When I arrived at the Manchester History Center to photograph Mary Dunne, President of the Manchester Historical Society, she gave me a tour of the historic mill that the society purchased in 1999. We strolled through the main level looking for a backdrop that best described the atmosphere of the building and the work that has been done to it. Dunne took me to the first floor which still has a few original weaving looms along with other historical pieces. I love old factory buildings for all their large windows, wood floors and high ceilings that offer wonderful natural light for an environmental portrait.
We decided on a main meeting room that is used for events and lectures because of the natural light and simple decorations for an upcoming Holiday event. It helped that the sun was obscured by clouds and a light snow was falling outside to diffuse the sun. Dunne was a little apprehensive at first, like many subjects that don’t necessarily feel comfortable in front of the camera, but after a few shots to check the lighting she began to get feel comfortable. I checked the photos and decided the first pose and placement of her in the scene wasn’t quite right so we tried a different angle.
The resulting photograph produced the look I was trying for. The large windows behind her provided a nice framework and allowed the mill building across the street to be seen and by now Dunne was beginning to let her personality show. I really like the joy she displays while sitting in a place she has a passion about and making the center a legitimate museum for the city of Manchester.
Pro Tip: Environmental portraits can be tricky at times but with a little creativity and a great subject things will fall into place once you get rolling. Search the facility for a place that will not only show the features of the place but allow the subject to feel comfortable. Try a variety of lighting and choose what works best, sometimes your first choice is not always the best so don’t pigeon hole yourself into one vision. Use a shutter speed that will allow the natural light to fill to your desired level, a slower shutter will give more fill, too much will blow out the background. Make sure your main light source is in a softbox or an umbrella to soften the flash and set the flash to a little stronger setting than the background light to make your subject stand out from the background. I normally like to hoot as wide open as the lens will allow but this time I went somewhere in the middle to give greater detail to the buildings features as well as the subject.
Camera: Nikon D300s, lens – 17-55mm set at 17mm, aperture f/5, ISO 800, shutter 1/125, color balance cloudy setting to give a slightly warmer feel to the photo.
Where did the summer go? That question seems to always arise once Labor Day, the “unofficial – End of Summer”, arrives. The summer seems to go quicker each year as I get older, a week at the shore in the middle of it all is my greatest respite from the daily grind of life.
As the next season approaches I felt it was worth a look back on the summer and some of my favorite images.
The “Transit of Venus”.
I was sent to cover the transit of Venus, a once in a lifetime event at the Leitner Family Observatory and Planetarium in New Haven. It had been cloudy all day and there was little hope when I left Hartford that the sun would be visible as the tiny planet made its pass across. But with some patience and a little luck the clouds began to breakup around 6 o’clock and by 6:30 the grand event began.
The planetarium provided me with a large neutral density filter that knocks out 99.999% of the sun’s harmful rays to allow me to capture the photo of the sun. As I was shooting the crowd that had gathered for the show, Jason Archer picked up the filter and used it to look at the transit as other used special glasses to catch a glimpse. I like the effect the filter gave, almost like a portal looking out into space as the the overcast clouds are reflected on the surface.
Hartford Courant reporter Hillary Federico took a “shot” with Dom Basile, a certified firearms instructor, as he gave her pointers and a little backup while test firing a M16 machine gun at the Metacon Gun Club in Simsbury. Basile talked about the recent spike in female gun use in advance of the “Women on Target” program which will be held at the club later this month.
Assault rifles are a hot buzzer topic, love or hate them, in the right hands – like a trained instructor, police or military officer, they are a weapon used to “keep the peace”. But in the wrong hands, they are a merciless machine that devastates lives. On July 20, 2012, a little less than a month after this photo and article were published a man in full body tactical armor entered a movie theater in Aurora, CO., for a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” killing 12 people and injuring 58 others, the highest number of casualties in an American mass shooting. One of the weapons he used was an assault rifle.
The Travelers Championship had to be one of the hottest golf tournaments I’ve covered at the TPC at River Highlands in Cromwell. Chris Stroud tries to keep cool with a wet towel over his head during the second round of the 2012 Travelers Championship golf tournament at the TPC River Highlands in Cromwell Friday. Stroud shot a 68 and finished the day at -1.I think I got heat stroke after the Pro-Am Wednesday. The heat and humidity also took a toll on UConn women’s head coach Geno Auriemma as he had to be removed from the course after 13 holes on a golf cart and received I.V. fluids at the medical station back near the clubhouse.
One other thing you can usually count on during the week of the tournament is rain. Jon Martel of Bristol heads for the parking lot after play was officially suspended for the day during the second round of the 2012 Travelers Championship golf tournament at the TPC River Highlands in Cromwell Friday. Martel is a volunteer with Webster Bank and is the Hole Captain on the 2nd hole during the tournament, he and the players will be back on course at 7 am to complete the second round and the cut will be made.
Another thing you can count on, is a first time tour winner hoisting the trophy on Sunday. Marc Leishman kept the streak going after posting a score of -14 as the leaders were still out on the course. But the final four holes proved to be disastrous as each that held the lead squandered their opportunity leaving Leishman with his first tour victory.
Leslie Gordon, an instructor at the Yoga Center of Collinsville, helps lead a new class that incorporates yoga and paddle boards. It is based on paddle boarding, which is a very hot new water sport. Paddle boards look like big surfboards, but you stand atop them with a paddle and paddle around. They are selling like crazy. And now people are doing yoga on the paddle board. A yoga studio in Collinsville has a teacher who leads yoga sessions on paddle boards on a calm section of the Farmington River in Collinsville.
Andrew Haraghey, 16, is a rising star in the sports world as he claimed 5 gold medals in the 2011-2012 Disabled Sports USA Ski Tour this past winter. Haraghey, of Enfield, has cerebral palsy and is training to compete in the 2014 Paralympics which will be held in Russia. He’ll be heading off to Mount Hood in Oregon on July 10 to begin on slope training.
I used a stencil template that Andrew and his mom had made from cardboard to cut out stars that they would sell in his fundraising efforts.
C.J. Martin takes a shot as he passes a guest watching a chucker at Giant Valley Polo Club in Hamden Thursday evening. Matches are held every Sunday afternoon and sometimes spectators are treated to live music as a backdrop to the action. The shoot was for the “Parting Shot” feature in Hartford Magazine, which is now under the CT1 Media umbrella of publications.
Vernon resident Andrew Badecker, 25 (as of July 28), quit his last ordinary job in 2007 after winning $7000 playing online poker. Having already dropped out of college, his parents kicked him out of their house. Since then, he’s gone on to win more than $2 million playing poker in professional tournaments and online. He lives a suitcase life, always traveling and never in one place for more than a couple of months, while consistently confronting the challenges of being a so-called gambler and the realization that he doesn’t have a “normal” life.
When I walked into the house of Andrew he was wearing a tank top and ironing a yellow shirt on the kitchen table.As we talked he explained he normally wore loud colors and bold sunglasses so when I saw his yellow shirt and the color scheme of the living room I knew where I wanted to take his portrait. Two lights, one with a softbox a grid to direct the light and another behind him to illuminate the colors of the two walls behind him. I bold and brash portrait for a guy that likes to make a statement.
This was one of those “Bad ideas gone worse” situations. After torrential rains caused flash flooding in Naugatuck this pickup truck was resting on the edge of a parking lot that had be eroded away by the rain.
So after assessing the situation these guys figured they had a plan to get the truck off the egde and safely onto the parking lot above. Things don’t always ended up like you planned as these men found, once the truck started going forward the weight shifted and over the side it went. Now they had a real problem.
Juan Morrero of New Haven holds onto his nine year old daughter Anysha (L) as her twin Tenysha enjoys the cool water at Wadsworth Falls in Middlefield rush over her Monday afternoon. Morrero said he hadn’t been to the Falls in about 14 years but thought of it as the family was looking for someplace different to cool off.
Mike Roberge of M&M tennis court company in Bristol spreads the red paint that will outline the courts at Plainville High School Thursday morning. Roberge, of Bristol, was working with Joe Foran of Farmington on the project that will be finished in time for school. I climbed the fence surrounding the courts to get a high angle, much to the amusement of the workers.
After a micro-burst ripped through South Glastonbury August 10th knocking power at the Glastonbury Hill Country Club, Tim Smith waits with his daughter Colleen Elizabeth Smith, her flower girls and bridesmaids for the start of her wedding. Severe weather delay the ceremony for over an hour and a half as the bridal party and guests had to navigate through back roads to get to the country club due to downed power lines and trees all around the area. Since the storm had knocked out the power the reception was moved to the Inn at Middletown which was able to help out the newlyweds on short notice.
Diana Benza of Bristol grabs a handful of balloons from Bob Irvine as they set up for an engagement party for Benza’s brother Alex Irvine’s daughter Annie at Elizabeth Park Wednesday evening. The happy couple thinks they are attending a birthday party for Letitia Benza, the grooms mother. Annie and Alex are from Wethersfield.
The sun set on top seed Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland during second round action Tuesday evening at the New Haven Open at Yale tennis tournament after she retired during the the second set due to a right shoulder injury. Radwanska lost the first set 6-0 to Olga Govortsova of Belarus and was down 2-1 in the second before retiring.
I’ve never covered the US Open and likely never will but I’ve enjoyed covering the tennis tournament in New Haven throughout its history. I’ve been able to shoot the stars of my generation, Becker, Lendl, McEnroe, Aggasi, Blake, Monica, Lindsay, Steffi, Venus and many more. There are certain times of the day that I like the best, late afternoon and the very beginning of the night match, especially when the sunsets.
Twenty seven teams from across the country and Canada pushed their limits of endurance and strength during the final day of the 2012 Connecticut SWAT Challenge at Reservoir #6 in West Hartford Thursday afternoon. Members of CSP #1 (Connecticut State Police) run with a few tires chained together during one obstacle on the course.
Actor Kevin Cottle works the fly rod during filming of Connecticut “Still Revolutionary”, the second TV spot for its tourism campaign. This time, instead of going to the shoreline/Connecticut River valley, they’re going to Litchfield County. The iconic West Cornwall Covered bridge over the Housatonic provides the backdrop for this scene.
Being a native of Connecticut I love to take rides into Litchfield County. My dad would pack my mom and brother into the car and we would take road trips to People’s Forest, Kent Falls and other places in the northwest part of the state. It is a wonderful place to take a “Sunday drive” when the foliage is in full display.
With matching “Barbie” backpacks, dresses and shoes, twins Raelin and Aubrae Oporto, 7, are led down the hall by mom Tricia Dunn as the new Bristol West Elementary School opened Thursday as students arrived for the first day of class.
First day of school, that goes back a long way.
Tonight my assignment fell through in Rocky Hill so I took a little ride along the Connecticut River. If you venture off the beaten path there is a dirt road that follows the river from Wethersfield south to Rocky Hill through corn fields and grass lands. I used to water ski on the Connecticut with a cousin or old friend years ago so I sometimes search for someone out enjoying the evening. As Labor Day begins, take a few moments to relax, enjoy a cold one, spend time with family and most of all be grateful for the little things in life…
…because before you know it, you’ll be saying, I can’t believe its Christmas already. Just 115 shopping days to go.
As I was driving home I decided to take a drive to a place I like to stop once in a while to watch the moon or sun rise. Tonight a Blue Moon rose above the city of Hartford.
Good night cow jumping over the moon
And the red balloon
And goodnight mittens
And goodnight socks
Goodnight little house
And goodnight mouse
And goodnight brush
And goodnight to the old lady
Goodnight noises everywhere
–”Goodnight Moon”, text by Margret Wise Brown
Have a safe and enjoyable weekend!
All photos and text by John Woike / The Hartford Courant
I spent most of May on the Picture Desk at the Courant, a job we all share as our duties get spread among those that remain at the oldest continuously newspaper in the country. It sure feels good to be back in the field.
Today was a transit of Venus, a rare astronomical event that will not happen again until December 11, 2117. Overcast skies across the state caused the website at the Leitner Family Observatory and Planetarium at Yale to post a message stating the likelihood of viewing the transit would be poor. That didn’t stop over three hundred people who came out to witness the event, they were not disappointed when the clouds broke. I’m grateful for being able to have witnessed this since I’m sure I won’t be around the next time it passes Earth.
When I arrived the clouds were packed in and greyish but there was a buzz as the crowd began to gather around 4pm. The staff at the observatory were kind enough to loan me an 8″ neutral density filter that they use on some of their telescopes, it worked perfect. Not sure what my exposure was since I was rapidly changing the shutter as the clouds rolled past but my best guess is around 2000 ISO, f2.8 @ 1/1000th shutter. I used shutter priority as the camera setting. This image was shot with a 400/f2.8, on a tripod and then cropped in Photoshop afterward.
After taking a few shots of the Sun and Venus I turned my attention to the crowd that was in amazement as the sun went in and out of the clouds. While I was packing up my lens Jason Archer had picked up the neutral density filter I was using and began to view the transit. I first met Jason on another assignment at the planetarium at the Connecticut Children’s Museum in West Hartford a few years ago. I love how the sky is reflected in the filter, a group of people wearing eclipse or neutral density glasses leaned in while trying to get a view and the clouds behind them are dark and ominous. The contrast works beautifully.
Rabbi Avi Hack holds his son Tzvi Yehuda Hack, 5, up to the telescope so he can get a better view while a line of people wait their turn.
Scott Bombroski of Wallingford, a member of the Astronomical Society of New Haven, demonstrates how a “Sunspotter” works to a small group of people. The image of the Sun and Venus past through a lens on the front then get reflected off a series of mirrors until it shows on a piece of paper at the bottom of the triangular device.
(L to R) Simon Jacobs of New Haven and Laurie Guenther of Meriden stood outside one of the observation telescope rooms at the Leitner Family Observatory and Planetarium in New Haven to get a better view of the transit. The two didn’t know one another before tonight but they, like many that attended the event, started talking about the beauty of the night and how lucky they were to have witnessed it.
Pro Tip: It paid off getting to the assignment early, even though the weather forecast was not cloudy skies, it gave me a chance to talk with the staff at the observatory which eventually led to me being able to use a neutral density filter they had, it proved to be very fruitful. Patience, patience, patience. Waiting can be frustrating but when you hold out hope for a break, sometimes your wishes are answered.
Cameras used – Nikon D300s and D300. Lens – 17-55/f2.8, 70-200/f2.8 and a 400/f2.8. Metering set Matrix and camera set on shutter priority.
When I was asked if I would be interested in taking a trip the NYC to photograph Michael Douglas for an upcoming ARTS cover I jumped at the opportunity. Douglas was being honored with the 12th Annual Monte Cristo Award from the Eugene O’Neill Theater, a place that he honed his craft growing up in Connecticut.
I have been a fan of his from his early work in “The Streets of San Francisco” with Karl Malden. Really enjoyed his role in Wall Street, Fatal Attraction and Basic Instinct. Besides my editor Sherry Peters said “Who knows, maybe Catherine will be there!” Yes indeed, this could be very fun.
The shoot was to take place at the couples Central Park West apartment. When I arrived I was disappointed to see the building shrouded in scaffolding and netting due to repairs on the exterior but the view from their living space was still breathtaking on this early Spring afternoon.
Douglas was running a little behind but his assistant was there to greet me as reporter Frank Rizzo had arrived a few minutes earlier. The spare time allowed me to check the place out for a suitable location for a portrait and photos during the interview.
As I walked around the spacious quarters I heard a clicking sound that only one thing I know of makes on hard wood floor. I was standing near the entry when in walks Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Stunning is all I can say. She greet me and welcomed Frank and I to her home. The window light in the apartment is gorgeous and so is she. I felt odd wanting sooo badly to take a photo but I wasn’t there to photograph her. I didn’t want to act like some star struck paparazzi but I guess in some ways that is what I ended up being as I snuck this shot as she and her assistant were leaving for an appointment. Oh well, maybe next time I’ll be asked to take her portrait…
When Michael arrive I asked him to sit on the couch facing the windows in the sitting area as he talked about his career with Frank. The background setting was a little busy but the photographs were telling a part of his life that added to the story.
On August 16, 2010, it was announced that Douglas was suffering from throat cancer and would undergo chemotherapy and radiation treatment. The cancer and treatment seems to have taken a toll on him and at 67 he’s beginning to look a lot like his father Kirk.
As the interview wound down I was hoping for a chance to get him alone for just a couple of minutes to get a simple portrait, one with little distraction in the background but he politely declined as he was growing tired. “Besides, you must taken some good ones during the interview, no?” Yes, but as a photographer I always hope to walk away with that one image that just says it all. That’s difficult to do when you are shooting during an interview as facial expressions can be fickle while people talk, reflect, etc…so I wasn’t going to push it with him.
As we were leaving I kept trying to angle him into the doorway that had a couple of richly stained panels and a clean background as the window light fell off. I think he knew what I was trying to do so it was kind of a cat and mouse thing. He’d give me a glance every once in a while as he talked to Frank and let me get something close to what I was hoping for.
I guess between the last two images I like this one the best for it’s simplicity. Now if I could have only gotten him to look my way, if only for a moment…
Pro Tip: Shooting actors and entertainers can be a very satisfying or frustrating depending on their time, personality, assistants or the setting available. Working with reporters on these assignments can be just as trying but nothing is predictable so take a deep breath and have fun.
It was my good fortune recently to be given an assignment to photograph veteran jazz pianist Emery Smith at his home in Hartford’s Blue Hills neighborhood. The assignment requested a portrait of Mr. Smith to go with a story running April 22 in the Arts section in advance of his appearance in the Baby Grand Piano series at the Hartford Public Library on April 29. Upon my arrival at his modest Cape on a quiet street, I had to knock a few times before he heard me since he was inside playing piano at the time. When he came to the door, he greeted me warmly and invited me in. I asked him where his piano was. He led me to a small room where his baby grand sat snuggly surrounded by shelves of books, knick knacks, and stereo equipment. Although the assignment asked for a portrait, I asked him if he wouldn’t mind sitting down to play while I took pictures. I don’t necessarily think a portrait has to have the subject sitting staring into the lens. Some of the best portraits capture the subject working their craft. Smith willingly obliged and as I began setting up lights he started playing a string of jazz numbers that delighted and soothed me as I worked. The room was a challenge, and its cramped space left me little room to work with. I tried several angles to see what worked best. The problem: how to eliminate some of the room clutter to make Smith stand out without losing all the ambiance. I started with one light with a small soft box on the other side of the room. I liked the way the light skimmed Smith’s face and lit his hands, but I would need a higher angle to avoid my light.
I started moving the light back toward the side wall to get better illumination on Smith’s face, but lost light on his hands in the process. In order to avoid the bookshelves behind his head, I had to take a lower vantage point, but still needed to move the light back further behind the piano top.
Now the soft box was hidden, but it was illuminating the rest of the room too much. And I still had to add light to Smith’s hands.
I added a second light fitted with a grid and a snoot to direct the light onto Smith’s hands. As it was, I was shooting from a tight corner with no room to maneuver, and I had to place the light just to my right, up against the wall. I wanted the viewer’s eye to go to Smith’s face and hands, rather than to the surroundings. I also thought darker tones would better fit the subject, since when I think of jazz, I think of a dimly lit, smoky room. But there was still too much light spilling into the room from the soft box, now at a 90 degree angle to Smith.
By replacing the softbox on my main light with a snoot, I was able to achieve the effect I was looking for, highlighting Smith’s face and hands in a dramatic way, while leaving hints of his environment. An hour and several adjustments later, I had my shot – serenaded the entire time with Smith’s silky tunes.
Once I had my shot, I asked Smith to pose for a more traditional portrait in case it worked better with the story. At the very least, it would be good to have for our files.
Working in tight spaces can be challenging, but with perseverance and trial and error, problems can be solved.
A word that I have come to better understand over the last year.
One that I have always liked to say I had, but sometimes would lose with little notice.
However, when searching for an interesting photo I could watch paint dry to get the image I was hoping for.
Early last week I was out looking for weather features in the Hartford area. I had often driven past the Ebony Horsewomen stables in the North End near Kenney Park but each time I stopped there were no programs going on. Tuesday afternoon was a different story.
When I first arrived I notice Marissa Elish, 17, and Angie Womack, 15, walking out to the fenced in area where the horses graze. The afternoon light was just getting low on the horizon and back lit this situation perfectly. I noticed a set of stairs directly in front of where the girls were head so I climbed to the top to get a nice overhead view of the scene. I was pleased with the first image I captured but wanted to spend some time with the students that frequent the place.
Walking around the grounds I came upon Damian Deberry, 9, leading Strawberry, to the barn under the watchful eye of Shayde Breedlove. There are plenty of farm animals on hand to keep an eye on you, like…
I was drawn to this image because of the vertical lines of the buildings, now I just had to wait for someone to walk between the two. Thank you Deka Lane who walked Sankofa back to the barn after giving dressage riding lessons. Lane has been at the Ebony Horsewomen program for about 10 years and is a master senior counselor. (It did take about 5 minutes for this to happen but I knew that the next riding lessons were happening at 4:30 so I took up my position at about 4:20)
Trudian Finnikin, 17, pets Hansome to keep him calm while he gets a grooming Tuesday afternoon. Finnikin has been with the Ebony Horsewomen program in Hartford for two years. I didn’t want to overexpose this image since I really like the rim-light effect on Hansome.
Moving 90 degrees from the previous photo I used the direct sunlight on Hansome to get this portrait of him eating his feed. I exposed for the highlights to capture rich detail and let the background fade to black.
When I entered the riding ring a was struck by the sliver of daylight created by the barn door being left open. When sixteen year old Naiomi Gurahoo walked Carter over to a step stool for mounting, she moved into the beam of light, and for a moment turned her head towards the door. Exposing for the highlights in this image allowed the background once again fade to black.
The first thing I do when arriving at a location is to look at the available light. Is there any natural light coming in the room or am I locked into using the light source of the room, in this case – fluorescent. Next I decide where I want to stand to compose the shot I’m hoping happens. Watching as the kids rode the horses around the ring it was evident that unless someone rode near the center of the ring I was not going to get anything worth while. When Tyrell Spence, 14, tried his hand riding Strawberry, a pony at the Ebony Horsewomen program, I knew I might come away with the image I envisioned. Strawberry, despite her size, is a very strong willed pony and if you don’t control her with some authority, she’ll show you who’s boss. On the second pass around the ring the two rode into the sunlight and turned towards me, I took about five frames in the sequence. Rick Hartford, our photo editor (this month – our staff rotates on a monthly basis), and I chose this photo. He pushed to get it on the cover of the Connecticut section but there was a photo with a story already laid out so it landed on B3.
I used a Nikon D300 body with a 17-55/2.8 lens set at 35mm. Shutter set at 1/500th, ISO 400, aperture 2.8.
Pro Tip: Sometimes on assignment you don’t have the luxury of waiting for the perfect photo to happen, but when you do, take advantage of it. If I had called it quits after arriving at the stables and capturing the first photo in the blog, I never would have stumbled upon the last one.
I’ve had the pleasure of photographing dress rehearsal at the Playhouse on Park a few times and each time I’m amazed at the talent and performance of the actors and crew.
The latest show was the production “The Mystery of Irma Vep” which required the two characters, Sean Harris and Rich Hollman, to play 8 different roles and make 39 quick costume changes. Tori Mintzer (C) applies makeup to Harris while Hollman slicks his hair down in preparation of wearing a variety of wigs.
Harris and Hollman get help from Sarah Smith (L) and Shushrusha Lamsal (R) fitting into their first costumes of the night. Velcro is sewed into the back of the outfits so the actors can quickly go back stage and change from one costume to the next with minimal delay.
Hollman, as Lord Edgar, proudly shows off the supposed werewolf he killed that haunts the grounds but is later informed he has killed just a wolf. The play involves ghosts, mummies, vampires and werewolves.
Harris, as Lady Enid, is comforted by Lord Edgar, Hollman, after she was attacked by a vampire. Hollman had to rush back stage to get out of the vampire costume and back into Lord Edgar, all along he carries on a conversation with Lady Enid from backstage while she tries to compose herself.
In the closing scene Harris emerges through a frame that usually holds a painting of Irma Vep, the former lady of the house and first wife to Lord Edgar, and screams hysterically towards the audience. Lights go down and act one ends.
Unfortunately I was unable to stay for the remainder of the show but from what I did encounter, the audience that saw the shows during January were treated to a great comedy as the two men masterfully portrayed their numerous parts.
Pro Tip: Theater lighting can be very challenging to say the least but the results can be dramatic if patient and the stage is well lit. Working backstage was the most difficult since where the actors were changing costumes was right behind a black curtain at the back of the set and the only lighting used was a dim blue light so the stagehands could find the props and next outfit.
Cameras used: Nikon D300s and D300
Lenses: 17-55/2.8 and 70-200/2.8
Shutter speeds varied from 1/4 of a sec. to 250th and ISO’s of 400 to 2500.