Lesley Santos Dierks – SLO Life Magazine

Lesley Santos Dierks 2

Lesley is the CEO of Spokes, a San Luis Obispo organization that provides management training and other resources to local non profits, to help them succeed and better serve the community. I photographed Lesley in her home for the cover of the latest issue of SLO Life Magazine, which just came out at the beginning of December. This was the first set of images that I’ve delivered to the magazine that was entirely shot on film. I always carry my digital gear for backup on these shoots, and usually deliver at least some images from the digital rig, since it allows me to move faster and get some coverage that my Hasselblad isn’t fast enough to keep up with; however, for this shoot Lesley so patient that I was able to get full coverage on a single roll of 220 film – just 24 frames!

Lesley Santos Dierks 1

Thanks, as usual, to Richard Photo Lab for handling my film marvelously.

My Dad, the Welder

My dad is a welder by trade, and a super handy guy. When I was a kid, he would ask me to give him a hand fixing and building stuff around the house, from simple things like holding a flashlight for him while he worked on an engine, to complex skills like plumbing my treehouse (yeah, I had running water in my treehouse!). Unfortunately, I was always a lot more interested in playing Nintendo than I was in helping, and didn’t pick up many of the skills that he tried to pass on to me. The good news is that, in the age of Google and instructional YouTube videos, I’m mostly able to scrape by when something simple around the house needs fixing. But when it comes to welding, the skill that my dad built his career on, I’m almost totally inexperienced, and maybe also a little bit terrified of burning the hell out of myself with molten steel.

Dad (1 of 4)

Dad (2 of 4)

Thankfully, when I needed to build a metal gate and a handrail for our sideward, my dad offered to come down to Arroyo Grande to help. I doubt that he would have guessed the payment for his help was going to be a portrait session.

(In the interest of full disclosure, he also got his own room with a super comfortable bed to sleep in, some pretty tasty meals, and at least a few beers.)

Dad (3 of 4)

Dad (4 of 4)

I’m really happy that I took the time to photograph my dad while he was visiting. Originally, I wanted to document him in his “work” clothes, since that’s how I remember him from when I was a kid, but I’m glad that we also made some images of him in his street clothes. (Yes, the hat is a regular accessory.)

I guess it’s a little morbid to acknowledge, but there’ll be a time when my dad won’t be able to come down and help me muddle my way through a project. As much as I’d prefer not to think about that time, when it does come I bet I’ll be especially glad to have these images then.

Why Film? And Why Medium Format?

For every cover of SLO Life that I shoot, Tom (the editor of the magazine) asks me to write a couple short paragraphs about the portrait session. The first time Tom included this small write-up in the magazine was when I started shooting the covers using my old analog Hasselblad, rather than my digital gear. As a result, when writing these pieces, I’ve often discussed the process of shooting film, thinking that it may be interesting to older readers who remember being limited to a mere 36 exposures per roll, or to younger readers who’ve grown up accustomed to the instant feedback of digital photography. What I haven’t written about is why I choose to shoot film. The answer is simple but can easily get complicated…

I shoot film so that I can shoot medium format.

Eric Meyer (2 of 4)

I’ll spare you the plodding explanation of different film/sensor formats. There’s plenty of that kind of thing on the web already, and trust me when I say that most of it is tremendously boring. Pretty much all you need to know is that most digital camera sensors are small, but medium format film is big. Is there bigger film than medium format? Oh yeah. Are there also bigger digital sensors? Yup. But if we’re limiting ourselves cameras that you can carry around relatively easily, and can afford to buy without a taking out second mortgage, the formula holds true: film = big, digital sensors = small.

Why does that matter? Physics.

The bigger your film plane – whether it’s a digital sensor or a piece of chemical emulsion – the faster things go from sharp where the camera is focused to blurry where it’s not. Have you noticed how, when you take a picture with your cellphone or a compact camera, pretty much everything is in focus, whether it’s close to the lens or in the background? That’s because the sensor is tiny. Sometimes you want to have everything in focus, but sometimes you don’t. Bigger digital cameras with bigger sensors than your cellphone let you make this choice to a degree, but with medium formal film, the focus falls off from sharp to blurry very fast. In these portraits of Eric Meyer, my camera is focused on Eric’s eyes, and you can see that they’re tack-sharp, along with his nose and mouth, which are all about the same distance from the camera as his eyes. But even just a tiny bit further from the lens the focus falls off, and things get softer and softer as they recede into the background.

Eric Meyer (3 of 4)

Eric Meyer (4 of 4)

When I look at these pictures, I really lock in on Eric’s eyes and his expression, because they’re super sharp. Anything that might be distracting is quite soft, so it doesn’t pull attention away from the center of his face. For me, the effect that I get using medium format film for a close headshot like this evokes a sense of sitting across from a person, having an intimate conversation with them. That sense of intimacy is a critical part of why these pictures work for me, and why I enjoy working with medium format film.

Stephanie Burchiel – SLO Life Magazine

Stephanie Burchiel 2

The cover of the August/September SLO Life Magazine is Stephanie Burchiel. Stephanie has been offering her vegan soups at farmer’s markets throughout San Luis Obispo County for almost six years, and just released a cookbook featuring her recipes through Farmer’s Market Publishing. She also almost never stops smiling.

Stephanie Burchiel 1

Stephanie and I met at her parent’s ranch, deep in the coastal hills above Cayucos, so that we could take advantage of the ranch’s wooded scenery for some of the images. As usual, the images for the magazine were shot on Portra 160 film with my Hasselblad, and processed at Richard Photo Lab in Los Angeles.

Stephanie Burchiel 3

Stephanie Burchiel 4