About a month ago when I was getting a haircut from Vonn, the young lady responsible for making me look as terrific as I do, she informed me that she was putting together a Client Appreciation Day.  She envisioned her gift to her clients as a time in a park where the client would come and bring the family or significant other and get a 15 minute mini “on location photo shoot” by her friend and professional photographer Jana.  This event was free of charge and each customer participating was to receive for free 2 high quality, high resolution prints of his or her choice.  Vonn asked me if I would be interested and that I had a choice: getting my photograph taken or helping out with the photography.  Since I already know what I look like, I jumped at the chance to come out and help with taking pictures.

As I was not the lead photographer, meaning that my images were not going to be the ones that would be viewed and selected for printing by the clients, I knew I would have more freedom in how and what I shot.  This was a great chance to get some great practice done in a real situation but without the normal pressures of shooting lead.  I would be able to go for the shots I like to do best, the candid shots, the “non-posed” images which capture the emotionality of any given moment.

I also used the day as an opportunity to rent a lens I had been wanting to try, the 85 mm 1.2 by Canon.  It is a prime lens that has a great reputation for excellent portrait results and tack sharp images.

The morning was to be a styled shoot.  Basically that means  instead of just showing up and getting a picture or two taken, there would be a theme to the session complete with props.  The theme for the morning was “picnic”.  Vonn provided a plethora of props for the session as well as encouraging her clients to bring props of their own.  Although I have heard about them and seen images from them, this was my first ever involvement with a styled shoot.  Vonn ran the whole morning like a movie director putting all the pieces together for a film masterpiece.  She helped with the posing, moved the props, moved us to various locations around the park and was pretty much a dynamo of energy and creativity all morning long.

I also enjoyed observing another photographer at work.  One can learn much by watching how other people perform their work.  That is why colleges and universities put students with a mentor teacher so they can observe the professional in a classroom situation.  Thankfully, Jana didn’t charge tuition.  I was able that morning to observe how she posed her subjects, how she interacted with them, made them feel relaxed during the shoot. When we had a break between clients I was able to ask Jana any question that came to my mind during the previous session.

I saw my main purpose of the morning as that of a “behind the scenes” shooter.  I was documenting the documentary, so to speak.  Sort of a B roll shooter in film jargon.  I ended up taking photographs of the props, the scenery, the posing,  the young ladies at work, the unguarded moments of the clients, and the ducks.  No self respecting park is without a duck population.  And no matter what the session, I am always capturing an image or three of the ducks.

Here are images of some of the props used on Vonn’s first ever CLIENT APPRECIATION DAY.


Some of the clients that came that day were couples.  For one of her props of the day, Vonn made this little “love” sign.


Of course what is a  picnic without a picnic basket?  Just ask Yogi and Boo Boo.


If kids are coming, balloons are a MUST!

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Vonn did something special for the last family of the day.  It was the dad’s birthday. Vonn secretly brought party hats, cupcakes and a birthday sign she had made.  She had the dad and mom off by themselves while behind their backs the two daughters and grandma put on the hats and got out the cakes.  Much like a “first look” shot at a wedding, the dad was asked to turn around and as he turned, Jana photographed his reaction to his mini surprise party.  Great fun.


The complete picnic staging area.  The pillows are hand made by Vonn.  Attempting a little humor I asked Vonn “in what demented universe do people bring books to a picnic?”  I was informed by the two young women that bringing books to picnics was quite normal and not “demented”.  At that point I figured out two things: 1. it has been way, way too long since I have been on a picnic, and 2. I am never as funny as I think I am.


All that morning, being in the park on a great day with  a nice little breeze and pleasant, lovely people all around, the song “Saturday Afternoon” by the Jefferson Airplane, with its lyrics about “incense and balloons”, kept replaying itself in my head.  (listening to the song now as I write this little post).  Brought back many pleasant memories.

Now about those ducks…one of my objectives for renting the 85 mm was to see if it truly performed as advertised.  Would it delivery those tack sharp details that turn a good image into a great one. I was not disappointed.  This lens may have jumped passed a new refrigerator and big screen TV on my must purchase list.

Just look at this pre-crop and post-crop result.



If the enlarged duck has any soft detail, it is because of depth of field, not because of the lens.  I am pretty sure that when I saw how sharp these images turned out when I zoomed in, I got up and fist pumped and said “YES!” a few times, frightening cats and wife all at the same time.

I can live with an ice chest and a 19″ TV.


Jana “capturing the moment” with Vonn looking on.

I am very appreciative that Jana gave permission for me to work beside her during this shoot.  It was essentially her gig, and she didn’t have to do that.  I am glad she did. I learned much from talking with her and watching how she interacted with the subjects during the session.

Jana did earn a degree of sympathy from me, however.  On the odd occasion that she asked me a question, I went “full teaching mode” on her, starting from the invention of photography to the current state of Adobe and Photoshop.  Old habits are hard to break.  My motto?  “Why say in 5 words what I can rant on for 4,000.”  Now she knows what my poor students had to sit through.


Vonn doing it all; giving instructions, encouraging her clients and carrying the props.   Thanks you for inviting me to tag along and take pictures on your special client day.

For samples of this shoot and more of Jana’s images go here.

For your hair styling needs, Vonn’s page is here.

Title of this blog is a play on “They Might Be Giants” which can either be the name of a movie or the name of an American alternative rock band.

“Saturday Afternoon” by JA is linked here.





The good people of the Photographers Adventure Club, PAC for short, hold monthly photography contests for its members.  This month, under the supervision of event organizer Evy Olivia, the contest was a photo shoot at the Matsuri Festival of Japan held down at Heritage Square Park.  I had not participated in any of the previous contests, so I thought this would be a great time to enter one, not with any expectation of winning, but as a chance to enjoy the new experience of the festival and to practice and improve my photographic skills.  On Saturday, many of the PAC members were meeting together at 10 AM to go as a group and shoot the parade.  Unfortunately for me, I had another commitment that morning and could not make the 10 AM meetup, but I did have the organizer’s number and could call her when I got to the festival and meet up with the group at that time.

Saturday morning, functioning on about 3 hours of fitful sleep, (my Medifast counselor asked “are you OK?   You don’t look good!) I finally got my act together and headed downtown.  As I was driving, my I-pod, which normally tries to make every other song a Christmas carol, shuffled a back to back selection of “Sea of Tranquility” by the Japanese trio Rin’ followed by Deep Purple’s “Woman from Tokyo”.  I thought this to be good Karmic evidence that this would be a great day.

Although there were a few bumps along the road, such as going the wrong way in the parking garage, paying $12.00 for parking and $3.00 for a Pepsi, and not meeting up with anyone from the PAC, (I decided that at 1:00 everyone was probably gone or getting ready to go)  I had a great time.  Visited some nice exhibits, met some nice people, bought some incense and a CD from the Nippon Kodo booth, sampled and purchase some Hawaiian Crispy Wafers (Cherry Vanilla) from the High-T Snacks booth.  (, and shot some decent photographs.  I sit here now, lighting the incense, listening to the CD and noshing on a Cherry Vanilla Wafer while I share my thoughts and photographs of the day.


I normally head to the events and displays I like first, and then take in the rest if time permits. Being a drummer, the first thing I headed for was the drum show. So had everyone else. There I was with my 50mm lens getting shots of the back of people’s heads with the drummers way in the background.  I kept thinking of a play on words of a line from “Jaws”.  “We’re gonna need a bigger lens.”


Many photographers are reluctant to crop their original images.  Although I agree that composition should be done in the lens, I have no guilt or shame when it comes to cropping. I will crop any image if I believe that crop makes for a stronger picture.


I eventually maneuvered myself up as close to the stage as I could.  I took this picture of a drummer watching the show from offstage.  I was reminded of the lyrics “the drummer relaxes and waits between shows” by Neil Young.



It was suggested to bundle up because it was going to be cold.  After all, it DID snow in Phoenix just a couple of days before.  I wore a sweatshirt, which I quickly ditched.  People found many ways to try and keep out of the sun and cool down.

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Once again I followed the sound of drums, and came upon this performance.



Another example of my willingness to crop. I wanted to showcase this tambourine.


The “dragons” unmask.


One of my favorite photos of the day.  One of the “dragons” lost a flower from  his mask.  The child quickly picked the flower up and gave it back to him.


The Dragon Masks were provided by Masks by Zarco


I would love to own and care for a Bonsai tree.  However, I know it would end up an epic fail.  I once  bought a lucky bamboo plant that promptly died.  These trees were at  The Phoenix Bonsai Society display.

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The following photograph initially reminded me of a Japanese ink painting.  I turned it to black and white trying to emphasize that similarity.




As I was photographing this display, a young woman came up to me, gave me her business card and asked if I would send her copies of the pictures I was taking.  Being an affable guy, naturally I agreed to do so.  We started chatting and I asked what the cranes were made of.  She told me they were mad out of cyanotypes.   I knew what a cyanotype was.  When I started teaching photography I had a supply of special blue print paper so I taught the making of cyanotypes until the supply was gone.  Cyanotypes are made by the placing of objects on the special paper and exposing the paper to the Sun.  Whereever the objects are, the paper stays white. The paper that is exposed to the light turns blue.. Look at the following closeup.The objects she used on her cyanotypes were feathers.  All the cranes were made out of feather covered paper.


BUT, as my friend Shannon Gillis says, there’s a story…there’s ALWAYS a story.

This is not your typical high school photography class cyanotype paper.  The artist, Airi Katsuta, makes her cyanotype paper from scratch.  She takes a special type of paper, coats it with two different chemicals to make the paper light sensitive.  Once the paper is made, she proceeds with the laying on of the feathers.  All 1,000 cranes were created from handmade cyanotype paper.  For a complete look at  the step by step process illustrated with photographs of Airi making the paper and the origami cranes, click here

But the creation of the 1,000 cranes did not come about because of her desire to make a pretty wall hanging or a conversation piece at the Festival. Airi started creating the cranes after the May 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.  That summer, she went to Japan intending to stay a week as a volunteer working in the village of Ishinomaki.  She ended up staying longer and was determined to come back to Japan after her senior year at ASU was finished.  She used the symbolism and importance of the 1,000 cranes in Japanese culture as a fundraising vehicle to raise enough money to go back to Japan to continue her volunteer work.  Additionally, Airi, as a photography major, used her photography skills to record the devastation and recovery of Ishinomaki.

For the full story of the 1,000 cranes and Ms. Katsuta’s efforts, click here.  To view her photographs of the village, click here.


Airi Katsuta, it was a pleasure to met you, and thank you for letting me share your story of the 1,000 cranes on my blog.