Adventures in Swimwear: Day 2, West Cliff Sunrise

Where do you like to shoot in the morning? It’s great to take advantage of the morning light to get some portraits done before most people get to work.

What time do you get up in the morning? I try to wake up at 4:30 AM to get some work done before sunrise.

What is your favorite subject to photograph? I love portraiture and feel super lucky to have such a beautiful girlfriend who is as excited to shoot as I am.

Without Losers

Competition or Cooperation? In our current cultural climate it can be very challenging to think about cooperation. If we do, it’s often in terms of teams in competition. We believe in team work but only when there is another team to beat. There is very little that we find entertaining that doesn’t involve someone coming out on top. The logic of competition has its dark side, though. If there is any truth to the idea that competition has given us major advances in technology, it has also created some serious problems.

Agree to Grieve: Sunday evening, there was a shooting in Gilroy. A map of where mass shootings have taken place is beginning to look frighteningly crowded. We are so used to them, we don’t even know how to respond. Or we know so well how to respond that we no longer feel the need to do anything. We know that some tremendous and terrifying chasm opens up each time. Evil shows its face and families are forced to grieve prematurely and forever.

Freedom or Control? When something as tragic as the Garlic Festival shooting occurs, you would think that it would create some sort of consensus. At least we can all agree that mass shootings are a terrible problem, right? The problem is: the split that already exists starts arguing two sides. Gun rights versus gun control. Even when something as crystal clear as a public tragedy occurs we can’t avoid bipartisan arguments.

Habitual Fans: I believe that this kind of change is much deeper than debate can touch. We have deeply rooted habits and patterns. Our reverence for competition keeps us from ever really working together. It’s as fundamental as what we pay attention to as an audience.

If Everyone Wins: There isn’t anything inherently wrong with liking a game where there are winners and losers. What’s wild, though, is how much that form of game predominates. It’s difficult to even imagine a game where everyone wins. I’m not talking about slightly altering the rules of one of our games so that there are 12th place trophies. That still keeps the same structure of logic, it just distributes and dilutes the wealth of winning. Imagine, however, if a group of people were given a set of tasks and the more they achieved the more they all would win. Instead of fighting to win and not be on the losing side, what if we worked collectively to win as much as we could together.

Organizinational Habits: This game does exist, but it’s not widely known or celebrated. The Teen Kitchen Project is one such game. The more work happens, the more everyone involved wins. Teens learn about cooking and people who need a hot meal get some delicious and healthful food. Teens get some experience and develop their culinary skills, people who need good food receive it.

Working Together: On Monday, I felt the effects of this version of winning when I went to photograph a visit at the Teen Kitchen Project’s Soquel kitchen. It was a normal day of production at the kitchen, the teens were attacking their tasks with order and a beautiful discipline. It takes so much more time to peel carrots and to prepare the ingredients for a quiche than it does to commit mass atrocity. This is what I find cool. Working together to win together.

Produce and Purpose: When our visitor arrived, we got to witness another layer of the vision. Bentley had been a cook in the military and he had received meals from the Teen Kitchen Project recently when he was battling cancer. The teens gathered around and he shared some of his experiences both as a chef and as client. Here we were looking at a man who had been nourished during some of his darkest hours by this very program. His eyes were shining like a stage actor’s in the spotlight of our attention, and he articulated himself expressively with his hands.

Feeding people is an ancient and honorable occupation and a program like the Teen Kitchen Project gets it right on so many levels. It’s an honor to be able to work with them.

What We Don’t Know

One of the realest truths that your parents every told you when you were a kid is that life is not fair. This is brutally obvious when you encounter a child like Joaquin, when you meet a mother like Sara Aluffi.

A friend contacted me through social media to make me aware of a charity event being organized as a benefit to fund the research to find a cure for Duchenne’s disease, a form of Muscular Dystrophy. I contacted the organizer and agreed to get some photos of the event. I have a busy schedule, so I didn’t have much time to research in advance of the event, but I figured I would show up get a couple dozen great photos for them and call it a day.

Another truth that many of us have experienced is that there is no love fiercer than a mother’s. What I discovered on Sunday is that there may be a stronger love; a community’s love for a family.

When I showed up to the parking area I started to see how big this event was going to be. Entire fields were full of cars with parking attendants directing traffic to the few remaining spots. A shuttle took us up to the house where the party took place. I was completely blown away by the turnout. Extra Large was playing, people were dancing, drinks were flowing and the mood was high. I started to photograph guests and everyone was happy to pose for the camera wanting to give anything and everything they could to the event. This was a community showing love to the fullest.

I saw so many great people as I walked around and it had the feel of a huge happy family reunion. Kids were running wild, getting their faces painted, playing on a bounce house, drinking lemonade and the adults were eating BBQ and enjoying a few cold ones in the shade. It was as good as parties get.

As I walked around I kept asking if anyone had seen Joaquin. I figured that the day might be a little overwhelming for him, so I didn’t want to force anything, but I wanted to get a photo of him for his mom. Everyone I asked said they hadn’t seen him. At one point during the day, I stopped and looked at an educational poster describing the disease. It is a genetic disorder that makes muscles break down over time and causes problems with the heart. Without a cure this leads children with this condition to rely upon a wheelchair by the time they are teenagers and most don’t survive their mid-20s.

As I read this poster, my heart sunk. I didn’t know Sara before this event, but I had seen glimpses of how much work it was and it made me tired just seeing her stories on Instagram. As I realized what was fueling her passion I froze in my tracks. Life is not fair. I looked around at the amazing smiling people and now I saw their hearts behind their happiness. These were families and anyone who has a child they love more than life itself understands in the core of their being what this means. Life is not fair.

I stayed till the end of the party getting as many good photos as I could and finally took the shuttle back down to the parking lot. I asked on the way down, one final time, if anyone had seen Joaquin.

“Yeah I saw him. He was playing up by the bounce house.”

I had to go back. I took the shuttle back up and re-entered the party looking for Joaquin. I asked a woman who was organizing some paperwork from the day.

“He’s right there!”

She turned around and there he was on the dance floor getting his groove on. I walked up to him and asked if he wanted a picture. Pizza on his face and shirt, a tired smile on his face, he stopped, looked at me and said “cheese!” I snapped a few frames and left him to return to his blissful dance. Right there, looking into that beautiful boy’s face I had an epiphany. The party was overwhelming to me. There were so many people and so much energy that it was exhausting, and here was this sweet five year old wearing a plastic firefighter’s hat two stepping to a reggae song.

Life is not fair, but it’s also a great mystery. There’s so much we don’t know about it. I’ll tell you this, though, when you have a child you love it connects you to the entire history of the human race and when you meet a boy like Joaquin it can inspire you to believe in angels. Life is not fair, but it’s beautiful, and what we don’t know may save us.

The Joy of Ribs

It’s not a difficult task to love food. It’s the most natural thing in the world. Humans are blessed with this amazing palette of flavors, colors and textures that they can consume via the edible arts. Is food the ultimate art form? It engages every sense that you possess and then it becomes a part of you. How powerful is that?

As a photographer, I relish the opportunity to work with culinary artists and so it was with great pleasure that I agreed to shoot my friend Teddy Danielson’s first dinner as a private chef. She had worked all day to get everything ready, and when I got there, an hour before she started serving guests food, she greeted me with a cookie. “Jake! How are you. Try this cookie.”

I looked at the powdered-sugar-dusted little nugget of goodness and got a napkin and sat down to enjoy it. I sank my teeth into the cookie and I was transported. What the heck? I wasn’t expecting what I experienced. It was crunchy on the outside, but so chewy on the inside and sweet and almond flavored all the way through. It was like a magic trick.

“Are you kidding me?”

“Good texture, huh?”

What a way to set it off. I knew that she was an expert chef, educated in technique and passionate about creating great food, but even with this expectation I was happily surprised. The cookie was evidence of her magic. Teddy was a contemporary sorceress working with her team to prepare beautiful hors d’oeuvres and rolling out some gorgeous pizza dough. These lucky guests were going to eat some absolutely perfect pizza with pears, brie cheese, and caramelized onions, as well as other flat bread masterpieces. But that was just the beginning.

As I moved around the kitchen keeping out of the way of this master orchestrating her work, I kept catching a whiff of the short ribs that had been slowly cooking all day in a bottle of wine. Next came the risotto which filled the kitchen with that unmistakable scent of rich cheese infusing rice with flavor. As she was plating the buttery short ribs atop a bed of risotto I witnessed the final course of a dinner that is as good as it can possibly get. Check her out if you are hosting a party and want the best of the best private chefs. She also delivers meals on a weekly basis for clients who want something delicious, healthy and easy to heat up.

Contact Teddy through her Instagram @takingpurejoy

Working Well with Others

I want to make sure that I express myself clearly. I love collaborations. They are important, and feedback is necessary to get something published with someone else. I want to do more writing with other brands, and I have become really good at working through the process of receiving notes.

I just wanted to mention how it also has reminded me that the best writing I do is when I do it alone. The thing is, the blogs I’m writing for other businesses serve more purposes than just for the sake of good writing. They are helping the search engines find them, they are providing valuable content to potential customers, and they are representing the character and mission of that business.

Obviously, I could never do that on my own. I see it as an interesting challenge: to work in collaboration with people who know a ton more about their business and field of expertise.

I also realized that I want to do more writing that is just my own, because it feels good to have that kind of creative control. It helps to keep you sharp. When it comes to art there is nothing more important. And everyone can publish their own work, make their own art. So we are responsible for our own level of enthusiasm and skill in our work.

Portraiture is another kind of collaboration. When you photograph another person, even if it is for the sole intention of making art, you are doing a dance with that person. You have to be careful to lead with confidence, to stay connected through eye contact, and to make sure not to step on their toes.

I have the pleasure to work on portraits with a lot of wonderful people, and on Tuesday, I did a photographic series with my friend Samantha. Now Sammie is a beautiful woman, inside and out. We have done a number of shoots over the years and have developed a very trusting relationship. So, I was super excited when she agreed to have me photograph her in her bedroom. I think that a person’s environment says so much about them.

We agreed to meet up in the evening after she got home from work. The light was soft and beautiful in her bedroom and we got some beautiful shots of her reading in bed. Upon walking around her home, however, I discovered some evening light beaming through the windows on the other side of the house. I asked if she would want to shoot in that light, too.

I think that a lot of what a model experiences during a shoot depends upon the energy the photographer is emitting. When you aren’t super happy about the shots you’re getting it is easy for them to tell. When you get a frame that you know is going to be great, however, your excitement is contagious. While I had wanted to photograph her in her bedroom, it turned out the living room had much more interesting light, and it was a lot easier to direct her when I was excited about the light.

Collaborations in photography are an art, and they require being open to experimentation, but also being honest about how you feel during the process of the shoot. When you are happy about the results you’re getting, it helps the whole thing to flow.

Gear Envy

There are a lot of great photographers in Santa Cruz. I think that it might be our strongest visual art. Santa Cruz County is such a beautiful place, with so many secret spots and microclimates, that it is an inexhaustible source of inspiration. If it’s foggy at the beach, you can go up into the redwoods to use the soft light to capture wooded landscapes. We have rivers, creeks, waterfalls and even a lake. We have bright open sand dunes and dank murky forests. Photography is the perfect match for this truly special place.
It’s not only the landscape that makes Santa Cruz such a great place for photography, though: it’s the people, too. There is a magnetism to this place that attracts some of the more interesting folks to be found. There are the surfers, the marine biologists, the environmentalists, the artists, the skateboarders, the mountain bikers, the professors, the entrepreneurs, the brewers, the chefs, the foodies, the frisbee golfers, the cannabis community, the techies, the hipsters, the coffee enthusiasts, the moms and dads, the teachers, the activists, the homeless, the politicians, and so much more. All of this beauty and diversity is just waiting to be expressed in photography.

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Yesterday, I woke up early to shoot the sunrise as I usually do. There’s a certain spot I like to go for how the waves refract and crash against the cliffs. It’s not the most obvious spot to photograph, but it’s certainly no secret. I often see other photographers using it for their work. I used to always want to find my own spots and if I saw another person with a camera it would kinda ruin it for me. I’d rather be somewhere obscure and unique than crowded next to a bunch of other button pushers getting slight variations on the same scene. Over time, though, I’ve learned that even if people are shoulder to shoulder they end up getting very different shots because photographic style is very personal. Additionally, I’ve come to think that there is a more important element to photography than being unique: it’s connection. Having some sort of personal feelings about a place makes the work more interesting. That doesn’t mean that you can’t get great photos while traveling. There’s something magical about the act of traveling that opens you up to connecting with a place. There’s also something deep about spending a lot of time studying a landscape. These two are the best paths to connection for me: visit new places and keep going back to places you love. Whether other people are shooting them or not is not as relevant.

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Well, this morning there weren’t many clouds in the sky but there were huge sets rolling through and smashing against the rocks. Every so often an especially large two wave set would roll through and pound the cliff making the ground shake and throwing huge explosions up into the sky. There were two shots I wanted to get: the crack of dawn with a breaking wave and one of these macking sets smashing against the cliff. With some luck, they both happened at the same time. I was positioned to catch the day break when the largest set of all created a small earthquake. Right then, two fisherman were standing on the upper part of the cliff next to me and they looked at the lower portion where they would have to stand and laughed at each other. It was cold and the chances were they were going to get wet. Still, fish had to be caught so they hauled their gear down to the wet cliff’s edge and cast their lines. I waited for another set to come through to see what they would do, but only a couple of smaller waves hit the cliff and they dodged the spray with little effort and only a small amount of fear.

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Then, I dashed off to meet my morning subject for coffee. Martina is a meditation specialist and as you would hope she has a tremendous sense of depth about her. Her business is helping people to go deeper in their meditation practice and I’m helping her with her website. She wanted a photograph of herself in the landscape with gold and purple colors only, so I asked her to wear the purple and I led her up the coast to a really mystical beach with long golden beaches and dramatic golden cliffs. I think that the same thing applies for photographing people as landscapes: the most important element is connection. Again, this is magically possible the first few times you meet someone and after you have known them for a long time. If you feel stuck in your photography I would challenge you to photograph someone entirely new to you and someone you have known very well for a long time. The high tide and the large swell made this epic spot that much more dramatic and though there wasn’t that much room on the beach to walk we got some great shots with amazing light.

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After our shoot, I went back to the studio to edit some shots for her to review and then went to the brewery to photograph the new flier for Twisted Tasting 2018. This is an incredible event that my sister came up with where she invites all the breweries and her favorite food artists to come up with something really creative and unusual. Then they all show up in one carnival themed space for a night of eating drinking and carnivalesque fun. It’s a challenging event to organize, to say the least. I had some business to take care of, so I only had a few moments to get a photograph and I asked one of our brewers if he’d like to be in the photo. Although he initially declined when I explained that he would just be holding up the flier in front of his face he was game. He’s a photographer, too, and sometimes photographers can dislike each other by instinct. My uncle sometimes tells a joke about poets. How do you get a poet to hate you? You tell ‘em you’re a poet. Same thing with photographers. We either hate each other or get along beautifully. There’s almost always some element of comparison that goes into the mix whether it leads to inspiration or jealousy. I’m certainly not immune to this dynamic, so I almost always understand it. He was very cool about it, though, and chose the high road by being a team player. There are way more photographers than there are budgets for photography in this town, but I think that can and will change. Social media marketing is so important to business and there are so many small businesses that we can all find work if we get smart about it. I have tons to say about this subject, but I’ll return to it in a future blog.

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The next part of my day was just a bunch of business, but by the time I’d finished my chores it was already time to go and shoot the sunset. We are in the last week of fall during the shortest days of the year and there’s not much time in between golden hours. I decided to head back up the coast for sunset because I had a really good feeling up there in the morning. I decided to go to Shark Fin Cove this time, even though I expected it to be crowded with photogs. I hadn’t got a truly great photograph of the cove yet and I figured this might be my time. I was surprised when I climbed down the path and out onto the beach that there weren’t any other photographers yet so I placed my tripod in the spot I like the best where you can see the channels of water on both sides of the shark fin. I turned around and there was another photographer already right behind me. He must’ve been just a few seconds later than I was. No bother, I though to myself and laughed about how I had made a satirical story about another photog poaching my shot just a week ago. Well, I’m getting my settings figured out and he plunks his tripod down right next to me, but I know that my angle is the one I like best. If I got a shot even three feet to the left where he is I wouldn’t like it, so I don’t care. The waves are huge and are crashing against the cliffs with great drama. My wide angle lens doesn’t do their violence justice. I turn to my comrade and he has a camera on the tripod, but he’s pulled out another camera with a bigger lens to shoot the waves. I felt a pang of jealousy, or gear envy, but I still knew that I was going to get the shot I wanted, so I chilled and just enjoyed the scene. It was still about twenty minutes till the sun set. Remember how I said earlier that there were two set waves every once in a while that would explode against the cliff in the morning? Well, the same was true in the evening. I saw it coming but you could hear it, too because water was being forced with extreme pressure through both channels and then shot right up the beach at us. No problem, I picked up my tripod and scooted ten feet or so back. As I was doing this, though, I witnessed something awful. My friend still had his big lens camera in hand, but he had put his camera bag on the beach and his other camera was still on the tripod. As the wave raced up the beach, I saw him freeze for a second in terror and then rush in a panic to get his camera bag which he retrieved just in time. Then we both looked at his other camera and watched in what felt like slow motion as it leaned forward and finally crashed lens first into the water.

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“Oh man, oh no!” It was another photographer who was just arriving on the scene to witness the disaster. He was a hipster of small stature, but well groomed and with a very beautiful woman toting a film camera. The were both dressed in all black. I could tell that he wanted my spot. At a certain point he asked if he could stand in front of my setup to snap a few shots. Sure I said and I just photographed him trying to get the shot. I didn’t think you could get a very good photograph of the scene without a tripod to begin with and I knew I had plenty of time as the sun had set but the sky was slowly blooming with color. I could tell it was going to be one of those epic 20 minute after burns. He came back to me after snapping his shots and asked me what Sony I was using. I told him it was an A7ii and he flashed me a wolfish smile. How about you? A7R, he beamed back at me. I laughed inside at what assholes we are comparing gear. I really do not give a flying fuck what camera someone has, especially after I saw homeboy with the big lens lose his other camera to the waves. He was still on the beach morosely trying to clean his camera twisting the lens and grinding his teeth to the sound of the grit caught in the lens. By the time the bloom peaked I was very happy with my shots and trekked back up to my car to head home.

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Shoot it Like It’s Rented

This week I have in my hands a beautiful little camera, the Sony a7ii with a 55mm 1.8 Zeiss lens. I rented this setup from Borrow Lenses and so far I am happy as could be with the results. Here are some photos from my first two days with the camera.

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Affirming the Good

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Portraits are an engine of artistic production. In the past, only the powerful were able to afford having an artist make a portrait of them. Today, with cell phones and selfie sticks, there’s a lava flow of portraiture erupting with volcanic intensity. More people have been both photographer and subject than ever before. Portraiture is a force.

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Social media is driven by portraits. A big percentage of the photos that are made every day are of people. From the covers of magazines to the profiles of social media platforms, good photos of people are more in demand than ever before.

We want to help you to look great. We want to show your friends how confident, happy, and interesting you are, these days. We want to show your clients or employers how on top of the game you are. We want to show your love how attractive you are. We want to show the world your beauty, shining from the inside.

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Portraiture is a great way to affirm the good in others. We want to bring out the best in you.

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