Behind the Scenes: The making of Perfect Ruin Book Cover, by Lauren DeStefano

A recent project for the Natural History Museum in LA, shooting butterflies. Nice to see it out in the world.

Shooting Big and Small

I post many images to Facebook about my wife’s and my weekend hikes around the San Francisco Bay area and beyond. For my wife, these 8 - 12mile jaunts are her power hikes, but for me, they are something more. They are my chance to search for some small piece of nature that has fallen to the ground in the process of decay.

In comparison to the quick, wide-angle landscapes I snap with the iPhone and post on Instagram, these objects are artfully crafted, ascertaining the best side and capturing that with the Phase One equipment and a macro lens. It is a process far more careful and deliberate, more intimate, than the casual point and shoot approach of my Instagram imagery.

Rather than applying one of the 20 general-purpose filters on a landscape shot as I do for Instagram, these pampered images are put through a meticulous retouching process in Photoshop, carefully inspected at 100% resolution, test printed and critiqued before I gingerly release them to the world.

If you put the starting and ending images sidebyside, the high level of processing becomes clear. But it doesn’t matter how much manipulation I do, all my images share a common thread: my passion to find the beauty in whatever is in front of me, with whatever tools I have in my hand.

During an average rainy season, the tree stumps should be at least 20 feet under water. Here is an outtake from a morning up at the continuing shrinking Folsom Lake.

Photographing James Cameron’s Deepsea Challange

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Last year I had the wonderful opportunity to photograph the “Deepsea Challenge”, the vessel that James Cameron used to explore the Mariana Trench.  While the assignment was simply about documenting the vessel sitting in storage in a warehouse, I was drawn to another section of the building: a walk-in refrigerator that housed the Pilot Sphere– a chamber made of 2.5 of steel with an internal diameter of only 43 (custom made for a 6-2 human to just barely fit).

My two older brothers, who served on cramped nuclear submarines during the final years of the Cold War and who have been scuba divers for over 30 years, would no doubt have been fascinated with the internals of this underwater explorer’s dream car.

But for me, looking at the sphere brought back the memory of two haunting moments in my life.  The first was when I was accidentally locked in a steamer trunk with the key in my pocket for a few minutes, at around the age of 7.  The second was my first (and last!) scuba dive, where I sucked up 45 minutes worth of air in 20 minutes.  Clearly, a pirate’s life is not for me.

As a photographer, I have a deep understanding of the perceptive effects of the camera lens.  But the lens of the human psyche, twisted by childhood fears, that’s another story.  While my brain knows this sphere was a piece of submergible genius sitting still, bathed in bright fluorescent lighting, the image on the printed page has become its darker and more threatening alter-ego.

Finding the commonality in a Soccer Ball and Cypress Seed Pod

The movement of water while washing a bowl

One aspect of photography that I have always enjoyed is the balance between the technical and creative. Over the past couple of months, in between commercial projects, I have been having fun capturing high-speed imagery of exploding beer bottles, light bulbs and condiment packets.

I collaborated with Ian Jones, a fellow photographer and gun owner to help me figure out how small of a projectile I needed to make a beer bottle explode.  Fortunately we only needed pellets and BBs.

Before shooting the beer and lightbulbs (gun and camera!), we developed some safety precautions: we placed a sheet of plexiglass to protect Ian from shrapnel while he stood less than 4 feet away from the subject, and we surrounded the set on all 4 sides with a thick 10’ x 10’  plastic tarp. We cut a small hole through the tarp for the camera lens to peek through into the set. The tests we did on the beer made shooting the squirting ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise and hot sauce a cinch.

To capture the moment, we used a microphone attached to a device that would set off the strobes when the gun went off.  This device enabled us to delay the triggering of the strobes by increments of 1/1000 of a second so we could dial in the exact moment of the explosion we wanted to capture.

Creatively, I took a different approach with the condiments. The beer and light bulb explosions were a bit more literal.  For the condiments, I took the liberty to be a little more esoteric with these images, making playful alterations to the color palette.

Who knows what will be next. Exploding watermelons?

Mari Andrews, an artist who often works natural objects into her sculpture and installations, has been collecting things off the ground while on hikes for almost 20 years. I have been to her studio on occasion and have always been amazed at the collection she has amassed: jars full of lichen, manzanita berries, cactus spikes, acorns, eucalyptus and cypress pods, soil from everywhere she has traveled, as well as a few from the non­plant arena such as newt skeletons, shedded cicada shells, snakeskins, her cat’s whiskers, petrified dinosaur dung and a hornet’s nest, just to name a few.

For me there is a kinship, as a collector of nature ­sourced elements for use in my own artwork, yet also a fascination with how varied and unique to the artist the end results can be. There is a similarity in that we both showcase the often ­unobvious beauty of the things nature has left behind, yet that variable we call creativity still allows each artist to infuse his or her own unique talents and end up with a piece singular to them.

For the past 2 years I have been wanting to schedule a shoot at Mari’s studio, and recently I was finally able to spend an afternoon photographing some of her collection. Here are a few shots from that visit.

To view the work of Mari Andrews, please click on the following link: www.mariandrews.com

BUGGED OUT AT NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM

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A couple of months ago I did a project for the Natural Museum of History of LA, photographing amphibians, insects and a lizard.  Working with the scientists was a necessary part of the project so they could handle the creatures in a delicate and safe manner. For the insects the scientists had to put them ‘on ice’, which caused them to be in a short term hibernation status in order to minimize their movements while being photographed. 

My favorite part of the whole experience was the opportunity to get into the labs and work closely with the different creatures. Because of the need to go into the scientists labs we had to set up a small temporary studio in their space. The most interesting part was to see all the different creatures in the scientists lab that are not out for public display.  
What I learned from working on this project is that you can contract a disease, chlamydia, from a Newt. The diseases that each animal uniquely carries required us to change surfaces for each creature to eliminate the possibility of cross contamination. 

Overall it was a fun and memorable experience.