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!


Brad and Holly's Wedding!


Brad & Holly's wedding day took place at the historic downtown Hotel Blackhawk. We started the day photographing in Holly in her hotel suite.  It's always a great to have somewhere nice to create some getting ready shots.  Many times brides underestimate the importance of their getting ready portraits and choose a cluttered church basement which can definitely make it more difficult to capture beautiful portraits.   

The lovely bride-to-be as she put on her wedding gown with the assistance of her mother and bridesmaids. 
Holly's bridesmades were all smiles and laughs as they helped Holly with her dress.

We always set up a private first meeting between the couple.... its great to see the anticipation, it's also great for the couple to have a few moments alone to talk and soak each other in.  Check out Holly's smile.  She was certainly excited!

How beautiful does Holly look on the marble staircase!

Hotel Blackhawk has many great places for portraits.  The hotel embodies class, sophistication and elegance. 

I loved this portrait because it feels like Holly and Brad are an art piece.

This was a classy yet fun pose for Holly and her bridesmaids!

The bridal party was so much fun to shoot. They were very eager and excited to be a part of Holly & Brad's wedding. Check out the groomsmen... they were just hanging out before the wedding and I was able to capture a cool portrait of them!

The Quad City downtown cobble-stone road made for a great background for this fun portrait.

After the wedding ceremony we jumped on the Trolley and rode downtown where we created some portraits of the wedding party & the couple having fun and enjoying the BIG day!

Holly & Brad had a great set-up at their reception... their table was set in the middle of all the guests. It was a great night with a lot of dancing and toasting! 

In the months before their wedding Holly & Brad took dancing lessons and they certainly did not let them go to waste! Check out their amazing dance moves!

Check out these great vendors that made this night possible. 

Band: Funktastic Five  /  Reception Venue: Hotel Blackhawk - Gold Room  / Ceremony Venue: Hotel Blackhawk  /  Caterer: Hotel Blackhawk  /  Dessert Bar: Oh So Sweet by Tiphanie by Tiphanie Cannon  /   Florist: Julie's Artistic Rose  /  Tux Rentals: Ducky's in Moline  /  Wedding Dress & Veil: Hope's Bridal  / Bridesmaid Dresses: XOXO Bridal Hugs & Kisses  /  Hair & Makeup: Salon Luce and Spa Luce 


International Awards

So many photography studios now days use the term “award winning portraits” to promote their business.  So many, that the term no longer really seems to carry as much impact...  Understandably so, for all you know the only awards some of those photographers may have won were for local competitions amongst non-professionals, right? 

So to justify our studio's use of that term to ourselves and to our clients, each year we enter our work into one of the largest international photographic competitions.  We aim to set ourselves apart, so that we can continue to say that we are one of the leading photography studios in the nation.  This year marks the third year our studio has entered the PPA (Professional Photographers of America) International Photographic Competition. 

Within this competition there are two separate categories that professional photographers can enter their work into – the Photographic Open Competition and the Master Artist (MA) Competition.  Thousands of professional photographers from around the world submit their images.  Each photographer is only allowed to enter 4 of their very best images into each of the categories.  Only the most exceptional images entered – the ones regarded as the “best of the best” – are accepted into the prestigious PPA Loan Collection.  These images in the PPA Loan collection are viewed throughout the world as setting the standard of excellence in photographic imaging.

Last week the results of the competition were announced and we are very excited to announce that all four of Ben’s portraits entered into the Photographic Open Competition were judged as Loan worthy. In the Master Artist Competition three of Ben’s four images were judged as Loan worthy. For a total of 7 Loans!

Loaning all four images in the Photographic Open Competition means for the third year in a row Ben receives the International Diamond Photographer of the Year designation...  which only a few photographers throughout the world earn each year (to be exact only in 12 in 2011, 8 in 2012 and only a handful in 2013)! 

Ben is honored that his portraits were accepted into the Loan collection but one of the things he is most proud about is the fact that the images he entered truly represent the kind of work that he creates on a regular basis.  Nearly all of his Master Artist images were originally created for clients, while nearly all of his Photographic Open portraits were created while instructing other photographers around the country. 

Below are Ben’s Photographic Open Loan images. We will try to get around to writing a post about his Master Artist images sometime soon...

"Enchanted" was created late one night while Ben was teaching in Rockwall, Texas. The scene was lit using a constant light so that the other photographers watching could easily see how the light placement and angle was crucial to creating good light on a subject. Ben was using the lobby of the Hilton Hotel which obviously had some beautiful decorations. He did some minor touch ups in Photoshop to remove distracting lights that was showing through the curtains, and he also removed some of the class attendees that happened to be too close :)

"Ravishing" was also created in Rockwall, Texas while Ben was teaching a class (possibly even that same night as the portrait above)  Ben spent most of the class showing how to create dynamic composites, but he also captured a few simple well-lit portraits of the model.  In Photoshop Ben added a texture overlay and a few other minor corrections. He chose to enter this image into the competition because he wanted to prove that he was not only good at creating storytelling scenes but that he could also produce beautiful classic portraits.

"When the Music Ends" was something Ben had been wanting to create for awhile. While he was teaching some classes in Wisconsin last fall he met the perfect model for his idea and she had the perfect outfit. Ben had not yet even begun to construct the scene for his idea but he knew he wanted a worn circus performer hanging off of an old carousel horse. He had her sit on a high stool and pretend she was leaning off the side of a horse. He had to visualize the angle that he would build the scene at, the direction that the horse would be going, and the intensity, angle, and quality of light.  By the end, it took a great while to put this scene together. The old train was photographed while teaching a class out in Idaho, the grass and broken carriage was photographed in New Orleans at yet another class. If you look closely, far in the background are some circus animals slowly moving in the same direction. The leading lines of the train and the tattered flags help lead the viewers eye to the subject.

"How to Catch a Wolf" is another that Ben had been thinking about for awhile. This one was more of a personal challenge for Ben.  He wanted to create something with a very different look than what he had done before. Many of his preferred images have warm dark tones like those above and he wanted to see what the opposite would look like. The background he captured early one morning. He's not normally a morning person but that morning he happened to be on his way to jury duty. It was a misty frozen morning and he took the back way out of town down some gravel roads when he crossed a bridge and saw those trees. He was already a bit late but decided to turn around and head back to the studio for his camera and he's glad he did! He wasn't sure what he was going to do with the scene but he knew it was beautiful. (side note - he definitely arrived late for Jury Duty!)  The wolves came from Yellowstone. While out in Idaho teaching a class Ben had the opportunity to photograph some white wolves at a very close range (he says they are a very cool sight up close!) and he knew exactly then what he wanted to do with them. There are 8 wolves with in the final scene ghosting in and out of the forest. For the subject he wanted a slight pop of color and decided that Red Riding Hood would be a fun subject, but he wanted to give the story a twist. The story of Red Riding Hood has been recreated a million times, so instead he thought "what if the subject was not trying to flea the wolves but was instead using the red riding hood costume as bait to lure the wolves into a trap? If you look very closely you can also see the faintest of silhouettes of a castle in the background. The portrait was printed on a fine art water color paper to give it the feel of an artistic rendering.