Commercial Drone Photography for Natchez, Inc.

Photographers & Videographers in NatchezPhotographers & Videographers in Natchez


Michael Chapman Studios (MCS) recently completed a commercial project for Natchez, Inc, that involved utilizing our professional imaging drone.


Natchez, Inc. exists as a public-private partnership established in 2010. They take very seriously their mission as “the dynamic organization in the economic development of Natchez-Adams County.” Accordingly, part of what they do entices commercial enterprises to invest their business future in our region. Naturally, they promote and market sites and properties in order to do so. For this reason, they recently assigned Michael Chapman Studios to provide aerial photographs and video of such one site here in the County. Due to the professional level imaging drone that we have in our equipment kit, we were able to accomplish that quickly, efficiently, and at far less expense than hiring a helicopter or airplane.


Full-Range of Motion Control Devices

Aerial drones provide a powerful level of motion control, known as “mo-co” in photo lingo. It also provides an angle of view to photography, videography & cinematography simply unmatched through any other form. We are excited to have such a piece of equipment. This is due to the fact that the drone gives us the ability to offer a wider range of services to businesses and enterprises such as Natchez, Inc. This allows us to be a great value to those in need of these services that help them enhance the successful accomplishment of their mission and goals. There’s nothing like powerful images, whether stills or video, to inform people intellectually and move them emotionally.

In addition to our drone, we also have several other dynamic pieces of “mo-co” that we use. These can combine to make video scenes much more impactful and impressive. These include a jib crane, a slider, and steady cam stabilizers. Of course we have what every videographer carries as well, which are monopods and video tripods. This full equipment range of motion-control gear allows us to truly get you the shots you need that will make your video and stills stand out from your competition.


Complete Control of Your Images & Video

The Nerdy Details: Our drone is capable of shooting still photography images in .dng file format (in addition to .jpeg). This simply means we are able to perform extensive image enhancement in Photoshop during retouching if we need to. One example of such enhancements includes bringing out shadows and details. This would not be available if we shot in jpeg images. As for video, the drone is capable of recording 4K at 30 frames per second, or 1080p (high resolution) at up to 120 fps. Both photography and videography can be done in full manual mode. This gives us flexibility in such things as shutter speed, ISO, aperture, white balance, picture control and so forth. All of which is controlled as needed while the drone is airborne! Therefore, we can provide stunning image quality and control exactly how they are shot!


If you have a need or desire for aerial images, contact us and we can make your needs a reality!

Dee Fleming in a Sports Illustrated Cover style

Natchez MS Photographer Creative Portraits

I met Dee as the son of one of my fellow law enforcement officers, Tyrone Fleming. Tyrone and I both worked the same shift for the Adams County Sheriff’s Office. When you face all the things we face on patrol, your shift-mates almost become like brothers and sisters. Through the course of those years, Tyrone and I kept up with goings on in one another’s personal and family lives. It didn’t take long to understand that Dee played outstanding high school football. Dee played at a couple of area schools, and finished up his career at Natchez Cathedral. In the process, he won a State Championship as their star running back. He now plays football for Louisiana Tech, a NCAA Division One Bowl Subdivision school.


The Study That Led To The Action

In the time just before making this creative portrait, I studied and practiced lighting patterns. There are certain very well known set-ups in lighting a subject when portraits are made. Lighting patterns known as Paramount, Loop, Rembrandt and Split don’t mean much to the average person. But for the portrait photographer, they are the fundamentals of lighting. However, beyond those fundamentals are many unorthodox approaches. Accordingly, I was studied various methods in order to be more creative with my portraits. 

Exploring some of those other lighting patterns led me to the work of Joel Grimes. I won’t go into details about how many lights, grids, and angles and such that he often uses. Above all, Grimes’ fearless approach utilizes shade, shadow and darkness to create drama. The rule he follows (and that I now use a lot) is that the more a light is “off angle” the more shadow it causes. The more the shadow, the more the dramatic effect. Grimes famous Sports Illustrated covers are widely appreciated for their stunning visual quality. Therefore, inspired by Grimes’ work, I set out to make a “Sports Illustrated” cover-style shot of my own. That’s when I thought about Dee.


Creative Portrait In the Making

I contacted him to see if he might be interested, and he responded enthusiastically. The rest is history except for the details. For the session, I needed a rather large space for the backdrop and the lighting equipment. I phoned my friend and fellow photographer Stan Smith to see if I could set up at his store. Not only did he allow it, he even helped. The resulting creative portrait is one that most viewers agree is indeed reminiscent of a sports magazine cover. Drama and mood are definitely qualities of Dee’s portrait.

Dee probably had no idea how much would go into creating his portrait. I remember the session lasted a couple of hours. He endured several wardrobe changes and many various poses and stances. He also suffered through being sprayed down with “simulated sweat” in the form of water and glycerin. However, he held up very well and did a great job being himself!



I learned a lot from this shoot, and definitely added it to my bevy of lighting techniques. Channeling Gregory Heisler, I follow the more “subject-centered” approach to how I light a subject. Heisler’s approach focuses most on the subject of his portrait. Of course, the end usage for the shot and the message of what the shot needs to convey are also important. Ultimately however, the person or subject of the portrait drives the story of the portrait. Similarly to Heisler, my focus on Dee in his portrait heavily influenced how I styled and executed his own portrait. It doesn’t matter that I used inspiring techniques and approaches of amazing artists in the creation. In studying the work and techniques of others (not copying their photos) other artists such as myself learn to create our own unique approach and style.

Dee’s Sport’s Illustrated Cover – High School Era! His portrait of course never made it to the real magazine. However, what I enjoy most about this Creative Portrait session has to do with its uniqueness. Despite having many, many images to remember his high school football career by, this one certainly stands out for him and his family, and will for a lifetime!

Natchez MS Photographer Creative Portraits

Natchez MS Photographer Creative Portraits

The Tear

Event Photography Captures Natchez Moment


I’m not sure why she shed her tears.

Busy working the crowd at the 2016 Sheriff’s Deputy Rodeo, I scanned the audience for photo opportunities. I primarily looked for the reactions of people to the show, especially the children. Often children display the most gregarious emotional responses to the action and the entertainment. To that point, success had been mine in capturing the faces of smiles, wonder, awe, and curiosity that those enraptured, innocent ones are so adept at displaying. Then suddenly, one face that stood out. Her’s was different than all the rest. A small child with a face, with warm tears streaming down her cheek.


Focusing In On the Face

Faces, with their eyes, are immediate producers of our attention. Hers got mine. This small face did not display anger or frustration, the sort one often sees in fit-throwing, twisted face tantrums. No. This was a quiet cry. These were tears that had leaked out of a little body because of some unknown hurt, disappointment, or pain. I raised my camera to invade the moment, and that’s when she perceived me. She turned and looked straight into my lens.

I took a string of exactly four images of her, and the one shown is the first. In the others, a woman that I can only guess is her mother puts her arm around her and comforts her. In the last, I see a partial figure of a male child standing in front of her, and the mother is looking at him. Perhaps he is her brother, and maybe he did or said something that caused her to cry in one of those sibling kind of ways. Who knows?


Emotional Images In Time & Space & What Motivates Me In Capturing Them

I can only tell you that this is the kind of photographic image that can definitely move me. There are many kinds of images that can do that for me as a photographer that is capturing the image. But I must say that human emotion in the human face, especially with eye contact, presented in a serious way, is one of the quickest ways of doing so. That leads me to say this: I don’t really take images for other people … or maybe it’s more accurate to say it like this: I do not take images with other people or viewers in mind. I take them to move myself.

This is my goal even when I am hired to do work. Sure, I have the end-user and end-usage in mind. And of course I want to please the client and meet the goal of what they need for the image. But with this in mind, ultimately I take … no I make … the image for myself.

This may sound selfish or self-centered at first glance, but really it is not. In fact, it’s just the opposite. It is simply me working to capture an image that I think is worth more than just a casual glance – even by me of my own work. I don’t know how else to attempt a serious work of image art. If it doesn’t move me, how can I expect it to move anyone else?

Human emotion. Sometimes it is rapture, glee, the glow of victory, happiness, laughter, love, admiration, and triumph … but at other times it is a face with pain, hurt, sadness, loneliness, disappointment, defeat, and even despair. Occasionally, unfortunately it is evil, malevolent, and violent.

My motivation is to move the viewer – myself and you – and draw us in for more than one nanosecond for a closer look into another human being’s story.

That’s what makes us human to begin with – sharing stories.


Event Photography – Sheriff’s Deputy Rodeo

Editorial photography is often both a mental and physical strain that presents its own particular set of issues and problems, but also unique opportunities to get amazing images. Here’s my thoughts on the difficulties of event photography and how it compares with – say Studio Portraiture – during my latest event photography assignment: shooting this year’s Sheriff’s Deputy Rodeo held at the Wayne Johnson Rodeo Arena on Foster Mound Road in Natchez, Mississippi.

I’m the kind of photographer that has his hand in almost every photographic genre out there. And, not just photography either, because I’m nuts enough to also dabble in videography and website design as well! Yeah, yeah … I know. It’s not recommended by the gurus who teach photography, as they will often tell you to pick one part of the field (such as Wedding Photography or Senior Portraits as examples) and master that. The problem with that for me is twofold: I’ve never followed directions very well. Secondly, it is just not me. It’s simply in my DNA to dabble in many aspects of a particular thing, and the visual arts for me is no exception.


My daughter Ana, working hard as my second shooter during an event assignment for Visit Natchez. This is at The Castle restaurant during the Food & Wine Festival.

I can tell you this, that while the “guru” may correctly point out that by no means have I mastered any one aspect or genre of photography, what has happened is that it has made me a much more complete and well-rounded photographer. What I have learned in videography has made me a much more effective and understanding still photographer. My wedding photography has made me much better at sports photography. My commercial work, taking product shots, has definitely made me a much more demanding (of myself) and detail-oriented visual artist (thanks Don Giannatti), and so on and vice-versa.

Event Photography

Event photography is a large field that encompasses many types of “events.” These can be recitals, parties, reunions, RODEOs!, etc … but of course the BIG ONE that most quickly comes to your mind is probably Wedding Photography. Wedding Photography is one type of Event Photography that is so huge of an industry that it demands its own genre or category. Just a few of the downside issues are: 1) the events can be long and grueling. Staying on your feet for that long, usually in attire that is NOT conducive to being comfortable, is a drain and a pain. I’ve shot weddings that easily lasted eight or more hours from the getting ready shots to the end of the reception; 2) there is a huge amount of pressure (especially with weddings) because there are no “do-overs.” You have to know what you’re doing and nail it on demand; 3) Weather. It’s out of your control, and of course it’s often scorching hot or freezing cold, and they want it outside (of course) … or it’s raining on all your subjects AND your expensive camera gear (THAT’s what most important!); 4) Lighting: again, it’s not going to be in your control, and you have to deal with poor or low light on a regular basis; 5) Murphy. He is alive and well in event photography, and he seems to never miss the invite. Something is always going to go wrong, whether it’s a camera or card failure; a weather change, a moody person, dropping a lens, or whatever … you just have to know how to limit Murphy’s chances and roll with him when he throws you a curve; 6) Know Your Kipling: Keeping your head while all those about you are losing theirs is a critical skill. So, memorize “IF” and live by it. There are tips and tricks that experienced photographers use to mitigate some of these issues, such as wet-weather gear;  fall-back plans (A, B, and C etc); employing second and third shooters; purchasing cameras that have two card slots in them for instant in-camera redundancy so you’re less apt to lose images to card failure; plenty of cards and batteries (and purchasing the high-quality cards to begin with); knowing how to shoot in continuous low and continuous high (wink-wink); very good expectation setting and planning with clients weeks before the event; scouting the event locale for good angles or problem areas; and being an expert at knowing every single dial and setting on your camera and how to manipulate those settings in low or no light. Those are just a few things that one must deal with and know well. Oh, and insist on getting paid well for your efforts. Good luck with that one.


A Paul C. Buff Einstein studio light module with a 22″ beauty dish attached to the front, mounted on a “C” stand – typical studio gear.

So, I would say that Event Photography has elements of both Sports and Street Photography – you often have to capture the motion, so shutter speed is an important element. (I guarantee you you will find yourself right against the limits of your gear in manual mode unless you have the very top-of-the-line stuff. (If you’re trusting to Auto Mode, then why are you even reading this?). However, like Street photography and unlike Portraiture, in Event Photography you often get to capture the candid moment, and your subjects are often unposed. THAT can be intensely rewarding and makes for some really cool images. I call it Sniper Mode.

The opposite of Event Photography would most likely be Studio Portraiture. In the studio, you control the temperature (with central air), and you control the lighting down to just tenths of an f-stop! Furthermore, in a decently equipped studio, you will have soft boxes, beauty dishes, grids, diffusion gels, gobos, flags and cutters, yada-yada, along with all manner of shaping and diffusing the light to exactly whatever you or your client wants (ever heard of Cine-Foil?). You usually have restrooms handy, a refrigerator, snacks an arms-length away, and a stool or chair to prop your rear-end on if you need a rest! Rarely are studio sessions over an hour, and it’s just all around much more physically gentle. I would also venture to say that it is much less a mental strain as well, because you can do a “do-over” very easily. Often, when in-studio during premium sessions, I shoot tethered to my MacBook Pro so I can view the image on a large-screen rather than the small 3.5″ LCD on the back of the camera. That’s the ultimate shot “chimping” and helps insure, with a glance at the screen and the histogram, that I’ve got a shot and exposure that I like and can work with during post-production retouching.

At the Rodeo this year the standard issues applied as it poured-down rain the first night. Protecting my expensive gear was a very real challenge. It was also hot and humid, and I had to do a lot of maneuvering and constant repositioning in order to get the shots I wanted and needed, as well as not get run over by angry animals! Cowboys can be a stoic bunch too, and not given to conversation with dudes carrying cameras. The rodeo clowns and the cowgirls are friendly enough though. 🙂 Then, there was the other photographer who didn’t have much to say despite my friendly attempts at conversation (why are photographers often so insecure around other photographers???). There’s a special challenge to getting a good shot of a bucking bronco throwing a rider just at the right moment that’s a huge amount of fun. I certainly enjoyed myself despite the challenges, the mud, the rain and the grimy sweat. The limitations are mainly the battle between a shutter speed that freezes the moment just right, a pleasing/workable aperture, and an ISO that is manageable. Expensive lenses are a huge advantage. Yes, I’m talking about the ones that are fast at f/2.8 all the way through their range but cost around $2400 per lens! And, a camera body that can handle high ISO’s without much grain (LOVE my Nikon D810!). The lighting in venues like rodeo arenas are horrible as well, as the Mercury Halide lights give off a greenish tint to everything they cast light upon, so solid post-production skills are a must, as well as understanding color-space and white balance. Most people think photographers take photos in .jpg format, and are thereby puzzled that it takes so long to get them out onto the web. They’ve no idea we shoot in raw and have to go to the digital equivalent of a darkroom once we arrive home (Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop and/or Capture One) to often spend hours bringing the raw data to amazing quality (or sometimes at least presentable quality). For Event work, I shoot in raw in both CR2 and .NEF, as I use both a Canon 70D with a 100-400mm for telephoto shots and a Nikon D810 with 24-120mm for wide and “walk-around” shots. The Canon’s cropped-sensor gives me a factor of x1.6 that lengthens the telephoto. I do battle the light with the f/4 lens and that crop-sensor though, especially at high shutter speeds, but the compression effect is nice. The Nikon helps on closer shots, especially when I slap the 14-24mm f/2.8 on it. I’m working on acquiring the other two lenses of Nikon’s “trinity” of pro lenses. (I’d love to have the 70-200mm f/2.8 with a 1.5 teleconverter!!!) I carry other lenses for specialty shots, such as a 105mm f/2.8 macro; a 16mm fisheye, and a Lensbaby Edge 80.

This year I was able to get what I consider to be three or four noteworthy shots that I can honestly say that I like. I love shooting an Event Photography session with a come-away goal of one really good shot for the entire session. That’s what I most enjoy – the kind of shooting that allows me to really go for one really good shot. I edit and present more than that to the client of course; but personally, I’m going for “the one shot” that really stands out among the others. If I get two or three in the process, that’s a bonus! 🙂



The moment a child finds a gift in the hay during this year’s Adams County Sheriff’s Deputy rodeo. I love the colors, the gestures, all the different expressions, the low angle of view, the lighting, and of course, the joy.





Performance Vocalist Ann Gabrielle Richardson

Ann Gabrielle Richardson is an amazingly talented and beautiful vocalist who possesses an intense passion for music and singing, but also loves teaching it to others. The image to the left is the image I chose of her, that will go into my ongoing photo series “Characters of Natchez.”

– Click on the photos to enlarge. 

In “Characters of Natchez,” I set out to photograph a limited number of local people and portray or reveal something that is uniquely them. In doing so, I use a photographic style, lighting technique, camera angle, lens choice and setting that fits them. I don’t use a one-size-fits-all approach and squeeze them into my “box” – the “box” changes with what best represents them. Harder and more taxing upon me? Yes. But, it’s also much more rewarding in the end because it stretches me artistically and creatively to fit the techniques and style to what will best reveal them. This is “subject-centric” photographing. My entire process is designed in every way to bring out the essence (or at least one aspect of it) of that person. That’s my goal anyway. Although I may shoot five hundred photos in a given session, I am working toward the one shot that best represents the person. That image … “the one” … is what I post to my portfolio’s “Characters of Natchez” section. However, in this blog I provide a few extra shots for you to enjoy (hopefully), and go into the back-story of the photo shoot to reveal a few more interesting details about the person and the session.

When I launched this series at the beginning of the year 2015, I had no idea it would lead to where it has. What started really as an experiment, is morphing into a fun journey filled with adventurous and amazing avenues that explore the unique people of Natchez, Mississippi and its surrounding environs. Ann Gabrielle is from Rodney, a small, practically abandoned ghost town north of Natchez. Once a thriving community, the river changed its path, the hopes of a railroad line never materialized, and the times changed. This left Rodney high and dry of not only the river, but many of its people … yet, not quite all … “There is one dwarf yet in Moria who still draws breath!” Ann Gabrielle loves, as I do, all things Tolkien, Hobbit and LOTR (Lord of the Rings); and, she knows movie lines, being the stage and vocal performer that she is. (The one above is from Lord of the Rings, said by the dwarf Gimli in The Fellowship of the Ring). I know enough about Rodney to know that the people from that area that no longer live there are very quick to tell you they are from Rodney. It is a proud and magical place still, even with the decay and ruin. Is there some fairy-dust that was once sprinkled over the area eons ago that left something special in the very earth and mud, forests and fields of Rodney? If so, Ann Gabrielle caught a good measure of it, for she is extremely gifted as an opera and vocal performance artist.

How does one capture an opera singer? What does that look like? I didn’t really want a performance type of shot – as if I were a Concert/Venue Photographer at a live event. How does one convey “vocal artist” and all the passion she brings to that art form? Not an easy thing to do. I felt a bit like Frodo without a Sam. Well, just one foot in front of the other is a great way to begin … so I started “the process” of working toward a final image by opting to do the unusual angle-of-view or point-of-view (known for short as “POV”). I specialize in weird, or different it seems, but that’s part of my own vision and style – to boldly go where no one else is going, and to work to go deep and explore every possibility. Earlier in the week I had collaborated with a fantastic photo assistant of mine, Morgan Mizell, on location possibilities. Morgan suggested the Natchez Little Theater as well as a couple of other possibilities. I loved the NLT idea – so there we were. But instead of facing toward Ann Gabrielle from the audience’s POV,  I chose an angle from behind her out toward the audience. The second image immediately above is one of the earlier images of the session.  It is very nicely done … but just not quite getting the essence of her squeezed out into the image yet. However, this particular shot might work well for her as part of her own professional portfolio and marketing efforts. Just not what I’m going for just yet…

So, we tried different looks, including an amazingly beautiful blue Japanese fan that they sometimes use in opera performances. In the image to the left, I captured Ann Gabrielle in profile, and changed the lens orientation from landscape (horizontal) to portrait (vertical). An old antique microphone was added to give the viewer the understanding of her as a vocal performer. Later she told me that opera singers project volume naturally and do not use mics! (I am constantly educated on such matters, and I love learning things like that.) I like this image for several reasons: it shows her feminine form, it captures the mic and fan beautifully, and also shows her in the theater context. It’s no accident also that I used the angle of view to also capture her seemingly gazing at the performers masks that are hung on the wall in the back of the theater. (We also had to get on ladders and remove some distracting banners.) It took quite a bit of maneuvering to get this shot, but that’s what it takes. There are no less than six strobes being used to light this scene, including two radio-controlled speedlites at the rear of the theater lighting up the back wall. Notice the effect of a kicker light on her hair (an Elinchrom mono-strobe with a snoot) that lights the back of her shoulders and her hair beautiful, providing some rim (edge) light that provides separation from her and the background. I carefully posed her, talking with her about spinal curvature and posture, her shoulders, hands and neck. She did amazingly well!

Supporting help is always a welcome. I have to mention my photography assistant on this shoot, Morgan Mizell. Morgan is amazingly talented herself (we are planning to do a really fun shoot of her), and she secured the Natchez Little Theater for this shoot location as well as being my “grip” – a lighting assistant. She also helped as a M.U.A. of sorts (a Make-Up-Artist). Ann Gabrielle actually did her own make-up, but Morgan helped with fly-away hair, wardrobe tweaks, and a million other things that involve paying attention “to the talent.” I had suggested that Ann Gabrielle bring a shimmery white or light dress, a bit of bling in a necklace and earrings, and that we would begin with her hair being up. Often a photographer is absorbed with exposure, lighting equipment, composition, flash issues, and light itself … an assistant like Morgan truly helps tremendously in focusing on other important things, and she did a really great job helping me with this shoot. Thank you Morgan! As I said: total awesomeness!

At one point, I asked Ann Gabrielle to just sing away or hum, and I was immediately struck by the ease with which she entered into singing … and how passionate she was while she sang. Her voice is powerful, rich and beautiful. Photography is very, very hard work, but sometimes I catch myself saying under my breath, “Is this for real?” I really love this shot, and perhaps this one is your favorite (or maybe one of the others). That’s very much a subjective process. I took over 500 images including test shots. There are many great images from the session (in my opinion), but I was looking for “the one” for my series. The lighting in this shot is striking, and it took Morgan and myself a lot of fine tweaking and “feathering” to get everything evenly lit, as well as some creative gels on the remote speedlites. Let us know in the comments what you think. 

So why did I choose the image posted at the top of this story? There is just something about it that reveals her passion, beauty and intensity. It is unusual to have a portrait with your eyes closed. Agreed. But, I am not going for a “wall portrait” that is the usual “look at the camera and grin” type of portrait. I just am not concerned with “rules,” “convention,” “tradition,” or what is or isn’t supposed to work with a shot. I just know what I like and what works with what I am going for, and this one seemed to me to be a cut above the rest. It is emotional, feminine, passionate and intimate. 

Thus, it was wonderful shoot with a fantastic assistant in Morgan, a chance to meet and work with Ann Gabrielle, and to also meet her mom Camella who came and helped as well. (I didn’t realize it at first but we discovered we go to the same Church – St. Mary Basilica). It was that old line when we first met up, “Say … you look familiar…” 

BTS (Behind-the-Scenes) shot while Morgan helps Ann Gabrielle take her hair down. 

Ann Gabrielle left for the University of Southern Mississippi on Saturday to begin her first year of doctoral studies in vocal performing arts. There, she will study and teach students who are undergraduates. Not only does she begin work toward her DMA this year, she will be performing the role of Maria in West Side Story, as well as the role of Michaela in Carmen. This is her biggest year yet, with much more to come in what I’m sure will be an amazing journey of her own. I (half-jokingly) told her, “Remember … I shot you first.” 

Thanks for reading this story, and hopefully you learned a bit about Ann Gabrielle and my own visual art processes.


Talent: Ann Gabrielle Richardson
Location: Natchez Little Theater
Photography Assistant & Location Scout: Morgan Mizell
Make-Up & Hair: Ann Gabrielle Richardson
Creative Suggestions & MUA Assistants: Camella Richardson and Layne Taylor
Photo Concept, Photographer & Post-Processing Editing: Mike Chapman

Shot 1 (Passion): Nikon D810; Lens Baby Composer Pro with Edge 80 Optic (80mm); ISO 64; f/11; 1/250th of a second; tripod mounted. This shot was my choice the moment I saw it. It was not a difficult decision.

Shot 2 (Professional Portfolio Image): Nikon D810; 50mm f/1.4 prime Lens; ISO 64; f/2; 1/250th of a second; tripod mounted. I love the lighting, and knew by this point my extensive lighting efforts were going to pay off. While this didn’t win for my top shot, I think it’s a solid shot for her portfolio. I’m liking at this point the choices I made in wardrobe, hair, and jewelry. It is a very important part of my process to think about how the various elements of my composition are working together … not only with color, but with shape, texture and gesture.

Shot 3 (Blue Japanese Fan): Nikon D810; 105mm f/2.8 Micro Lens; ISO 64; f/2.8; 1/160th of a second; tripod mounted. This pro-level lens is simply amazing. Normally used in wedding photography as a macro lens to capture rings and small items, it also makes for a wonderful portrait lens (a hidden secret). The bokeh (background blur quality) of this lens is truly beautiful. This angle is in portrait orientation.

Shot 4 (MUA Morgan Mizell assisting Ann Gabrielle): Nikon D810; Lens Baby Composer Pro with Edge 80 Optic (80mm); ISO 64; f/11; 1/250th of a second; tripod mounted. The job of a photo assistant includes many tasks. Here, Morgan is focused upon the talent – and helping Ann Gabrielle look the absolute best – attention to every detail is paramount. Sometimes we miss something – but it’s not from lack of trying.

Shot 5 (Singing): Nikon D810; 50mm f/1.4 Prime Lens; ISO 64; f/2; 1/250th of a second; tripod mounted. What a treat to hear her sing. This would later lead to my understanding of just how much she loves her art and singing, and why I chose the ultimate image that I did. I must admit I really like this one as well.

Shot 6 (Hair-down BTS shot with Morgan): Nikon D810; Lens Baby Composer Pro with Edge 80 Optic (80mm); ISO 64; f/11; 1/250th of a second; tripod mounted. Thanks again to Morgan, a HUGE help on this photo shoot.

Tripod: Gitzo carbon-fiber legs with a Really Right Stuff ball-head.

Lenses Used: Nikon 50mm f/1.4 Prime; Nikon 105mm Micro f/2.8; Nikon 24-120mm f/4; Lens Baby Composer Pro with Edge 80 Optic.

Lighting: Elinchrom RX400 mono strobe (x1) with 53″ Rotolux octabank as the key light; fill light was a Paul C. Buff Einstein mono strobe (x1) with a 41″ shoot-through umbrella – all other lights were hair lights and/or kickers (accent lights); an Elinchrom RX400 mono strobe (x1) with a snoot gelled with diffusion gels to kick light onto her brunette hair; Nikon SB910 speedlites (x3) with Magmod modifiers; Lights were triggered with Pocket Wizard radio controllers (x6) – Flex TT5’s, Mini TT1, and AC3 Zone Controller; stands – C Stand with boom, Manfrotto Nano stands, and Alzo 10′ stands. Both creative gels, as well as color corrective gels (CTO 1/4 strength) were used to help create mood and correct the color temperature of the ambient lighting. The Nikon SB910 speedlites and my Pocket Wizards are powered using Eneloop Pro AA rechargeable batteries.

Post-Processing: Adobe Lightroom CC 2015 & Adobe Photoshop CC 2015.

Ceramics Artist Aimee Guido

Aimee Guido is one of Natchez’ most creative and talented citizens. She warmly welcomed me for an inside look into her creative world: her painting studio (she prefers “shop”), as well as her ceramics workshop where she “throws” clay on her pottery wheel. In the image at left, she pauses at the door of her workshop, a doorway into a world of talent, creativity, and amazing works of both two-dimensional and three-dimensional art.

– Click on the photos to enlarge. 

In my “Characters of Natchez” photo series, I set out to photograph a limited number of local people and portray or reveal something that is uniquely them. In doing so, I use a photographic style, lighting technique, camera angle, lens choice and setting that fits them. I don’t use a one-size-fits-all approach and squeeze them into my “box” – the “box” changes with what best represents them. Harder and more taxing upon me? Yes. But, it’s also much more rewarding in the end because it stretches me artistically and creatively to fit the techniques and style to what will best reveal them. This is “subject-centric” photographing. My entire process is designed in every way to bring out the essence (or at least one aspect of it) of that person. That’s my goal anyway. Although I may shoot five hundred photos in a given session, I am working toward the one shot that best represents the person. That image … “the one” … is what I post to my portfolio’s “Characters of Natchez” section. However, in this blog I provide an extra shot or two and go into the back-story of the photo shoot to reveal a few more interesting details about the person and the session.

A famous photographer once said that to produce a beautiful image, begin with a beautiful subject in front of your lens. Aimee Guido is easily that. She also is an amazing ceramic artist and a very gifted painter. When I thought about how to best go about photographing her, what came to my mind was the striking symmetry between her own feminine beauty, and that of her art. Her beauty is natural, and so there exists a poetic harmonism between her and the clay and pigments that she handles in creating her ceramic art and her paintings, as clay and pigments are natural elements of the earth. 

The environmental portrait that I chose as ‘the one” (the above image of her standing in the doorway of her workshop), was her idea to try. Great idea. Often, I’ve found that listening to what your subject’s own ideas are and even other people around on the scene, can immediately lead to great image captures … or, spark a creative thought of trying something different that is even better. What I like about this shot is that it is Aimee. She is smiling, relaxed, obviously comfortable in her own skin … it shows her in context of her creative workshop, a wood and tin structure that is warm, cozy and “chaotically creative” as I am fond of describing such spaces (I wish I had one of my own) … yet, I think there is bit more to this image. I believe it hints of a bit of mystery … it invites the curiosity in us to wonder just what all is in there through the doorway. We see a peek: her pottery wheel in the background awaits her – but we know somehow that more is there (and indeed there is). The lighting and point of view I chose is warm, angled, dramatic, and a bit dark … but in an inviting and interesting way. 

Creative Portrait of Natchez Artist Aimee Guido

When I asked her if she realized that her hands were forming a “heart” shape when she pressed the clay, she said that she had no idea. I love the symbolism in this shot, as ceramic art is one of her great passions. I couldn’t use it as a portrait shot, because that’s not what it is. But, I wanted to share with you the intimacy of the image: her hands and how she uses them in close contact with the water and the clay as she creates her amazing three-dimensional art. The “heart” speaks for itself. 

While I was photographing her, she made seven or eight pieces of pottery. It was an education into the process, as well as fascinating to watch her work with the clay … pounding it, slapping it, kneading it (I’m sure those are all the wrong terms) … moulding and shaping it … all as it spun in various speeds on her wheel, controlled by a foot-peddle. In the image below, she squeezes water from a sponge onto the clay as it spins, making for a fun action image that is in tight.

Creative Portrait of Natchez Artist Aimee Guido

Beginning photographers might think that the shutter speed of 1/200th of a second is what froze the water mid-air, but that would be incorrect. When using strobes and flash, the shutter speed contributes to the ambient or background exposure. It is the flash itself that freezes the action here, as the instantaneous burst of light is in the many thousandths of a second. So, in flash photography there are actually two exposures you are dealing with.

In addition to learning about the process of making clay into functional yet beautiful pieces of pottery, I learned more about Aimee. Somehow (and unfairly) I had the impression that she would never like to get dirty or sweaty. That’s probably an idea we have (or is it just me?) of painters in fine-art studios who seem to work in pristine environments in indoor studios with a mug of coffee just within reach (or would that be a glass of wine?). I’m telling on myself here, but it’s an image I think we have of painters sometimes. This is certainly not Aimee however. Perhaps my mistaken notion is one she has encountered many times, and why she prefers the word “shop” over “studio.” I learned just how hard she does work, and how she puts all of her small frame’s strength into “throwing” the clay. She got dirty, she was sweaty, she was fighting off bugs (and lizards! – that’s an inside joke), yet she was smiling almost the entire time.

Creative Portrait of Natchez Artist Aimee Guido

This is Aimee Guido.

… and laboring away lovingly in her painting studio … er, shop … and in her little ceramics workshop, creating amazing ceramic art and paintings.

I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed this peek into Aimee’s work and life, and my process as a visual artist. To see more of Aimee’s work and read a bit more about her, visit her online at 

Shoot Details and Camera MetaData:
Shot 1 (Doorway): Nikon D810; 50mm f/1.4 Prime Lens; ISO 64; f/8; 1/100th of a second; tripod mounted. This is a classic example of Environmental Portraiture:  Aimee standing in the doorway of her ceramics workshop.

Shot 2 (Hands in Heart Shape): Nikon D810; 24-120mm f/4 Zoom Lens (at 120mm); ISO 400; f/11; 1/250th of a second; tripod mounted. She had no idea her hands formed a heart shape. She said she would always think about that now, after I pointed this out to her. I think that’s pretty cool.

Shot 3 (Water onto Clay Freeze-Action): Nikon D810; 24-120mm f/4 Zoom Lens (at 120mm); ISO 400; f/11; 1/200th of a second; tripod mounted. I love freeze-action photography – most often associated with sports photography. Flash, when allowed, helps capture some amazing images due to its super fast capture time.

Shot 4 (Shaping the Clay): Nikon D810; Lens Baby Composer Pro with Edge 80 Optic (80mm); ISO 400; f/11; 1/250th of a second; tripod mounted. Quickly becoming a lens choice favorite of mine (though it is very difficult to master), this Lens Baby lens uses a “slice” of focus to emphasize a certain part of the image (similar to a Tilt-Shift lens) – here I placed it onto Aimee’s face – which blurs out the clay. I wanted the viewer to be looking at her. I love this shot of her working, in particular the shapes, curves, colors and warmth – very natural.

Tripod: Gitzo carbon-fiber legs with a Really Right Stuff ball-head.

Lenses Used: Nikon 50mm f/1.4 Prime; Nikon 105mm Micro f/2.8; Nikon 24-120mm f/4; Lens Baby Composer Pro with Edge 80 Optic.

Lighting: Paul C. Buff Einstein mono strobe (x1) with 27″ beauty dish, gridded, as the key light – all other lights were hair lights and/or kickers (accent lights); Elinchrom RX400 mono strobe (x1) with 8.5″ reflector; Nikon SB910 speedlites (x3) with Magmod modifiers; Lights were triggered with Pocket Wizard radio controllers (x6) – Flex TT5’s, Mini TT1, and AC3 Zone Controller; stands – C Stand with boom, Manfrotto Nano stands, and Alzo 10′ stands. Both creative gels, as well as color corrective gels (CTO 1/4 strength) were used to help create mood and correct the color temperature of the ambient fluorescent lighting. Remote Power: The mono-strobes for the Doorway shot were powered using a Paul Buff Vagabond Lithium Extreme external power pack, an amazing piece of equipment that allows me to be able to use my studio strobes on remote locations, far from electrical receptacles. The Nikon SB910 speedlites and my Pocket Wizards are powered using Eneloop Pro AA rechargeable batteries.

Post-Processing: Adobe Lightroom CC 2015 & Adobe Photoshop CC 2015.