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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.

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.

Brian Lisik – Musician

In addition to working as a writer, his work appearing in commercial campaigns and local news papers, Brian Lisik also enjoys his time on stage as a prolific musician. Brian’s music is heartfelt and melodic, appealing to many types of audiences while dodging categorization.

When we talked about working on a photo campaign for an upcoming project we both knew the photos had to be just as unique. Brian lived near a location, an old auto repair shop, that was just dripping with visual personality. When he recommended that we might want to shoot there, we raced over to scout it out. It didn’t take long to realize that this was a gold mine for photographs. It was so great, in fact, that it served as a backdrop for another local artist’s photos I had taken.

With permission from the owner of the repair shop, we arrived on a Saturday around 6pm, ready to take pictures. Because it was the end of spring when we took these pictures, that meant that the sun was still high in the sky, even around 6pm. After snapping a few frames and reviewing our work we realized the location needed a little more drama from the lights to help bring the location to life.

Brian-Lisik-Small-23I was shooting Brian with a large 5 foot octa acting as his key light. We decided to try to keep things simple and add a second light. I really wanted to add some color to the light as well and our final decision was put a full cut of CTO onto an unmodified speed light. Unmodified meant the light would be small and harsh, and the CTO gel would give it a warm glow.

We got everything in place, reset ourselves and started snapping a few frames. Instantly we knew we had nailed it. The single, extra light with it’s orange gel was giving the photos the unmistakable sense of sunset, and that little detail made the difference. We would spend the next 2 hours on location taking pictures against many backdrops; cars, an old wall made up of tire rims, and an old office door.

Normally as the sun gets lower in the sky, photographers will push their subject into it, using it as a beautiful backlight. Because we were getting such great results out of our own little artificial sun we made the choice to avoid the actual sun and continue to use our flash as both main, and artificial sun/kicker. Because the speed light was so easy to move around it gave us a lot more flexibility to set the scene however we wanted it and I think the photos speak for themselves as to it’s effectiveness.

Due of the nature of the project, I can’t share our favorite photos until they are released with the project itself, but keep an eye on the site and I’ll start posting photos as the roll-out begins.

Cheers!
Ben

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

The Importance of Scouting

Scouting is as important of a component of photography as hitting the shutter button itself. Scouting, for me, is a time to plan. It’s thinking about possible compositions, lighting set ups and just the overall mood of the photo I’m trying to capture. In planning, scouting helps you over come any number of unexpected problems that tend to crop up when you’re setting up your day’s shoot. Bad weather on the horizon? Look around and formulate a plan B. Mid-day Sun beating down your subject? Again, it’s the process of just looking around that will help you find a better location with a bit of shade to offer you some respite from harsh over head light.

I’ll even re-scout locations I’ve shot at before. It’s good to have a few go-to spots where you know you can get what you need out of your photo, but it’s also a good idea to keep things looking fresh especially if you’re shooting in a familiar locale. Tomorrow is just such a day for me. I’ll be shooting a portrait in two days time at a location I’ve used twice before. The good news is it’s a large area. I’ll re-scout the spot tomorrow to make sure that when I show up on set the day after I’ll have a good idea of where I want to shoot.

Don’t be idle! Keep moving and looking!

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

Water Works Park for Wedding, Engagement and Senior Portraits

Water & Sun

Water & Sun

Here in Canton, we have have a great park known as Water Works Park. The park is actually a chain of parks including Stadium Park, McKinley Memorial Park and City Field Park in addition to the aforementioned Water Works Park. Through this park chain there are a multitude of locations for photography. Some areas are great for fitness photography, some are great for high school senior photos and some are perfect for bridal and engagement photo shoots. The landscape of the park changes dramatically along it’s length so you should never be left wanting for a change of scenery. Along side the park runs the Nimishillen Creek, which is actually classified as a river. This sheet of running water can also serve as a backdrop for photos shot near its banks.

One of my favorite places to shoot is in an area known as the Garden Center & Children’s Garden. This area is filled with trees and all types of wonderful flowering flora, changing dramatically depending on which season you visit. A small creek runs through the gardens off to the side through a series of stone walled water falls. This is another great area to shoot along. This side of the garden also offers a lot of shade to help photographers who have a shoot scheduled in the mid-day sun.

Brides can be photographed in both the Garden Center and the Children’s Garden easily from almost any angle, although you do have to be careful in some areas since the background can be cluttered with structures. With some careful planning you should be able to work around this easily.

Place you subject on a hill and shoot up at them to convey confidence and strength.

Place your subject on a hill and shoot up at them to convey confidence and strength.

For Business or High-School Senior portraits there is a wonderful trail that winds alongside another smaller creek on the western edge of the park. One of my favorite places here is a small waterfall with steps where you can take both standing and sitting portraits against an interesting backdrop of either water or trees. If you get there at just the right time (around 7:30-8:30 pm in the spring/summer) you can actually catch the suns light peeking through the arches of the waterfall’s bridge. The McKinley Monument, only 100 yards or so west of this point, also serves as a strong backdrop for those moments when your photo may need to convey strength or longevity. Try placing your subject’s back to the monument and shoot down the wall towards them with a shallow depth of field.

Because the park winds around with the river you should be able to move to a new location to effectively change the sun’s impact on your subject. Evenings after 5pm are best since the morning day sun rises over a row of houses instead of the trees that line the western side of the park.

Photographers in larger cities often have a ton of go-to locations for photography while those of us in slightly smaller cities really need to dig deep to find of those over looked gems. While Water Works Park is no secret, it’s not used nearly enough, in my opinion, as a backdrop in photos. In an upcoming article I’ll talk about how photogs in smaller cities can scout out promising locations that offer both easy access and unique looks.

Benjamin Lehman is a Commercial Wedding, High-School Senior Portrait and Advertising Photographer based in Canton, Ohio.

Free Custom Photoshop Skin Retouch Brush

A Custom Brush for all Your Photoshop Skin Retouching Needs

It's easy to load in a new brush!

It’s easy to load in a new brush!

Retouching is an important part of any portrait, whether it’s a wedding, engagement, or high school senior’s photo. Most people are used to the airbrush technique, and since in the early days of photo retouching an artist would use an actual airbrush to do this, it’s no wonder why people still use the default airbrush tool in Photoshop today to pretty much the same effect.

Photoshop is great in the respect that you can use your own custom brush in addition to it’s default airbrush preset. I made my own custom brush, using a more organic pattern, to achieve much better results. This brush is great on any type of face, or body part as it replicates the random nature of skin, such as pores and other surface textures. The trick when retouching is being careful not to smooth your subject’s skin out to the point where they look flat and plastic. Using a textured brush like this allows you keep the skin looking real while gently painting away imperfections. Also keep in mind that some imperfections, especially in men, are defining features and should be only diminished in strength rather than removed completely.

You can download the file HERE and then load the brush within Photoshop under the brush menu.

Here's an example of a before and after. Even using the brush subtlety can make a big difference.

Here’s an example of a before and after. Even using the brush subtlety can make a big difference.

A-1 Auto Repair Portrait Photography

Shooting Portraits on Location at A-1 Auto Repair.

Every now and then you get an amazing lead on a good location to photograph portraits. More often than not that location is something like a beautiful historic mansion, or a wonderful farm landscape or any other number of amazing, but slightly cliché backdrops. However, sometimes that location is something completely different than pretty much anything else out there.

Such was the case when a friend of mine suggested A-1 Auto Repair in Canton, Ohio. When another friend of mine, Chase the Matrix, needed some photos for his promo material I knew this new location would be perfect. Set against the farmed hills west of Canton proper, A-1 Auto Repair is an old-fashioned type of a place. A land that time forgot, but refuses to let go of. When you first pull up you’ll notice a long wall made entirely of old rims and hubcaps, and trust me when I say that would be enough to make this place cool. But it gets better. In front of the fence are several vintage, rusty cars. Again, perfect backdrop for portraits that need to be a little different in look and style.

Behind the fence is an entire, over grown junkyard. Old rusted cars with trees growing through them. Old rusted appliances, old rusted oil cans – old rusted everything! Everywhere you turn your lens there’s an amazing landscape of rusted Americana. Okay, okay, I know rusted cars can be a cliché photo backdrop as well, but not if the location is more than just that, and A-1 Auto is filled with portrait photography possibilities in all 360 degrees.

Now, I should mention, I’ve never shot here before nor had I ever even seen this place with my own eyes until the day we rolled up there for the shoot. That’s pretty risky, especially when you don’t know how the owners will react to you strolling up with a camera and some lights, asking if you can be on their property for an hour. Luckily, the owner and employees were as nice as you could ask for in people. They graciously let us have the run of the place and we did our best to make sure we just didn’t get in the way of their business.

Over all it turned out to be a great place for a portrait session that needed a little extra edge to it. It could even be a great place for some adventurous wedding photography too with the right bride and groom.

Controlling Light – Using a Flash Outdoors

Flash ComparisonPeople love to shoot at sunrise and sunset, and why not? It’s a beautiful time of the day where the sun is doing all of the hard work for you. That low horizon light is flattering in almost all cases and will often remove the need for external flashes completely.

There are times, however, when you can’t escape the mid-day sun, and that harsh, overhead light, can be anything but flattering to your subjects. This was the case when I was recently asked to take a series of portraits for the Akron/Canton Regional Food Bank. The job was to take photos of the clients and volunteers of the food bank, and because the area food banks often hand food out in the late mornings I was constantly faced with shooting with the noon-day sun in the sky. In cases such as this, it’s strongly recommended that you use some sort of a fill light, and if you do it right your photo will be beautifully exposed with your background and subjects left looking amazing.

The way I approach this problem is fairly simple. The sun will almost always be at some sort of angle to you, even in the middle of summer at high noon. The trick is to find that small difference in angle and then put your subject’s backs to it. In this way, you are using the sun as sort of a huge, nuclear rim light. You’re also keeping the sun out of their eyes, which helps reduce squinting.

The next trick is exposure. Since your using an external light source to expose your subject correctly, you need to set your camera to expose for the background. Here I like to use the magic -1 to -2 ev trick. Darkening the background in this way will both saturate the colors of the background and make your subjects pop.

All that’s left now is positioning and dialing in your light’s power. This part is where you can get creative, but generally I like to use a fairly large light source (I use an umbrella/octobox similar to this on location with my AlienBee’s 800) with it positioned directly in front of, or just to the side of my subjects. Light power is set to generally equal neutral exposure on the subjects, although more or less power can be used to add drama.

New Portrait Series

Time to start photographing more people . There’s really not much more to say than that. It’s something I really love doing, so it should turn out to be a very fun series to work on.

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