Alchemy Salon and the Commercial Street LoftWalk

There is just something I love about a great Salon.

Alchemy Salon and the Commercial Street LoftWalk

Perhaps it’s because I grew up in a beauty shop that I find them so entertaining. My mother is a stylist, my grandmother was a beauty operator and my grandfather a barber. To say I spent some time embroiled in the gossip and mild drama of the ladies who frequented the shop is an understatement. Mom’s shop was at the house growing up, so anytime I got bored, I would just pop in and add myself to the banter.

Alchemy Salon and the Commercial Street LoftWalk

I love interpersonal communication. I love just sitting back and watching the way people talk and relate to one another. Women are particularly interesting. Men simply tone down the guy talk in the presence of ladies, but put a group of women in a room together and they become a different animal entirely. I find it a fascinating and wonderful transformation!

Alchemy Salon and the Commercial Street LoftWalk

When Paulette (stylist to myself and my wife Pamela) mentioned Alchemy Salon (Paulette and Sa’dia) would be participating in this years Commercial Street Loftwalk and Steampunk show with live models, I begged her to let me come and photograph the event. Well…I didn’t beg, but if she and Sa’Dia wouldn’t have been so enthusiastic about the idea I just might have.

Alchemy Salon and the Commercial Street LoftWalk

Alchemy is one of those places that completely reflects the proprietors that created it. The century old building is colorfully and eclectically decorated. It has a wonderful energy and elegance.

Alchemy Salon and the Commercial Street LoftWalk

Upon arrival, Pamela and I were greeted with an exuberant HEY YOU TWO! I grabbed my camera, asked all the models in turn if they were comfortable being photographed and started shooting.

Alchemy Salon and the Commercial Street LoftWalk

I setup a studio strobe in the back to capture the models once they got their hair and makeup finished. I wanted something out of the way, but that still reflected Alchemy, something that showed the great texture of the place.

Alchemy Salon and the Commercial Street LoftWalk

The day was the coldest in months and a persistent drizzle ran from morning till start time. All of the ladies were total troopers, braving the cold in less than woolen outfits.

Alchemy Salon and the Commercial Street LoftWalk

I had such a great time. I love any opportunity to get to shoot an interesting event with people in great costumes, but honestly I think I had the most fun hanging out with all the girls at the salon!

Alchemy Salon and the Commercial Street LoftWalk


Pre-Studio Test Shots

The photography studio space is coming along. I have been diligently working away in my basement. Both my neck and shoulder adequately reflect the time I have spent rolling color (or lack there of depending on how you think of black) on the walls and ceiling.

Pamela in the StudioShot One ©

The original plan was to prime everything, but only paint the first 2/3rds of the space black, however after seeing the space in this strange half and half color palate, it just looked incomplete. Perhaps it is because my primer happened to be “primer gray” that it seemed unfinished, but so many primed, but unpainted cars around town makes me want to finish the job.

I am therefore going to coat all of walls and half the ceiling in Glidden Flat Black. Sure it makes the place look like a dungeon…a very, very black dungeon, but it WILL help cut down on reflections given the ultra small space (see my previous post Building a Small Basement Photography Studio – Part 1).

After completing the walls and ceiling, I will still need to repaint the floor. I did not use a drop cloth on the floor so I have a good number of splatters and the awful green color needs to go to keep strange color casts out of my photos. The jury is still out on the plan for this, but I will need to consult first with my paint guy at my local big box store.

Pamela in the StudioShot Two ©

Before anything was removed. Before any paint was applied. Before my neck started screaming, please stop with the constant looking up, I got Pamela down into the studio space to take a few shots. I wanted to share what can be done in a less than ideal space with little setup.

In Shot One, we are using one Calumet 750R strobe with a Nova 32 softbox. The background is a white sheet that is nailed to the wall of our basement. The light is overhead slightly to camera left.

In Shot Two a 2’x3′ piece of white foam-core was added below acting as a reflector. Notice the difference in the shadows on Pamela’s neck in the two shots. In retrospect, I feel her skin tone is a bit washed out (compared to Shot One) and I probably should have got it better in camera by lowering the bounce card.

Shot Three was taken with two Calumet 750R strobes both mounted with the Nova 32 softboxes. This one is by far, my favorite. The first light was again in the above mentioned configuration with the foam-core bounce, but a second 750R was places directly behind her, angled slightly upwards to minimize lens flare and set to 1.5 stops over the key to insure the the background was completely white.

Pamela in the StudioShot Three ©

The end shots were imported into Lightroom 3 where initial corrections were done, then edited in Photoshop CS5.


Building a Small Basement Photography Studio – Part 1

To say the space I have available for my photography studio is less than ideal would be an understatement. To be exact, the space measures 11 ‘x 26′ x 6′ 10″. Yes, that is a 6’ 10″‘ ceiling; it’s sadly not a typo. It is, however the only available space I in the house I can use for my studio and as Doris Day once sang, Que Sara Sara.

To get a better idea of the space I am working with and what I have planned, I created a quick Visio drawing to illustrate what is happening.


The initial tests put me shooting somewhere beneath or slightly behind the HVAC return (using my 50mm), but I have quite a bit of room to track backwards if I want to use a longer lens.

I have a few problems (other than the ridiculously low ceilings) that need to be addresses.

  1. Reflections – the over arching problem is reflection. I did some initial playing around in the space and found that it was nearly impossible to keep the light from spilling all over. Since the ceiling is white, the walls are yellow-green and the space is small, you get tons of bounce light, much of it with a fun green color cast. If I was shooting a Frankenstein Halloween costume perhaps this would be good, but most of the time, I will want to minimize the color casts.
  2. Junk – over the years I have collected an assortment of odds and ends that are completely essential to my continued survival. I mean how can anyone be expected to live in today’s world without a 45 gallon tub full of miscellaneous cables. This room has always held these treasures, but I am going to have to find a new home for them all.
  3. Pealing Paint – it has been a good number of years since this room was painted and there are plenty of pealing patches of old paint to prove it.
  4. Water – as with any basement in the mid-west, I get the occasional basement flood. This room was picked specifically because it gets the least water in my basement.
  5. Mildew – The picture below tells it all. Since this room was previously filled with boxes, and it gets damp on occasion, I get some mildew.

Plan of Action

  1. Remove the junk
  2. Scrape the walls
  3. Wash the walls with a mild bleach and dish soap solution
  4. Wash the walls with plain water and mop floor
  5. Prime the walls
  6. Paint the walls and ceiling in the first half of the studio flat black
  7. Paint/Seal the floor
  8. Install new electrical outlets
  9. Become the next great internet photographic sensation

If anyone has any suggestions or can think of anything essential I have missed, please leave a comment! I can use all the help I can get on this one.


My Jasmine Star Experience

Because of the weird way my schedule worked out this week, I had the opportunity to sit through most of Jasmine Star’s creativeLIVE class. Some of the class was listened to in transit, via my iPhone, but I did watch or listen to almost all of the five days of training.

Rather that review the class, which was my first inclination (darn you left brain), I thought I would write how it made me feel. Boy were there a bunch of feelings in this class. I laughed a lot. I teared up, more than once. I was terrible nervous when the creativeLIVE 5 were put on the spot and reveled for the world, some of their photos. I think I even grew a bit.

The Wonderful World of Me

I am not a wedding photographer, or a professional photographer (I actually don’t have any desire to become one). As Jasmine put it at one point in the 5 days we spent together, I am a guy with an expensive hobby. I have for years have a distinct love for photography and design. I buy expensive equipment, I use it for a few photographs, get frustrated with what I produce and put the camera back in its bag. I spend quite a bit of time book learning, but I rarely ever learn or grow by shooting.

Since a very early age I have been this strange mix of technical and creative. I started playing the piano at age 4, I was singing before I was two and even as a small boy I remember dismantling things that were broken, only to find them working again when I put them back together.

By day I am a network engineer a distinctly technical but uncreative job. My day is filled thinking logically about problems, and dismantling why a particular action is occurring and how that problem can be fixed.

Recently my wife and I started our own business. The venture has been terrible exciting and my role is both technical and creative as I take care of web design, advertising, graphic design, photography, video editing, etc for Thrive Personal Fitness.

Though I don’t have our branding anywhere near where I would like it to be, every day I learn more about creating images and advertisements that can help build our business. I have been terribly thankful this creative outlet came about because it in many ways removes the excuses I have used in the past when I failed to create.

When we need a head shot of Pamela for a publication, I make it happen. It doesn’t matter that I don’t have the lighting setup that most head shot photographers use (a common past excuse…I don’t have X piece of equipment). I find a way; I create something out of nothing.

One Hot Mess

Jasmine Star is, by her own description, a hot mess. She describes herself and her photography as fun, fresh and fabulous. I was thinking about the one word I would use to describe her and I settled on effervescent. She seems to radiate both energy and emotion.

I think what I appreciate most about creativeLIVE is getting a REAL sense of the artists. These are some of the top people in their fields, but they feel self-doubt and worry. They second guess themselves and they don’t have answers to everything. The final edit of Jasmine’s photos revealed lens flare, harsh back lit conditions, washed out photos, tilted shots that needed straightening, did she really say auto white balance…seriously? I use AWB!

These less than perfect images are the same kind that has kept me from creating all these years. She seems to thrive while I make excuses. Of course everything isn’t perfect. Of course not every photo stops you in your tracks, but many do. Those that do work propel her forward while I let my less than perfect images foster stagnation. Why have I missed this for so long?

I think I have come to realize recently that I have to stop being afraid of failure. I have to stop giving so much credence to the things that don’t work in my photography; I simply need to learn from them. I NEED to fail in order to grow as an artist (it’s really hard for me to refer to myself as an artist). I don’t have anywhere near the grasp of the art and craft of photography that I would like to and I will never learn that while my camera sits safely in its bag.

Don’t take any of this the wrong way. Jasmine Star is a strong woman, she is proud and confident and a shrewd businesswoman. She knows where she wants to go and I don’t think anyone can stop her. She is a fantastic photographer, she takes incredible photographs, but she is also a real person. She takes real pictures. She is not perfect and she is not afraid to show it live on the internet. I love that.

I am so happy to have shared this time online with Jasmine, her husband JD and the creativeLIVE 5. Thank you all so much for sharing your time and being so brave with your talent and so open to let us all share this little slice of your lives.


Slow Burn

I went back and looked today and realized, it has been nearly four months since my original post proclaiming this shell of a website was online.

My intent centered around spending some quality time on the things I love and sharing them will all of you…well the 22 people who for some reason visited last month, and promptly left.

Perhaps it is an indication of the shear amount of work my other project, Thrive Personal Fitness can generate (I am the technical person for our Personal Training business). Perhaps I am just lazy.

Some of the problem lies in trying to figure out what I want to be. You see I tend to have the attention span of one of those small yippie dogs. I can easily be excited to death about fitness, only to put that excitement on the back burner for the latest in the world of tech (iPad…drool…).

Slow Burnimage by Johan Larsson

Currently I am mad obsessed with Photography. I joined the National Association of Photoshop Professionals and then signed up for Kelby Training and have been spending quite a bit of personal time watching Computer Based Training (more to come on this world in future posts). A good deal of this probably goes back to Thrive Personal Fitness.

We need a decent number of images, specifically of Pamela, and in typical fashion I want to do it in house rather than hire someone to do our photography and retouching. I am not the best photographer in the world, but I am learning. I need to spend more time honing the craft, but have to balance it with everything else I am doing.

We spent an afternoon recently taking photos in the studio at Drury University with our friend Justin and I fell in love with strobes. Much of my Kelby training thus far has been watching Joe McNally ramble (Joe you do ramble, but it is brilliant much of the time and as evidenced by my own post, I appreciate a good ramble) about lighting. That sort of control of light is something I just love working with; trying to sculpt the light.

I can’t make grandiose promises about daily posts, but I do need to better allocate my time to get in here an blog on a more regular basis. I surely need some more structure to my normal yippy dog, key jingling, attention diverting……SQUIRREL!!!