Double Diamond International Awards!

I really should blog more, there are certainly a lot of people that check it out each day but running a business, making happy clients, and spending time with family certainly takes up a lot of time!  Keep an eye on my facebook and instagram for my most recent work!

I have been honored with many state and national awards but really haven't taken the time to post anything so I figured now might be a good time to at least mention some recent ones.   I was recently honored with some very big awards.  PPA (Professional Photographers of America) holds an international competition each year.  There are two main categories - Photographic Open and Master Artist.  You can enter up to four prints in each category.  A panel of jurors then judges the prints.  The best of the best are accepted into a "Loan" collection. It can be very difficult to get a "Loan".  This year all 8 of my entries were accepted as loan  Only four of PPA's 27,000 members have done this in the 140 year history of the organization.  Getting four loans in any category qualifies one for International Photographer of the Year status. 

I am also excited because this year I will be speaking at PPA's annual convention in Nashville which attracts around 10,000 other photographers.

This first image was from a senior session. Her mother had seen my work and wanted an ethereal art piece to display in their home. We printed this as a 60" canvas and it looks unbelievably stunning!   If you look closely there are lots of other little elements that can be seen like a V of geese and a small farm and silo in the background.  I love little details that help create a story!

My 2nd International Photographic Exhibition Loan Print. Titled "Turf War" It was originally created for Union Football but as I was putting it together I realized that I couldn't see the individual players well enough for what the parents were going to want so I ended up using another idea for the team poster. I really loved the uniqueness of this version though so I took some extra time later to really bring the details together.

My 3rd International Photographic Exhibition Loan Print. Helping me achieve International Diamond Photographer of the Year status. The image was titled "The Last Menagerie" I photographed the carousel while exploring an abandoned amusement park alone (it was actually quite scary) The animals were photographed in a zoo. At the time I was disappointed I didn't get any real action from any of them but they were certainly perfect to use for this composite. 

My 4th International Photographic Exhibition Loan Print.  I created this for a bride who had a Vera Wang wedding dress.  For me this image is one of my greatest prides because the entire staircase is hand drawn.  I was jealous of some of the amazing venues in Europe and wanted to see what I could create.  I used an image I found for inspiration and drew the starway.  It took many days but was a great study in light and shadow!

One of my Master Artist international ward winning images. Inspired by the super popular series "Game of Thrones" - I called it "Throne of Games". In the Master Artist Category they ask you to show some of the elements that were used to create the image. Each element of the throne was photographed separately and then layered together to create the throne. The room and steps are hand drawn. The ref is my father who I added a long grizzled beard to in photoshop. No hair and makeup required! This was originally created for a cheer team showing off all the sports from their school in the throne but they "didn't get it" so I had to remove the throne - Oh well, whatever it takes to make a client happy!
I created this poster for Bettendorf Swimming last year and it was one of my international award winning images in the master artist category. The elements below are what I used to create the poster. The pirate ship was hand drawn.  I really wanted to draw a pirate ship so I came up with this scene but didn't figure out a motto until the team actually arrived.  I think "Surrender the treasure, we're here for the gold" is a pretty great motto!

Another of my international award winning images in the master artist category. I created this awhile ago for the Wilton track team but only four prints are allowed in the digital category and I create many many posters each year so unfortunately some get left behind.  The elements that I use for my posters are generally places and things that I have photographed before on random trips and have stored away in a library of many thousands of images.

My fourth international award winning image in the master artist category. I created this for Bettendorf High School. The poster that I created for them the year before also won many international awards. Need to start my brain thinking for this years poster! 

  Many of my images are greatly inspired by paintings and drawings both past and present.  I have always had a fascination for “Raft of the Medusa” by Theodore Gericault since my art history days in college.  Giving that a modern, tough, sports twist - I created this sports poster but always wanting to push myself further I decided to add an underwater scene so I added some sharks that I had some images of from a trip to the aquarium then hand drew a pirate ship (I really like pirate ships)


Senior Portraits

Well, we are in full swing for senior portraits and have been creating some pretty awesome stuff.  Sam came in last week and we had his portrait session in the morning and then we were able to show him his portraits in the afternoon and place his order.  His mother had also brought her older daughter to us a few years back for senior portraits.  They are a very artistic and fun family!  Sam's mother is a big blogger and brought along her camera to capture some fun behind the scenes shots.  Anyone interested in a senior session should certainly read over her post to help you get an idea for what you will be experiencing!!

Sam is a fanatic about old trucks so I took him to a field full of old trucks!


Just a few of my favorite sports posters from the year.

We have a lot of fun creating awesome images and we can be especially creative with sports teams because they are normally looking for a Hollywood movie look with lots of special effects.  Here are just a few that we did this year!  The first 5 are from a calender we created for the University of Iowa Dance and Cheer teams!

This softball poster has been a favorite for softball teams around the country!

This basketball poster won many awards this year in print competition and helped me to achieve my Master Artist Degree from PPA

Shaydee Stark Senior Session

Shaydee is a senior at Indianola High School. Shaydee is an All-American Cheerleader and was chosen to be a Shrine Bowl Cheerleader! It was so fun to photograph Shaydee because her personality was easy to capture through the lens... her outfits were fun and outgoing!

We started Shaydee's Senior Session across the street from the studio at Wilton's historic Candy Kitchen! It was cool to incorporate a small town feel into Shaydee's senior portraits.

Didn't even realize the writing on wall said "made in the usa" until I later looked at the back of the camera.

A cool vintage look with Shaydee's homecoming dress.

                      No Photoshop!!! Just some really good lighting and a lightroom preset!

 Thanks Shaydee for being so great!


Master Artist Competition

At the PPA International Print Competition there are two different contests. One is the Photographic Open Competition and the other is the Master Artist Competition. I wrote a blog earlier about my Loan prints in the Photographic Open Competition but I haven't yet gotten around to writing about the Master Artist Competition. Seniors, Families, and Weddings have been keeping me very busy these past couple months but wanted to quickly share one of my three Loan images in the Master Artist Competition.

I originally created part of this background for the Durant Wrestling Team Poster last year but for competition I decided I wanted to try something a little different. I was already entering two other sports posters (they won also) and wanted to change it up a bit. I decided to make it into a post apocalyptic crazy bride scene :) I came up with the idea only a week or so before images were due for competition so I didn't have much time to put it together.

I convinced my wife Sara to help me out. I found her wedding dress from 10 years ago hanging in the closet and had her slip it on. Then told her to pretend she was angry at me. I'm not sure where she found her inspiration ;) but she did an awesome job acting it out! We tried a few different poses with baseball bats and cinder blocks but ended up loving the dynamics of her throwing a bouquet at the camera. I then needed some bridesmaids helping her out in the scene. For the bridesmaid I recruited Taylor, my niece and studio helper. Sara had a bunch of old bridesmaid dresses from past weddings so I had Taylor put one on and had her pretend she was rampaging around a city - breaking windows, setting cars on fire, and such.

Below are some of my original images I used to build the scene


Obviously there was a lot of time spent photographing, extracting, blending elements, and changing colors and tones but I ended up with something pretty fun I think.
bride, loan image, bridesmaids, apocalypse, bridezilla, rubble, abandoned city
The final scene that I created from the above elements!


Fall Sports Posters!

It's that time of year and I've been busy creating some new posters for sports teams. I spend a huge amount of time coming up with ideas and figuring out how to make them come to life, but sometimes the teams don't give me much notice on what their theme is going to be.  

The football team was one of those times.  Originally they had said they didn't have an idea and wanted me to come up with something so I had an idea prepared for them but when they walked in they had come up with an idea of their own.  They wanted their motto to either be "Truck Ya!"  as a reference to their hill billy roots :)  or "Body and Soul, this is how we roll"  I suggested that the second would probably be more appropriate but from there I had to do some quick thinking.  With the "this is how we roll" I figured some kind of vehicle would be cool to pose them on but what?  At first I thought of a locomotive or semi, and did some quick checking through my libraries of images that I have accumulated.  I had a few but not exactly what I wanted.  I then remembered I had a cool truck that I had used in creating some images for a national advertising campaign for PhotoVision.  (You can check it out at  http://www.photovisionvideo.com.)   I found the image quickly and printed it off, drawing some stick figures to layout where I could fit the guys.  The boys loved the truck and had a quick argument over exactly what model, year and engine it most likely had in it.  Then it was picture time.  The guys had a lot fun getting into their rolls.  A few of them had longer hair and we broke out the hair fan for them which was pretty funny :)

The next weekend happened to be the town holiday and parade. As I was sitting with my kids gathering candy I noticed another big jacked up truck pull up down the street.  Even though I had already started compositing the players into the other truck, I couldn't resist grabbing a few shots of that one and ran a few blocks to the studio to grab my camera.  I was able to get a few decent images of that truck.  But just a short while later I was sure glad I had gone to get my camera because an even bigger jacked up truck rolled by.  So I ended up using the tires and undercarriage of that truck to put under the original 1970's truck to give it even more of a tough truck look.

For the individuals above I had to visualize the height and position of things around them - where a hand needed to be to hold onto the side of the truck, how someone would be hanging out the driver's window, and how I could insert an American flag (by request).  As I mentioned it's a good thing I work good under pressure because I only had about 5 minutes to come up with an idea, pre-visualize how each athlete would be able to fit into the image and then figure out what to use to position them so that they would actually look like they were there in the final poster!

sports composit, sports team poster, that's how we roll
The truck with the original smaller tires

I used the undercarriage of the truck and this truck and added it to the other truck.  Why wouldn't I just use this truck you ask - because the extended cab didn't leave enough room in the bed to fit all of the guys and I liked the old school feel a little better on the original truck.
Football poster, football motto, creative composit, monster truck, american flag
The final poster

To make him look like he was hanging of the back tale gate I had him hang onto a track hurdle to set it at the approximate height of a tail gate.  The guy in the white shirt is simply being used as a counter weight so #54 can lean back.  You can also see my lighting set up here with a 4x6 main light, two strip lights with grids and a hair light.


The Volleyball team this year had scheduled their poster well ahead of time and given me their motto plenty of time before the shoot.  But to be honest mid August is my busiest time of year and I hadn't had time to get much together.  I work very well under pressure though and knew I could come up with something awesome.  They wanted their motto to be  "Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishments"  and feature a bridge in the background.  Well silly me, I had just been to Florida a month before and passed tons of cool bridges and not taken any, but luckily the weekend after I took their portraits I went boating with my camera and some friends and was able to get a few shots of a bridge. 
  My challenge though lay in finding a way to put the girls into the image without making them standing in water.  The coach didn't want them to be wet.  After lots of brainstorming I ended up using some rocks from an old poster to layer in some water and then created a foggy river bank to obscure the edges.

volleyball team poster, volleyball girls, bridge, misty river, sports composit, discipline
I offer many of my posters as templates to other photographers (as long as you are not anywhere near my area) and really like the options this one offers for layering in players at different heights and positions

Cross Country

For the cross country team this year the coach called me a few days before the shoot and told me that his wife had come up with the idea to use the motto "The Original Tough Mudders"  If you don't know, a Tough Mudder is a crazy obstacle coarse with insane things like electric shock, fire pit jumps and tunnels of ice water.  People who participate end up looking like a stack of mud with shoes.  When the coach told me of his idea I made sure to double check that the athletes would be fine getting covered in mud.  The day they came in I had sheets of plastic laid down from the back garage door to the shooting area.  I loaded them up in my truck and drove a couple blocks to my house where we had just done some landscaping and had big dirt yard.  I broke out the hose and everyone had a mud fight.  Some were a little more hesitant than others but they all ended up looking pretty good! 

From there I took them back to the studio and photographed them each.  The hardest part was coming up with a good background.  It mostly helps to have this kind of stuff ready before hand but I enjoy doing things the hard way!   I ended up layering lots of photoshop mud brushes and water brushes until I had a rainy muddy looking scene for the team to be standing in.

Cross country team, tough mudder, muddy, dirty, running, runners, sports team
How tough do these guys look!

The above shots are some examples of what I started with

Since they were muddy and having fun I did a few group shots for the parents too.

Durant Football

The Durant football team wanted their motto to be "Coming In Hot"  at first they suggested going to the fire station and having them stand around a fire truck.  I explained that to create the epic image that they had seen in the past I photograph each person individually in the studio to get the very best expression and lighting and then could composit them onto a fire truck or whatever we ended up doing.  The night before they came in I did some experimenting and came up with a cool action that made their hands and feet look like they were "red hot" and about ready to burst into flames.  When they came in I showed them my idea and suggested that keeping the background very simple would help to really focus on them.  They loved the idea and we set about coming up with random poses that would look cool.  These guys were a lot of fun also.  I have a big studio with lots of couches and they made themselves at home, sitting around cracking jokes and having a good time.  I'm looking forward to seeing some of these guys for senior portraits.  I know that they are going to get some great portraits because they already feel completely comfortable.

football team, sports poster, firemen, fireman, football motto, football poster, fire, red hot, coming in hot


Shannon's Senior Session

We’re keeping busy here at the studio with senior sessions. School is just around the corner ( or already here for some) and we’ve got some seniors trying to sneak in before their final year gets started!

We’re sharing one of those seniors with you today… meet Shannon! Shannon is a senior at Pella High School. She’s laid-back, easy-going and was fun to get to know. Shannon totally rocked this shoot! Her outfits were so fun and she was an absolutely natural in front of the camera. Thanks for being awesome, Shannon!

Check out some of our favorite portraits from her session....

Love the way the colors work together to make her eyes really pop!

We tried some vintage toning with our waterfall and really like how it turned out!

Shannon's dad Jeff, brought her grandfather's first EVER tractor! 
Shannon's awesome volleyball collage!