2018 was pretty hard for me. So although I had started the year with a strong desire for it to be a year of awesome personal work, I fell very short of that goal. It’s with no revelation to state that depression is a real creativity drain. That said, I did have a small handful of amazing shoots which I am grateful for. There still was a distinct lack of content in 2018 versus past years which made the already normally hard process of putting together a big end of the year review post feel incredibly difficult for me. The shooting part is easy. What takes its toll on me are coming up with ideas, finding models, makeup artists, picking locations, making schedules align etc. In 2018 I just didn’t have the energy or patience for it.
My normal method of selecting photos in past year end reviews had been to simply go through every shoot and pick a handful of favorites. Gathering a mass of images to choose from had never been as hard as it was this year. I still had over 150 images I really loved, but there just wasn’t enough for me to feel like I had the same sort of variety as previous posts. Melissa bearing witness to my distress, suggested that I instead focus on my ten favorite photos taken in 2018 and write something about each of them. Although this put me back in the year in review game, writing something about each photo put a different spin on the selection process. Some images I look at and find them visually stunning, but they may not have a big emotional or story telling impact on me. So long story short, the struggle was real. Anyways – here are the 10 photos that meant the most to me of what I took in 2018, complete with a little story about them and how they were created.
#1 “Almost Ruined”
Bombay Beach, CA | 01.29.18
Nikon D750 | 58mm f/1.4G
1/4000s | f/2.5 | ISO100
Lighting Details: I forget the exact specifics for this photo, but I am pretty sure it was a Godox AD600 w/Phottix 27″ Folding Beauty Dish camera right.
Hair & Makeup: Devan
Lighting Assistant: Morgan
Logistics & Lighting: Melissa
I started off 2018 in good form with my annual birthday shoot at the Salton Sea. The original plan had been to photograph a model that I’d previously worked with, but unfortunately she had to back out of the shoot because of a scheduling conflict which left Devan and I scrambling to find a replacement. Kira filled the spot at the last minute, and was really amazing that day. Although I admittedly should find a few other spots around the Salton Sea besides Bombay Beach, it’s been my favorite “go-to” for a long long time now. The rapid speed in which the water is receding at the Salton Sea is really depressing, feeling a bit like watching a family member slowly expire while you watch helplessly. I will say that one positive has been discovering all of the random art that has popped up amidst the ruins. Kira is sitting in front of this strange little tent that had probably been created on accident when whatever it had been previously been fell to the ground in decay. I took a number of photos of her in the “tent,” but this was my favorite in the series. It has a surreal feeling of longing to it for me.
Las Vegas, NV | 02.27.18
Nikon D750 | 58mm f/1.4G
1/400s | f/3.2 | ISO800
Lighting Details: (2) Yongnuo YN-360 LED Wands held in a “V” underneath her.
Lighting Assistant: Julie
BTS Photographer: Luis
In the summer of 2017 I second shot a wedding for Sierra. I think it had been the first time we had actually met in person, and prior to that I don’t think we had much interaction. Second shooting for someone for the first time is always a little awkward for me. I never know exactly how much of my stellar personality I should let out of containment. Usually I’ll try and refrain from any admission of weirdness, even though it’s obvious the weirdness is strong and underlying. I don’t remember hearing much from Sierra after that wedding until flashing forward to WPPI 2018. The cool part of this story (in my opinion) is that Sierra and I have a moment that we mutually consider to be our bonding point. A large group of photographers had met at a hotel restaurant, and after dinner there was this one obnoxious guy (a friend of a friend) who I had never met before, who was absolutely insistent on everyone taking a group photo. Sierra and I both looked at each other and did some simultaneous eye rolls and moved out of the way of the group photo-ing to make our escape. As we quietly ridiculed the strange guy’s burning desire for a group photo I was realizing this Sierra woman was pretty cool. Of course it takes a lot more than being anti-forced group photo to get into my heart, but ever since then Sierra and I have been steadily having bonding moments.
Sierra is not the sort of person to be an open book online. She is of course by no means a social mutant, but she does maintain a bit of a mysteriousness surrounding her true persona. In all seriousness, getting to know her has been a big highlight of my year. Things I have learned about Sierra: She’s funny, business savvy, artistically inclined on many levels, a dedicated mother (but not the sort of parent I find obnoxious), generous upon generous, passionate about many of the same social issues I’m passionate about, intelligent, and just a really good friend. I get excited about shooting weddings with her, not because I find weddings exciting, but I just like spending time with Sierra. She is my 2018 Friend of the Year winner.
The photo was shot in a Las Vegas hotel during a photowalk we did. It’s the only photo from this post that I have some behind the scenes photos for, thanks to Luis. This was before she removed her pants.
#3 “we could have been anywhere”
Niland, CA | 03.29.18
Nikon D750 | 58mm f/1.4G
1/4000s | f/2.8 | ISO100
Lighting Details: Godox AD600 w/Prophoto octabox camera right.
Hair & Makeup: Alexis
Lighting Assist: Walter & Lindsey
Luz was my most photographed model in 2018, and it’s been fun getting to know her. Fun is a big characteristic of Luz, and I find it fitting that a big three letter word like fun is the word I associate with three letter Luz. Even though all photo shoots share similar mechanics, somehow they are always more fun when Luz is involved. I find all of her quirks and Luzisms to be very endearing. How can you not love a model who hates sand who also requests a beach shoot? I’ve also coined the phrase “Luztalk” to describe how she reacts to things and their hidden meanings. And even though Luz cannot return text messages if her life depended upon it, I still consider her one in a million.
This shot was taken on a little adventure out to a surreal spot I had passed by countless times on the way to Salvation Mountain. The mild irony of the photo is despite how cool the location was, it’s so tight in on her face and mane of midnight hair that it really could have been taken anywhere.
#4 “dreaming in silence”
Big Laguna Lake, CA | 04.07.18
Nikon D750 | 50mm f/1.8G
1/320s | f/4 | ISO100
Lighting Details: All natural fog.
In the past Torrey Pines had been our “fortress of solitude” place. We hiked, got fresh air, found some peace. It was a good run. And although Torrey Pines hasn’t exactly disappeared it has become less of a destination for us. The traffic and timing of getting there is a consistent pain in the ass. The parking prices are through the roof. Another major deterrent are the newly installed path barriers that force people to stay on the designated trails. Of course people should stay on the designated trails, but what once felt like an amazing nature spot is now littered with visual reminders that there are too many people who can’t respect natural beauty. It honestly has kind of ruined it for me.
As an alternative we have started visiting a spot in the mountains called Big Laguna Lake. Although it’s arguable that there is any body of water there, let alone a lake – this place has been an amazingly peaceful and restorative zone for Melissa and I. Sometimes we went to hike-walk the trails, but a lot of the time we found ourselves just eating lunch in a grove of trees a ways off from the nearby campgrounds.
One day we decided to take my mom out there figuring she’d enjoy the walking trail. Only we didn’t check the weather prior to heading out, and were greeted with a fog bank that had pretty much swallowed the area. It was a cold and damp, and didn’t make for a great walking adventure. But the forest felt mysterious and surreal, and I love fog images. Although there were quite a few that I took that day that resonated with me, this one was my favorite.
Alpine, CA | 05.18.18
Nikon D750 | 58mm f/1.4G
1/200s | f/2.8 | ISO800
Lighting Details: A Yongnuo YN-360 LED Wand camera right. Pretty sure that’s all that was going on besides the window light.
It was honestly a bit challenging for me to write about this particular image. There were a plethora of beautiful images from that day that I love. Although boudoir photography for a lot is considered sexual, to me it’s always been about vulnerability and inner confidence. Being trusted to do a shoot like this isn’t something I take lightly, and that trust in of itself is a big honor. As much as it can be a step outside of the model’s comfort zones to do a shoot like this, it’s also a step out of my own comfort zones. I covet the challenge, but the end results can be a source of anxiety. How will she feel about the images? Will she be proud of them? Will she regret the experience? I’m trying to be better about separating my love for the images created versus my worry for how they are received. It’s not easy for me.
When I first showed her the proofs this is the image she picked as her favorite. I was very surprised by the choice. I wasn’t surprised because this particular image was any more or less beautiful than the others, but because it was one of the most vulnerable. She said it felt delicate.
#6 “welcome home”
Big Laguna Lake, CA | 05.22.18
Nikon D750 | 58mm f/1.4G
1/4000s | f/2.5 | ISO100
Lighting Details: Godox AD600 w/Phottix 27″ Folding Beauty Dish above me, slightly camera left.
Lighting Assistant: John
I’ll admit I can’t remember the exact date Charlene moved to San Diego from Palm Springs, but I do honestly love having her in the city. This isn’t to say I’ve been a particularly wonderful local friend to have, or that I have made enough effort to spend time with her or photograph her. The one shoot we did do was a very relaxed and casual trip up to my favorite forest spot. I’m fairly sure this shot happened before she discovered the colony of ladybugs and attempted to pick them all up and pet them (which is Charlene’s modus operandi for most living things that aren’t dangerous to touch). Charlene has this good heartedness that I believe is visually palpable in portraits of her. I know this year was a hard transition for her, finding her way in a new job and a new city. I’m glad she’s here.
#7 “Your Soul Is Getting Taller”
La Jolla, CA | 08.14.18
Nikon D750 | 58mm f/1.4G
1/400s | f/2.2 | ISO1600
Lighting Details: Natural light.
Priscilla is forever one of my favorite models to photograph, but each time we create art my appreciation for her as a human grows. Speaking of growth, Priscilla is getting taller. Although she had told me she thought she was physically getting taller (I mean I do hope that slows down at some point, I already borderline need a step ladder to give her a hug), each time I see her I sense her growth as a person. The hella weird thing about photography is how much you can learn about someone through photographing them, without truly knowing the history of their lives or their every day details. I can get a sense of someone’s being just in their eyes (I mean click here and look at her eyeballs and tell me you can’t see the special).
She’s been in San Francisco away for college, absorbing education at a brainiac rate that I’ve come to expect from her. She is extremely intelligent, and I’ll say if ever there was a case for that “old soul” cliché, P fits the bill perfectly. So even though her return trips to San Diego have been sporadic, and she has the typical family obligations and old friends to see, I always make a probably obnoxiously persistent attempt to steal her for part of a day. This time around she told me she wanted to do a swimwear shoot, which honestly floored me. Not because I consider her a prude, but for being as crazy beautiful as she is – Priscilla has always come across to me as modest. While I’m fairly certain Priscilla could slay a photo shoot wearing a potato sack (if they make them long enough), it was like the one piece swimsuit with the now en vogue high cut leg was created specifically for her. There were a lot of great shots taken that day, but this is the one that is pure Priscilla fire.
#8 “Something You’ll Always Remember”
La Jolla, CA | 09.30.18
Nikon D750 | 58mm f/1.4G
1/400s | f/2.5 | ISO640
Lighting Details: East and south facing windows.
This is the only photo of my top ten that was technically a “work” photo. I was going to just copy and paste what I had written about the image from Facebook, but it was somewhat of a novel – so just click here to read it.
#9 “in danger of being free”
Rancho Palos Verdes, CA | 11.03.18
Nikon D750 | 35mm f/1.8G
1/2500s | f/2.8 | ISO100
Lighting Details: A single Godox VING V860IIN speedlight w/a 24″ Interfit softbox, camera left.
Lighting Assistant: Sophia
Jenny doesn’t hide that she is a survivor. The last photoshoot we had done together was an exploration of some dark themes, and this time around I really wanted to take things in a different direction and bring her into the light. The day we spent together I had sort of mentally divided into three separate segments. The first part of the day we took images in and around her home. The beginning part of it to me represented the ongoing process of recovery. The second part of the day to me represented finding a balance between recovery, and implementing those principles of healing in harmony with the real and often times very frustrating world. The third part of the day (actually shot at night) represented to me a transition of her coming out of the darkness and into the light. It was really tough to just pick one image from that day, and obviously the one image I decided upon doesn’t reflect every aspect of the day. There is however a reason why I specifically chose an image from this series.
The plans for the day I kept purposely loose. I wanted to just be inspired by her, and I wanted Jenny to be the divining rod of destination that day. I had asked her to pick a spot to shoot in that had some personal significance to her. She had chosen a spot in Little Tokyo in LA where there was a wishing tree. One would write a wish or thought on a piece of paper and attach it (hopefully in a non-destructive manner) to the tree. It had a lot of meaning for her, and despite the immediate thought that popped into my head of “FUCKING LA TRAFFIC,” I figured the pay off would be worth it. So we get up to LA, and we find the tree, and guess what? It’s only a wishing tree on certain dates. And this was not one of those dates. Naturally it was a little disappointing, but if ever there was an illustration of life and how one is faced with detours they must navigate, this was a perfect illustration of that fact.
So on the spot she came up with a plan B, a relatively well known church in Rancho Palos Verdes that had incorporated nature into it’s interior. While churches in general are places that I prefer to be paid to set foot inside (wedding photography joke), Jenny is a spiritual person and I knew that it would be cool. So we get back in the car (FUCKING LA TRAFFIC), and eventually we arrive at the church. Despite it being later in the day than I have ever personally photographed a wedding ceremony… guess what was going on at the church that day? Yep, a wedding. Faced with our third roadblock of the day (the second was a failed attempt at getting to the roof of a building in LA), we ended up across the street on a bluff with an amazing ocean view. Jenny had earlier in the day expressed to me that she wanted a photo that embodied freedom. I had told her that my best sense of how that might be conveyed was a vast open space. We were in Orange County where vast open spaces aren’t exactly low hanging fruit. Yet here was that vast open space.
The other part about the bluff worth mentioning is the height of the sheer cliff that dropped off behind it. As a result the edge of the bluff had a fence around it presumably to prevent people from you falling to their guaranteed deaths. This shot was challenging. I had taken a train up to see her, and consequently I had traveled with pretty minimal gear for me. 35mm was as wide a lens as I had on my person, and my light was just a single speedlight. So although it was later in the day, there still was some strong sun to contend with. And then of course there was that pesky fence to deal with. Fences don’t exactly instill a since of freedom. I’m relatively cautious by nature, and Jenny would bungee jump with a rubber band if it meant a cool photo. Despite trying to manage my silent heart attack as she fearlessly ascended the top of the fence post barefoot, I held it together long enough to get a view very amazing photos of Jenny being free. This photo was my favorite of that series.
#10 “schinus molle”
La Mesa, CA | 12.27.18
Nikon D750 | 58mm f/1.4G
1/500s | f/2.8 | ISO640
Lighting Details: Natural Light.
If you’ve ever been to my house you may have seen that we have a fairly large back yard, mostly on a sloping incline. Once you get past the terraced part there is nothing until you’re all the way up the hill. Most of it is just weeds that vary in height. My neighbor to the left has large pepper trees. The seeds blow over the fence, and despite some effort made at removing them as they start to grow, they’ve always come back.
As I closed out the year I scheduled a couple of photoshoots during Melissa’s trip to North Carolina to see her family. Melissa and I don’t spend much time apart, and while I have at one point in my life lived alone (you do in time get used to it), this year I had a feeling it would be especially hard. So to keep myself busy I scheduled those two shoots, one of which was with Iveth who came over to the house. Although my plans with her were kinda vague, the general idea had been to experiment with studio lighting in my living room. We did that, but as it turned out the photos I gravitated to most were these ones I took of her in all natural light standing in the midst of these growing little pepper trees that are trying to take hold of my yard. I think I had even remarked to her that at some point we’d cut them down again.
Yet as I was editing the images I started to wonder why exactly were we cutting them down? Our backyard is pretty barren without them, and what harm exactly are they causing? They may not be the world’s most beautiful tree, but obviously they have the capability to be beautiful. Most things do. As I was sifting through images from these last two shoots looking for a good image to close out 2018, I felt strangely drawn to ending this review with one of these from the pepper tree jungle. It has a mysterious feel to this particular one, and coupled with my thoughts for letting these plants just be, I decided this was a fitting and poignant way to conclude this post.
This photo represents my desire to keep attempting to create beauty in unlikely places. I want to capture the glow of life in people’s eyes. And I want to get better at just letting some things be.