The Boardwalk

Walking off the Q train at 8am on Coney Island isn’t as funny a scene as you might expect. People are meandering to work. Some are certainly still coming home from the nights’ activities before. But generally, it’s quiet. Peaceful.

Turn a corner and there were 200 odd photographers and models gathered for a photo meetup. I’d never been to one. My own fear of being exposed as a fraud coupled with my dislike of meeting strangers in large groups meant this group looked twice as large as it was. But yea, it really was 200 people.

But once the initial ‘holy shit I’m here’ wore off, I began to wander around, get my bearings. I didn’t even know there would be models at this thing so I did what felt more comfortable - found a few ‘real’ strangers to chat with and photograph. See, my fear isn’t of taking strong photographs of people or talking to strangers. The latter part is still hard, but I do it. The former part I know I have so much work to do, but yea, I’ve got some chops. My fear is of showing up and not having the creative juices to impress other creative people. Everyone seemed just so on point. They said things like ‘Fire’ (and I wondered if that’s some new version of lit) and "whats your IG” (the new gram?).

I hadn’t gotten up at 6 and trekked out to Coney Island just to question myself though, so I joined the fray. Initially I was hesitant - crowding around the dozen or so other photographers all going paparazzi with the few models (the ratio wasn’t great). But then when the initial buzz died down, I found a few models kinda hanging on their own. I found my in. I didn’t have poses but asked them to tell me stories about the beach, the water, being at a theme park. I was grateful for every minute we had together and I learned so much in just a few hours working with these talented folks. I had never worked with models before and it was a good lesson in shared-space, creative collaboration, and humility. Knowing when to direct and when to back off.

I’ll be on the lookout for more.

Market personality

I’ve always been fascinated by the stories of the farmers and workers who come to New York’s farmers gardens. From 3rd generation farmers to trust-fund distillers to passionate fish mongers, each little tent holds such a rich story beneath. In the winter months, when they haul out their goods to stand in freezing temperatures for hours after getting up at 4am, my reverence and respect for them increases in multiples. A few weeks ago, I spent some time talking with a few of the farmers who do their thing through sleet, rain, snow, and just about everything in between.


Kurt and his family are fishmongers who usually post up at the Union Square greenmarket but come down to Grand Army Plaza during the winter when the ‘regular’ fish crew travels south for the winter.


I initially asked this man if I could take his portrait and he said “no,” so I lowered my camera and said “sure, no problem.” He then asked, “why are you interested anyway?” I told him his expression was particularly vivid and he said he’d been asked by a few other people in recent weeks as well. We kept talking for a few minutes and as I was walking away he said, “hey, if you still want you can take a couple of photos.” Sometimes people just want to be seen and heard.


2018 - A Year in Review

2018 was a year that stretched my photography skills like never before. I began to use speed lights as my client work moved indoors. I re-learned to crawl with the best of them as my littlest clients (and son) got even younger. Perhaps most important, I tackled new challenges of time management as a new dad, team leader, and photographer. So, to kick off 2019, I’m sharing a visual recap of all that 2018 brought in.

There were events, family photos, and a few side projects. There were hikes, food projects, garden wanderings, and some street venturing too. From Brooklyn to St Lucia and a lot in between, my camera came with me as a trusted friend. Someone who challenged me, pushed me, but ultimately helped me be my best self and see the world in a new way.

Thanks to everyone who’s followed along the blog here and I hope you continue to join me in the months to come.

The surreal, ‘public’ beaches of St Lucia

The surreal, ‘public’ beaches of St Lucia

The year began with a getaway. A pre-baby moon if you will but also a kind of trip Katie and I almost never take. Don’t get me wrong - we love a good beach and splash in the ocean, but rarely seek those features out when we travel. St Lucia was simply sublime. Cliche perhaps, but we leaned into it. Not as much as, say, our resort neighbors who got out their sun oil, cubans, and rum punch by 10am at the beach. But hey, to each their own.

The vibrant colors begin to take shape as a cold spring season begins at the Gardens

The vibrant colors begin to take shape as a cold spring season begins at the Gardens

I spent hours - probably days worth of time - in the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. I especially loved the early spring - as buds burst forth after months of careful cultivation from the fall by gardeners who could only hope that nature would partner in their designs. Each week seem to bring new textures, colors, and choices and for me, getting close or and playing with movement felt like the truest way to capture the feeling of being both big and small, rushed and frozen all at once.

The Japanese Gardens were a favorite - finding new ways to see them was a challenge

The Japanese Gardens were a favorite - finding new ways to see them was a challenge

As spring turned to summer, walks in the parks turned up fun surprises that you only get in a city where it’s entirely possible that a dog’s wedding gown was more expensive than my own wife’s. This was one of my favorite street photos of the year and for me it captured much in what was changing in my photography. While many others turned their lenses on the couple, or even the dog while it was in their laps, I tried to position myself to where it was going to go - to create the juxtaposition of the two brides. Of course I got lucky, but I also set myself to maximize that luck too.


But May also brought us other surprises - and while I won’t be posting any photos of our son yet, the cake below was our first celebration of the incredible news. He has brought so much joy and happiness into our world and it’s hard to imagine life before him.


Even with our new addition, I made time to reflect and explore the gardens in new ways. From macro to blur, I wanted to tell the story of change without losing the importance of the individual elements. Some of what I created felt dull and unoriginal, but the creative constraint helped me develop both new techniques and perspectives.


The summer also began my first family photos of the year - this one with our neighbors who had a child only two weeks apart from ours. Watching them grow up together has been hilarious and illuminating and I loved working with our friends for an intimate session in one of my favorite spots.


I was also thrilled to work with my close friends when they had their second child. We’ve been through so much together - our early years of teaching, weddings, illnesses, and just about everything inbetween. We’ve toasted each other, cried on each others shoulders and I loved working with them to capture this precious moment in time.


One of my favorite client groups to work with are entrepreneurs who are seeking ways to capture the value of their work in distinctive ways. From events to editorial pieces, portraits and headshots, I’ve been fortunate to have worked with a number of clients this year who have exciting new businesses and a powerful story to tell. My goal of making high quality photography at accessible prices makes me humbled to work with such hard working, creative folk.

Callan from a Spark Collective

Callan from a Spark Collective

Larnell and Jonathan at a Soulful Experience

Larnell and Jonathan at a Soulful Experience

As fall rolled in we took a trip to Lexington, KY and had a chance to soak up the quiet beauty of the fields and farms. I realized how long it had been since I had been out in more rural country that seeing even relatively small farms triggered quaint (and naive) thoughts about life away from Brooklyn.


As the year came to a close I did a final gig with a family who we’ve been close to for over a decade - the couple that introduced me to Katie and with whom we’ve stayed close ever since. Sharing their joy as they welcomed their baby into the world was icing on the cake.


Thanks for reading and joining in a complex year filled with joy, new beginnings, new ventures, and new ways of seeing familiar sites.

How I interview people

When I began doing street portraits, I tried to study how different photographers approach their subjects. I learned from Brandon Stanton of Humans of New York who has spoken extensively about his approach, the importance of developing trust, and how to work with a subject to tell their story. From David duChemin I learned how to cross lines of difference with humility and respect. How to close both physical and emotional distance to create space to help people open up.

But 'learning' these ideas in abstract is just one step - applying them in my own context, my identity, and personality requires disciplined practice, reflection, and ongoing improvement.

A moment of solitude

A moment of solitude

When I approached this man sitting near Columbus Circle, he looked simultaneously serene but also conflicted. His music offered one way to block out the crowd but I sensed he had other thoughts swirling in his mind.

I've borrowed HONY's strategy for approaching strangers by asking simply, "can I take your photograph?" No pretext about a project or interest, but just a desire to connect. From a first photo or two, I'll then ask a few questions. Also borrowing from the HONY method, I skip the small talk. This is really hard for me - asking strangers to share vulnerable moments, hopes, challenges, is not something that comes naturally. But there's no way around this. While many people have said 'no' to my initial question, almost no one has declined to share once we get going. Being a stranger helps. They have a chance to open up and talk without concern for consequence and the connection that creates is powerful.

If I'm being totally frank, I think my camera and neck-strap actually help a lot. They are items of interest - tools of the trade that signal more than a passing interest. Yes, there are many significantly more talented photographers who can work with just an iPhone. No, you don't need a fancy camera or craft neck-strap. But from my own experience, they create a small amount of trust that I take what I do seriously. I'll often actually get questions about my camera - is it film, who makes it, do I like it, why did I choose it? While these questions have nothing to actually do with my approach to photography, they help create a connection with the people that I photograph. I'll take it.

Opening up

Opening up

As we continued talking, he shared a deeply personal and honest story. As it unfolded, he seemed relieved to have a chance to share it. It was that moment of relief, honesty, a touch of timidity, that I tried to capture in this second image.

In the end, there's something revealing about that first image too. It speaks of a man with a need to get a way - who has lived much of his life hidden behind a facade. But personally I like the second one better - it speaks of the connection we had in that moment. Fleeting, earnest, sad, but still hopeful.

This is my process and it continues to evolve.

A moment. A story. A family.

A friend recently approached me to do a family portrait session for them. Their little ones were growing up quickly and they wanted a chance to capture the preciousness of their ages and the memories of the moment. 

Little guy stole my hat

Little guy stole my hat

My family never took portraits and the idea always struck me as a bit odd until I started seeing some of the photos my friends had. They were natural, fun loving photos that captured that small sliver in time for the family. I've seen them in hall ways, frames, and yes, social media too. And so when I thought about what I wanted to bring to the shoot, my focus was on finding ways to capture the little personalities running around the park and the dynamic the family has together.

Penguin style

Penguin style

This didn't mean no direction at all - just a careful mix of direction and giving kids room to be themselves. It meant keeping a read and pulse on how much patience both kids and parents had and choosing moments for a little more careful composition carefully and making sure I was ready to capture it.

up in the air

up in the air

I'm still finding my style with family photos but loved the opportunity to bring this one to life. Thanks Meghan and Brendan for letting me into your world for the morning.

My first engagement shoot

Portrait photography is my thing. I love exploring new ways of seeing people, of sharing their stories, of sharing the spectrum of human emotion.

So when I offered a pair of close friends the gift of an engagement shoot I was totally upfront with them: this was my first, I would probably be gaining a lot more from the experience than they would, but they would be happy with at least one thing from the shoot.

But I was scared - feeling perhaps I had stepped farther outside my comfort zone than I was ready for.

I've been thinking a lot about creative fear recently as my team at the DOE embarks on designing new tools for educators and support staff. It's hard to break away from conventions. Bar graphs are easy. Good bar graphs are really hard.

And so when I first began to look for ideas an inspiration, I realize I went about it all wrong. I looked at Pinterest boards with titles like "top 50 engagement poses for the fall" and other eye-glazing leads. I was preparing for an engagement shoot by doing what other people did, not by reflecting on why they had agreed to do it with me.

That was the most important insight I took away from the day. I was so worried about delivering something conventional and "likeable" I lost confidence in what they liked about the work they had already seen. It was only until later in the shoot, when I began to feel my rhythm more, that the shots we took together were more inspired and authentic to my style.

Not gonna lie - when their invite came with a few photos from the shoot I was over the moon. I'm pretty sure I would have paid for the opportunity for the chance to make them something special.