Did you ever read the story about Edward Weston and his best-known photograph of Pepper No. 30? I hope you do. So much intellectualizing over the emotional relationship to a vegetable. As well as the Wikipedia entry (which I encourage you to review), I have heard accounts from some of my senior photography contemporaries – perhaps a more detailed account about the reality of that day with that very special pepper. It’s a lesson in try, try and try again – or – never, never, never give up.

My day was a classic disaster. With photography, many times as the scene changes – you have to adapt and perhaps revisit what your plan may have been. The planned shoot was a failure, but I did have a back up pepper. Much like a writer would be disciplined to rewrite, a photographer must be disciplined to reshoot – until it’s right the way it should be, and consciously continuing to experiment. Only you know what is right and why.

During my comparison of creating a forgery, I found a Sotheby’s web page – Edward Weston’s Pepper No. 30 sold for $341,000. Here’s the link if you have feelings to see it with your own eyes. Sotherby’s.

So the pepper I happened to have handy was from a local farmer where I have a share, hence its real smile. Peppers in the supermarket are grown to spec without personality, and those peppers will likely never be photographed as an object of beauty.



“There’s a person sleeping over there,” the realtor said over her shoulder as we walked through the upper floor of the abandoned Trenton Times building. “Oof,” was all I could offer in response as I picked my way around debris and wondered how he had managed to get from one side of the open stairwell to the perch where he was currently slumped high above the ground across the way.

Quite often I am given a key or access to a venue to photograph and left to wander through, gauging ideal lighting and other technical negotiations the client is too busy to witness. In Trenton, this sometimes means trekking through dilapidated structures or rough neighborhoods. I am never excited about rummaging around inside the sad abandoned buildings of a broken city – especially when you run the risk of surprising people that might be living there temporarily – but this assignment has a lining of hope.

My task was to document everything for the buyer that is renovating the site into a Charter School. This part of the story makes it great. The future of this building is seemingly secure.

The first floor is completely boarded up – so no not much light to work with. I knew this ahead of time so I did multiple HDR shots from a tripod and had a hand held continuous light. It was great to finally get up on the roofs and discover that there are in fact two Trenton Times neon signs (in decent shape) one facing Perry St., the other Rt. 1 South – who knew?

The typography of the signage set against urban decay is of visual interest to me, telling the story of a bustling newspaper that has now moved on to bigger and brighter spaces, but knowing it will be a place where children learn and play is most interesting of all.

Monopoly Tokens

One of my favorite things about Monopoly more than the game itself is the tokens. Since childhood I remember my whole family used to play quite bit, or just me and my sisters. I don’t ever remember winning much, but I always enjoyed playing and think that the Top hat was my first choice token, race car, then Scottie dog.

There’s a vast Wikipedia entry on Monopoly and I find it very interesting that over time certain tokens are retired. I know there’s a few missing from this batch I bought on ebay – the iron, and sack of money. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen the lantern, purse or rocking horse. In 2013 new tokens include a robot, guitar and cat, and the locomotive comes with a special edition.

Since the tokens are quite small, I had to use a 100 mm macro lens. I set up one light (beauty dish) with the diffuser at 375 watts (above the scene pointing down) and bounced the light to an angled white reflector. I moved the camera around quite a bit and shot many angles – some shots I had the lens on the white table as low as I could go. The results to me are pleasing, being able to see the detail in the casting in an object known to be so small.

One of the things that I really enjoy is how iconic these random objects are – we know what they are from just seeing one or two and the rest falls into place – thanks to memory. I’m pretty sure that Monopoly is rather tight with its licensing – you just can’t exploit someone else’s intellectual property – so these images are for vanity only, unless they can be changed somehow for the context of fine art.


Distorted Self Portraits

Distorted self portraits is a project I have been thinking about for a while – perhaps it’s a reaction to the massive amount of selfies I see, and then perhaps my images become the anti-selfie. I have an Art Photography class coming up that I’ll be teaching and this is one of the assignments. Students are challenged to take their self portrait, (with the camera on timer), and they must distort their portrait photographically, not digitally. They can obstruct their face and get creative with lighting and angles.

At my studio I have lots of masks that I’ve collected – really for no reason other than an impulse buy when I’m at my favorite dollar store around the corner. For this assignment I felt I could finally employ some masks. The set up is an easy one – one light front right and high up, camera on a tripod and connected to a laptop so I can see the screen in preview mode, and shallow DOF, f/1.4 – the focus is though part.

One of my favorite examples of photographer as subject is the series Untitled Film Stills by Cindy Sherman – it still resonates with me – I have loved that series of images for so many years. Photographers Diane Arbus and Ralph Eugene Meatyard have several photographs where the subject wears a mask. Although their images are memorable to me – they are not so much of an influence on my work.

Some photographers as artists have to be the subject – and I don’t think that’s out of ego or narcissism, just a practicality. And, other photographers have no interest in being their own subject – I understand that too. Distorted self portraits is a useful exercise that enables the photographer as subject to take creative liberties.

RWJ – Health Check

I have photographed for Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (Hamilton, NJ) for four years now – over 24 shoots (!). We have a great working relationship and work very hard to make the subject feel comfortable during the photo sessions. We scout locations, do test shoots – schedule permitting – and make sure we have a good plan and efficient use of everyone’s time.

The images are used primarily for their quarterly Health Check magazine, as well as ads in the Trenton Times on Sunday. This series of images were used to create a series of posters for the hallways of the hospital.

It’s great to see a collection of your work like this. The graphic design is always strong and helps support the overall goal – these people are just like you and me, and they have a story to tell.


Mud Larkers of the World Unite

Mud larking is my new favorite passion. I knew it would be since I heard about it. I went to the UK for a quick visit recently – and had to make sure I had a go. Lucky for me the day I went to London the tide was out, but turning back on the shores of the River Thames. I only had a couple of hours before I’d have to hoof it out.

Mud Larkers dig and wade in the mud, silt, stones when the Thames is out to unearth the most amazing treasures of years gone by. The mud is anaerobic – without oxygen – so preserves just about anything. So, it’s not uncommon to find combs made of bone, Victorian pottery, coins, clay pipes, animal bones, etc. I am told that the blue glass in a little ribbed bottle would have been a poison bottle – how about that.
As I was walking I’d just sift the stones and see dozens of broken clay pipes and pottery – everywhere you looked.

You are supposed to get permission from the Port Authority of London if you dig below the the surface – and if you find something incredible ‘share it’ with the Museum of London – anyway since their web site was down I took my chances and scaled the wall down by the OXO Tower and trolled up to The Globe Theatre (Shakespeare’s Globe) opposite St. Paul’s Cathedral. A very friendly veteran Mud Larker looked at my loot (no better than the Hatton Garden diamond heist), and gave me the bottle stopper. She had found a King George coin and dice made of bone the week before.

It might look like a pile of junk – but shoplifting off the shores of the Thames is finders keepers – unless you find something the Museum of London doesn’t have in its collection.

Ben and Danna Weiss | Drink Bai

Bai Drinks


Finally, I got to work with Bai Drinks – I wanted to for ages. This shot was for an assignment for Princeton Magazine. Typically CEO’s really don’t have too much time to dedicate to photo shoots – but, these two were fantastic to work with and fit me in between meetings. Both Ben and Danna were awesome, creative and enthusiastic to work with, and Carolynn who organized, arranged, styled – and everything else. Bai Drinks is a company to envy. Their culture, and offices are beautiful – so well designed and the people who work there are happy!

Ben and Danna’s office is more like a cool, well designed living room – something you might find in a high end hotel. The light from the floor to ceiling wall of windows cast such a beautiful light – all I needed was a remote flash on a stand, high up and bouncing back. And boom – I could not believe the colors, the expressions, the poses – oh my. If anyone ever made my job as a photographer easy it was these two.

In this shot, there were some wall graphics that needed to be removed for the sake of the article, my good friend, Jorge Naranjo, the most talented graphic designer around took care of that – so, he is credited with photo re-touching, however, his layout designs are noticeably superb.

You have to check out their web site and try their drinks if you haven’t already – their aesthetic is simply amazing and all the drinks are good, really good.



Doctor of Dental Surgery



One of my favorite client portraits of the year is of Asim. He is a Doctor of Dental Surgery in Red Bank, NJ. We talked on the phone a bit about what he needed, and it was as I expected, the dentist in a white lab coat shot as well as few semi-formal photos in a suit – for speaking engagements. We were wondering if his suit was tailored as it fit so well, but no – he said, whenever he gets a suit, they just fit well!

At the end of these sessions I’ve been adding what I call a concept shot for my portfolio as long as the client is comfortable with it. We staged this shot of Asim balancing a feather. I was hoping that he wouldn’t find it too strange and see the connection with the prop the same way I did. Using my favorite flat black backdrop and only two lights on continuous (but low), I wanted the light to spill onto the background as I needed separation with his dark suit – but directed on the feather.

His gesture and expression, the tonality of image and contrast of the white feather against all the dark tones are what makes this my favorite client portrait of the year.


The Luthier – Cezar Mateus



Cezar Mateus is Lute maker based outside of Princeton, NJ. He has a workshop at his house with all the tools and machines and there are many lutes in various stages of production. The workshop is very organized with full scale drawings, and the exotic woods needed to make the instruments, some that have been drying for years – all labeled.

The portrait of Cezar was taken in the house, I really liked the openness of the space and the many beautiful objects – art and antiques tastefully displayed. This was a natural light portrait – I saw the contrast of what I wanted right away – the sun was very bright that day and bearing down in the room I shot from through a big skylight – it cast just enough light onto the subject.

One of enjoyable parts about this particular session was that Cezar was playing the lute the entire time. Sometimes you have to figure out the portrait – should it be posed, looking into the camera, or casual where the subject is engaged with their work. I think I default to the latter, but perhaps should do both. Not all subjects are comfortable with posing, let alone being photographed. There is also the time aspect, you don’t want to exhaust your subject by trying set after set and over stay your welcome. In this case though, Cezar was playing a beautiful movement written for the lute for about five minutes, which gave me plenty of time to frame the shot.

Photo Session for a Composite Card

My good neighbor, Chase and I talked about creating a composite card for him to see if he could potentially pick up some modeling work. We planned this idea for ages and decided to do two looks in one session, the ‘plaidiator’ – a working guy look, which we were joking that it was looking like a younger Brawny Man – but, that’s ok, and the formal ‘guy in suit’ look. We tried this new red background I had painted – it’s canvas, but sort of looks like leather to me – definitely different to backgrounds I’ve seen. We settled on a two light set up, key light on strobe, fill light on cell (doesn’t fire), but softens the shadows slightly on one side of the face. Once we got the shots we liked, we took a break and prepared for the second look.

No matter how good a suit fits, you still need to clip and clamp it to pull out bunches and wrinkles in the sleeves. Lucky for me I had two amazing assistants to take control (Tamara and Diana), let me tell you – assistants that you know and trust are invaluable. I always ask them, what they would like to try creatively, and have them take the lead with any set that inspires them. Everything is worth a try when you are all there working together. The last set, included the suit, no vest or tie and a prop. Chase liked this mask we had in the studio and wanted to work it into the shot. We used a fabric background and a ring flash. It’s great how it lights the subject evenly and softly but doesn’t spill onto the backdrop.

I think we were all pleased with the results of this photo session, and once the final edit of images are designed into a composite card and sent out, we’ll hopefully hear some good feedback and Chase will get hired for some modeling work.