musician

All in the Family Indeed

I know that Boston is a small market, and everyone in the Merrimack Valley seems to have far less than 6 degrees of separation, but this assignment was different. I was sent to photograph a musical family with roots in Newburyport, MA, but as I found out more I realized that that the grandfather in this three-generation musical family, was a teacher of mine at Berklee College of Music 35 years ago! Les Harris Sr. was one of my favorite teachers at Berklee. He was always approachable, a very real person, no pretense or aura. Just a very talented and accomplished musician who was very ready and willing to help his students. His son, Les Jr., an excellent percussionist in his own right, lives in Exeter, NH, where I grew up, and teaches at Philips Exeter. Les Jr.'s daughter, Aubrey, is an incredibly talented bass player and singer, whom I had the pleasure of hearing as they rehearsed during our photoshoot.

As Les Jr. and I got to know each other that day, I realized that he works with a couple of guys who I knew growing up. One who was in a band with me in high school and the other who used to live a mile from my childhood home and who my mother would babysit. If these coincidences weren't enough, on the way to Portsmouth, I heard Sergio Mendes' cover of "Fool on the Hill" on the radio. As I listened I remembered that Les Sr. had used that recording in class for what we used to call doing a "record copy", an ear training exercise where you literally transcribe exactly what you hear, note for note. We used to wear out a lot of cassette players that way! 

Check out the Harris family in this month's Merrimack Valley Magazine as well as Les Jr.'s and Aubrey's web sites. Also take a listen to Aubrey and some other amazing high school musicians perform with Keith Urban here!

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Classic

Patty calls her work-self an Excel jockey. But those who know her also know that she is an excellent musician. Patty plays clarinet and is the secretary for the Lowell Philharmonic Orchestra, in Lowell, Massachusetts. She helped create the orchestra's annual summertime concert series at the Shedd Park Pavilion in Lowell. Patty came in to the studio to work with me on my "Big Door" and "Basic" series. Last year though, she was part of a collaborative project that Lowell Film Collaborator co-founder Suzzanne Cromwell and I had embarked on. Although it is on somewhat of a hiatis, I still have hopes of continuing that work with Suzzanne. Here are some of the shots from both photo shoots with Patty. Check out the Philharmonic! Click here.

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A New Beginning

I love summer. But summer can be a challenge if you are trying to keep the ball rolling on your business. Clients go on vacation. Projects are sometimes put on the slow track until autumn. So even though I love the long, warm days of summer, I do look forward to the fall when things start rolling again.

This fall I decided to take my online presence and branding up a notch. Beginning today, with this blog, I am featuring my newly designed web site and logo. For the techies out there, it utilizes HTML5 to customize itself to whatever browser it happens to be running on. It also features really large images that scale to the size of the browser window. So make sure you maximize the window!

Because I have been working on this project for a while I have quite a bit of photography work in the can to show you. I will be doing that over the next several months along with a couple of surprises, including one personal project that I will be rolling out in November. Please watch for that!

To get things started I thought I would share some shots from a photo session that I had with the excellent guitarist, Alex Prezzano. He rented the world-famous Methuen Memorial Music Hall for the shoot, which features an amazing pipe organ that occupies the entire front of the hall. I hope you enjoy the shots and check Alex out! Please feel free to leave a comment too!

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Lawrence YMCA Music Clubhouse

Recently, I shot a story for a magazine article that profiled a program at the Lawrence, Massachusetts YMCA, called the Music Clubhouse. In the basement of the Y, kids are invited and encouraged to learn, practice, perform and to exercise their musical creativity. This is one of several Music Clubhouses sponsored by the Music and Youth Initiative, a Boston non-profit that has established seven others in the Greater Boston Area. The Lawrence clubhouse exists with the help of numerous collaborators, such as Avid, my alma mater Berklee College of Music, and numerous other donors and volunteers.

Recently, I shot a story for a magazine article that profiled a program at the Lawrence,

Massachusetts YMCA, called the Music Clubhouse. In the basement of the Y, kids are invited and

encouraged to learn, practice, perform and to exercise their musical creativity. This is one of

several Music Clubhouses sponsored by the Music and Youth Initiative, a Boston non-profit that has

established seven others in the Greater Boston Area. The Lawrence clubhouse exists with the help of

numerous collaborators, such as Avid, my alma mater Berklee College of Music, and numerous other

donors and volunteers.

Starting with One Light

I often go into an environmental portrait shoot with a bunch of great ideas. Within the first 15 minutes or so you can often find them on the floor around where we are shooting. There's a tension between being prepared and ending up being too rigid in my approach. So I like to show up with a bunch of things that I have thought through, which I try to use as a guide as we shoot, but it's also important to just follow where things naturally lead.

When photographing one person though, I tend to start out thinking about how I can do so using one light. It's really important to consider available light too. One habit (not sure whether it is a bad or good one) that photographers who use flash have can be to simply assume that flash is always necessary. When shooting a particular kind of work, it is difficult to imagine shooting it with only available light. The real issue there is, if you are expected to get the shot and it needs to be of a certain style and technical quality, it's crazy to hope that available light will be your friend when you arrive at a location. On the other hand though, it is important not to discount the possibility of unbelievably good available light, and only that. I know, current digital cameras have unheard of high ISO functionality, and that is a great tool. But that table lamp is not always casting the best light on your subject, or that fluorescent fixture on the ceiling may not be the look that the commercial client is going after. So I bring lights.

Last week I photographed an excellent musician, Alex Prezzano, both in my studio and in a few locations around the building. He was great! Alex wanted me to create and had no interest in dictating a style to me. So we walked around the mill where my studio is located and did some setups. My goal was to have the shots look as natural as possible. The available light was not always what I needed, so I used one light. The little secret is that moving around a location like this with a speedlight on a stand makes things much less nuts too.

Alex Prezzano

A lot of people are put off by any shadow on the wall. I love the look of one light with an simple reflecting umbrella. If there's a shadow, well, there's a shadow. Light makes shadows where it cannot fall. Rembrandt was partial to that look too, as I recall. No, I didn't know him personally...he lived in Europe.


After taking the photo walk around my building, we landed back in my studio. If a client wants a traditional look for a headshot, I use at least two lights and one or two reflectors. But here we were still going for a more dramatic look, so my default starting point is always that single light source. Here I did break out the 24x36 inch softbox, but used it at almost 90 degrees to camera right to give him a very dramatic effect.

Alex liked some work that I had done with a grid spot from the back hitting a gold reflector in front. This is a very cool effect because there is no light in front of the subject, and it is so soft and warm.

Adding a second light, finally, from the back as well, creates a really interesting effect too.

Check out Alex Prezzano's work here: http://www.myspace.com/alexanderprezzano