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Traverse City Wine Tastings

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Over Memorial Day weekend, my fiancé and I went up to Traverse City to visit some friends who had moved up there in February.  Although my fiancé might disagree, I really didn’t have much of an idea of what to expect once we were up there.  I was looking forward to seeing Chris and Elitza’s new home, as I had seen some of the gorgeous views overlooking the bay from their front porch, but otherwise I was envisioning just kind of a chill Memorial Day weekend.  While we hadn’t planned to, we were impressed enough with what the Leelanau Peninsula had to offer that we ended up buying ALL the wine for our upcoming nuptials.

I had heard rumblings about how the Leelanau Peninsula had become home to some vineyards, but I really didn’t have a clue as to just how far the wine of this region had come in the last few years.  Thanks to Chris and Elitza, we had a great time exploring a few of their favorite wineries and tasting what the peninsula had to offer…and we ended up buying ALL THE WINE and more.

Since I knew we were going to be in and out of several places, I wanted to travel pretty light with my camera.  I decided to go with my 50mm f/1.8 and an old 24mm f/2 manual focus lens.  I knew the 50 would let me do anything I needed to do, but if we were going to be in a small place I thought the 24 would come in handy.  My only reservation was that it’s an old, old lens and probably wouldn’t do well on a D800.  Oh well – I figured this trip would be a good place to experiment and this wasn’t a paid gig, so I wasn’t out anything if the shots were less than perfect.

Our first stop was at Tandem Ciders, a place that make a very tasty hard cider.  We had 4 varieties and after  a very exhaustive tasting session (by exhaustive, I mean crowded and delicious) we decided to buy a bottle of the Pretty Penny and the Scrumpy.  The latter of the two, I am forgetting the full name, and it is not on the normal list of featured ciders.

Our next stop was at 45 North which proved to be our most indulgent stop.  One of the things people say about the Leelanau Peninsula is that it’s really hard to produce a good red wine.  The good people at 45 North have come up with a variety that defies this saying.  Veronica and I tried the 45 Red and were impressed with the smooth, oaky finish of the wine.  It may not be for everyone, but given the outdoor wedding in the woods we’re having next month, we felt it was perfect…and we bought 4 cases.

The sign and tasting room at 45 North.

The sign and tasting room at 45 North.

One of the vineyards at 45 North.

One of the vineyards at 45 North.

Our next stop – well the next stop that I can remember, was Northern Latitudes Distillery.  The distillery featured mostly spirits distilled right on the peninsula and was a bit of a different tasting.  We had heard that they had some vodkas that didn’t have the personality completely filtered out of them – that you could actually taste some of the ingredients. This may not make for a fraternity favorite, but if you’re into diversifying you pallet, this is an intriguing prospect.  Happily, the distillery did not disappoint.  The vodka was delicious as far as vodkas go and we were not only surprised, but delighted to see a horseradish flavored vodka!  We have only begun to imagine the possibilities for bloody mary’s.  We also sampled a gin that solicited a response of “Oooo!  WOW!” from the 3 of us (Veronica is not a fan of gin).   I have been looking for a summer alternative to my go-to spirit of choice, bourbon, and the gin shows great promise.  And that brings me to the one disappointment – the bourbon.  The bourbon they had at the tasting was actually not bad.  I would put it on par with a Maker’s Mark or maybe even Buffalo Trace, but I was riding high on the Michigan produced alcohol train and the bourbon was made in Indiana.  In all fairness, they did say that they have plans to produce it in Michigan, in-house, but to be considered a bourbon, it needs to age 2 years. I should also note that I think that in order to be considered a true bourbon, it needs to come from Kentucky, but I digress.  I will be looking forward to trying it again when it becomes an official Michigan product.

The sign greeting you at Northern Latitudes Distillery.

The sign greeting you at Northern Latitudes Distillery.

 

A still at Northern Latitudes Distillery's tasting room.

A still at Northern Latitudes Distillery’s tasting room.

Our next stop was the L. Mawby winery.  Our hosts were excited about this stop, not only because Elitza was going to be working there, but because this particular winery produces fizzy wine and the views are amazing in all directions.  I am not a huge lover of Champagne, but I do love a Sunday morning mimosa from time to time.  L. Mawby may have made me appreciate Champagne in its pure form a little more.  The samplings had a very good balance of being somewhat dry while still retaining some of the fruitiness.  What struck me as particularly interesting was the presence of a red bubbly.  Even more impressive was the fact that in some varieties, the winery uses the authentic method of producing the bubbles (the name of the process escapes me), not just pumping on CO2.

Just one of the views from L. Mawby Vineyard and tasting room.

Just one of the views from L. Mawby Vineyard and tasting room.

I used the 24mm for the shot below and I have to say I am impressed at how sharp the image is wide open at f/2 on a D800.  I’m still on the fence as to whether or not I would use the lens on a paid job, but I am pleased with the results I was getting with it.

My L. Mawby tasting from L. Mawby Winery - naturally.

My L. Mawby tasting from L. Mawby Winery – naturally.

Although it wasn’t a winery or distillery, our stop into Fishtown in Leland was an enjoyable visit.  Fishtown is one of the last remaining fishing shanty towns along Lake Michigan and the buildings have presumably been preserved as they must have looked 100 years ago.  Most of the buildings are tourist shops now, but there are a few shops where you can get delicious smoked fish right out of the big lake.  It doesn’t hurt that there is a large patio bar that serves food and drinks right on the river leading into the harbor.

Some of the historic shops at Fish Town.

Some of the historic shops at Fishtown.

 

The Inn and dam along the river in Fish Town.

The Inn and dam along the river in Fishtown.

 

An old fish net and one of the shanties at Fish Town.

An old fish net and one of the shanties at Fishtown.

 

Looking out on the harbor going out to Lake Michigan at Fish Town.

Looking out on the harbor going out to Lake Michigan at Fishtown.

 

Our last stop on the list of wineries was Black Star Farms.  Chris and Elitza had touted this as the “best for last” destination due to the fact that there were horses and furry pigs at this winery.  Black Star did not disappoint, in fact I was so enamored in the tasting that I didn’t take any pictures of the vineyards or tasting room.  The vineyards leading into the winery looked like something out of Napa Valley, lining a long winding road leading to the complex.  I guess you’ll just have to visit to get the idea.  Anyway, Veronica and I had found a perfect complement to our red wine selection from 45 North with the Arcturos 2012 Pinot Noir Rose.  Yes, I know a rose isn’t necessarily a white, but for a June wedding on a potentially hot day, we decided that this was a good choice and our well-rounded tour guides agreed whole-heartedly.  However the real winner from Black Star was the Arcturos 2011 barrel-aged Chardonnay.  This also had an oaky finish with some great fruit notes.  We decided that a bottle must come home with us.

 

The real fun was exploring the grounds of the farm at Black Star.  First we discovered some chickens, then the furry pigs.   While I had never actually seen a furry pig before, I imagine the reason they are not as prominent as regular pigs is that the curly locks make rooting in the mud a pitfall for anyone keeping these animals as show pigs.  There were several horses and this is where we spent most of our time because Elitza and Veronica LOVE horses.  To be honest, they are quite magnificent creatures.  Even if one decides that Elitza’s new sundress would make for a delicious snack.  This brings me to the biggest photographer fail of the trip as I was so shocked at what was happening, that I just stared and didn’t take any pictures of her wrestling the dress out of the horses maw.  I guess sometimes the memories of an event are more priceless than the pictures to prove what happened – yeah, let’s go with that.

 

A seemingly innocent and beautiful horse at Black Star Farms...

A seemingly innocent and beautiful horse at Black Star Farms…

 

...that had a taste for new sun dresses.

…that had a taste for new sun dresses.

Black Star Farms also produces cheeses and while we had wanted to go home with a few varieties, the cheese store was closed for the day.  Regardless, it was still kind of cool to see that they had an actual cheese cave.  I tried to convince everyone that they were wrong and that it was just a human-size hobbit hole.  I was out-voted, and the consensus among the majority was that it is indeed a cheese cave.

Hobbit hole or cheese cave?  You be the judge.

Hobbit hole or cheese cave? You be the judge.

Anyway, the trip was well worth every minute.  It was nice to be able to go explore some new things and I can see how a weekend trip to do some wine tastings might have to become a regular thing.  How regular?  I don’t know.  It depends on home many jobs I can book over the next few months and years, as it can get expensive.  It’s also a good feeling to know that Michigan is capable of producing some wines that can hold their own against some produced in Napa Valley or France.

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The Capital City Film Festival

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It’s the beginning of April and for many Lansing residents, that can only mean one thing:  the Film Festival is Neigh!  Yours Truly will be among the people working on the production crew, so if by chance you’re trying to get a hold of me, please wait until Monday – I promise I’ll be in touch!

For those who don’t know the Capital City Film Festival is now in it’s third year and is growing.  It was started by a handful of very adventurous people, who threw caution to the wind and went to great lengths to put on a world-class event.  Among them is good friend of mine who first made me realize that films take what I love about still photography and combine it with sound and motion to create a powerful story-telling medium.  Since then, I always look to films for inspiration for my photography, and it’s exciting to have a collection of films come into town that break the traditional hollywood mold with some fresh ideas.  There have been submissions from all over the world and if you haven’t made plans to go you really should.  More information can be found here.

To me, the appeal of the motion picture world is the sheer amount of consideration that needs to be put into each component of the film to successfully tell a story.  Every aspect helps to set the tone – lighting, sound, dialogue, composition, camera movements…the list goes on and on.  Yet, to poorly execute any one aspect results in a story that fails to suspend disbelief.  When I think about films in that regard, and when I see something presented on the screen, it really makes me appreciate he work the film makers put into the film.  When I stop to consider all the work that goes into these (and I know first-hand what goes into this kind of media) it really makes me glad that I am a humble photographer – I don’t need to have a crew of 20 or so people to go out and create something…although sometimes it would be nice!

What I like to do is try to think about my photography in a cinematic manner.  If I could take a single frame from a 2 hour film that would explain the entire point of the movie, what would that still image look like?  Admittedly, this is nearly an impossible task, but if I am able to make the viewer stop and think about the events and emotions depicted in a single frame and extrapolate that out into their own storyline, then I know I will have created an image that comes close to that goal.  Imagery is such a powerful vehicle to convey emotions, thoughts, ideas, actions, that the possibilities that still exist with still images continue to excite me. It’s true that we are exposed to more images now than at any other given point in history, yet there is still so much unexplored territory.

This is why it’s good to have events that explore the arts – not only do the arts let us understand and contemplate the human condition, but they also inspire innovation.  I applaud the organizers of this event and I hope this is their best turn-out yet.  If you’re reading this and you happen to be looking for something to inspire you to do great things, or if you’re looking for something that goes above and beyond the ordinary means of entertainment, I encourage you to check out the Capital City Film Festival. It’s fun, it’s awesome, it’s family-friendly and you just might make some new Facebook friends!

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The Almighty Headshot

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Headshots.  At some point as a working professional you’re going to need them.  It seems like such a simple concept – a basic shot of your mug so people can associate a face with your name, in many cases without even meeting you.  Yet, given what’s at stake and how important that first impression can be, is a headshot really as simple as it seems?

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I think a lot of people do headshots begrudgingly and have the mentality that it’s something you tolerate and have done just for the sake of having it done.  Once you have your headshot,  you can check it off the list as something  you no longer have to worry about doing for at least a few years.  That’s OK.  As someone who chose specifically to be behind the camera, I am probably the classic example of someone who takes this notion to the extreme…almost to a detriment as seen below:

Creepy_HEadshot

Don’t worry. This is not what you’ll see if you book a headshot session with me.

However, taking this approach really sells the concept of a headshot short, as it – in a way – undermines what a headshot is actually supposed to do for you.  If you look at it from the standpoint of someone viewing your headshot, you’ll probably want to take a few minutes to think about the first impression your headshot will make.  For instance “What kind of headshot defines me as a person?”  It sounds kind of silly but unlike the dining set in the movie Fight Club, your headshots should, and do, define you as a person – to some extent.

A headshot is very often the first visual impression a person gets of you.  Everything in that photograph plays a part in forming that impression.  Expression, clothing, environment – all of these factors come together to form that critical first impression that viewers will use to form an opinion of the kind of person you are – if even subconsciously.  Kind of scary, isn’t it?  Well here’s the good news – you have the opportunity to control ALL of those things to carefully craft a headshot that will not only impress, but ensure a meaningful and lasting first impression.

I had the opportunity to explore this concept when Michael Frederick from The Frederick Group contacted me about a headshot session.  Michael told me that he was overdue for some updated headshots and needed a series he could use for his website and other types of correspondence.  What really excited me about this session was the fact that he wanted to do some shots at the Capitol Building.  I haven’t had many opportunities to shoot in the Capitol and I’ve been wanting to do a session there for quite some time.  (Well, inside the Capitol I should say – I’ve shot around the exterior of the Capitol plenty of times.)  It would be a perfect chance to get a series of photos that range from basic headshots to environmental portraits.

Michael_Frederick-3065

For the studio shots I knew I would be taking a more conservative series of photos.  These shots would be the “safe” shots to be used in situations where a persona-defining shot might be considered excessive.  Much like writing a resume, sometimes a headshot should be tailored to the specific job.  The studio would serve to provide a smorgasbord of photos to use for these purposes – correspondence, bios, press releases, etc.

The first series we shot was against a simple white background. Not only is the high key background a nice clean presentation, it’s also ideal for extracting the subject should the need for inserting the subject into a composite image arise.  The white gives flexibility for use on web pages where white is a primary design aspect and it’s also easy to change the color to virtually any color pallet.

Michael_Frederick-2971

The next series was against the grey textured wall in my studio.  With a little splash of light, it becomes a classic old-masters-ish background.  Considering this was left behind by a previous tenant (who was NOT a photographer), the fact that it has become one of my favorite features in the studio is a bit serendipitous.  Anyway, I think the results speak for themselves.  These shots could be used for some of the same uses described above, but it’s an entirely different look.  It’s a classic professional headshot that is appropriate for a number of uses.

Michael_Frederick-3025

And now for the grand finale: the Capitol!  First, shooting in the Capitol wasn’t something I was familiar with.  I wasn’t even sure I could do a session in there without some sort of high-level permission.  However, Michael was kind enough to make the necessary calls and get permission to shoot there.  Second, I was concerned about getting the gear up to where I would need it and powering it.  Fortunately there are elevators, but I didn’t want to run extension cords everywhere considering the sheer amount of tours given there on a daily basis and risk a potential tripping hazard.  For this reason I chose to take my speedlight kit.  It’s lightweight and battery powered, the latter being both a blessing and a curse.

I kept the lighting pretty simple and made sure to balance with the (very low) ambient lighting in the rotunda.  The tungsten ambient created what I think is a nice contrast with the daylight strobes and really makes Michael pop from the background.  The pinkish-cream colored walls really intensify the warm tones of the ambient light.  If I had the connections to hire Morgan Freeman to provide a narrative I’ll bet he would say “Michael Frederick – an honest man willing to venture into the intense fires of government to fight for the will of the people.”  (Imagine it in the Shawshank Redemption voice.)

Michael_Frederick-3046

Michael Frederick – an honest man willing to venture into the intense fires of government to fight for the will of the people.
~Morgan Freeman (I wish!)

It’s an extreme metaphor and a very dynamic picture…and technically, not even a headshot.  But if the intent is to get attention and create and impression, then this image certainly does it.  I would say this shot is great for use on the businesses website landing page.  The following image has another specific use in mind:

Michael_Frederick-3061

Yep – you guessed it.  The Facebook cover image.  In fact here would be a good place to mention that headshots don’t need to conform to the traditional 8×10 aspect ratio.  With the advent of social media, the image size requirements are all over the board.  If you’re planning to use  your headshots for social media, the return on investment from consulting a designer on all the various image requirements can pay off big time.

While I’m on the subject of planning, as one of my favorite photography professors once said “you don’t take pictures, you create photographs.” The creation part of that implies a process of pre-planning, execution and final use.  Believe me, the first part of that process is hands-down the most important part as it assures the success of the last two steps in the process.  You as the client have a part in the process, so I encourage you to feel free to discuss any ideas with your photographer.  You might be surprised what ideas may develop with a short conversation with an enthusiastic photographer. Instead of dreading having your headshots taken, you might actually come to the session excited about the results!

I hope you’ve been inspired to look at your headshots in a different way.  Headshots should be an exciting opportunity to show the world who you are when you don’t have the chance to do it in person.  With a little creativity and planning, your headshots can help you stand out from the crowd.

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The All American Hot Rod

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I don’t know what kind of inspiration struck me recently, but there was something in my head that I just had to do – photograph my Dad’s hot rod.  Maybe it was Independence Day, maybe it was attending a car show recently.  Perhaps, it was just something I always wanted to do and I made up my mind to just finally do it. Either way, I finally coerced my dad into letting me come out and take some photos of his pride and joy.

Dads_Truck_750-4316-2

I’ve never been as die hard of a “car guy” as many people, but having worked in automotive pretty extensively before jumping into photography (and being from an automotive town), an appreciation of nice cars is just part of my being.  For my dad, automotive was his life for 30 or so years and building a hot rod from the ground up was a passion he put a lot of time, thought and effort into.  When he acquired this truck, it was in pieces – the box, a cab full of holes, a motor in need of repair (actually the whole drivetrain) and a few miscellaenous boxes of parts all came home on a trailer.  We all thought it was an over-priced junk pile.  Long story short, after a few years he managed to produce a masterpiece and is wining all kinds of awards at car shows across the state.

Americans love their cars.  Perhaps even more, they love to make them their own.  The idea that one can take a factory produced vehicle and modify it any way they choose represents the spirit of inginuity and personal expression so often associated with the American Dream.   That, combined with a nostalgia of America’s manufacturing heyday, is one of the most alluring things about building a hot rod.  Americans like to make things.  We love the idea that we can take a pile of junk and turn it into something beautiful and functional.

The pride that comes from the completion of a project is what drives us and what what we appreciate when we see a meticulously detailed car that has amassed countless hours of work.  At it’s core, hot rodding is the combined talents of engineering, problem solving, hands-on manipulation, abstract thinking, conceptualization, art direction, and design all on an individual level.  It’s also the origin of the DIY, maker mentality.  Americans like to experiment.  We like to tinker and we like to make improvements.  Most of all we like to dream and work to fulfill those dreams.

Dads_Truck_750-4340

I am probably going off on a tangent here, but perhaps my goal with doing this shoot was to try to express some of the elements of the American Dream in a single image.  For some, building a hot rod represents the intangible benefits of living in a country where we are able to make our dreams a reality.  For others, hot rods are inspiration for dreams of their own.  For me, well, I just love to photograph things that look nice and go fast.

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Days Like These with Jeff Daniels

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As a photographer, one can think about life as a series of different kinds of days. Some days are for marketing. Some days are for paperwork. Some days are for editing and some days are for actually shooting. However some days come along and make you understand why all the other days are so important.

 

This manifested itself in the form of a call from Steve Curran, Creative Director at Harvest Creative Services. Steve explained to me that they were finalizing the production of a new album for a client of theirs and needed some photos for the CD artwork. This particular client was none other than Jeff Daniels. To say this call was a pleasant surprise would be an understatement.

Upon discussing the concepts for the artwork, Steve said he wanted to try to put several images together to portray the multiple facets of Jeff’s personality. I came up with a few ideas and ran them by Steve and he, in turn ran them by Jeff, and we had a plan.

Speaking of plans, when we talked about the timing of the shoot we had discussed that it would be pretty relaxed. Basically we’d arrive at 3 p.m. and we just had to be done before the Tigers game started sometime later that evening – or so we thought. It turns out the game started at 3:30 and Jeff, a true Tigers fan, had planned on watching it. No pressure, right?

After meeting Jeff and doing my best not to be a little star-struck, Steve, Jeff and I decided we would do some shots (photos, not the alcoholic kind) in Jeff’s under construction newly built recording studio and a few shots outdoors in a natural setting. The studio had a room on the upper level that was a perfect blank slate to present a simple, clean backdrop so that the focus would be on Jeff and his guitar (which is a very cool custom Martin, BTW). I first found lighting inspiration from a 40 watt CFL hanging from the ceiling. Jeff just happened to stand in a spot relative to the light that presented an interesting picture. I guess being an accomplished film and theatre actor, he has a knack for finding his light.

 

After the experiment with the CFL, it was time to get down to business. To move fast, I got out my speed lights and set up a basic 2-light scenario. Since the room was a light cream color, using any type of bounce or soft modifier would have rendered a flat, soft look to the photos, which was the opposite of what we were going for. I decided to keep the strobes naked and direct to create some drama.

For the shot which was to be the CD cover, I needed to capture five shots, identically framed, with five different lighting scenarios. To do this, I simply moved the key light in an arc around Jeff. This gave me side-lighting from left and right, Rembrandt from left and right and butterfly from front and above. In order for the composite image to work, Jeff was going to have to stay perfectly still for each lighting switch. He was a rock. I did this a couple different times and we had the studio shots in the can.

 

Next we moved outside. The outside shots were pretty straightforward. Just a series of shots of Jeff playing the guitar sitting on a chair in the middle of the road. Because, why not? The more I shoot under it the more I like the challenge of available light. It forces one to look for the spots of light that work best for the subject. As luck would have it the day was slightly overcast with a high haze, which pretty much is hitting the jackpot for a photographer. The most challenging part of this part of the shoot was me doing my best not to fall into the lake on the side of the road (and look like desperate paparazzi).

After that it was time to pack up. I grabbed my gear and went to the house to say goodbye. Jeff shook my hand and thanked me for being so easy to work with, which kind of blew my mind, given how easy he was to work with. Jeff is the kind of guy who is so down to earth, that when you meet him it’s almost like he doesn’t know he’s famous. Just another working stiff who happens to be a damn good actor and damn good musician.

When all was said and done, I think I was pulling out of the driveway around 4:15-4:30. I felt pretty good about the shots we had taken and I think Jeff still got to watch the lion’s share of the Tigers game. All in all it was a damn good day.

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A Day with Nicole Curtis of Rehab Addict

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Last week I had the surprise opportunity to photograph Nicole Curtis from the DIY Network show Rehab Addict.  I’ll admit that at first I wasn’t that familiar with her show, as my wife and I had only a couple of weeks prior joined the rest of the free world and finally subscribed to cable television for the first time in several years.  Upon finding out just who it was I would be photographing, I did what any self-respecting photographer would do and started doing some research on my subject.  It didn’t take very long for Rehab Addict to become one of our new favorite shows.

Nicole Curtis 1

Hair and make up by Miranda Knott

What sets Nicole’s show apart from the vast majority of other remodeling shows on cable TV is the fact that she goes to great lengths to restore homes to their former glory by painstakingly finding the original materials that are true to the era in which the home was built.  This happens to mirror the philosophy my wife and I have when it comes to older homes.  While my wife and I are merely dreaming about the day we will be able to take on a project like this, Nicole is actively doing this in Minnesota and in her home city of Detroit (Lake Orion).  In addition, Nicole gets just as dirty as anyone else on her crew.  She is one of the few personalties that will actually tackle the work herself as opposed to hiring crews to do all the dirty work.

Nicole Curtis 2

Hair and make up by Miranda Knott

I was associated with this gig thanks to a call from Pace .  This was part of a campaign they were doing to promote the Step Forward Michigan program, a program through MSHDA which provides struggling homeowners with assistance in keeping on top of their mortgages.  Nicole was kind enough to lend her assistance to the campaign.  I was there to take still images ranging from shots on white to editorial-style shots to behind the scenes shots of the video that was being produced…simultaneously.  This was going to be a busy, hectic day to say the least!

For anyone that’s ever dealt with trying to take stills while working alongside a video crew, you know that due to the sheer volume of shots that need to be captured and multiple set-ups that need to happen, that the chances of things being less than ideal are high.  The video guys have their shots that they need to get, the photo guy has shots he needs to get and to each craft, their shots are the priority.  Fortunately, the video crew that Pace hired were extremely gracious and flexible and while at times it was a bit crazy, we were able work well together.

Nicole Curtis 3

Hair and make up by Miranda Knott

Overall, it was an incredibly exciting day for me.  Not only did I get to photograph an amazing personality, but I also got to witness someone who brings a passion for restoration taking on a project in arguably one of the most devastated areas in the country.  If you’ve been following the news, then you know about the headlines Detroit is making lately.  It’s easy to focus on the negative aspects of Detroit, but we should all remember what an amazing city Detroit was in its prime.  This is evidenced by the structures that remain.  Even just walking through an old house damaged by arson (which is very common in the D), you can get a sense of the pride and grandeur that existed in this city.  However, if you look at what’s really going on in Detroit, you know that it’s not just about devastation and ruin-porn.  There is an undeniable spirit in Detroit that, in spite of being beaten down and bankrupt, is ready to show the world that it is in the process of reinventing itself.  The population may be smaller and the demographics may change, but when enough ordinary people refuse to let things crumble into ruin, it gives hope that Detroit will thrive again.

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