Somewhere in the middle of last year the resident stylist here Nicole asked me about doing a session with her sister-in-law Kate. What they wanted to do was something along the lines of an image that was in the style of the famed Art Nouveau painter Alphonse Mucha.

His work was not just synonymous with the genre but can be argued it was the greatest influence of it. It permeated advertising and intermingled with all the other arts. Even for those who don’t know the name, they know the work.

For the shoot we settled on a series called the four seasons as our starting point. We zeroed in on the first panel and began planning.

We wanted the images to actually be as if painted as well as have more than one option. Building multiple sets wouldn’t be practical so these would be digitally executed. This meant there would be more work after the photography session, much more as it turns out.

We all finally got together in the first week of December. Nicole had prepared some ornately styled wigs for Kate to wear and they began work on her makeup. I began staging the minimal set which was on neutral gray paper. I added a few elements to assist in the images but would later find they never made it into the frame.  Here’s Kate and the actual raw photo that would eventually become her image.

This is where we ended up:

This is quite a departure from what we normally do.  To illustrate it with more detail here’s Kate’s lovely face from the initial photo through the final image. 

The process took me through normal processing and enhancement through literally painting on the image (digitally of course) Notice the hair change and the border around Kate. This is something that struck me with so many of Mucha’s works, key elements are outlined. Needless to say this takes some time. In fact the entire timeline on one of these ends up being about 8 hours. For the background art I created the leaves from scratch.

Other elements were from stock art which I licensed (paid for their use). Some will take things of the internet to use. For these images I feel many people will want to have fine art prints made to hang and the thing about web images is this, they are small, blown up they do not have the detail suitable for a large print. Below is art that became part of the background. This was through iStock. Did you know I personally create and sell stock photography with a number of online companies?

We recently had another session with this theme and here I have more examples of what goes into one. This is Jenny Jayne. The animation below show some initial editing to coax some details.

As I got ready to begin formatting the art I realized I would need more fabric for below Jenny’s feet. I also had the flowers to consider and actually ran down to the florist that’s next door for some advise on what specifically those flowers in the art might be. While we didn’t have a concrete consensus on what they actually were, the florist offered me some poinsettias they had left over from the holidays which I brought back to the studio to shoot as component art. Later once the flowers were added I would distort the petals to alter their appearance. In time much of the components would be painted on to further the “art” appearance.Below you can see some of the progression and the various elements I experimented with.

When I had several variations and treatments I presented them to Jenny for her to choose her favorite.

We are now offering these sessions to our clients. These are incredibly different than anything else we’ve ever offered. For those who’ve shot with us the process is about 2 hours in the studio with an hour of Makeup and Hair by Nicole of Making Faces Professional followed by a one hour shoot with me. Clients leave with an SD card with hundreds and hundreds of images (600-800 on average). Many go home and find something they love and share it immediately.

These sessions will actually only entail about a half hour in makeup and hair as a pre-styled wig is utilized. The shoot portion will also be able to be done in under a half hour. Clients will only take home a few dozen images with which they will then choose their favorite to be transformed.

While the session itself is  quick by our normal shoot standards significantly more time is spent afterwards creating the finished art.

But by many pinup and boudoir studio standards, the pricing for this  session is actually comparable to a basic shoot. You can choose either theme shown here (your face and body in these “settings”), get your styling and session and a finished artwork for $325 plus tax.  Additionally there is an option for a one of a kind work where every single element is created just for you and will not be repeated for anyone else at $500.

Are you ready to be transformed into a work of art?

Contact us via FB to start your session planning.


Scott Church 10th Annual Legacy Gallery Show – Best Color

Most recent posts here have been in support of upcoming shoots and of the informational variety for the studio. This isn’t. This is my thoughts on a gallery show I recently had work in. Friday January 6th I took part in Scott Church’s 10th Annual Legacy show at the Mulberry Arts Studio in Lancaster PA. 

For those who don’t know the name, Scott Church is a Lebanon PA based photographer who enjoys quite a bit of renown and whose accomplishments if listed would run on for days. Let’s just say his work has graced the covers of Penthouse, and Hustler (this year). He doesn’t just shoot that stuff, he does families, weddings, you name it. I was first exposed to his work years ago, easily 10-15 at this point, via Model Mayhem I think. It was, and is, the sort of work that stays in your memory. About 6 years ago I reached out to Scott as I was putting together the Taboo Editions of my magazine Retro Lovely, the naughty stuff. I was excited that he was supportive of it and agreed to permit me to include some of his work. I remember a phone conversation we had where he recounted some early group books he put together. It turns out one of those very books was the first publication to feature the work of the now very well known Viva Van Story. Viva’s naughty work was also well represented in the Taboo Editions of mine. Some months later when one of the issues with Scott’s work was ready and printed I stopped by his old studio in Lebanon to drop some off. It was my first time meeting him in person. When you meet someone vs. just correspond it’s always interesting in how your perceptions can change. In person you can instantly see how Scott’s personality is a huge component of his success. It’s not just his work. It’s him. And the two aspects combined become greater than those two parts. I’m not trying to blow smoke up his ass either, just sharing my thoughts (I think he’d appreciate that statement) . As smartphones began to replace physical print publications and magazine sales were decimated… I lost touch with Scott and have not been in touch in years. Here and there I will work with models he regularly does as well, Millie Mie, Ludella Hahn, Shanin Jean, and when I do I will always tell them to say hello for me the next time they work with Scott. But I’m not checking in with him myself, not engaging online. I know he’s busy. I’m busy. I also very well know what it is to be in a position of influence  and be overwhelmed by people wanting to be your best friend because they want something from you (I’ll wager he’s gotten more than two inquires of “how can you get meeeee in Penthouse”). It’s why I began using the name Victor Devilbliss for my photography. That’s a whole other story which also deserves a post, but not here.

Scott Church’s October 2015 Penthouse Cover


Some months ago I noticed Scott mention there were still some spaces left for his annual art show. Something struck me to get off my ass and take part. The last time I had printed work hanging in a “gallery” was I think… in 1995 or 1996 (I am old) and given those dates, that work was shot on film. It was manipulated mind you, other worldy in fact and in time, some of the very those became album covers for a dozen or so releases from the Cleopatra family of record labels of California. That’s it. That was the last time work of mine was printed and exhibited on a wall somewhere other than my own space. Scott shot me a message and said “you’re in, two pieces any size. And that’s the extent of the conversation.

The show was January 6th. I ordered the prints December 30th. They arrived the week of the show. Yeah.
To be fair I was having a hard time choosing what I would include. What size? Framing? Print type? I also had a lot going on with clients at the time as well. Still do. I had several images I was considering. Narrowing that down was tough.  I had a lot of strong work with Millie Mie this past year and I knew this gallery would  be a perfect showcase for them but I also knew that the walls would be covered with many shots of her as she’s worked with tons of the people included in the event. I actually spoke to her about it as we were talking about the show in the weeks before. I actually felt for the sake of variety i really shouldn’t use one of the many fine pieces we’d
done. One thing that kept playing on my mind was this one frame I have. Well painting in a frame. It’s this large portrait of Jesus Christ. A classic. In fact the whole thing is a vintage mid-century modern thing I’ve seen many times in varying sizes. This particular one was by the Turner company. A well known wall art company of the period. The print area was 30 inches by 40 inches.

On one hand it pained me to cut away the paper backing with the manufacturers label as that just killed it’s value as a mid-century classic, but…. that frame tho…. Knowing this would be my main piece I began to review images for this frame. The colors. The size. The size was a tricky thing as this particular ratio is nearly a classic 4:5.  That’s tough for me because I have noticed over the years I typically compose for the frame I am in. With the 35mm equivalent camera I use that means most of my shots tend towards its 2:3 ratio… meaning longer or taller depending on orientation. Many images I thought I would consider looked odd to me when cropped down to fit this frame’s ratio. To be honest it was depressing and nerve wracking. I did have a few contenders from a shoot I did mid-year with my very good friend Miss Claire Marie. A session we did that formally kicked off my use of the third floor of the studio and an area of it that’s become home to a series of work I’ve been calling “The Curiosities”. This as the space is not pretty. It’s rough. It’s in disrepair. And for myself and others, it’s perfect. One of the rooms has specifically been dubbed “Der Fetisch Klinik”  as the walls have cabinets and these large paneled doors that make it feel as if it could have been some sort of medical clinic. Add in the exam table I found at a shop (very near where Claire lives coincidentally) and there you have it. The next decision was which shot. There were several that would work. One I kept coming back to was Claire standing between the large double doors between two rooms. She struck a pose that had a beautiful form to it. Everything about it was “on”.  One thing though, was that she was facing away. Several others that were contenders showed her face, and most who’ve seen it agree, it’s a good face (I actually just chuckled). But the one between the doors had a lot of things I love, there’s a light behind her casting a near halo around her head and providing rim lighting on her figure.  You can see some smoke around her head from a cigarette and in the air here and there are specks of dust frozen in the light that the camera caught. The angles and lines of the doors, shadows and paneling created nice geometric shapes, virtually everything in the image except for Claire is straight lines.  I’m not going to be arty-farty and claim to have planned all this. Hell no. The general “look” yeah, that I planned and we got it. But the details of this shot no. I think in the course of the few hours we shot I took over a thousand photos but that’s because Claire and I work well together and she moves through poses in such a way that there’s just too many opportunities to capture some magic. We had plenty of those moments too as I will show below. So, even though her face was obscured, I decided to go with this shot for that large gold frame. The next thing that pained me though is that cropping business. As shot, there’s more image at the top and bottom of the image I had to crop away in order to fit. I love how the image looked as shown at the gallery, but I love the original more. Have a look (you can click these to see them larger) this is the crop I made the print from.

Here is the image as shot:

The other photo that I kept coming back to fared worse with the cropping though. I know some of you might say “no it’s fine” but the version shown on the right…. her head and feet are too close to the edge. It’s crowded. And it’s a pity as one of my beloved mannequins is clearly seen lurking behind a door.

So with the image selected, I ordered some prints. I am a big fan of metallic prints so that was decided. Grrrrr my normal go-to lab does not offer 30×40 sizes. So now I have to find and use a vendor I never have before. How will they handle the color? I know what I get from my normal source. Now I have a question mark there. A bit of shift isn’t too much a problem, but density, brightness. Unknown and a roll of the dice. Well thankfully what arrived was pretty much perfect. I did notice one or two things I should have corrected in the file but was able to actually hand retouch on the print itself.

I got the art framed and had it sitting in the studio just days before the show. During a session a new client happened to see the print and pretty promptly exclaimed “Is that Claire?”. It turns out this person had also done a photo shoot with Ava Dae out of New Hope. Claire does makeup and hair for Ava. But still, Claire’s face wasn’t shown.

Thursday came which meant it was time to take the prints to the gallery and get them hung. I arrived early and already there was quite a buzz of activity. Lots of great images were already up on the walls. I scanned for some empty wall space and headed towards a corner. There was a guy on the opposite side of the corner hanging some things and I noticed a shot of Mille and asked if I might throw my stuff up near him and mentioned having worked with Millie myself. Introductions revealed he was Jason M whose work I’ve admired and have heard good things about from models. I gave my name but then had to add “Victor Devilbliss” to which he then had recognition. Really glad we got to meet.

Friday arrived. After some sessions at the studio I got myself together and set off for Lancaster. I think I got to the show by 7:45 or so. Millie messaged me asking where I was just as I parked. When I made it in it was already bustling with people. Seeing the walls fully covered was amazing too, several spaces at that. I said some hellos, found Millie. Got introduced to some more people and took a stroll through the space taking in the art. There were quite a few things

Photo Courtesy Christopher Circelli

that really made me stop and study them. Whenever I discuss art, be it music, photography, whatever… I will never say this is “great”, this is “good” this is “bad” rather I will say “I love this”, “I like this” “I wish I did this” or “it doesn’t speak to me” because art is so subjective. There are entire genres of music I don’t think I ever care to hear again that are someone else’s favorite music. So it isn’t universally good or bad…  I can say whether I like it or not. Or tell you what I like or don’t about it.  At this gallery I saw a lot of work I personally thought was great. There were a number I thought “I wish I took this” that’s about as high a compliment as I can give too, when I am envious of a work.

While at the show it was fantastic to bump into a few people I know and meet some new folks I’ve been wanting to. Of course Millie was on hand (and all over the walls for that matter, which I was right

Millie and I and some dude in the background.

about) Eventually my studio partner Nicole arrived with short cropped hair and a beard (she was performing drag nearby later that evening, AND KILLED) then Lizz Maldonado (who did Nicole’s styling). Shanin Jean showed up with her husband who I never met previously. Then Claire Marie herself and her friend Amanda, another pal Leo who I did meet before. I also ran into my old friend Dave Deardorff who I have known since my days at Terrace Music in Harrisburg. Who else, Mike Grimm, we had a great chat. Then Jason M again. Millie introduced me to Richard Frost. I also saw but didn’t

Shanin got this selfie with me

get to say hello to Jennifer Burd. And the elusive Larry Bradby was floating around who I spoke with many times while I was in the DC area but never did meet and AGAIN this night did not get to say hello in person. Gary Clark was also in the house so it was cool to see another artist from my parts there. Oh and Lizz’s friend Liz (one Z) who I also had a great conversation with. These are the names I can recall.

So by some point, Claire and I and others were in a hall just outside the main studio space when Millie came rushing out exclaiming “you won, you won!!!” I’m like “what?”. So she grabs me and I tell Claire to come along and we squeeze our way into the room as Scott is on the

I missed this moment but this shot by Christopher Circelli shows Scott announcing the award for Best Color image of the show.

microphone announcing the “Best Black and White” award. As he finishes up Millie moves towards Scott and tells him “This is Victor” ( I am not 100% sure Scott has connected the two names) He mentions this to the crowd and though I was late for class he handed me the award for Best Color.  I stayed nearby as Scott moved on to announce Best in Show which as it turns out was an image by Richard Frost, which was one of those very images that kept catching my eye all night.

Glad to have this shot by Christopher Circelli

Best Color
Unexpected. An honor. And again if you recall my little rant about calling art good or bad… something I have to say, could have gone to many other works shown there that night. Something about the night and the timing meant the decision went my way, no our way, it’s Claire’s work too.

Thanks to Scott for the event, for the recognition and more for supporting other artists as he has and does.

Claire takes a stab at recreating that pose. Keep in mind she was sampling the free booze a fair amount.

Here’s more from the shoot.

Editing – on your terms

For as long as I’ve been shooting, every client I work with gets every photo taken of them. Be that an online gallery years ago or more recently on an SD data card the split second we finish the session.

Additionally my clients have the opportunity to decide for themselves which images they love best. And it is those I edit for them. Not only for them, but to their specification.

Industry standards work like this for the vast majority of studios you could choose from: You book a session, pay for the session, shoot, wait some number of days until you get to see the photos the studio decided to share with you and likely edited for you.

Where in that process do you get to ask “can you tidy up my hair” or “can you smooth this wrinkle in my skirt”?  Sure you hope they will do this as a standard practice but what if you’re extra sensitive about some of your features? How can they predict what is most important to you on photos you’ve never seen?

If choosing edits is overwhelming to you, or you really want someone else’s opinion on it… I will gladly choose them for you. But for the vast majority of people I work with, they want to see them all and choose their favorites for themselves. And because you get to do that you can also make specific requests for your edits.

I decided to share two examples with permission of the subjects.

First up is a face you’ll see pretty much anytime you visit the studio. It’s Nicole of Making faces Professional. The in-house resident makeup artist at Devilbliss Studios. Nicole gets in front of the camera plenty herself, mine and other artists we work with. She knows first-hand what it’s like to do a session. Be concerned about things. She’s just like you. There are angles she likes about herself and there’s other things she’s aware of that she would like shown in the best light. These examples are from a recent session and show the general editing I perform on an image along with some mild body contouring and airbrushing to re-align shadows. Click for a larger view as small these are hard to tell apart.Screen Shot 2016-09-01 at 1.00.55 PM

Here’s a crop of her face to show some airbrushing work.Screen Shot 2016-09-01 at 1.02.48 PM

Getting every photo, you also have a wealth of images that capture you in motion. Sometimes the difference of a split second can show a slightly different pose that you love vs. one you like a lot.

Sometimes you’ll find a face that will be your favorite ever but it’s attached to a body position that you don’t like as much, or perhaps a photo 3 frames away has you posed perfectly. With this style of shooting I also have the capability to make composite images where several elements can be brought together for a “best of” shot.

Recently a client had this very request. She found an image where she loved her face, and while the pose of that photo wasn’t bad in the least, she preferred the pose of a another shot.


She loved the face on the left but the arm position on the right. She asked me if they could be brought together. At first noticing that her torso shifted, her shoulders back in one, more vertical in the other had me reply “I don’t know but I will attempt it for you”.

I was pretty pleased with the effort, she was thrilled:karen

So in a nutshell, sessions with Devilbliss Studios are about YOU.

I am an artist. But the first art I practice is working for YOU.

Devilbliss In The Land Of Lestat – August 16, 17, 18

The following is a brain dump of the highest order. If you have no attention span this is not for you.

lestatAll of my life I have been drawn to cemeteries. It’s not about death though. For me it’s always been something about their appearance. The statuary, the architecture. And I don’t consider this morbid at all but I’ve always found myself wondering about the people, their lives, their loves, the world they lived in. I’d see the dates and read the names and imagine who they were. Before I focused my photography on people it was old buildings, cemeteries. I actually had 2 posters that sold online via various poster companies called The Doors of Eternity, made up of vault doors from cemeteries in New York and Philadelphia.doors_of_eternity_2 doors_of_eternity_maxSomewhere in the  early 90’s I had seen a television program, I forget what it was about specifically but there was a moment where it was talking about and showing cemeteries in New Orleans. I’ll be honest, up until that point, that city was not a place on my mind. That changed with that program. A few months later I was in Washington DC with friends and made them let me visit some cemeteries there for photos and I happened to mention New Orleans… My friend gasped about wanting to go there. An Anne Rice fan he was a devotee of Interview with a Vampire. This was before the movie was released. Hell before it was even slated to be a movie. So we all decided to drive to The Big Easy.

When it first came into sight there was something of an aura over it. I’m not a spiritual person but when we got into the city something came over me.  The air. The color of the light. The fragrances that were foreign to my northern nose. Now granted New Orleans also has some smells that rival any big city at being “unpleasant”. It’s also not an earthly paradise. I found decay and ruin mixed among the old world splendors. The city is not kind to all of its inhabitants. There was also the unusual, no strike that, the very unusual. It was unlike any place I had ever been before or since.

I fell in love.

Over the next decade I would visit again and again. So moved by it I actually wrote a song called NOLA, that my band Advent Sleep released on CD that ended up being something of a popular track in the goth clubs in the late 90’s. A New Orleans college station would actually play the track with some frequency. Once while visiting with my guitarist and sound man to shoot some video, we actually had the wild experience of going to a club to see a band who was friends with a local DJ of note (She often DJ’d Anne Rice’s Halloween Balls and was a big fan of the band, she claimed to spin my music at Anne’s Mansion in the Garden District though I was never invited so I have to take her word on that), anyway, while at this club the band at one point broke into another song of mine. Quite a thing to hear another artist playing your music in the city you love. Another trip there my guitar player and I ran into most of the band Marilyn Manson on the streets and handed Twiggy Ramirez a demo tape of ours.

This is just a portion of that song, for those of you who speak French,  please forgive the faux, French Gibberish I included in the lyrics.

Another strange connection for me came when a friend of mine urged me to get to a comic shop to obtain a specific Vertigo title. He told me “get to such and such a shop and buy The Girl Who Would Be Death”. He would not tell me anything more.  So within a few days I managed to get to a shop and seek out this book.  Getting one in my hands I noticed it was written by Caitlin Kiernan. 961This struck me as she also reviewed my band’s CD (favorably) in a magazine some months before (this being before print on demand so it was an actual mass distributed magazine in the traditional sense) . AHA, This I thought, was why he urged me to buy this… I then began to flip through it. Immediately the art on the first pages showed me my beloved city… New Orleans. This too I thought was a reason my friend suggested I need this. Then about the 3rd or 4th page I saw some panels showing St. Louis Cathedral towering over Jackson Square. Then a close up of the cathedral. Then my eyes dropped to art of a street scene. Punks along a seedy brick walled alley and to the right a poster….. It was for two bands… it read “The Changelings with Advent Sleep, March 23rd”. It was a surreal moment for me. I’m holding a comic of a major imprint (Vertigo is a “hip” brand of DC Comics, yeah DC Comics). A comic, set in my city with art that included my band. Incidentally, March 23rd is my birthday, not something Caitlin would have known, cue the creepy theremin music.  It’s still oddly one of my favorite things ever. Caitlin was a fan, she’d heard my song NOLA and when she worked on this graphic novel had the artist include this. You can click on this to see it larger:

The_Girl_Who_Would_Be_Death_Vol_1_1_001Near the time my activity with my band waned I met someone who I would eventually marry. We would honeymoon in New Orleans.  While she and I got divorced I am still married to the crescent city. I’ve gone another two times since then but in recent years I’ve had a bit of a lapse. It’s been too long and a few weeks ago I decided this must change. So I return in August.

Now since this is a website for my photography work, some of you reading this might be wondering why such a personal thing might be posted here. While planning this trip I invited someone to join me. Someone who has been quite busy with life and the last few times we’ve been able to chat about what we are each up to I’ve heard things that told me she needed something of a vacation as well.  So I asked my good friend Claire Marie if she’d like to tag along. Last year she was among a group of us who shared a room in Nashville during an event and was in the car on that 12 hour trip back. We’ve worked together many times in a number of capacities and when the timing is right, she’s also my barber. My notion is we can spend an extended period of time together for something like this and remain good friends. As a model I’ve shot Claire many times. She’s worked with many photographers, been published countless times and has been featured on the cover of more magazines than I probably know about. So this would give us both a chance to work together in one of the most picturesque places in the country. As a makeup and hair artist she’s also done an impressive amount of work with a number of photographers and is well regarded in this capacity as well. So though this is a vacation, I suggested to Claire we consider offering a very select number of sessions while we were in New Orleans.  She agreed and I began searching for the perfect places to shoot.  While scouring websites for lodging I was not finding quite what I was looking for, be that large national chains or even the various B&B’s until I came upon one that had the word “Castle” in the title. Below are some images of what will be my 2000 square feet studio away from home. It isn’t classic Antebellum styling but it is quite remarkable all the same. The location is terrific and, well just look:
Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 11.27.16 AMScreen Shot 2016-06-28 at 11.27.27 AMScreen Shot 2016-06-28 at 11.27.38 AMScreen Shot 2016-06-28 at 11.27.46 AMI’m obsessing a bit over this staircase…Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 11.27.56 AM

And all the leaded glass…Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 11.28.11 AMDid I mention leaded glass?Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 11.28.31 AM Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 11.28.22 AMAnd this bed with windows on three sides is a boudoir coup d’etat:Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 11.28.41 AMThe bathroom has some great possibilities as well:Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 11.29.00 AMFor a city that has it’s own cuisine that surpasses that of entire nations and more amazing restaurants than there is plastic debris in the oceans, a kitchen seems insulting but there is a kitchen as well:Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 11.28.52 AM

Can’t resist the thought of shooting here?
Join us. click this link for shoot specific information.


Several Hundred Yards and a Million Years

I was searching for an image and stumbled upon one I hadn’t seen in ages. It was one of those moments that sidetracks you instantly. Kinda like when I was a kid and I would go to the encyclopedia to look something up, I’d spend hours reading about things I had no intention of reading about. It was the wikipedia of my generation. It aided me well in school except my knowledge was held back to about 1965 since the set we had was from then and the yearly updates weren’t updated in our house. Anyway, this photo. Very special to me and in some ways ironic given my current line of work.

The shot is two of my best friends in high school. Tom Myro and Mike Zarret. It exists because we all took photography classes at North Schuylkill under Joseph Nolter and this was something we did one day while wandering the alleys of Pottsville PA. This was 1982 or ’83.

tom_mikeZ tom_mikeZ2

It was in back and white, we developed them in the darkroom at school. I think this is tinted from when I scanned it a few years back.

So keeping with the photography theme here’s what I find interesting about the photo. Later Mike would start to work for a camera shop in Pottsville, Towne Camera. That business was literally at the left end of the alley you see and around the corner on Norwegian.  Later Mike would buy the business and move it to a nearby building a few blocks away, right along where the Washington Street bridge was (who remembers that?) Tom would go on to work with him there and it was from this location I purchased my first autofocus camera. This was a big deal. I grew up in a time where you used film and had to focus the lenses! Looking for greener pastures Mike moved the shop to Bloomsburg where it still exists to this very day. I stop in from time to time and we commiserate getting older.

The thing about the photo, and this spot  that brings this full circle is this: that alley they are in is the very alley that runs behind the new studio I’m working out of… behind and down the way a bit. I can venture out onto the fire escape and glance down to the very spot this photo was taken. It’s just several hundred yards away. It looks a bit different these days, not to say better mind you, just different. Sort of like me and the childhood friends in the photo. While those boys are gone and now adult men that alley echoes a bit with their voices, their laughter, their mirth… that feel a million years away.

This is why photos are small miracles. Our memories fade, images like this will likely outlive us.

Kelly and Russ

This set of photos is really important to me. I love them at face value but they are of a couple I’ve known for what seems like all my life, and I’m no spring chicken any more. I really can’t even tell you when I first met Russ. He was one of those local kids you knew through other friends in the music scene where I grew up. I’m not sure how much older I am than he is but I know I already had a job at a local music store and he’d come in and we’d always spend time trying things out. Later he’d around and in all the various bands I was friends with or involved with and we fell into a circle of friends that got to be pretty close. I remember when he began bringing Kelly around to parties. They were a great couple. They ARE a great couple still, and are soon going to renew their vows (casually) and have the wedding reception/party they never had originally. They recently asked me to do some photographs for their “save the date” announcements. So last friday they came to the studio and had along  cousin Dave who I met through Russ and the guitar player from Dave’s band Steve who it turns out I ran into a day earlier in his music shop. Steve’s father used to be a customer of mine when I was in the business. Small communities can be awesome like that. So Kelly ventured back to wardrobe and with the help of cousin Dave picked some dresses and began to get ready. When she was finished we took advantage of the late afternoon sunlight and walked to the bus station nearby. It’s quaint, there’s some grand victorian homes nearby and a bit of a city scape with which to use as our outdoor backdrop.  BANN0025e BANN0120e BANN0158eLater we’d head back to the studio for some fun images.BANN0252e BANN0404eAfterwards we went for some drinks at a local restaurant. While there we’d run into half a dozen other people we knew, some we hadn’t seen in years. Kelly would go on to tell me about how she and Russ met. The look in her eye and tone of her voice made it sound like it was just yesterday. That was so awesome to experience. Afterwards we chatted online about the shoot and such, Kelly telling me I’m one of the few people who can tell Russ to shut up and he will. (Russ can go on and on and on… and sometimes you just have to say STOP). As I type all this, I remember a time, just after I got back into the area when Russ and I got together for sushi. We really hadn’t seen each other or been in contact for far too many years. During lunch and conversation, he stopped and said, “I’m really glad you’re back home”.  It still strikes me as to how much such a simple statement can mean. After quite a few times of doing things together I have to say Kelly and Russ are the sort of people that make me glad I am back home too.  At the bar after the shoot, I mentioned to Kelly how I think of the movie Stand By Me. The narrator was speaking about his childhood friends. He said “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?”  Russ and I were older than that when our paths crossed, but young enough for that sentiment to hold true. Love you both.

Jenny Jayne’s Private Session

Yesterday we had a private session with a new client Jenny Jayne (Go Follow Her Here). She contacted us a week earlier and we were able to fit her in for a 2 look session. She, Nicole (Making Faces Professional) and I chatted back and forth and discussed ideas. As the session approached I was also working out the details for a location shoot I am excited about that I teased some photos of and had noticed Jenny remarking on it. A few emails with the property owner later and I was able to get the location for Jenny while she was here. Her private 2 look session became a 3 look, half day whirlwind of activity. Jenny arrived and I gave her a studio tour and we began chatting as Nicole came in. They went back to makeup and hair and wardrobe and got underway. I was setting up the lighting in a set we put together for her nearby and as soon as i heard “Disney” come up I kinda knew it was over… Nicole is a huge fan and so too is Jenny. There was no turning back.  When they were finished it was time for photos. The set was a vintage vanity, candles, chocolates on some dishes Nicole put together (hot glued into a multi-tiered serving dish) just for this shoot. Earlier I walked up the street to grab a wine glass from a thrift shop since there was some vino in the studio. Between the wine and candles we noticed the set smelled something like a church. (all photos in this post can and should be clicked for larger views)BANN0115eBANN0524e

After the boudoir set we decide for some variety to go with a classic cheesecake look with a simple set of colored (seamless) paper, a fur rug and Jenny! Where the first session was richly detailed with furniture and props this was decidedly clean. It’s wild to see some images side by side and realize they were just minutes apart on the same visit. Definitely something that would add a wealth to a portfolio.BANN1091e BANN1196ecrop

Once we were done with the classic treatment it was time for the location shoot. Luckily it is just a few steps away from our new 2000 sq ft studio. I had begun to move some gear in place while the girls were working on the next look. I came back to the studio and we all walked over together.  I can’t begin to express here how visually arresting this place is to me so instead you can check out this other entry I posted here a few days ago. This isn’t the sort of look for everyone. It’s darker, it’s nearly a movie set. It’s why I dubbed it “The Melancholy Suite” The first two images are some of the first we shot on the landing of one of the stair cases. These are natural light, no strobes, all I used to brighten her up a bit was a gold reflector that I balanced with my legs as I shot the photos.BANN1529ecrop BANN1560e

Here’s Jenny in the hallway on the second floor. I love the way the doors frame this. Here a strobe was positioned on the back stairs off to her right.BANN1902e

Next we walked over to that back stairwell. The building is steel and concrete and here it’s about the only materials you’ll see. The photo below is unedited and I am only posting it here to show this space. Jenny is on the landing on what would actually be roof level. The door to her left leads to the roof. Now we did shoot a bunch here but I am putting this photo here for reference only. Pay attention to that area to her right, where the door is. I ended up walking up there and stood in that space. What we got there are some of my favorite shots from the session.BANN2096BANN2258eBANN2263e2crop

The top photo us uncropped, do click on them and zoom in to get a sense of how this looked and felt. It’s the sort of shot where the setting is as integral as the model. On one hand the actual area she takes up is small and you only see so much of her, which is a bummer. But on the other hand it’s a sweeping backdrop with which to contrast her. It’s not the sort of location or shot you get every day. It’s a transient moment. Now if you study the top image and you pay attention to the door and landing and the fact it seems like you’re looking at it from a spot somewhere further out on the wall you might wonder “where was the camera?”. Well it was at the end of my right arm extended as far as I can (which is actually a pretty good distance since I got some long arms) with my other hand holding the strap in support combined with me leaning over that rail and there you have it. If I bump the levels and exaggerate the photo you can actually see me in the shot:BANN2263

You can also catch my flash remote on the end of my lanyard, I do rely heavily on the radio system to be able to be 30 feet above my light source and still control output, luckily Nicole was on a lower landing and able to pitch in and re-aim the lights here and there.

Next we moved to the second floor bathroom. Generally a tub/shower is a place you go to clean up. Not this one. In fact I think Jenny got the most dirty posing in this relic.

This first image is with available light and a reflector.BANN2395e

This one, moments later had me running a strobe up high on a stand in front if her:BANN2576e2

It always amazes me how much you can change things with modifying the light. And there’s several ways to do that each with a different look and feel. Here’s a crop from the above image:BANN2576e2crop2

So Jenny’s session is a great example of how  private shoot is different from our themed specials. It’s just you and us. We pull together sets just for you and you get the chance to get a lot of variety. Yes they’re more expensive but in reality, per “look” it’s less than booking several special sessions. They are also flexible with timing, there’s the chance to actually grab something to eat afterwards, you can even stay and immediately review images and leave with edits (all sessions include an SD card with every single image though, you’ll always be able to see EVERYTHING the moment you get home).

Private sessions begin at $400 (and we publish this price, it’s here on this site) if we have a weekday opening you can get a discount off that, more if you’ve shot with us before.

So what are you waiting for?

Not Just Pinup

The studio was busy over the past two days with quite a bit of different activity than we’d experienced in the old studio. Tuesday evening had 4 guests, models all, two also photographers and our first studio rental clients. They were here for four hours. I was editing images from our own recent sessions while they were here and heard plenty of giggling and laughter and more than a few catcalls they were giving each other in encouragement. When they finished they expressed how great a time they had and gave the space high marks for layout, decor, props and wardrobe, going so far as to say the photos on the site don’t do it justice. They repeated a few times “please keep this available, we want to come back”.

Yesterday morning I had a session that featured no human being, no animal for that matter. I picked up a piece of graphics work to produce a brochure for a property developer. Part of which would include some old plans for a space he’s preparing to offer with a desire on his part to attract a brewpub. Thing is he needs this very very soon and time is not on our side. I personally cannot scan anything larger than 8.5 x 11 inches and the plans far exceeded that. Finding and getting to someone who can wasn’t something we had time for.  A time honored means prior to scanners was to use a camera and a copy stand. I haven’t needed a copy stand in ages and sold mine long ago, so, we improvise. To get the least amount of distortion, and as much even lighting as I could I set up a ladder in Studio C and soft boxes all around. Within minutes I had excellent digital captures of the plans and by later that evening, after the last shoot of the day, the beginnings of a tri-fold brochure.IMG_6384brew

Our human client for the day was a gentleman from south of Harrisburg. It was exciting for me because he is a musician. My history with music is deep having run a music store that I helped grow into a small chain for 13-14 years. I was at the epicenter of the scene in Central PA through the store, a demo studio I ran in one and my photographic services to the community. I cut my teeth with portraits shooting musicians. It had been far too long so this was exciting for me. Ray-Michael Kauffman is a friend of a friend and client of ours Lizz Moldanado. He’s admired the work we’ve done with her and with her encouragement and support he chose us to do some portraits for him. Ray even re-scheduled his session so Liz could come along, Lizz and her three children, all are welcome in the studio be that one or a bus load. It was like a meeting of old friends. Ray has had self esteem issues, never felt comfortable being photographed. He came to the right place, I’ve had those issues myself and so many of our clients do as well. We’ve (Nicole Zedonek of Making Faces Professional) gotten very good at making people feel at ease and when the session itself began it became more of a get together with conversation, laughter and photos in between. I hadn’t looked at the session before I left the studio but when I awoke today I noticed a tag of a post where Ray had already chosen an image to make his profile photo online, like everyone we shoot, he left with an SD card with every image. He used this photo unedited other than his converting it to black and white. This always delights me when people use raw photos. Some studios don’t let people have all their images, I feel they should have every opportunity to see them all and decide which they want to use. Seeing Ray’s post, reading his words and what the session meant to him had me come into the studio this  morning and take a look at the session myself. I found the shot he used and included it here:BANN0009eI also found one I really love. BANN0243eOf his photo the thing that struck me right away is that it was one where he was playing. Very early in the session, to put him at ease we  suggested he literally assume a position he would just prior to a conductor summoning him to perform. Assume that stance and literally play for us. All the while I Would take photos. Ray did just that, he began to do what he loved with his instrument. The sounds were magical in the studio, his playing effortless, an extension of who he is.

Ray also brought along a portion of his vintage sheet music collection, we had to get some shots with that. This one is whole I was up on my ladder (the copy stand earlier in the day) shooting from overhead.BANN0367

As I was looking at the session’s photos I noticed some shots where I zoomed in on just the sheet music while Ray was changing clothes, like one whole page on the camera frame… And from that I began to play with something of a graphic where the music from his own sheet music collection became part of the image. It’s basic, it’s nothing that hasn’t been done before but it is personalized since it is something of his. With music so much a part of his life I think the aspect of some of the music being “on top” of him, interwoven in a way isn’t just an embellishment for a photo, it’s the truth. Rather than interrupt the image with my logo I decided to sneak it in instead, to the lower left I replaced a clef on a staff with my watermark. BANN0243eArt

Thanks for coming to see us Ray. I am glad you had a good experience. How someone feels in the studio, in front of the lens makes a world of difference in what is captured.

All images can and should be clicked for a larger view.

Why I do What I do. Client #20

client20This morning I awoke to a wonderful post from a lovely young lady I recently photographed.

She just took part in a special shoot I offer from time to time. I’ve included a screenshot of her post so you can read it for yourself:

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It made me smile for all the obvious reasons. Knowing the session I did with someone helped them overcome some self-consciousness and get some wonderful photos showing them in all their natural beauty, I don’t retouch photos to death and work hard to give people photos they’ll love right from my camera.

Then something struck me about this particular model and her session.

She was in fact my 10th client that day.

You heard me right, my 10th client.

Not only was she my 10th client that day but she was my 20th client that weekend.

Some people might think “how can you possibly do that many shoots in that period of time and do a good job for each person?”



I love showing people themselves at their best.

I love making images with them where they see how beautiful they are in real life, not with photoshop editing.

I work hard to get my lighting the best I can and can’t even describe how it feels when I show them the back of the camera and hear them exclaim “that’s me???” Tiffany said that herself.

Granted at that point a huge amount of this is because of the work of Makeup and Hair artist Nicole Zedonek who has been right there with me in loving this because of how it positively impacts so many.

Do click on the photos to see them larger, Tiffany sure didn’t look nervous did she?

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The other things about Tiffany’s session that came to mind after seeing her post that made it extra special was how it was she came to shoot with us that day.

Tiffany came with two other great ladies, friends Natalia and Liz. Now Liz is a big big big part of this story. Liz did her first shoot with me, and her first shoot ever last year during a holiday special we offered. Liz herself was coming out of her shell, extremely nervous and encouraged by another model (and now friend) I’ve worked with Lottie Beau to do a shoot with us. Liz was so nervous she asked Lottie to be there with her as we shot. Liz did great that day and that session and photos did wonders for her own self esteem. Liz later took part in the sessions we had earlier this year at Old Sled Works (we shot 12 models that day).
So here’s where I have to publicly thank Liz Brown. When Liz saw we were offering our seamless special she immediately shared that with friends of hers. She wanted to share with them the uplifting experience she herself had with us. Liz Brown has one of the biggest hearts you’ll ever find though and she went one better. You see we do offer our clients a referral discount. $25 off a shoot for any new client that books with us. I’d rather give up that money to the people we shoot than give it to Google or Facebook in advertising costs. I’d rather give back to our very clients where these shoots are a luxury not a necessity. Liz shared this shoot, recommended it and us to people she knows and that resulted in 3 ladies booking sessions. That would mean for this $175 shoot, Liz would have gotten her repeat customer discount of $25 plus another $75 off… she could have done her session for just $75!!!  But that’s not what she did. Liz and that great big heart of hers donated her referral credits to the very people she encouraged to try this!  You can’t see it here but there is a halo over that ladys head. When we finished Liz was about to pay me her balance but I told her it was $25 less than what she thought it should have been. For such a generous act I just had to give her another discount. I just had to acknowledge her kind acts. THIS IS NOT JUST ABOUT THE MONEY. This is uplifting for so many. Doing these budget shoots provides models a chance to give it a try and in Tiffany’s case do it with a group of friends at a great value. Lottie Beau was our assistant and pose coach that day as well and since she encouraged Liz in the first place over a year ago, it was super special she was on hand (she even raided her own car a few times for additional props).

Some might still wonder how so many shoots in that period of time could be worth it to the individual models.

Point of fact; of the 21 models shot 14 were brand new to working with us and 12 of those – over half shot that weekend, were encouraged to try it by someone else who themselves has taken part in one of our group specials.  All but one of those referrals was by a model who has worked with us more than once. What does that mean? They know how these sessions go. They know a lot of people pass through our studio in a day. They’ve experienced it themselves and they valued it.  Think of it this way, who goes to a bad restaurant, gets lousy food and poor service more than once and then says to a friend “you should eat there”? They endorse these shoots because they are a great mix of fun, support and terrific images.

Please click on the photo below. One image was our first client from the recent seamless special we ran, the other the 21st. (Yeah Tiffany wasn’t our last that weekend). Take a closer look. Can you see a difference in quality? Attention to detail?  Can you tell who was first and who was last?

first and last


Marissa is shown on the left. She was our first client, but she actually couldn’t make the weekend dates so she asked if she could do this special on the Friday before it started. It just so happens it was her birthday too. She came and got dolled up, we got some great photos and she later went out with family to celebrate her birthday looking fabulous.  To the right is Liz and her salon partner Michael. They were our last shoot of this special and were a blast. Michael hadn’t planned on shooting with Liz but as soon as I learned they were stylists I said “we should pull out my vintage hairdryer” which at that point was elsewhere in the studio buried under a number of other items. I pulled it out, dusted it off and away we went.

Click the image, study the detail and the lighting, these photos are edited but BARELY edited, mostly I cleaned up marks on the paper itself. The subjects are nearly untouched. You’ll notice a lot of detail, faces that aren’t un-recognizable from over-processing.

A person might think such a shoot is a cattle call, I think from now on I may brand them our “Group Hug” sessions.



Some might think shooting so many models in a weekend is just about making money.

Well, the average shoot fee paid during these sessions was $151.  One of them was free to a model. Each model got full makeup and hair, at least 45 minutes of shooting time and SD card with EVERY SINGLE IMAGE shot IMMEDIATELY upon finishing the session. 6 edits of THEIR CHOICE not mine. Availability of prints, books, posters, greeting cards at NO ADDITIONAL COST over the lab prices. All as advertised. We schedule the sessions so ideally most models only encounter others before and after them in the studio and perhaps those models friends, we don’t say no to bringing your cheerleading team or having them around as you shoot.

Not counting material expenses (backdrop material that was beaten to death, a $100 flash tube that finally had enough, SD cards that each model gets when we finish) I will end up making less than $19 an hour once everything is said and done.  Right now all around my house are billboards for the local Wal Mart warehouse hiring at $16.75 an hour and they could provide me more steady work than I see with photography. Now if I add in expenses… I can show you a less than minimum wage amount. So if anyone thinks this is about the money – please show me where that is.

I also saw something posted by another model who took part in our seamless special, sorry I mean our most recent Group Hug. Dawn’s first shoot with us was a private one on one session that had me completely setting up a wholly unique and never before or since used collection of furniture and props in the studio to several of our themed sessions with multiple bookings per day. The way she describes what it means to her, getting all her images touches on something I never fully considered but am thrilled at what it’s meant to her and the power in it:

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I’ve done a few of these now and probably just as many private sessions. Each has it’s place. I shoot on location. I shoot with full custom sets and I shoot with classic colored paper backgrounds. You have the option to choose what works best for you.

I’ve also loved the times where after private sessions I’m able to grab something to eat with the models. My local Chinese restaurant has seen me through their door with more pretty ladies all done up that I wonder what they might think. A model visiting from Florida last year got a road trip to Knoebel’s Grove where we spent a few hours tackling their roller coasters. Others have gotten tours of some of the antique and thrift shops near my studio. Some out of state clients have also benefitted by my hosting them (and their travel companions) overnight saving them lodging fees at hotels and of course the time we get to make a field trip or get to know each other over breakfast.

In addition to all these choices there is something else we do in my studio that strikes most people as extraordinary. We actually endorse them shooting with other photographers. Variety is good. Each artist, be that photographer or stylist, has a different signature. We certainly try to offer a lot of variety and options in what we do, but we know models will want other looks in their portfolios. We not only endorse this but will mention studios by name. Nicole herself organized a road trip to Ohio recently to work with a photographer with a distinct style. I am opening my studio up to a traveling photographer from Texas in October and when they confirmed the date… we promoted it amongst models who’ve worked with us.   I appreciate our repeat business but don’t get upset when they work with others. In less than two weeks of this post we are having a group gathering at Knoebels Grove where we invited everyone to attend, models, photographers, everyone.

The numbers here need to be updated, but I will close this post with the graphic below and a big thank you to those who share our vision and have worked with us.

Not Just The money