Something new… Something fun: Why being open minded can be such a good thing

As many of you know, my photographic strengths are landscapes, nature shots and catching life unscripted. It’s what makes the world go round for me. There is great comfort in knowing what to expect and I can think out what my vision is. Recently, my comfort boundaries got blown to bits… in a very good way. 

Let’s go back in time a few weeks. Diane Parsons of Parsons Photography (Coventry, CT) had discusd how much fun it would be for me to join her on one of her shoots. If you’re not familiar with Diane, you need to see her work. Seriously… take a quick break and click on her link. I’ll wait. She is one of the best wedding photographers I know of and have had the pleasure of meeting!

So recently I get an email from her telling me she has an impromptu shoot and asked if I wanted to join. For me, it was an opportunity that doesn’t often sync up with my normal workload. But in this instance it did… and I jumped on it! One of my astute acquaintances mentioned to me recently, “Wait a second! Didn’t you just post a blog about how you don’t shoot weddings?” My response? “Why yes I did… and thank you for reading and remembering my blog posts! However this isn’t a wedding. It’s a location shoot for Diane and several fantastic vendors.  There is a difference between the two events… a BIG difference!”

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Hartford’s City Hall

For those of you who aren’t aware, these kinds of shoots involve a cadre of hard-working, talented vendors and specialists converging on a public location, usually with details subject to change. In our case, the shoot was originally supposed to be outdoors. But Mother Nature decided we needed to enjoy some indoor architecture instead. Diane worked her magic (and contact list) and scored us a two-hour slot at City Hall in Hartford.  This was the first time I had visited City Hall and was curious about why she repeated shot here. It quickly became clear with the three-storied atrium, marble accents and classic architectural accents (Click the images to view a larger version).

This is quite a departure from my normal shooting environment. I am more accustomed to slogging it out in the woods, on a hiking trail or through overgrown fields. Usually I am either alone or with my family. The opportunity to shoot with another photographer, especially a seasoned veteran is pretty much non-existent for me. So why the extreme departure in all aspects? Simple. I want to get better. I want to grow. I want to experience something that I wouldn’t if I stuck to my specialized subject matter.

Chatting with Diane is very enlightening for me. She comes from a completely different angle which shouldn’t be a big surprise given that our two disciplines are significantly different… the proverbial “Apples vs. Oranges” if you will. We spent the time before everyone else arrived discussing mind-sets, settings, and technique while setting up and scouting the location for our more promising compositions. My mind was spinning from the knowledge dump and our model and team hadn’t even gotten there yet!

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Shoes provided by Mary Magdeline’s

We were getting our lenses prepped when the entourage sweeps in…specifically the “Beauty Entourage” team of Ashley Stone (stylist, owner of Salon Alexander and a contestant on a reality TV show), and Iralis Stone, make-up artist (the initial makeup was done by Rachel Bastille, also from the “Beauty Entourage”). Our model, Joasia Tomczyk, is already wearing the stunning dress from Stars of Avon. Following close behind are shoes galore from Mary Magdeline’s out of NY! A quick round of fine touches to the makeup and accessories on Joasia and we were off to the races!

Diane instantly jumped into gear and had the first composition set within minutes, easily showing her experience with this kind of shoot. Off Camera Lights angled properly to give the right amount of fill light, composed the shot in her viewfinder, adjusted her position as needed, all within seconds. At this point, I was laying back a bit so I could observe what she was doing. It’s amazing what you can learn just by passively watching. During a shoot like this, especially as a second shooter, you have to be paying attention. Stopping the shoot to have a technical discussion with the primary shooter doesn’t fly when you only have a limited amount of time at the location and other people are waiting on you. That’s not to say there wasn’t any communication between Diane and I. But what was said, was done discretely and quickly so as not to distract and to keep our model focused.

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Ashley looks on as Diane takes a fantastic shot.

My personal goal for this shoot was to learn what I could through practical experience, not just from a technical photographic aspect, but also from a communication and management aspect. How you communicate with the other vendors is so important. Keeping the mood light, but professional seemed to be the key on this day. And getting everyone’s input regarding their area of expertise is equally paramount. It quickly became obvious how well everyone gelled together… almost as if everyone were reading each others’ minds. Pretty amazing and humbling to witness, especially for a photographer like me who is used to being a lone wolf on the hiking trails.

One of my self-appointed tasks was to catch a “Behind the scenes” perspective in addition to getting alternative angles of Joasia for Diane. Not everyone does this, by the way. But to me, it provides a few added benefits. It gives the viewer visual insight about the setup, location and crew involved in the shoot. All to often, each person on the crew is so focused on their job (as well they should be) that they sometimes don’t see things from a different vantage point. So seeing the “Behind the scenes” shots can be rewarding for them. Getting these shots was reinforced as a positive thing to me when Joasia commented to us that she doesn’t get to see what goes on during a shoot outside of what she is doing, and that it was really great for her to get that perspective. For someone who is not familiar with photography (or any of the other trades such as makeup, hairstyling, wardrobe, etc). the “Behind the scenes” images provide insight into how much work, effort and energy is behind a shoot like this…food for thought the next time you pick up a bridal magazine. These kinds of shots are also great for remembering the event… selected locations, lighting, and other important characteristics.

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Joasia hamming it up while Ashley updates her Facebook status during a break.

The shoot is going full steam ahead and I’m thoroughly enjoying the experience. While Diane is taking her primary shots, I scurry around looking for unique angles… running up stairs and shooting from across the atrium, to lying on the ground to get some of the fantastic architecture in the shot, I’m pulling out the stops. I don’t care what anyone thinks, I’m just doing what I know of to be creative. I’m not sure exactly when, but I started noticing that we were getting some really curious people standing near by watching. Men dressed in pressed suits, women in business attire, people coming in off the street, maintenance guys… everyone took some time out of their busy day to check out this merry band of production happening in an environment that most folks wouldn’t expect. I mean, who does a photo shoot, especially one of a bridal theme, in Hartford City Hall? We do folks! We do!

Throughout the day, we ended up shooting in four separate areas in the atrium. As we finished up in one area, Joasia would take a well deserved break, and the rest of us would prep the next area. Props would be arranged, Diane would figure out how she wanted to approach the next scene, Ashley would touch up Joasia’s hair, Iralis would meticulously touch up the makeup, Gina would help arrange the shoes as needed, and I, well… I was trying to help Diane move lights, assist where needed and snap some more of the “Behind the scenes” goodness. Here are some of the shots captured throughout the day:

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Iralis is touching up Joasia's makeup during one of the breaks.

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Ashley works her magic on Joasia's hair.

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Diane shows Joasia how the shots are looking.

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Last minute adjustments before the shoot resumes.

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Diane helping Joasia into place.

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The shoes were a huge hit... we were told that all the office women were wondering how they could buy them!

A "Behind the scenes" look at the revolving door scene.

Before I knew it, we used up our two-hour window and had to start packing up. It was a highly productive two hours in all aspects and a fantastic opportunity to learn on the fly. It’s refreshing to get the chance to work along side of professionals who know what they’re doing and do what they do very well! I am grateful for Diane to offer the opportunity to second shoot for her, for giving me carte blanche in the creativity department and for her great input for model shoots and post production. If you haven’t seen it yet, I urge you to check out Diane’s blog post about the day here (there are a bunch of her shots to enjoy there).

Special thanks go out to Joasia, Ashley, Iralis and Gina for being so gracious and a lot of fun to work with! Your professionalism made the day go so smooth and allowed me to feel right at home.

So it just goes to show that sometimes it is a good thing to venture beyond your comfort zone and throw yourself into a new situation. The challenge you put in front of yourself can result in some pretty fun times and a bucket-load of creative and professional growth!


SiteHartford City Hall, Hartford, CT
DressesStars of Avon, Avon, CT
ModelJoasia Tomczyk
HairAshley Stone,Beauty Entourage, Newington, CT
MakeupRachel Bastille, Beauty Entourage, Newington, CT
ShoesMary Magdeline’s, NY
Primary PhotographyDiane Parsons of Parsons Photography, Coventry, CT

2 responses to “Something new… Something fun: Why being open minded can be such a good thing

  1. Dan,

    It was my pleasure as well as honor to work with you. Thank you very much for wonderful shoot. The amazing photos you have captured of me are breath taking and behind the scene photos allowe me to have memories that will last a life time.

    I am happy you decided to step out of your comfort zone and tried different things. I hope and wish you will continue on this new and exciting journey, as the talent you have is clear .

    Thank you,

    Joasia Tomczyk

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