Posts Tagged ‘California’

Being open to unexpected results

Last week a group of us ventured out to the Salton Sea for a photo shoot. Having been there once before and seen the desolation and decay I was excited to add a touch of beauty to the scene with my models. I had seen images of an abandoned motel near the Salton Sea and knew this would be a great place as it offered a variety of location options. I figured since were were passing by we’d also stop at the dinosaurs in Cabazon for a quick shoot on our way to the Salton Sea. Even though I had allotted plenty of time for hair, makeup, wardrobe and lunch I hadn’t planned on traffic getting out of LA (at 2PM) being so bad. I also didn’t allot for another 20 minutes for hair and makeup final touches when we got to Cabazon.

This loss of about 45 minutes changed my plans for the the rest of the day. By the time we got to the “abandoned motel” we only had about 20 minutes before the sun set behind the mountains. Turns out that this famous abandoned motel had since been turned into a museum and community center.  I had brought my models to the only modern establishment in the area.  The ideas and shots I had planned in my head were now thrown out the window and I had to make-do with the light and location I had available. There was still a free-standing shack that would offer me some of the decay I was looking for and the shore of the lake offered some great options.

When I was shopping for wardrobe I came across two white sun dresses that reminded me of a baptism scene in The Book of Mormon which I had seen the weekend before.  After the sun dipped below the mountains there was about ten minutes of this incredible light. The lake was dead calm and the tones reflected in the water from the sky seamlessly blended together for an ethereal quality. These are the only shots that I had in my head that came to fruition.

The rest of the images from the Salton Sea were nothing like what I had planned but they turned out amazing. I also had lofty goals for a video but when the clock is ticking stills take precedence. I didn’t shoot any video after Cabazon.  A big thanks for out to Sura Radcliffe, Stacey Ellis, Claire Dellamar and Sarah Roberts for their work.

Hair: Sura Radcliffe - Studio VII
Hair & Makeup: Stacey Ellis - Ellis Salon
Model: Claire Dellamar
Model: Sarah Roberts


Cabazon Dinosaurs

Cabazon Dinosaurs – Sarah Roberts in Forever XXI

Cabazon Dinosaurs

Cabazon Dinosaurs – Claire Dellamar in Forever XXI

Salton Sea

Salton Sea

Salton Sea

Salton Sea

Salton Sea

Salton Sea

Salton Sea

Salton Sea

Salton Sea

Salton Sea

Sparklers in the dark

Sparklers in the dark

Tourist Trap from Chuck Espinoza on Vimeo.


Shooting medium format

I get it. I finally see what all the fuss is about. I got the film back from my first shoot and I love the quality of the Mamiya files. I say files because despite me shooting film I’m paying for the lab to develop and provide large Hi Res scans. The scans have a beautiful soft quality. Because of the softness, skin looks milky and soft; so much so that skin looks good without retouching.

The following images were shot during a shoot with Claire Dellamar. Since it was my first time out with the Mamiya I used the 5D to get me to a place where I was confident that I had a shot worthy of film. When it’s all said and done each shot on the Mamiya costs me ~$3.50. In the grand scheme a couple bucks isn’t much money but at $35 a roll the figures start to grow pretty quickly. Each roll of 120mm film on;y gives me ten shots.

With Claire on the stairs I knew I had something special. The light was great, Claire looked great and I had found a rhythm and knew it was worth shooting film. The downfall is that because of my inexperience with the Mamiya coupled with the manual features of the camera my rhythm came to a screeching halt. I have to stop, take a meter reading, take out the dark slide, bend over and look down instead of at Claire, focus manually, cock the shutter, compose the shot, double check focus and then take the shot.  That’s a lot of steps for one shot. In that same amount of time I could have taken a handful of shots with my 5D.

I’m feel like I’m cheating by using the 5D. When I look at all ten shots I feel that the roll was a success. Had I gone out with a roll of film and only had ten opportunities to get great shots I wonder if the proof sheet would have looked so great. (my feeling is no).  Then again had I started shooting medium format years ago I would be burning through $10/pack polaroid instead  of the 120 film.  Digital has provided me with so many opportunities to learn and make incredible photos. In the eleven years I have been shooting on a DSLR I’ve shot hundreds of thousands of frames. In addition to shooting that much I’ve also sat in front of a computer and reviewed each and every image and leaned from my experience. If I were paying $35 for each roll of film I wouldn’t be the photographer I am today.

I’m enjoying the Mamiya. It’s giving me a fresh outlook on photography and it’s motivating to create.

*Processing and scanning by Richard Photo Lab.

Mamiya RZ67 and Kodat TX400


Claire Shot with Canon 5D Mark III, default black and White conversion in Adobe Photoshop CC

Shot with Canon 5D Mark III, default black and White conversion in Adobe Photoshop CC


The first three shots were taken in the studio before we left for the location. I wanted to try using the Mamiya with my strobes and for the first shot the flash didn’t fire. Boom, I just threw $3.50 in the trash.


Kodak 400TX proof sheet – shot with Mamiya RZ67


These images show the huge difference in quality when you zoom in.





Kodak 400TX

Kodak 400TX


I want you to have something you can touch

I currently have 585 photos on my iPhone. I love my iPhone. It’s an amazing tool to have in my pocket; so much so that it’s the camera I use the most when I’m not being paid by someone.  When it comes to dragging a seven pound chunk of metal to Grace’s ice skating lesson I’d rather just reach into my pocket and pull out my phone. If you think the quality isn’t up to par, the following photo was printed at 20×16.  I bring this up because, like me, the majority of my clients have hundreds of photos on their phones and in their digital library that they never do anything with. If you are like me, most of those images don’t see the light of day. Maybe a couple end up on a blog or on Facebook, some end up on Instagram but for the most part they are left in digital purgatory and after a few months the special moment you wanted to document is lost. I took it as we were heading out the door to have our family portraits shot.

Like most two year olds, Charlie doesn’t smile for the camera. He gets uncomfortable and goofy and often moves his eye-line away from the camera. This moment was special because both of my kids looked great…at the same time… and in the same photo.  I love seeing this every time I walk in the door. It’s a reminder and a keepsake.

Charlie & Grace – 16×20 Gallery Block – shot w iPhone 5


When it comes to hiring me to shoot your wedding, children, family portrait, fill in the blank; I want you to leave with something you can touch and cherish. This is a 16×24 Giclee canvas I recently made for a client.


16×24 giclee canvas


In 2011 I started using this image of Tutu  in my promo material. When Tutu’s mom saw the mounted 18×12 print she loved it. I asked her what she did with the CD of files she purchased from me; she confessed that she hadn’t made time to do anything with them.  Life is full; we all get busy….I want your experience with me to be easy and result in photos hung in your house that make you smile when you stop to look at them.


Tutu – Manhattan Beach 2010


I shot this (riveting) video to show the results of one of the hard cover press printed books I offer. This is the fourth book in a row I’ve made for this client and when I dropped this off she remarked how special they are and that  she loves having them to look back on.


By handing over a disc or a digital file I am handing you work. It means you have to make the prints, buy the frames, frame the prints, send Grandma a copy of the prints…..I don’t want your experience with me to be sullied by the stress of  added work after the shoot is over. This is the reason I offer the products and services that I do. I want you to enjoy your photos. Granted clients still want copies of their digital files which are available, but as a photographer I want you to have something you can touch.





2012 A Look Back

A few years ago I made a slideshow using  photos from every assignment I shot during the year. The idea stuck and has become a great way for me to reflect on what I did right and what I did wrong during the year. 2012 was both challenging and incredibly rewarding. All of those experiences brought one theme to the forefront – Family is Everything. And by family I’m not limiting myself to the family I was born into or married into. It’s the people that I have chosen to surround myself with. This year we have had the warm blanket of family wrapped around us when we needed it and we were able to be that same blanket of warmth and strength for others when they needed it. This year was life-changing for so many of our friends and loved ones.

Over the past couple years I’ve skipped using photos of my family in the slideshow, after all they weren’t paid assignments and so many were just snapshots. This year I’ve included them because my wife and kids are my world and are definitely the most photographed subject in my life. I also opted to include more than one image from the assignments. Limiting myself  to one single image per shoot didn’t represent the scope and the fruits of my labor.

As with every slide show I always struggle with music. Each year I want to use a song that I fell in love with during the year. This year there were a couple of contenders.

Mumford & Sons – I will wait
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – Thrift Shop I dare you to not bounce your head while listening to this song. I was bouncing  my head for a couple weeks before I even listened to the words.
Ryan Adams – From The Ashes   In January NPR streamed a pre-lease of this entire album. I listened to it over and over until the day it was released. Go buy it directly from his label/website. 
Walk the Moon – Anna Sun  
This is probably my favorite song on the album but I opted for Tightrope becaue it matched the tempo I wanted for the slideshow.


For those of you that supported me and helped me create this year I owe you a world of thanks. Without you I’d be stuck behind some desk.

Year End Review Slide Show 2012 from Chuck Espinoza on Vimeo.



Photographing a proposal

As a photographer I get to watch and participate in a lot of momentous occasions. Whether it’s a wedding, birthday or birth it’s an incredible feeling to contribute to a family’s history. I love that my images will be cherished for a lifetime. Knowing that the photos I made will outlast me is pretty cool. Earlier this week I was referred to Jordan by a friend. Jordan was planning on proposing to his girlfriend and wanted a photographer to document the occasion. Other than my own proposal this was a first for me.

I met Jordan at Palisades Park about 30 minutes before Suzy was scheduled to arrive. In addition to having flowers ready Jordan had arranged for a car service to pick her up and bring her to the park. We waited. I didn’t want her to see me when she arrived so I stayed about 100 feet from Jordan. Being that this is north Santa Monica I think most of the people thought I was a paparazzi. Jordan would shoot me texts with updates.

Suzy arrived just in time. My heart was racing. I was excited for Jordan and Suzy and needed to make sure I got the shot. It worked out perfectly. When everyone around us figured out what just happened they started clapping and cheering.



The following is a slideshow of the proposal.

The Proposal from Chuck Espinoza on Vimeo.


How to get the most out of your family portrait session

During a recent family portrait session a mom asked me what was harder – shooting weddings or family portraits? Hands down shooting family portraits is one of the hardest photography jobs. A wedding may be stressful and complex but at least there’s a plan.  People are there to celebrate an incredible occasion and they are there to have fun. I can’t say the same for family portraits.  Many family portrait shoots are controlled chaos. Sometimes people don’t want to participate or in the case of kids they can’t help being kids.

Like a lot of my clients I don’t like to have my photo taken. If I ask myself why, I realize that statement is only half true. I love it when someone captures a genuine moment and I happen to look good. What I don’t like is the feeling of having to perform while someone points a camera at me. I take that knowledge and use it during my sessions to make it, at a minimum, bearable and if I’ve done a good job the client leaves having had fun. So how should you prepare for your family portrait session?

1. What to wear. Wardrobe tends to be one of the biggest questions I get from clients. What should we wear? It’s hard for me to answer because of personal tastes but I can point out what works and what doesn’t.

  • My goal is for everyone to look like a cohesive group. For me wardrobe doesn’t dictate that feeling. I’d prefer everyone be comfortable and wearing an outfit they feel great in rather than wearing something they don’t feel great in.
  • Matching wardrobe. Some love it, some hate it. But if you want everyone to match, my suggestion is to shop weeks before the actual shoot. Your hope of pulling out matching colors from everyone’s closet the night before is a wishful thinking. One of the easiest places to prepare for this is Old Navy or The Gap. Start fresh with new clothes. Both stores offer sizes for kids and adults so you’ll know that you all look great and that all the colors will match.
  • Pick a color palate. If you aren’t a fan of everyone being so matchy-matchy pick a couple colors to base wardrobe decisions on.  If you pick a couple colors each person can still express their individuality.
  • Stay away from busy patterns and logos. As much as Johnny loves his spiderman costume it’s better to start with a classic look. If he insists, let’s make sure we start with a classic look and then let him wear the costume at the end of the shoot.
  • Plan weeks ahead. A good time to think about wardrobe is immediately after our initial consult. Waiting to the last minute  is stressful and associating that stress with family portraits is one of the reasons people don’t like family portraits.

2. Kids will be kids

  • I don’t know “how to smile” so there’s no way I can expect a five year old to know what that means. They grow up associating saying “cheese” with smiling for the camera. To them that’s a smile. It may not look genuine or natural but it’s what they know how to do. My job is to get a genuine smile from them without having to specifically ask. Sometimes that means letting go of hope to get a shot of the perfect smile. I want them to relax. Sometimes it even works in my favor to tell them not to smile.
  • It’s hard for kids to stay still and “be good”. The last thing my daughter wants to do if we are at a park or the beach is sit still. My job is to be quick; I only have their attention span for a couple minutes at a time. I typically  let the kids run the show.  I’ve found that by asking the kids what they want or how they want to be photographed they feel like they are participating and not being bossed around.
  • Let me be the heavy. There’s nothing relaxing or fun about your mom or dad barking at you to smile or sit still.  As parents, if you can handle it, let me be the heavy. If your kids are like mine they tend to listen to strangers better than me. Typically I find that the kids want to impress me and do fun and cool things for the camera.  I’ll use those feeling plus a little slight of hand to get great shots. Take a break and play good cop.  If I get in a situation where I can’t handle them I’ll ask you to step in.
  • If you want to help, stand behind me. I appreciate and love when a parent has a trick to pull a smile or reaction out of their kid. That works even better if they are looking at the camera. If you aren’t in the photo, stand directly behind the photographer.
  • If you are in the photo, keep your eyes on the camera. Let the photographer try to elicit smiles and get everyone’s attention. If you are looking down at your kid trying to get him to look at the camera, you aren’t looking at me.

3. Time of day

  • Location plays a big part on the best time to shoot. Locally I typically shoot at the beach or the park. If we are shooting at the beach my suggestion is early morning. During the summer that means around 8:00 AM. I have young  kids and the idea of getting them dressed, fed and to the beach by 8:00 sounds impossible.  As much as it’s a pain, you are paying for great photos and I wouldn’t suggest it if it wasn’t important. The reason I start so early is for good and manageable light. If it’s so bright that everyone is squinting the pictures won’t look great.  An alternative at the beach is an hour before sunset. Locally that has it’s own drawbacks because it tends to be windy and chilly. If I’m shooting at a park there’s a bit more flexibility assuming there’s good shade. Typically the grass is too wet during the early mornings so I like to start around 9:30-10:00.

4. Keep moving and shoot quickly. I want to put my clients in a situation where I can get my shot, maybe spark a little fun and catch the reactions. Most of the shots my clients are drawn to are the reactions; a laugh, a smile a genuine moment.

  • I always start with the “safe” family group shots. Most of my clients want a great portrait to hang on the wall and I want to make sure I get that shot before the rails fall off. Once I feel like the family shots are done I give the kids some freedom to act like kids and change things up. During a lot of shoots I ask kids to do something physical; sometimes it’s jumping, other times it’s piggy back rides or a human pyramid.  My goal isn’t to get a great shot of the family stacked like high school cheerleaders it’s to catch the reactions when people let go and have fun or when things fall apart.
  • Because I know what it’s like to be in that situation I shoot fast. I don’t want my clients to sit there so long that they wonder if they are doing it right. Set up a situation, shoot, move on, repeat. Eventually people start to let go. If I set up the right situation or make the right comment I get the reaction people want to see in their photos.
  • I’m not a fan of really long sessions. I can do what I need to do in about an hour. Having the attention of young kids for more than an hour is too much to ask.

5. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out as planned.

  • When it comes to young kids I’m at their mercy. Some kids aren’t into it and I may not get that great family shot you wanted. That’s the reality. It doesn’t always work out. If I’ve done my job I make up for it in other ways with fun and natural shots but sometimes the kids win.
  • The more people in the photo the harder it is to make sure everyone looks great. It may be cost effective to invite aunts, uncles and their families to the shoot but often there’s a price to pay. Every time I add one more person to the photo the odds of getting a shot where everyone looks good gets smaller. It also makes getting the natural reactions that make the photos work hard to elicit.


This is what you get when you ask Callie to smile


This is what you get when you tell Callie Not to smile


Colin and Logan being kids


Ian is a runner. You set him down and point a camera at him; he runs. This is the best of forty two frames trying to get a shot where everyone is looking at the camera, has their eyes open, is smiling and look good.  Sometimes this is as good as it’s going to get.

As good as it gets


Set em up, make a joke and shoot the reactions


Let em get physical and have fun. Their smiles and reactions will come through


Sometimes it’s just about being at the right place at the right time and capturing a sweet moment