benjamin lehman

Location Scouting – Magical Photography in Cuyahoga Valley National Park

 

I’m always looking for beautiful, ethereal places to take wedding, engagement or fashion photographs.

While I’ve lived in Northeast Ohio for nearly 5 years, I am still amazed by how little of the area I’ve explored. Because I am a rather restless person, this is works out in my favor — I love exploring new places for possible photographic locations.

My most recent scouting excursion was to an area within Cuyahoga Valley National Park known as the Virginia Kendall Ledges. Formed millions of years ago when much of Ohio was a great inland sea, the ledges were most likely the walls of a large island formation. What’s left now are beautiful ledge and cliff faces made up of a sandy, rocky material known as “Sharon Conglomerate.” What was once a scene of fast moving rivers is now a serene and tranquil forest with a thick canopy and graceful hiking trails.

I arrived a few hours before sunset, when the sun was starting to get low in the sky. The result was a forest floor with a gorgeous level of ambient light and equally wonderful spots of deep red, dappled sunlight peaking through the tops of the trees. I can’t overstate just how red that sun light really was — the areas where the sun’s rays hit the ground were lit up with a laser-pointer red that was so unnaturally vibrant it took me a few moments to realize it wasn’t something else just laying on the ground and was, in fact, the sun’s setting hues.

It didn’t take much imagination to realize this would be the perfect backdrop for gorgeous, empyrean photos. A wedding, engagement, or any other type of portrait session here would instantly take on a ghostly, magical quality. The surrounding area has no end of possible backdrops. There are small patches of open ground looking up at the cliffs, areas on the cliffs that look over the forest, and still more areas with stone stairways carved out of the rock face itself. Everywhere you looked there was a photograph waiting to happen.

I look forward to suggesting this area to my clients in the future, and I know when they see it, they will be overcome with how exquisite the location is.

Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial Wedding, Portrait and Advertising Photographer in the Northeast Ohio area.

How to Photograph a Live Band in No Light Conditions

Some conditions are better than others when it comes to photography. In mid-day sun, open shade is your friend. In your studio, or a portrait situation, you have all of your lighting gear at your disposal for crafting a gorgeous photo. Night time land scape photography offers you the ability to take long exposure, giving your sensor all the time needed to soak in what available light there is. However, there are times where you’ll be presented with a situation where all of the fail-safes have been removed. Every crutch has been kicked out from under you and you’re left on the floor wondering, “How do I get back up and take an actual photo that’s worth the effort?”

70-200mm lens, 600ex-rt flash on camera, and a 430exII inside a flashbender would be my equipment for the night.

70-200mm lens, 600ex-rt flash on camera, and a 430exII inside a flashbender would be my equipment for the night.

That was my issue yesterday when I was asked to shoot a live band performance for some friends. It’s a venue that I’ve shot at before, and I remembered it really wasn’t a great place for photos. First off, it’s cluttered and the stage is small. There’s no place to swing your lens where you won’t catch some sort of unflattering background element bleeding into your pictures. That told me right away that I would be shooting tight. No fisheye, or 24-70mm here. I would be shooting long all night, 70-200mm and I would be focusing on individual performances to tell the story.

Next, because I knew the light was limited (read: non-existent) I would have to bring some of my own lighting solutions to help me out if I wanted to shoot anything other than frames of pitch black. The venue, while not too small, is usually packed to rafters, or drop ceiling as the case may be, so I also had to pack mobile and take equipment that wouldn’t get in anyone’s way. I choose an on camera speedlite (600ex) and a second flash on a small stand (430exII) with a Rogue Flashbender modifier.

I’d use the on camera flash as a bounce light. I could take just the one speedlite and point it directly at the subjects but we all know what that looks like – mugshots. Add to that the fact that people sweat on stage and they would look like mugshots taken after a high speed chase – not a good choice, so bounce flash it is. I’d use the flash on the stand in many different ways; I’d use it as a fill, a kicker, back light, rim light – pretty much anyway I could to squeeze out a good looking photo.

When I arrived to the venue any small hopes that I had left for the shoot were quickly thrown out of the window. The stage light, which I were told were, “Totally awesome, man.”, were turned in such a way that they only lit the audience. THE AUDIENCE! I don’t know who made that decision but it wasn’t me. There’s was nothing I could do about it either. The lights were so bulky, their foot print so huge, that moving them was completely unrealistic.

So, now I literally have no light pointed at the stage, my speedlites were going to be doing all the work. This also forced me to make an important decision about the artistic direction of the shoot. My first thought was I could slip out the back without anyone noticing me and just go home where I could make up a story about a falcon stealing my gear earlier in the day, but these guys were my friend and they were relying on me to take some photos. Also, the story was pretty lame and I am sure almost no one would believe me. So I soldiered on and came up with a realistic solution.

The effects of shutter drag, on the left side of the picture, where the ambient light let's the motion draw through the photo.

The effects of shutter drag, on the left side of the picture, where the ambient light let’s the motion draw through the photo.

My final plan was to portray motion. I’d use my speedlites to stop the action, but then I would drag the shutter (slang for using a slow shutter speed) to let the action trail through the frame. One great side effect of a packed house means that people would be using cell phones to shoot their own videos. And since it was so dark, all of those cell phones would most likely have their little LED lights blazing, and that’s exactly what happened. Those little LEDs gave me just enough ambient light to let me use the slower shutter speeds and actually capture some movement. You can see in the photo here just how this works. The on-camera flash (zoomed to 200mm and pointed straight up at the ceiling) freezes the action on the right side of the photograph, while the ambient-only lit left side of the photo makes motion trails as the musician plays. The final effect is pretty cool and gives the viewer the sense of what the subject is doing in the frame. Here, with D.J. Kob, we can see that his arms are all over the place during his performance. Note the thin orange outline of light around his face and arms – that’s my other speedlite on a stand with a full cut CTO gel positioned right behind him to help him pop out of an otherwise black background.

The last hurdle was focusing. We’ve all come so reliant on auto-focus that it can really throw you off your game when no-light conditions render it useless. There are some tricks you can use to manually focus. First tip is simple – shoot a lot more frames. Without auto focus your chance of getting a razor sharp picture drops through the floor, so shoot a lot and hope for the best. The next tip is to look for small reflections on your subject that you can manually focus off of. Glints in eyes, sweat on foreheads, jewelry. Anything that catches light is your friend. Just focus on those objects, turn the focus ring until you can see that they are sharp and start shooting. It’s all you can do. If done right, you’ll have a set of compelling, artistic photographs that tell a story and convey motion.

Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial Portrait, Wedding and Advertising Photographer in the Canton, Northeast Ohio area.

Jackson Belden Foodfest, Hot Air Balloon Liftoff, and Hall of Fame Fireworks – Benjamin Lehman Photography

 

Edit: 7/23/2014 – More Awards added for my Balloon Liftoff Photograph!

When I moved from San Francisco to Canton the challenge was made to find things, people and events to put in front of my lens. San Francisco is a feast for your camera. In most areas of the city, every direction holds a great picture waiting to be captured. Canton, and Northeast Ohio is a different type of beast. There are pictures to be found here too, you just have to seek them out, rather than having them come to you. San Fran taught me to love photography, but North East Ohio has taught me how to be a better photographer.

Smiing faces abound at the Jackson-Belden, Hall of Fame festivities.

Smiing faces abound at the Jackson-Belden, Hall of Fame festivities.

One of these photographic searches lead me to the Foodfest, Balloon Lift Off, and Hall of Fame fireworks that’s held every year at Kent State University’s Stark county campus. It’s the perfect event for photographers. It has a slight carnival feeling to it. Food vendors line the streets and field. People from all walks of life mill around the attractions. There are VIP venues that hold smiling faces and wonderfully prepared food. As evening starts to creep in, one of the large fields there becomes home to hundreds of trucks hauling their cargo — hot air balloons.

The Balloon Lift Off is the highlight of the weekend’s festivities with balloons from all over the nation converging to celebrate the kick off of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s larger enshrinement celebrations. In the 5 years I’ve lived here I’ve never caught an actual lift off – the weather has always been to windy or wet for safe balloon flying. With the weather this year being a little windy and very cloudy I feared I’d have to wait another year for a chance to actually see these things soar. So I was rather caught off guard, left scrambling back to the car for my tripod, when I noticed a balloon lofting over a hill – ack! Time to move!

Flickr's Explore/Picture of the Day

Flickr’s Explore/Picture of the Day

I got my tripod and raced back to the field, where to my relief, most of the balloons were just now being unfurled. Thanks to that one balloon’s early liftoff I knew which direction they would be traveling, so I set my camera up and just waited for the moment when the sky would start to fill with airships. The moment came near the end when many of the balloons had already drifted off into the distance. I framed my shoot and hit the shutter. BAM! I was so happy with the result, and apparently others were as well. Earlier today I noticed my inbox was filling up with new friend requests from Flickr. On closer examination my photo had been selected as the explore/photo of the day honors, wow! The comments left for me were both flattering and humbling and stood as a wonderful cap to an exciting and delightful night.

The celebrations end the next evening when the Hall of Fame hosts a fireworks show on the same field that held the balloons. It’s always a wonderful way to cap off the weekend and it’s something that I’ll always look forward to shooting in the years to come. It’s one of those times where searching for a photo can lead to a new, unique experience that will leave you smiling, and a better photographer.

On the field as the balloons take to the sky

On the field as the balloons take to the sky

A more traditional fireworks photo (right) and a trick of focus fireworks shot (left)

A more traditional fireworks photo (right) and a trick of focus fireworks shot (left)

Pixoto adds a Photography award to the list

Pixoto #1 of the Day

Pixoto #1 of the Day

Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial Portrait, Wedding and Advertising photographer in the Canton, Northeast Ohio area.

Can Lightroom Compete with HDR?

HDR (right) and Lightroom (Left)

HDR (right) and Lightroom (Left)

Note: This is a subjective article about photography, adobe lightroom and hdr . Take whatever I say as you wish.

I use Lightroom all of the time, as I suspect many of you do as well. It’s a great tool which has gotten better and better with each iteration. Lightroom 5, with it improved Shadows and Highlight sliders can really make the difference in a photo where, for whatever reason, the exposure got out of control. A master craftsman like Joe McNally would probably just tell you to take a better picture to begin with, but when I am running and gunning it’s not always an option for me to spend 30 minutes to an entire day making sure every zone of a photograph is properly exposed.

One of the bonuses of Lightroom’s Shadow, Highlight and Clarity slider is that you can start to get into the realm of HDR photography with just a single photo. Traditional HDR requires at least two bracketed photos. I’d say 3 would be the average, but I know some people who claim to use as many 11, to achieve better overall zone exposure in their photographs. I guess if they need 11, that’s fine. HDR programs like Photomatix makes merging multiple files into an HDR file fairly easy and straightforward. Even Photoshop has a Merge to HDR function, although I find it’s results to be less than optimal.

Only a few years ago, Photomatix was practically the only game in town; there were and are still other options, but Photomatix seems to be the most widely used. So, when I would take a series of photos for HDR purposes that’s the program I used. Then one day, while playing around with my merged file in Photomatix, I decided, eh, maybe this photo wasn’t a good candidate for HDR after all. So I went back into Lightroom, grabbed my 0.0 exposed photo out of the batch and started to play with it there. What I found was that I was readily able to create an HDR-ish image that kept in line with what I was originally looking for. Then I thought, what if went back into my library and found other images that I had originally merged into HDR? Could I use a single photo out of a series to create a photo that closely matched the file that Photomatix had output? The answer was, yes… sort of.

First off, I was impressed that I could use Lightroom 5’s sliders to change the global tonality as much as I could. And while it never recovered the shadows or highlights as drastically as a true HDR process could, it came close enough and the results were actually more to my liking.

HDR’s main function is to compress the over all exposure in such a way that the tonal quality of the image is pretty much the same across the entire image. The result is a dramatic, if not sometimes flat, image that reveals all types of details from highlights and shadows. The problem with that is the story and the mood of a location are often rooted in those highlights and shadows. It’s great to bring more depth into your photos, but too much is, well, too much and we’ve all seen what too much looks like. Do a Google image search for HDR and you’ll be blitzed with clown vomit colors and images so normalized that they almost hurt to look at it. A great HDR artist, (see my friend Neil Kremer’s stream here on Flickr), puts a lot more work into his HDR images rather than pressing a button in Photomatix and posting the result. He spends a lot of time in Photoshop dodging, burning and blending to make sure his images are both real and surreal. And, honestly, if you’re going to do HDR you should be doing it Neil’s way.

But I think there’s a great middle ground hiding within Lightroom that let’s you bring out these extra details without losing drama — all with a single, well exposed image. The image above is an example of a 3 bracketed photo. merged and output from Photomatix, and then a single photo (the 0.0 exposed photo from the batch) processed in Lightroom. There are differences, no doubt, and some people may still prefer the look of the Photomatix image over its Lightroom cousin, but you can see that there’s a great possibility there in Lightroom to create some dynamically ranged photos that still retain character.

Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial Portrait, Wedding and Advertising photographer in the Canton, Northeast Ohio area.

My New 600ex-rt Speedlite – Benjamin Lehman Commercial Photography

I‘ve always been a studio strobe kind of guy. My feeling was that studio strobes offered me more flexibility. It gave me more power output when I needed it, it gave me better coverage when I needed and I felt, since they have external battery packs, that I could put them anywhere I would ever need to. It also seems like the best light shaping modifiers were always available for the larger lights. These, among other reasons, always made me feel like if I was going to drop a wad (<-super technical term) of cash on a lighting system that it would be safer spending it on a larger studio strobe. Basically, I thought I had all my bases covered.

But over the past few years I found that when I was setting up my lighting schemes I would often relegate my studio strobes to background tasks, like lighting the environment or using them as large light washes to bring up ambiance a stop or so. Meanwhile, my old, smaller 430ex and 285HV flashes were being used as focused key lights and kickers. Without realizing it I was relying on my smaller flashes for a lot of my precision work. As time progressed I started to use them more in the field and not long after that came an awareness that I had actually been limiting myself by relying so heavily on studio strobes in a lot of situations.

Studio strobes have their use, and that use is big light. When I say big light, I mean any situation where either coverage or sheer energy is needed. When I was working on my project for the Akron Canton Regional Foodbank, where I was often shooting in the noon-day sun, I needed their large power output to reign in the ambient sun so I could put more flattering light on my subjects.

But noon-day photo shoots don’t happen that often. The Foodbank job was very run-and-gun, but usually when you’re contracted to take photos you have a lot more control of your shooting schedule and thus you can take your portraits in more forgiving situations. It’s in these controlled situations where a set of speedlites can easily provide you with the power and flexibility that you need.

Where Can You Use Speedlites?

Canon's new flagship speedlite, the 600ex-rt

Canon’s new flagship speedlite, the 600ex-rt

Pretty much anywhere you could use any other type of light except for maybe the scenario I mentioned above (and even then a large bank of speedlites can do the job, as illustrated by Joe McNally). There are unique properties shared by all speedlites that make them a good, defacto go-to choice for photographs. Their full-featured; even a ‘simple’ speedlite like the vivitar 285HV Zoom Thyristor (who comes up with these names!?) has all the basic  control that the more expensive speedlites offer. Another bonus is the size – these things are small. I can fit 3 or 4 of these speedlites into my camera bag and still have room for my two main cameras, gels, extra lenses, wireless triggers, and batteries.

Anyway, if you’ve used speedlites before none of this is news to you, and so this brings me to the point of this post: Canon’s newest speedlite, the 600ex-rt which I recently purchased.

No ceremonial unboxing for this light. I got it in the mail at 12, and by 1 o’clock I had it pressed into service. In case you’re unable to read between the lines here, that’s a testament to just how easy it is to use this speedlite. I was able to put it on my camera and start shooting, full featured right away, without having to read the 40,000 page manual that comes with it. I had an event I was contracted to shoot. It took place in a large outdoor venue and this meant my main issue was controlling the ambient light from the sun. Most of the event took place under a large, unwalled tent. The ceilings of the tent were anywhere between 12 and 40 feet tall. I found I was able to point the 600ex straight up, zoomed to 200mm at full power and fill the entire tent with soft, flattering light. More than that, I was able to slave my older 430ex II to the 600ex and use it as a kicker to give the event photos an aesthetic more usually found in wedding photos. Where event photos are usually flat, and rather mugshot/driver’s license looking, I was able to use the 600ex to take the quality light and thus the quality of the photos up to a much more professional level.

A little about the flash itself. It’s larger than it’s predecessor, nearly half again the size of the 430ex II. But that extra size means it’s more powerful and versatile. The back of the flash has a lot more in common with the 530ex II that it does with the stripped down 430ex II. However, users of either of these older flashes will still be able to pick up the new 600ex and put it to use without any frustration. The controls are laid out logically. The buttons feel responsive when you interact with them. With the old 430ex II, it often felt like you had to press the buttons nearly through the front of the flash in order to to get it to register, not so with the 600ex. Button presses are easy and precise. The dial is also very reactive, although it is a little hard to turn if your fingers are sweaty or wet during humid days.

Switching from ETTL to Manual (the two modes I use exclusively) is as easy as pressing the larger MODE button twice. Other modes included are Multi, for action/sports shots, and EXT.A and EXT.M for in flash metering.

The back of the 600ex-rt

The back of the 600ex-rt

Turning your 600ex into a master for group flash control is just as easy. Simply press the Wireless/Linked Shooting button to cycle through the modes that best fit your situation. The 600ex-rt has a radio transmitter built in (thus the ‘rt’ in 600ex-rt) for use with other 600ex-rts. Because I only have one 600ex-rt at the moment, I used the optical slave mode to control my 430ex II. From the menu you can control all of the functions of your master 600ex as well as the functions for your slaved speedlite, such as exposure compensation. While radio transmission would be the go-to option if you have multiple 600exs, the optical method worked fantastically, blowing away my expectation. When I had the 600ex pointing straight up into the ceiling, it was still able to control the 430ex II which was often all of the way across the room – some 40 to 60 feet away.

The 600ex II also comes with a nice plastic gel holder, although the flash only comes with tungsten balanced gels, no florescent gels – hrmmmm. I also noticed that the flash seems to have two little electric “eyes” under the area where the gels snap on – these are used to transmit color correction information to your camera based on the gel you are currently using. How cool is that?! No more dialing in kelvin numbers to get white balance!

In an effort to keep a long post from getting longer let me just sum this up by saying if you are a studio strobe purist, like I was, take a chance on a speedlite like the 600ex. You’ll find it has its uses in the studio and that it’s indispensable in the field.

Key Features Summary

  • Easy to use right out of the box
  • Great power output
  • Intuitive, if not a little clumsy at times, LCD interface
  • Good button and dial response
  • Slightly large, but very sturdy
  • Great master/slave functionality
  • Gel system with built in color correction technology
  • Optical and Radio Transmission master/slave modes
  • Flash zoom up to 200mm
  • Power range from 1/128 to 1/1
  • Produces a beautiful throw of light
  • Works just as good as a studio strobe in many situations.

Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial Advertising, Portrait and Wedding Photographer in the Canton, Northeast Ohio area.

 

Why I love my f/4 lenses

I‘m a big believer in depth of field, also known as DoF. It’s a great way to give your photos a professional, artistic atheistic. It also had a practical function that it helps set your subjects off of the background by making them the main focus, (pun totally intended), of the picture.

Larger apertures, such as 1.4 and 2.8 are masters of soft fuzzy background, and a lot of photographers will only shoot portraits with their apertures wide open, even in well lit environment. I don’t have a problem with this, as I use my 2.8 lenses all of the time, but I think photographers will often forgo an equally good, (or even better in many situations), option of shooting with a f/4 lens.

Why Shoot With an f/4 Lens

There’s more than one reason why f/4 is just as good or better than f/2.8 or 1.4. First is the simplest reason: f/4 is cheaper. You can buy a canon 70-200mm f/4 lens for $1,300 or less, whereas the f/2.8 version of that lens is over $1,000 more expensive. Right off the bat you can save yourself a grand and spend that money on other things, such as a speedlight or maybe even a f/1.4 50mm for those times you feel like you an extremely shallow DoF.

The second reason is the lenses are just as good as their more expensive counter parts. I’ve been using my 70-200mm for over 8 years and the images it produces are spectacular. A larger DoF doesn’t mean better image quality, it just means softer backgrounds and better use of available light.

But wait! The third reason negates that whole, “larger aperture means more light,” argument all together. If you have a modern digital camera, say one that’s been released within the last 3 years, then you are reaping the benefits of decades of research and development spend on camera sensors.

My 5D Mark III can shoot at 6400 ISO with out any noticeable noise. I’ve shot at higher ISOs as well, and just a little post processing in Lightroom will remove what little noticeable noise there might be. Even my 5D Mark II, now 7 years old, can still handle an ISO of 6400 without an issue when using my f/4.0 lens with the help of a little noise reduction in post.

The last reason f/4 is great is because it has nearly the same DoF blur as a f/2.8 lens. And, in my opinion, I like the way DoF is handled at f/4 better. At 2.8 you’ll often notice that your background is turned to soup with shapes lost completely and colors bleeding together, muddying up what’s behind your subject. With f/4.0 you can keep a little of that color and shape separation in the background while still being soft and pleasing.  Yeah, the difference is noticeable, but barely.

One more bonus with f/4 — sharpness. The smaller the aperture, the more over all focus you gain and when you’re taking pictures of people, animals or anything else that has a tendency to move. This extra focal depth could make the difference between landing the shot, and just missing it.

Illustrated below is just how similar f/4 and 2.8 really are.

aperture-example

So, don’t knock 4/f, embrace it!

 

Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial Wedding, Portrait and Advertising Photographer in the Canton, Northeast Ohio are.

 

Bow Wow Beach, Stow Ohio Dog Photography

If you have a social, water-loving dog, then there’s no better place to be than Bow Wow Beach in Stow, Ohio.

Being the proud dog-dad of an Austrialian Cattle Dog and yellow Labrador, we decided to take our dogs to this dog park and wow, were we blown away by what a great experience it is. It’s large, (7.5 acres!), fenced in and features a lake at it’s center, complete with sandy beach. We’re asked constantly for pet portraits and Bow Wow Beach provides the perfect backdrop. No prim and proper dog-wearing-tuxedo photos here. No, this is a place for your dog to run around, get wet and jostle with the other natives.

If you want a photo of your dog with a genuine smile across his or her face, then plan on taking them here. You’ll have a blast too, watching your four-legged friend run around, diving in the water, and chasing the other pooches.

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Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial Portrait Photographer in the Canton, North East Ohio area.

Wedding Photography – Jesse & Chris at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Massillon, Ohio

I had the great pleasure and honor to be the wedding photographer for Jesse & Chris. The ceremony was at Saint Joseph Catholic Church in Massillon, Ohio.

The wedding was exceptionally fun for me because it presented me with a few creative challenges — which, by the way, is something I truly love. Unique obstacles are a great way to improve creativity in a new situation, and the lessons you learn under these circumstances can be taken with you into the next photography project and put to great use.

For this wedding, it was a very compressed time-frame. The Bride & Groom would be showing up only an hour before the ceremony. The real catch, however, was that there was a service being held in the church that was scheduled to last 15 minutes into that hour. That would give me 45 minutes to set up lights, photograph preparation, candid and detail shots; all of which no wedding should be without. I realized the day before that this was more a test of my own personal speed and aptitude rather than a test of my ability to come overly prepared. I loaded all of our gear into the car as usual and readied myself to move like the wind once the parishioners had filed out of the church and that’s exactly what I did when I arrived on the spot. Read on about my adventures below the video.

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My work with the Akron-Canton Regional Food Bank

Near the end of winter I was approached by the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank. Their request was simple – help them document the people and neighborhoods that rely on the foodbank’s assistance for food. I couldn’t say yes fast enough.

I’ll be honest, a photo essay project like this is a photographer’s dream. We all want to capture real people living in real moments. It’s why street photography is so popular. It’s why photo-journalists will risk their lives in war torn countries. There’s a deep need for us to expose the emotions of people, and those emotions are best found where they are near the surface. Sadly, that often means areas of homelessness, the victims of war, disease, and people struggling with poverty in general.

I thought I knew what I was getting into. When describing my photographic approach to the Foodbank I insisted that I wanted to take the pictures that were given to me. At the time that meant to me I would be taking a lot of photos of people with faces labored with burden, bodies that bared the weight of the world. My first day on the job took those expectations, tore them up and threw the pieces into the wind.

Where I expected to find sadness, I found strength, optimism. I thought I would find shame, but instead I encountered honor. It wasn’t the dark emotional alley I expected it to be. Instead it was cohesive community working together to make everyone’s lives better.

Let’s talk about the Foodbank for a moment. The Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank (ACRFB) serves 8 counties in Ohio. They distribute over 24 million pounds of food each year, with 65% of that food given to their member agencies at zero cost. If those numbers sound impressive, they are. The ACRFB was named Food Bank of the Year, which is the highest recognition achievable among the Feeding America national network. The people who work for the Foodbank are the typification of first-class. They tackle the problem of hunger tirelessly and employ innovation for improved fundraising, problem solving and program services.

You can see their efforts at work the moment you walk into any of their sponsored agencies. Time and time again, I was told, “No one leaves hungry. No one is turned away.” Walking around one of the Foodbank’s agencies it doesn’t take long to see that those words are an iron-clad promise. The first location we shoot at was an old church. On Sundays the halls are filled with parishioners, but on that day it was filled with volunteers and the people they serve.

The volunteers were also not what I had expected. I figured that the average volunteer force at a food shelter would be made up mostly of younger, college aged kids. Instead I found many of the volunteers had once, or still were, the same people receiving assistance from the shelters. They felt so strongly about the work the Foodbank and shelters had done for them that they wanted to give back and be part of the solution. Our first subject was one of those people; a lady who had received assistance for years who now served the folks she once stood in line with.
Our next location, a shelter out in the middle of Amish country, was the same. As was the one after that, and after that. Each shelter greeted me with smiling faces – not the sadness I was prepared for. And in those moments are where I became swept up in just how amazing these people were. Mothers with small children, fathers, families, even the wonderful lady who was fighting MS while relying on the Foodbank, turned out to be nothing short of the some of the strongest people I’ve ever met.

Hunger and the people who suffer from it belong to no stereotype. They are individuals with unique reasons for needing assistance. Many of the people we talked to and took photos of worked at least one job. Some of them worked two.

All of them shared one commonality, and that was the gratefulness they shared towards the Foodbank and its shelters. One such person was a man named Mark. He has relied on food assistance from a shelter aided by the Foodbank. Now he spends free time at the shelter, manning a wagon he uses to ferry groceries to the cars of other shelter clients. He was kind enough to take a few moments out of his day to let me photograph him, but the whole time I was clicking the shutter I could see he just wanted to get back to work, to the people he cared for.

Once all was said and done, I had visited shelters in the middle of country fields, in the woods, and in the middle of urban America. I had taken my camera, ready to take pictures of people overcome by circumstance and instead I found smiles and pride as far as my lens could see. This job destroyed any misconceptions I ever had about hunger and the people living with it, and this will stay with me forever as one of the best jobs I’ve ever had the honor to work on.

 

Special thanks to Kat Pestian, Michael Wilson, and Melissa Link. You can follow the wonderful work of the Akron Canton Regional Foodbank here.

 

Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial Portrait, Advertising, and Wedding Photographer in Canton, Ohio area.

4th of July

Fireworks and photography goes hand in hand. We use sparklers all of the time in wedding photography for when the Bride and Groom are leaving their ceremony or reception. Once a year, however, we get to take a picture of something a little larger than sparklers and party poppers. The 4th of July gives all photographers a chance to turn their cameras to the sky and capture airborne shows of fire and light. In the past I’ve been tasked with photographing large fireworks displays put on by cities and event planners – this year I was in a beautiful rural setting with a dark, starlit sky serving as the background to the fiery fair.

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