I have always gravitated towards photographing landscapes and the stars above…
Rolling vistas are willing, stationary participants that subtly change in light and atmosphere. This year I want to step out of my comfort zone, photograph more people, and connect with each individual’s life story.
Why would I say this is stepping out of my comfort zone, you ask? The reason is this: I find posing people intimidating, and have preferred capturing candid verité moments. All of my idols (hey there Danny Clinch, Platón, Mark Seliger) have an effortless knack for capturing people in their most powerful (or vulnerable) state. That is why they are the best at what they do, each with their own personal style. The obvious component is to practice practice practice, be prepared to fail, and eventually, confidence will come your way. Those moments of failure teach you valuable lessons, add character, and form a foundation of personal style on which to build upon.
Over the years in my career, I have been very fortunate to have some amazing mentors. My father Nick is a photographer, and he taught me the power of capturing frozen moments in time from an early age. I remember one of the first pictures I ever took: it was a portrait of my dad and sister standing proud high on top of a mountain in New York’s Adirondack Mountains in 35mm. I was probably 10 at the time, with no knowledge of framing techniques or photo theory, but I was already using the rule of thirds and captured a frame that had pleasant balance all around. Something about the image just felt right, and I’ve been chasing that feeling ever since. Here is that exact picture:
Flash forward to the last 7 years in Colorado, I worked as an assistant for my good friends/mentors Tobin Voggesser and Jeffery Garland. Although I wish I had taken more technical notes, I was being taught fundamental techniques on crafting light and posing subjects. On top of learning invaluable lessons, there was a reciprocity inherent to this sharing of knowledge. I too was powerful in my own way at the time and we would share this knowledge unselfishly. Our little Colorado collective was growing powerfully together in the pursuit of mastery.
I currently reside in San Sebastián Spain, but I often travel back to Colorado for work. This past March, I pitched to shoot an experimental portrait to my friend Gabe Otto of the group Pan Astral in Denver. I wanted to incorporate NOCOAST’s Camera Goat Cinema Slider with long exposure and flash photography. I hoped to capture both a moment frozen in time (to define the likeness of my subjects), but also stretch out that same moment for an other-worldly effect (adding a pop/rock vibe that matches Pan Astral’s music) all within 1 single photograph.
From a technical standpoint, I had a clear idea of how to shoot this but I had never run any tests to prove my theory. With my awesome mom Annie as my photo assistant, we met up with Gabe, his bandmate Tad, and Luke (from Lotus) in the colorful RiNo district of Denver to shoot at sunset.
After a standard 30 minute portrait session with the group at sunset, I placed the 10-foot Expedition Slider Kit in front of a specific colorful mural, placed my Canon 6D on the tray, set up the Canon 430EXII flash to a rear curtain setting (so the flash would fire at the end of my exposure), and started experimenting. My lens choice for this was the Canon 16-35 f4 (with IS turned on), and a Tiffen Variable ND on the front. I had the group stand in a stacked line-up and walk forward slowly as I dollied the camera from right to left in unison. I was able to fire 3 photos before resetting to our first mark. My exposures ranged from .6 to 2 seconds long, and the Camera Goat’s smooth lateral movements created exactly the blurred effect I was looking for.
“Considering what I’d seen of Jesse’s work, I had no question the experimental nature of the shoot would provide excellent results. It was exciting to be part of the process of discovery,” added Gabe Otto. “Jesse seemed to fully understand the spirit of Pan Astral in a visual sense, as it was perfectly translated. He obviously sat with our music. I couldn’t have conceived a better shoot.”
We got into a fun rhythm over the course of 15 minutes. By the end of the photo shoot, all four of us were moving in sync and the results turned out really unique. I have more ideas on how to expand upon this technique. Who out there wants to experiment with me next time? Let’s shoot!