Rocking the Roxy

This weekend I got invited out to a concert by local Kansas City band Adam Evolving at The Roxy in Overland Park.  Local unsigned bands tend to have a (somewhat justifiable) bad reputation, but these boys buck that trend violently.  The sheer level of technical skill, combined with strict professionalism, is a wonderful surprise in this scene.  The band consists of Darrick Deterding on vocals, Josh Seichepine on bass, Casey Miller on drums, and Jimi Rowan on guitar.

They have low-key persona, but are slowly building an extremely devoted fan base.  Everyone who witnesses one of their performances becomes an avid supporter.  The Roxy is a small venue in a strip mall, but Adam Evolving still packed the floor.  Getting people out of their seats at these small shows is a feat in and of itself, but the audience was more densely packed at during this late set than at any other point during the evening.

Watching this band perform is always an interesting juxtaposition of visuals. Deterding on vocals is always this roiling mess of anguished fervor, flanked on either side by the solid pillars of Rowan and Seichepine.  The more that he bounces, wails, pleads, and proselytizes, the more solid Rowan and Seichepine seem to become, just standing as these pillars of intense focus and precision.  Rolling beneath and through all of this is Miller, who serves as an amazing combination of aggression tempered with precision.  His sharp cadences structure and drive the whole performance.

Because this was such a small venue, I switched up my normal method.  I tried to focus much more on the details of each performer, and get in close.  There is so much distraction with these types of events, from TVs playing sports, to angry drunks, to side conversations, that it's easy to lose sight of the performance.  So I tried to utilize framing and lighting to key in on these intense little moments on stage.

If you remove all of the other meaningless visual noise and colors, all you are left with at the end are the emotions that drive the music.  And that is what music is all about: making you feel something.  That is one of my favorite things about this group.  There is no pretense, or gimmick.  Just the attempt to convey ideas and feelings through words and music.

Shooting in tiny venues is always tricky, but it also forces you to be more creative.  No, you don't have the best sight angles. No, they never put the drum kit on a riser, so it's almost impossible to get clean shots of drummer over the rest of the band (sorry Casey).  Yes, you have to work around the crowd.  No, you will NEVER have good light.  Yes, the subjects are always moving.  But at the same time, I love it, as you get these unexpected little moments of emotion that you will never see in a more organized setting.

Paying the Bills

Shooting dramatic and picturesque photos is the reason most of us get into this bizarre hobby, and why a few of us try to make a living at it.  However, unless you're at the absolute peak of your field, the art alone doesn't make ends meet.  Sometimes you just have to pay the bills.  This is not necessarily a bad thing though.  Commercial shoots focus you to refine your technique, and increase your speed.  The faster you can churn through a shoot, the faster you get paid.

For most photographers, the hustle and grind of daily work is made of senior photos, engagements, babies, and the like.  However, since I can (for the moment) afford to be picky on what jobs I take, I don't do any of that.  Most of my business comes from shooting product photography.  Specifically, high end automobiles.  So here's a look at my last shoot, of a Mercedes Benz ML350.

My setup for this type of work is surprisingly basic.  I'd love to shoot with a Chimera Lightbank, but they are staggeringly expensive.  So with a little digital trickery, and a couple hundred dollars, I've got a serviceable setup for exterior shots.  I mount a radio transceiver on the hotshoe of my camera, and then another on each of my speedlights that are mounted off the the sides on stands with umbrellas.  You can either leave the lights static for the shot, or lock the camera down on a tripod, and shoot multiple exposures with differently placed lights.  Once you combine them digitally, you get something like the above image.  Granted, this process takes a bit longer, so it's up to you if it's worth it for every shot.  I tend to use it for my lead image, but not the secondary ones.

My setup for interiors is even more basic.  I leave the ceiling lights on in the studio, and mount a speedlight directly to the camera.  Angle the light away from your surface (especially if it's a piano black surface, like Jaguar likes to use), diffuse it, and you're golden.  Soft light is your friend.  If you really want to be fancy, you can throw a little shallow depth of field in there. But remember at the end of the day, this work is meant to be informative, not evocative.

Even if this isn't the most glamorous work in the world, it's a sure sight better than filling out TPS reports.  Ask any professional artist, and the majority of their work is mundane, but they do it because every so often you get to really cut loose and express yourself.  For every twenty tribal armbands that a tattoo artist has to do, they get one zombie cat.  Or something like that.

The trade off for doing this inventory work is that once I've completed my shot list, I get to play.  So then the 50mm comes out with the polarizing filter, and I get experimental.  Because of the unique arrangement I have with my client, there is no time-frame on completing my shoots.  So if I spend an hour experimenting with lighting angles, so be it.  Granted, that's time I'm effectively not being paid, but I'm learning.  Some people pay for lessons, I lock myself in a room with an M5 and some strobes.  Who has the better plan?

Descending like the Mongol horde.


Sunrise. Two photographers. Three videographers. Six cars worth a total of $360,000. 2,854 horsepower….Magic.

My biggest client, Pure Pursuit Automotive, is a nationwide dealer and broker for “sport luxury” cars. Basically, if it costs over $40,000 or has more than 300hp, they deal in it. A while ago, I got pulled in for a fast, run-and-gun shoot at the crack of dawn. We needed to churn out as much content as possible before the light changed and spoiled the setting.

The West Bottoms is basically a cliche now for photographers in Kansas City.  For those non-locals, it's a section of the city that used to be thriving with slaughterhouses and warehouses, but has since fallen into disrepair.  It is on it's way back up, but is still rather gritty.  The rusted girders and scarred bricks lend a shocking contrast to the gleaming luxury rides.

2013 BMW M5

I had to work quickly, as I still have a full-time day job in addition to my contract work.  So when the rest of the team rolled in a bit before seven o'clock in the morning, we rallied the troops and started divvying up the work.  By the way, if you've never seen a pack of M5s, Stingrays, 911s, etc roll down the street at sunrise, it will bring a tear to your eye.  So the game plan was to split the photo work in half, and have me tackle two cars in an hour before I hit the road.

First up was that Bavarian brute, the M5.  I am a sucker for BMW, and always have been.  This might be a result of my father owning a 2002 when I was growing up.  I directed the driver to a favorite little courtyard of mine, and I got to work.  Seeing how we were on a time-crunch, I just went hand-held with no lights the whole time, which was tricky. Seven in the morning, in an alley, with a polarizing filter on the lens really cuts down on the available light.

Now that's a set of brakes.

After we finished the BMW, we swung back by our bivouc to swap vehicles.  From there I hopped into a 2014 Stingray with another driver.  Now, I was never the biggest Corvette fan back in the day.  The C6 was a substantial improvement over earlier generations, but the interior just felt so cheap.  A car of that potential should not feel like a rental Cobalt inside.  But the C7 Stingray is just stunning in person.  It photographs well, don't get me wrong, but in person, those just have PRESENCE.  It may not be pretty in the traditional sense, but goddamn is it striking.

Now that's an entrance.

Shooting on this little bridge reminded me of why I love Kansas City.  We parked in the dead center of the road (granted, it's mostly a utility road, not a main thoroughfare), and whenever work trucks came by, they waited patiently for us to move, and weren't upset at all.  I love cities in which weird art projects are considered mundane.

By this time the sun was up higher, but still not throwing much light down underneath where we sat.  This was very much run-and-gun, as the clock was running out, and we kept having to move for traffic to pass.  Once I wrapped up, we headed back to the rest of the team, and I hurried off to my other job.

All in all, a successful, and educational, morning.

A romantic walk through the wasteland

Last weekend I took my girlfriend for a walk through the West Bottoms in Kansas City, because I'm classy like that.  Nothing says romance like abandoned warehouses, and the possibility of getting shanked by a hobo.  Take notes, kids.

Just a cozy little alley.

The West Bottoms is one of my favorite areas to go take photos, just because of the various types of architecture.  Everything has so much texture that it just pops.  Plus, if you are shooting cars, the polished vehicles contrast nicely with the gritty buildings.

That's not creepy at all.

This time we didn't have any specific agenda, we were just wandering and looking for patterns.  I did get to see two drunk men in tuxedos pee on a wall though, so that's something.  No pictures of that, sadly.

A lot of new graffiti had popped up since the last time I was down there.  As more and more of the district gets renovated, more and more security cameras are posted, which cuts down on a lot of it.  But certain areas keep accumulating some unbelievably beautiful pieces.  Kansas City has a pretty respectable graffiti scene, which I think is aided immensely by the fact that Scribe has so many legal murals around the city.


Our walk got cut short by the storm rolling in, but it was great to get out and just shoot for fun again.  I don't do as much creative work as I used to do, since I'm usually working on commercial projects.  But to go for a walk with a camera and no agenda was incredibly relaxing.

Cars and Coffee

This weekend I attended a Cars and Coffee event hosted by the Kansas City Auto Museum in Olathe.  It was their first event like this, but they had a surprising turnout.  I didn't shoot too much there, as I actively dislike taking photos of cars crammed into parking lots.  You have very little freedom in the way of composition.

I did get to see a couple interesting cars, though.  Most noticeably a BMW 2002, a BMW Z3 M Coupe, and a Lotus Elise.  Those probably aren't rare out on the coasts, but for us in the suburban Midwest, they were certainly unexpected treats.

To offset the uninspiring scenery and composition, I went a little flashier than normal on the edits.  Some of them are on the border of being too Instagram-esque, but it was a fun experiment.


E30 racecar.


All in the

Finally, an update!

Hey everybody.  As I'm sure you've noticed, things are a bit different around here.  I'm rebuilding the whole website from the ground-up, now that I'm temporarily caught up on photo shoots.  As with everything I do, it's a work in progress.  So feel free to offer any helpful suggestions you might have.

In addition to the cars that make up the majority of my business, I've recently dipped my toe into the real-estate photography game as well.  I got a call a while ago from a gentleman who got my contact information from a current client.  Referrals are always appreciated, by the way.  This new client had just purchased a house in southern Kansas City, MO, and was going to renovate the entire property.  So he wanted some "before" and "after" photos, to show off all the work they would be doing.

When I first got to the house, it seemed in relatively decent shape, if a bit rundown.

This is the master bedroom.  

But the longer I was in the house, the more I noticed a unique...funk.  I just attributed it to it being a closed up building without any air circulation.  Stale air gets a bizarre mustiness to it.  As time went on, the smell got worse, and eventually started to give me a headache.  

I finally finished the top two floors and headed into the basement with my strobes.  I'm not sure if you've ever been in the basement of a rundown house without electricity in an old neighborhood, but it's rather dim and gloomy.  Once I started dialing in my settings and firing off my lights, I discovered the source of the smell.

In case it's not clear, the black stuff on the walls is mold.  

That's mold.  Black mold.  All the way up the walls.  You can almost feel it in the back of your throat, can't you?  It's super fun if you have a history of respiratory problems.

This place wasn't creepy at all.  Nope.

So yeah.  If you become a semi-professional photographer, you too can visit exotic locales.  It's not all Porsches and BMWs, sometimes it's upper respiratory issues.