Portrait Photography for USO

Recently, I was asked by my good friends at Ricoh Imaging Americas to make some portraits for the USO of servicemen and women, as well as family members for the Portraits of Love Project.  It was a humbling experience, recognizing the dedication and sacrifice by these people in service to our country.

While we had to move fairly quickly to accommodate the large number of families, it was interesting to see how vitally everyone was in giving themselves over to the process.  Their willingness to share their vulnerability and connectedness was truly heartwarming.  I left with a tremendous respect for the humanity these people exhibit despite the challenges they must face in carrying out their mission.

The photographs were made on the Pentax 645D camera so that I could provide the highest quality files for the families to use. 

Volunteering my talent to this worthwhile cause was an honor and privilege I will not soon forget.

Senior Living Community Lifestyle Photography

A project that began in Denver morphed into an assignment that took us to La Jolla, California and Scottsdale Arizona for Vi Living.  Vi specializes in high end senior living and retirement communities, so a lot of the fun was bringing together a team that could bring that branding to life.  

We were fortunate to have some wonderful talent that brought energy, enthusiasm and a sense of humor to the shoot, so even though the days were long, they were punctuated by lots of laughs.

Big productions always have their challenges, and in this case it was shooting in temperatures over 100 degrees outside.  Fortunately, frozen bottles of water were at the ready to keep our talent comfortable, and bags of ice placed under the computer to keep it from shutting down so we could shoot tethered the whole time.

Large projects like this, with over a dozen people on set and lots of moving parts to juggle are so much fun to work on.  There's such a sense of fulfillment in bringing people together, creating bonds that transcend words, and making images in a collaborative, joyful way. 

Ranch photography for Colorado Cattlemen's Agricultural Land Trust

Some of you may know about my documentary project A Handful of Dust about the plight of ranches across the West.  Having lived here almost all of my adult life, I've come to understand that the great scenic beauty and healthy wildlife habitat is in large part the result of the stewardship of multi-generational ranches.  It's become a high priority for me to help people in other parts of the country, often with little connection to the outdoors, understand the benefits of keeping ranches in place in the American West.  I won't go on about it here, so if you want to know more, head over to the website for A Handful of Dust.

Anyway, because of my concerns for this legendary way of life, it was my great pleasure to help Colorado Cattlemen's Association Agricultural Land Trust (CCALT) on their fundraising campaign, Forever Colorado.  Their goal is to raise money to protect the open space that not only residents and tourists enjoy, but also serve as habitat and migratory corridors for wildlife, a valuable food source, and provide carbon sequestration in the fight against climate change (see Judith D. Schwartz' book "Cows Save the Planet" for more).  CCALT helps bring funding to the table so ranchers can realize some of the development value of their land without actually selling it.  In exchange, the ranchers create easements on their property with the promise that it will never be developed.  The economic impact is significant, in that development rights now or in the future far outweigh what ranchers receive through this program.  But these noble people believe that the land should stay as it always has been, for the benefit not only of their heirs, but also for native wildlife species as well as all Americans.

Over four very long days, we shot ranches that have already put easements on their ground.  The resulting images will be used for marketing the Forever Colorado funding effort.  I'm proud to have been involved in such a worthy cause.

There's still a lot more images to go through, but these are some the photographs that percolated to the top.

birnbach-ranch_photo_20150608-1647.jpg

Editorial photoshoot with Vicki Gunvalson

Last month I had the great pleasure of photographing Vicki Gunvalson.  Vicki is probably best known for her role on "Real Housewives of Orange County," which runs on Bravo, and her signature "Woo hoo."  But what most people don't know is that she is a powerhouse of a businessperson, with a $15M annuity business.  And that's why Retirement Advisor hired me to shoot Vicki for the cover of their magazine (above).

What added to the fun was that there was a film crew from Bravo there shooting me and my crew shooting Vicki.  OK, it wasn't as tight as stuffing as many people as you can into a Fiat 500, but we definitely had to work around all the gear and people in the transformed conference room.  Fortunately, the Bravo crew was terrific, so we all got what we needed, and had a lot of fun.

Testing the lighting.  Chimera Octabank and Chimera Strip.  Captured on the Pentax 645Z.

Testing the lighting.  Chimera Octabank and Chimera Strip.  Captured on the Pentax 645Z.

Daniel Sorrentino from Video Resources,Inc. setting sound levels for the video interview.

Daniel Sorrentino from Video Resources,Inc. setting sound levels for the video interview.

Bravo team with ENG and slider setup.

Bravo team with ENG and slider setup.

Editor Daniel Williams interviewing Vicki.

Editor Daniel Williams interviewing Vicki.

In addition to the stills, I also shot video of an interview that Daniel Williams, editor of the Magazine, conducted with Vicki.  She's got a great story, one of overcoming significant obstacles to become the person she is today.  Yet what impressed me most was her ease, kindness and humanity.  Asked what drives her most, she said "making a difference for the next generation."  

Woo hoo, indeed!

New Trailer for A Handful of Dust Documentary

We've completed a new trailer for one of the ranches in A Handful of Dust.  Working closely with our Director of Photography Edward Done and Executive Producer Daniel Junge, I collaborated with editor  Niko Van Steenhoven to craft a sample of what we've accomplished so far at Ladder Ranch.  The focus of this piece is the issue of labor and immigration regulations that threaten to destroy the way of life of a large scale sheep operation like  Ladder Ranch, one of the subjects for the documentary.

I welcome your comments and suggestions.

A wonderful time in Dallas

I spent the last two days in Dallas, and as usual had a wonderful time.  Several nice meetings with creatives at agencies showing the portfolio, eat at Kozy, a terrific restaurant that served a fabulous gluten-free Nutella chocolate cake, and visited  Photographs, Do Not Bend, a gallery that had a terrific show of experimental photography. 

Burt Finger, the owner has assembled a marvelous set of images from Muybridge to Edgerton to Siskind to lesser known (at least to me) photographers pushing the limits of the medium from the early days up to the present.  It always lifts my spirit to see such powerful and evocative work.  The show closes this Saturday, February 14th.  Highly recommended.

 

Along the way

This week I spent time at the Ladder Ranch in Wyoming working on my documentary, "A Handful Of Dust."  In the fall, ranches that use BLM or Forest permits in the high country move their cattle off government land and back down to lower elevations in advance of winter.

With my limited experience on horseback, I was grateful to have a very gentle and accommodating steed as I shot cowboys gathering cattle in the back country.  It was challenging juggling two camera bodies slung around my neck, exchanging lenses on the fly,  and trying to keep things dry in the steady rain that fell all day.  Still, it was an exhilarating experience "cantering slightly out of control" (as one of the cowboys said of me later) through vast meadows surrounded by large stands of yellow and orange aspen trees.  No question that I need more time in the saddle to get good at it, but I clearly want to do this more.  In some ways, it reminds me of skiing, feeling a brisk wind against your skin and the sense of defying gravity as you lift up into the air while posting.  I absolutely loved it.

Yesterday morning, I left the ranch at 6AM in order to be back in Denver for a meeting at noon.  I took the shorter way back, over the Snowy Range and down through Laramie, and as I climbed one of the higher passes, the fog became quite thick and the roads became icy.  Once I crested the pass, though, the fog lifted and I was graced with this beautiful view.  Winter is definitely on the way.

There's lots of images to pore through, so I'll post photographs from the ride in the next few days.

An idyllic Icelandic landscape

It's rare that I have the opportunity to simply get in a car chock full of camera gear and just follow my nose. 

Much as I love doing big productions,  it's a special day when I can drive slowly, even pull off the road to let other cars pass, just so that I can take in the beauty around me and stop whenever something catches my attention.

Here, in a remote part of Iceland, where the light is always changing, I came across this idyllic landscape.  Finding a patch of ground to pull off the road, I spent a bunch of time shooting not only the broad landscape, but some inquisitive Icelandic horses as well.  A wonderful little vignette.

Primal Icelandic landscape

birnbach_20140819_1256_web.jpg

Iceland is an landscape born of volcanic activity, and its primal quality comes through at every turn.  Over the centuries, though, moss and other vegetation has taken hold so the contrast between the sharp, craggy rocks and the verdant hillsides is a site to behold. 

Though my work has primarily evolved to shooting lifestyle imagery on location, there are times when pure landscape photography is simply irresistible.  This was one of those days.

Iceland landscape photography

It's hard to imagine that it has been a full month since I returned from Iceland.  It seems that I just hit the ground running, and editing images from my third visit to this enigmatic island kept getting pushed back on my To Do List.

Well finally, today, I made some time to look through just a few of the photographs I made while I was there.  Here's the first one I thought deserved being worked up in the digital darkroom.

More to come!

The Western Landscape

birnbach-20140129_0010388.jpg

Last week I went to Elko, Nevada to the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, staged by The Western Folklife Center, which "is dedicated to exploring, presenting and preserving the diverse and dynamic cultural heritage of the American West."

This was my second time going to the event, and this year's theme was "Expressing the Rural West--Into the Future!"  I was particularly interested because Pat, Sharon and Meghan O'Toole from the Ladder Ranch, subjects of my documentary, A Handful of Dust,  were speaking in several workshops.  This seemed like an opportune time to capture their thoughts on film.

Beyond that, there were 50 cowboy poets and musicians performing over the six days, so it was a great opportunity to meet people who might contribute their talents to the documentary.  I was gratified that six well known, and very talented artists agreed to help out.  To see more about my time there, head over to the blog page at A Handful of Dust.

Of course, whenever I travel, I'm always on the lookout for great visuals.  Here a two of my favorites from  the road.

birnbach-20140129_0010398.jpg