “scram” so that she doesn’t get confused by commonly used phrases like “Good girl” or “Okay”).  And the focus and self-control she displayed in the early part of my visit carried through the rest of the session.  Stella was all puppy when she could be, and professional model when she was asked to be.  She was perfect.

The highlight of the photography session was when Stella’s dad Jim rolled out his 1986 Harley Davidson.  The bike was in pristine condition and the colorful paint and bright chrome made a great backdrop!  Stella rose to the occasion once again, and I was able to capture some great shots of her using both natural light and a strobe.

One never knows how a pet photography session is going to go.  But Stella reminded me that even a young novice can be the perfect model!

Twin Rivers Animal Hospital Commercial Shoot

Twin Rivers Animal Hospital

Doctor Shapley

In May I was hired by Twin Rivers Animal Hospital in East Windsor, New Jersey to photograph their veterinarians and staff.  The hospital had a number of new faces on their team, and they wanted to use the images we shot to re-introduce themselves into the community.

I worked with the hospital manager to set up the session, and one of the messages she indicated was important to portray through the photos was that the staff loved animals.  Seems obvious, right?  But as I look at many animal hospital websites they do a good job of showing how professional their people are, often at the cost of causing them to appear to be distant and aloof.  Twin Rivers wanted the images to show both the skilled medical professional AND the person who loves animals.  That made the shoot more fun for me, as each of the docs, techs and staff brought (or borrowed!) a dog or cat to be in their photo with them.  There was a Golden Retriever, a Bulldog, and even Bogey, the Sharpei.

The images are placed throughout the Twin Rivers website, and they are used in their printed materials and posted throughout the hospital.  Patients and their humans can get to know the team a little better when they see a smiling face next to an impressive resume.  The team at Twin Rivers were happy with the results.  And if they’re happy, I’m happy!

Pet Photos Inspired by Pinterest – The Whipped Cream Series

Like any other genre of photography, making pet photos can become routine.  Set up the lights.  Position the model.  Work to get the expression you want.  Hit the shutter release.  Oooh and aaah.  And done.  There’s nothing wrong with this formula, but I often have an itch to do something different and creative that stretches my brain a bit.

Recently I have discovered Pinterest.  While I was aware of the social medial site since its appearance on the scene, my impression was that it was only populated with recipes and home decor and wedding dresses.  I didn’t see a place for me on the site.  I have since learned that there is much more to it than that, and I have found a treasure trove of beautiful photographs.  For obvious reasons I have been drawn to great animal imagery, and most of my “Boards” reflect that interest.

Yesterday I was meandering around Pinterest and found some pet photos that included dogs and water.  They sparked an idea.  PJ loves to drink water from a bottle.  If I pour it into his bowl he will drink the stream of liquid as it falls before he puts his tongue in the bowl.  My idea was that I would use a water bottle to squirt water toward PJ, and I would light it to make the water stand out against a black backdrop.  I did the set up, took a few test shots, and when I was happy with the way things looked I summoned Himself.  But Himself wanted nothing to do with the water.  In fact, as it floated past his nose he turned his head and walked away.  DRAT!  Foiled again.

But wait!  I know a sure-fire way to keep PJ’s interest – Redi-Whip!  He goes crazy for a squirt of the stuff, and he would work all day for a taste.  So I ran upstairs, grabbed the can, and he followed me like I was the King of the World.  Yes!  This was going to work.

Because it was just the two of us it was a little tricky.  I had my camera on self-timer with a 10 second delay, which meant I would press the shutter release and then lure PJ into place and hope that my timing with the whipped cream and his positioning was what we needed for the shot.  It took a few tries, including several where he leaped out of the frame, but within short order we grabbed some fun shots.  As an added bonus, PJ was more than willing to clean up after the shoot!  How many models do that???

It was a good reminder to keep an eye out for inspirational pet photos and to use them to try new things.

Pet photos

Service Animal Images – Another Session with Animals at Work

If you’ve been following my work you may recall that in 2012 I did two sessions with the great Linus and his awesome human Leah.  Linus is a service animal, and Leah created a nonprofit organization called Animals at Work (AAW) that advocates on behalf of service animals and the people who need them.  My previous work with Linus and Leah included a day “downtown” visiting a coffee shop and a grocery store, and a day at ECAD, the training center where Linus and Leah learned to be a team.  You can see those shots in the Animals at Work section of my portfolio.

In the last year Leah has really ramped up her efforts to bring attention to the important issue of service animals and, in particular, their hassle-free acceptance in public spaces.  Part of that work has been to increase AAW‘s presence on social media and to grow readership of their blog.  To make that happen Leah added to the team.  Maureen, a dear friend of Leah’s and a successful television producer, became AAW‘s social media maven.  Maureen has done a great job of attention-gettng for Animals at Work, and she needed more photographs to keep the content fresh.  So in June Linus, Leah, Maureen and I met in Moorestown, New Jersey to create some images.

We had a great time, as always, and found some nice places to shoot.  It took Linus a little while to figure out that the park was for work, not play, on this trip, but once he got focused he was his usual amazing self.  After some time outside we visited the Moorestown Public Library. The director and staff could not have been nicer nor more hospitable.  They clearly understood the importance of the issues surrounding accessibility of service animals, and helped us to create some great shots.  As a side note, I spent nearly 30 minutes in the ladies room, which, I am happy to say, is not something I have ever done before!

Maureen has already shared some of the work we did that day, and she uses her post-production skills to make the images fun and eye catching and educational.  To see some of the shots in action follow Animals at Work on Facebook.  Also, check out the AAW Blog to learn about how service dogs are doing their work and keep abreast of the great things AAW is doing.

Michael Bagley Photography Is HeARTs Speak’s Featured Artist

This week HeARTs Speak, the nonprofit I volunteer with that supports artists, animal welfare organizations, and communities using art to help homeless animals, chose to make Michael Bagley Photography their Featured Artist.  I’m excited!  You can check out the feature on the HeARTs Speak website by clicking here.

Michael Bagley Photography