Saturday, December 31, 2011

some favorites, 2011

Standing in front of the magazine rack at my local bookseller I realized that it was THAT time of year - you know, "person of the, who left us" time of year. It is also the "best images" time of year - Sports Illustrated Best Sports Photos Issue, Rock Climber Photo Annual, etc. So, here we go - the "chris smith photography blog best images of 2011".  Well, maybe not the best - but ones that were certainly memorable to make.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

old kodachromes

When I photographed Jim Bloom cutting tobacco during the summer of 1988 I had no idea that the image would become the foundation for my "Last Farmers" project.  It was an early September evening, more August than fall, when I spotted Jim working his way down the rows of tobacco on his father's farm.  A roll of Kodachrome 200 and a 35mm Nikkor lens captured the scene. The beauty of Kodachrome was not only its longevity (100 years +, if archived properly), but it's colors.  When aged (I have some that are 60 years), the old slides begin to mellow to softer tones.  With the "Last Farmers" I digitally processed the photos as if they were 100 year old sepia-toned tintypes.  The look seemed to fit the project. Recently, however, I have been re-working many of the images, hoping to recreate the look of Kodachrome - a film and process that too, has slipped into the past.  The first photo, Jim & the original Kodachrome; the second, Loren Huddleston & Adobe Lightroom.

available light

I'm often asked what I mean when I say that a photo was shot in "available light" - and my stock answer is the old photo cliche, "any light that is available to you when you are there."  Sunlight, GE bulbs, overhead fluorescents, studio strobes - you get the idea.  This image, shot for Cincinnati Magazine's Best of the City issue, was done with available light - late day rainy sky & overhead fluorescents and a little white fill card.  

catching up

A couple of images got lost in the shuffle, so as we edge closer to winter here's a little of autumn, not too long ago.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

headed home

Nothing like a wet, winding backroad.  Mix in a Camaro SuperSport and you've got pure fun, 
all the way home.

the casino shoot

At French Lick, taking photographs of the Resort's Casino, and my client Doug suggests we put our models (employees of the resort) up on the elevated stand with the Harley that the casino is giving away. Not a good idea, I think.  Guess I was wrong...

Monday, October 10, 2011

to the 'woodcutters'

It started innocently enough - a dead tree, a chainsaw, a few family members & friends and, some beer. That was 34 years ago.  Since then we've cut & burned a mountain of wood and watched a group of people come & go, get married, have kids and also die.  This group of friends who dedicate one weekend in the early fall to come back to southern Indiana has become more than just that (friends) - this in now an extended family of choice, not birthright.  We attend weddings & funerals together, go to races & restaurants; we tell stories, share confidences & campfires and shoulder each other's joys & pains.  This is something so rare that I have few words.  Respect, dedication & love just might say it all.

Monday, September 26, 2011

the best pizza

I have a running tally in my head, a top ten list, of the best pizza I've ever eaten. It starts with Leonardo's - a long gone small parlor in Worthington that offered pies made with a cracker crust and incredible pepperoni. This thin crust marvel, cut into square pieces is a Columbus thing - which is why Tommy's (also in Columbus) holds down a high spot on my list. Then there's the Mellow Mushroom, started in a closet sized shop on the campus of Georgia Tech in Atlanta. Still excellent, but only in Atlanta. Can't forget Crozet Pizza in Crozet, Virginia (near Charlottesville), hand tossed by hippies (even today) and the most exotic toppings ever. LaRosa's from Cincinnati, home to the sweetest sauce, jumps in & out of my rankings based on my moods. And now there's Betta's in Norwood, just across the street from Xavier University. Stone & ceramic wood fired oven, grandma Deluca's crust and real Italian 'sauce' (not cooked down). Maggie & I went there to shoot photos for Cincinnati Magazine (November 2011, Pizza Edition) and couldn't leave without sampling the pies and drinking a couple of Moretti's. Is it the best? Well, it entered my list near the top and as for CM - you'll just have to wait until November to find out.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

moving on

"One forgets how fast life can change," said the email.  This line was a small bit of consolation to me last week when the best dog I've ever owned was killed.  Elise felt the pain also, as she wrote the note. Unlike friends & family that are gone, dogs can be replaced.  The lost ones are always remembered, even as the empty spaces are pushed aside.  And now, we have Lily Bee & no time for old thoughts. 

Monday, September 12, 2011


Back on June 28 I wrote about my neighbor Fuzzy and his quest to restore a 1969 Mustang GT.  Well, today he asked me to take some photos of the finished car, so I waited until the evening, early fall light was just right & snapped a few frames. The day has arrived - the pony is out of the barn.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

prepare, then change

Be prepared, my Boy Scout past tells me & be willing to change, my life as a photographer has taught me.  Carry these two ideas with you and most ventures will be successful - including photo shoots. Before arriving at the Manifest Gallery to photograph a drawing workshop for Cincinnati Magazine I had all of the gear needed, the name of the contact person and an idea of what to capture on digital film. Once I arrived, some things changed - as they often do.  The room was different than I had imagined (bigger), as was the light (better) and the number of people (more).  I was able to use a tripod (as I hoped), no flash (as expected) and was there for an hour & 1/2.  I shot 391 frames and uploaded 41 to the magazine.  The three images below are different points of view but tell the same story.  They are a result of being ready & being ready to change.

Friday, August 19, 2011

the environmental portrait

John James started working on the Ohio River 45 years ago.  When I met him in 2006, he had been a pilot on the Anderson Ferry for twenty years and a part of the living history of the river.  Full of tales, thoughts & opinions of life on the water, his portrait is a cornerstone of my Rivermen photo project. Light & background are the keys to good environmental portraiture and aboard Boone #7 Ferry, I had both.  Metal walls painted silver reflected morning light off the river and an overhead canopy screened the direct rays of the sun and made it a great floating studio, & one where my subjects felt completely at home.  I shot fifty frames of John, horizontal & vertical - all with the same lens (75mm).  I tried to work quickly, but not rushed, and would drop the camera from my eye occasionally to talk with him.  I never asked him to pose - the looks are his, especially the pipe.  The whole shoot lasted 15 minutes and frames 28, 29, 31, 32 & 35 are below.  #35 was my choice - the one that became a 'digital tintype' and is now included in the ongoing collection of Ohio Rivermen.



Monday, August 8, 2011


Capturing motion in a still frame is something sports photographers have done for years.  The key - freeze the action, but still show movement, which brings me to the technique known as panning. The photos of Ganassi teammates Scott Dixon (eventual race winner) & Dario Franchitti were shot at the same location, with minimal distractions in the background & foreground.  Shutter priority on the camera, 70-200mm lens (zoomed to 135), continuous autofocus (with the center point in focus), 200 ISO and continuous high on the shutter.  Determining the correct shutter speed takes a number of 'test' shots - as you want the car to be in sharp focus, but the wheels and background to be slightly blurred.  These images were shot at 1/400 of a second.  Focus on the car before you begin to shoot and pan your camera (while shooting) at the same speed as the car;  continue to pan after you quit shooting.  150 miles per hour in one frame.

elements in the frame

There are many ways to assemble the parts of a photograph.  Our old friend Cartier-Bresson believed in the combination of 'geometry' & action before he pushed the shutter.  In other words, compose a photo with an interesting background and then wait for something to happen within that frame - the decisive moment.  These photos from Mid Ohio are based loosely on that technique, the only difference being that I can't see what is in the frame - I am simply putting the camera into a position that I think will yield an interesting image.  Sometimes it works, most are failures.  In the first photo, I simply wanted to get the camera high enough to get a good view of the cars as they were moved from the track - that's my shadow on the left side.  What I didn't count on was Danica Patrick walking into the scene with an autograph seeker also included.  The second shows Ana Beatriz signing an autograph, but this time 2 'happy accidents' happen - someone is pushing Ana's bio sheet into the picture and a fan is taking a photo of the signing.  Both elements help to complete the story being told.  Great photographs?  No, but ones that show the wisdom of Bresson's advice.

Friday, August 5, 2011

living color

"When you're racing, it ... it's life.  Anything that happens before or after ... is just waiting" - Steve McQueen, in the film "LeMans."  And, at MidOhio, that life is played out in vivid color.

Monday, August 1, 2011

bag art

I own a lot of camera bags.  Three LowePros, 5 ThinkTanks, four Domkes, one Tenba and 1 Tamrac. Through the years I have sold or given away too many to count and several of the bags that I currently warehouse have been 'modified' from their maker's original design.  As equipment and my assignments have changed, so have my needs. But my desire has always been the same - take as little amount of gear as possible, but be able to expand so that you can carry everything you own.  Believe me, not as simple as it sounds and that's why I currently have 14 bags (not including computer-only bags).  Of all the ones that I own, I recently realized that one brand continues to appear in my photos - Domke.  They are canvas and do age well, but deep down I wonder if there is something intrinsically artistic about them. Maybe it's just the potential they hold.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

the last farmers

In 1987 I began to document some of the small farms in my county  - a personal essay that I called the "SE Corner Project."  Included in that series was a photograph of my Aunt Mame, holding an old hand colored image of the homestead where she & my grandpa were raised.  Another was an image of Jim Bloom cutting tobacco on his father's farm.  Mame, Pat Bloom and the tobacco are gone, but last summer those photos inspired me to restart the project and now, a year later, three of the stories are about to reach a wider audience in the August issue of Cincinnati Magazine.  Marvin Cutter, Loren Huddleston and Earl Dawson were gracious enough to share their memories of farm life with me and, with you.