My Journey to Becoming a Certified Professional Photographer in Natchez


From a Child with a Polaroid to a Certified Professional Photographer in Natchez


There’s certainly a sense of accomplishment and pride that comes with becoming a Certified Professional Photographer in Natchez. It signifies a mastery of skills, a commitment to excellence, and a dedication to the craft. Today, I’m excited to share my journey to becoming a certified professional photographer in Natchez, Mississippi, through the Professional Photographers of America (PPA).


The Path to Professional Photography

My passion for photography started as a hobby when I was a child, capturing family moments and my G.I. Joe in desperate battle with WWII enemies. I started out with my parents’ Polaroid camera as a boy. As an older teen I graduated to film photography in high school. I took Journalism under a teacher named Charlie Ross. Mr. Ross took the time to teach me and others photography, even dark room developing. I purchased a Canon AE1, and when I joined the Army, it went with me everywhere. This included West Germany and my travels in Europe.


In the late 1990’s, I transitioned to digital cameras and was taking macro shots of jewelry and other small pieces of art in a business I had at the time. A few years later, I realized that I wanted to turn my passion into a secondary career. My “day job” was as a Criminal Investigator with the local Sheriff’s Department.  Both careers led to a multitude of various genres of photography and experiences, including crime scene photography. I began researching the best ways to enhance my skills and gain credibility in the industry. That’s when I came across the PPA and their certification program.


The Professional Photographers of America (PPA)

The PPA is a renowned organization that aims to foster growth and development in the photography industry. With over 30,000 members worldwide, it offers invaluable resources, education, and networking opportunities to photographers at all levels.

One of the PPA’s most prestigious offerings is the Certified Professional Photographer (CPP) designation. This certification is a mark of excellence, demonstrating that a photographer possesses the technical expertise and artistic vision necessary to create exceptional images.


The Journey to Becoming a CPP

The road to becoming a certified professional photographer in Natchez was both challenging and rewarding. It truly was a journey of study and practice that made me better as a photographer in many ways. The process involved an extremely comprehensive exam covering technical aspects of photography, such as lighting, composition, and post-processing just to name a few. Additionally, I had to submit a portfolio of images that showcased my skills and artistic vision.


Throughout this process, I benefited from PPA’s extensive educational resources, including online courses, workshops, and webinars. These learning opportunities not only prepared me for the certification process but again, also helped me grow as a photographer.




The Impact of Certification on My Career

Achieving the CPP designation is going to be a game-changer for my photography career. The certification has already opened doors to new opportunities and allowed me to connect with other professional photographers in my region and far beyond Natchez.


As a certified professional photographer, I can confidently assure my clients that they are hiring a skilled, knowledgeable, and dedicated professional. This distinction sets me apart from the competition as I am the only P.P.A. Certified Professional Photographer in Natchez, and indeed in our entire region of Southwest, Mississippi.


Final Thoughts

Becoming a certified professional photographer in Natchez through the PPA has been an incredibly rewarding experience. The journey has allowed me to hone my skills, gain credibility in the industry, and ultimately provide my clients with the highest quality images.


If you’re looking for a photographer who is dedicated to excellence and committed to capturing your most cherished moments, look no further. As a certified professional photographer in Natchez, I am here to turn your dreams into stunning, lasting memories!

Architectural Photographer in Natchez

Architectural & Real Estate Photography in Natchez

When it comes to photographing and videoing architecture, properties and structures, no one is more qualified than us!


The Cedars Plantation in Church Hill, MS. We provided both stills and video of the interior and exterior of the home and the property.

Uniquely Qualified!

As someone involved in the building and remodeling trades for five decades, Mike is uniquely qualified. Growing up around uncles and a parent who was skilled at carpentry, he excelled in the trade. In high school, Mike won architectural drawing awards in his Junior and Senior years. After high school, he majored in architecture at LSU. Accordingly, his first major project was to design a Church sanctuary in Natchez. Mike completed the design, and also helped to build it. As a result, today it sits at the corner of Melrose-Montebello Parkway and Fatherland Road. He was nineteen years old at the time.

Since that time, he continued to build and remodel numerous homes and businesses in the Natchez area. Ultimately, Mike’s signature project was the total restoration of an antebellum plantation home in Jefferson County. Moreover, this restoration won the Heritage Award in 2010 for the State of Mississippi. Additionally, Laurietta Plantation was featured in Country Living magazine in 2010. Building upon that construction experience (pardon the pun!), and with his extensive understanding of structures and properties, he has photographed and provided video for numerous homes and properties over the years. He has worked with Real Estate Companies such as Century 21 and Crye Leike Realtors in photographing antebellum and high-end homes in the Natchez area. No one in our area has more experience than Mike in this kind of photography.


Professional Equipment Captures Architectural Photographs and Video

Our Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) delivers stunning resolution in RAW image format and 4K video. FAA Certified & Licensed.

Obviously someone with that amount of in-depth knowledge of buildings and structures knows how to photograph them. Furthermore, our equipment is tailor-made for optimized architectural images. We use state-of-the-art DSLR and mirrorless professional cameras with high-quality stabilization equipment and the best lenses in the field to get you stunning images that you will be proud of. Additionally, we added a professional level aerial drone to our camera inventory. This allows us to further expand our capability to provide awesome photos and video. Recently, we’ve completed numerous projects involving architectural images. These include Dozer Inc, who contracted us to take their images after they built the Bridge of Sighs over Roth’s Hill Road. Second, Natchez, Inc. hired us to record a property they are helping to develop. Third, United Mississippi Bank contracted with us to take images of all of their branch locations for their new website. We have a long list of corporate entities that we have worked with to provide these kinds of images.


Exterior image of the back porch at antebellum D’Evereux. This is an HDR (High Dynamic Range) merge of five photographs into 1 final image.




The technique of using HDR in Architectural and Real Estate Photography is commonplace among photographers. Mike is a master of this technique, and uses it on all of his projects. Basically it’s a way of taking several photographs of each scene (for example a Parlour of a home) and these photos in a range of exposures in order to blend them all together and getting the perfect single image of that scene. This results in the shadow and dark areas being lit and the highlighted areas (such as sunlight lighting up a window) to not be overexposed. Together with years and years of experience, knowing all the techniques and approaches, as well as equipment that others don’t have, Mike is able to provide you with images that no one else can.

When St. Mary Basilica was damaged in a recent ice storm, their sanctuary was damaged and had to be remodeled. Afterwards, the Construction Firm and Parish hired me to take photos of the work.


If you are looking for a local photographer to take still photos or video of interiors, exteriors or properties, there is no one better than us! You can reach Mike at 601-597-3762 to schedule a consultation.


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A Wedding Story – Told In 25 Images

A Wedding Story – Told in 25 Photographs

Will Leibfritz and Stephanie Fradella’s beautiful wedding ceremony took place at St. Mary Basilica. Accordingly, husband and wife along with Will’s son Cody enjoyed an amazing time surrounded by family, friends and loved ones. We were blessed with the opportunity to meet them and to capture for all time their precious memories of that day.


This is their STORY told in images. Moreover, for this article it is limited to just 25 photographs selected for their variety rather than only traditional wedding shots.


A Grand Beginning

Leibfritz Wedding Photography in NatchezFirst, the day began at the Natchez Grand Hotel where the large wedding party had booked all their rooms. With nine bridesmaids and nine groomsmen, there were plenty of helping hands. As always, the ladies went one direction and the men another. No doubt each had their duties in getting ready for the big event. Meanwhile, the typical “getting ready” shot involves the makeup artist andLeibfritz Wedding Photography in Natchez bride.

However, moving to my right I was also able to capture a shot of Stephanie in silhouette. Going with the darker theme of a silhouette, I rendered the image in black and white during retouching. Just a simple way to give her options for her photo album.


The Dress

Leibfritz Wedding Photography in NatchezThen, there was the absolutely beautiful wedding dress on a personalized hanger. Shot from many angles, this particular photo shows a close-up. The ribbon was color coordinated with the ladies’ dresses.

As one might expect, the men got ready a bit Leibfritz Wedding Photography in Natchezmore quickly than the ladies. We captured them on the stairs as they left their rooms to head down toward the Basilica.


Girls Just Wanna Have Fun!

Next, the men left for the next stop along the journey, which was to take place at Memorial Park. Meanwhile, Leibfritz Wedding Photography in Natchezthe ladies took a brief detour at the hotel’s bar to have some fun! No doubt, this group was a blast and full of hilarious energy. Check out their sassy poses!

Then, there are the rings. Before we left the hotel I seized the opportunity to take a creative ring shot utilizing the bridal bouquet. I carry a number of lenses, one of which is a 105mm prime macro lens. Consequently, this lens may double for ring shots or asLeibfritz Wedding Photography in Natchez a great portrait lens. However, without a tripod it takes a steady hand to get tack sharp images. 


Memorial Park

The bountiful wedding party gathered at well-known Memorial Park behind the Basilica for several shots, including the first look and some group photos. It was very cold that Leibfritz Wedding Photography in Natchezday, but everyone held up very well and we were able to get some great images. Just after the first look, the couple embraced and the moment was captured. Some of the family and friends can be seen in the background giving them their space.


Next, Stephanie invited Will under the veil for a kiss! It was obvious they were having a great time and enjoying every moment of the rapidly moving events of the day.Leibfritz Wedding Photography in Natchez



Dad & Bride Plus Others

Leibfritz Wedding Photography in NatchezAt this point, several hundred photos were taken of various groups of the wedding party. One favorite of ours is a fun shot of Stephanie with her father. The photo tells a great story about their love and their enjoyment of this time!


How about this shot when Stephanie and Will caught Cody in a kiss sandwich! Leibfritz Wedding Photography in NatchezThis was a fun idea that we discussed long before the day when we were putting together a creative shot list. Many times shots are planned, but for various reasons do not work well. In my opinion, this one came off perfectly!


We then all moved inside the Basilica’s basement to warm up and make ready for the actual ceremony. One of my favorite photos of the entire day is a candid shot of one of Leibfritz Wedding Photography in Natchezthe bridesmaids with her daughter. The expression of the child’s face is simply priceless!





The Ceremony Begins!



Finally, it came time for the wedding itself. The huge doors swung open and all the friends and family were waiting inside. Leibfritz Wedding Photography in NatchezFather O’Connor presided over the ceremony, which in Roman Catholic tradition is a Sacrament. As the ushers hold open the literal doors, Stephanie walks through, entering a new stage of her life. Her father escorts her to the altar, arm in arm.


Leibfritz Wedding Photography in NatchezOne by one the bridesmaids also enter, until all nine of them are also at the altar. Here, Cody makes his walk along with another family relative.


At this point, the vows are being exchanged.Leibfritz Wedding Photography in Natchez I took an opportunity to capture this shot of the ladies watching intently.



At the Altar & After Shots

Inevitably, the moment came and Will & Stephanie became man and wife. All during the ceremony and throughout the day, my second shooter and I took over 5,000 images! That’s a lot to edit and select Leibfritz Wedding Photography in Natchezfrom. This photo was shot vertically rather than horizontally, as many angles were explored. St. Mary Basilica is stunningly beautiful, I think you will agree.


Directly after, the newly formed family posed Leibfritz Wedding Photography in Natchezfor a photograph with Father O’Connor.


Next, several images of the various groups were taken until we arrived at the shot of everyone gathered together at the altar. This photograph illustrates this large and loving family.



Leibfritz Wedding Photography in Natchez



Cel-e-brate Good Times – C’Mon!

Another couple of fun shots came next, the first being one with Cody. Leibfritz Wedding Photography in NatchezIt seems there’s a whole lot of celebration about to go on!



Finally, as they left the Church on the way to the Reception, the massive party jumped for joy on Leibfritz Wedding Photography in Natchezthe steps outside! I have viewed this photograph many times. I can’t help but be amazed at the expression and gesture of each and every person. The little boy on the bottom right is almost flying! Also, I love the girl in the middle who has her hands outwardly expressed as if to say, “I can’t believe it!”





The couple load up in a horse-drawn carriage and head to The Natchez Community Center for the reception. Leibfritz Wedding Photography in Natchez





Let’s Get This Party Started!




Next, everyone hit the floors for a grand ole time! Saturday night dancing style!Leibfritz Wedding Photography in Natchez





The Final Photos

In the midst of taking all those thousands of shots, I came across Cody. He seemed tired, but very, very happy. I love this shot of a little Leibfritz Wedding Photography in Natchezboy just before becoming a teenager, seeing the adults he loves most join in Holy union with one another. He was just off to the side soaking it all in. How special a boy! We spoke a bit about his experience on this day, and he posed for this photo.




The ladies … remember how good a time they were having earlier? Well, it just continued. Here, they are gathered around one of the cakes having a blast.Leibfritz Wedding Photography in Natchez






Photograph Number 25 …


Last but not least I leave you with a photo of just the three, now united. Stephanie, Will and Cody Leibfritz. Their story continues!

Leibfritz Wedding Photography in Natchez

The End … or rather The Beginning!











Corporate Drone Photography for Natchez, Inc.



Michael Chapman Studios (MCS) recently completed a corporate drone photography 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 the former John Mansfield 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!

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United MS Bank: Upgrading Their Website Using a Drone


Drone Photography Enhances Business Image – What You’ll Uncover In This Article:

  • Michael Chapman Studios (MCS) used a drone to enhance the marketing efforts of United Mississippi Bank.


  • Natchez-Vidalia businesses utilizing a creative, well-equipped media services company likes ours can benefit. MCS can work together with you in innovative ways to help your business grow thru quality and professionalism.


  • Successful, growing businesses such as UMB Bank use their outstanding content value, relevant media, and a strong, clear message. This powerful package presents an image to local people of value, innovation, professionalism and quality.

Twin Measures of Success

The most successful Natchez businesses and corporations have a keen sensitivity to their brand’s image. Moreover, they wisely understand that they must portray their business as one of quality, professionalism, and value. Accordingly, they deliver on what they promise. On the other hand, equally important is how they present themselves in the public marketplace must also “deliver.”


Thus, a business’s presence to the larger community, indeed their “image,” must be both effective in cost value and attractive. Otherwise, people will opt for other choices. Commerce flows to the enterprise that has value and portrays that value effectively to area consumers. Ultimately, businesses that successfully match the content value of what they offer consumers with a presentation that attracts those same consumers are the ones that are going to be successful and grow.


The Mousetrap, the Media, and the Message

Using an old analogy, businesses in the marketplace must find ways to “build a better mousetrap” than their competition. Accordingly, the first factor of a successful business is having something of real value. Obviously, that’s the mousetrap: the product or service that consumers want and need. Next, what follows the building of the better mousetrap is to communicate effectively to those who want that mousetrap. No doubt this sounds elementary, but it’s often overlooked.


Arguably, a business or company may possess an outstanding service or product (a great mousetrap). However, if consumers never learn about it (or aren’t reminded often enough), then the business will fail. The effective communication of having something to offer can be broken down into two very important – but very different factors. Namely, utilizing the right Media, and conveying an effective and powerful Message. Let’s take a brief look at both.


The Media

For many hundreds of years mankind existed in the age of print media. Newspapers, circulars, and other forms of printed media were how we communicated news and events of the day, including use for commerce and business. In the last century especially, that changed dramatically with the advent of radio, television, movies and photography. Added to that, the last generation has seen the explosive growth of the Internet, cell phones, and mobile technology that is advancing at a rate that is dizzying.


Today, businesses and companies must carefully choose which media outlets and platforms to utilize to convey news of their better mousetrap, and how much to put into each. These include but are not limited to: print, radio, television, web and Internet, roadside and billboard, and social media such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn, just to name a few. There are other platforms to deliver the message as well, including word-of-mouth, sponsoring teams and clubs, community outreach activities, volunteering, promotions, and so on.


The Message

In summary, Media can be seen as different ways to deliver the news that a company has a better Mousetrap. Additionally, Media reminds the community that it has something of value to offer. So, what is the actual message that is delivered? The style, quality, presentation and delivery of the Message is just as critical. The message itself has a profound effect on how a business is perceived by the target market. The message must match the image of the business and company that is delivering it. Furthermore, it must match in several important ways.

If a business sends a message that is poorly done, then the overall message of that business fails. Remember, “What I see you’re about is more important to me than what you say.” The businesses that are most successful understand all three important factors. They are: content value, media, and message. Successful businesses always present consistent quality, professionalism and excellence no matter what. This “culture of excellence” must extend to the kinds of media they choose to utilize. Furthermore, it extends to the actual message they are conveying. Messages and Media done with quality, effective content, and matching style are winners!


United Mississippi Bank

Drone Photography Enhances Business Image

A couple of years ago UMB licensed one of my images of the bridges between Natchez and Vidalia for use as the masthead in their online banking app.

Enter United Mississippi Bank and a recent assignment. In this contract, I worked to assist them in a small way with these very issues. UMB has been a core business presence in Natchez for many decades. Moreover, the bank has successfully grown their business model over the years. They’ve done this through excellent service, professional management, and financial products. These services, products and management offers value to the people of our region. I know because I’ve been one of their customers for many years.


Recently, they assigned me to photograph their eleven branch locations, The goal was to enhance their online presence through their website and online banking app. Consequently, I worked with two of their managers that handle their marketing and advertising. As a result, we crafted a plan to have the images of UMB’s eleven community bank branches match their branding. The images of their banks simply needed to match the brand image they’ve work so hard to build. These images would need to show quality, innovation, and professionalism. 


11 Branch Locations

UMB’s eleven branches are spread wide and far. They range from Natchez, west to Vidalia, north to Fayette, Bude and Meadville, and south to Gloster, Centerville and Woodville. On their existing website a few of those branches are currently not supplied with images. The other images that are present were deemed not satisfactory. They wanted them updated for the new website which will rollout in the near future.


When we had our meetings, I quickly became impressed with the UMB team. First, they are dedicated to quality and professionalism with how UMB’s image is portrayed. Second, they are not satisfied with anything less than excellence. Third, they are utilizing their own creative and innovative ideas to improve their company. These qualities shone in how they do things, what they offer, and the media and message they employ. They also allowed me creative freedom and input to create unique and high-quality photographs for them. That made for a very effective collaboration!



After careful thought, research of their current site, and some scouting of local branches, my plan to match their need for images which would help present UMB in the way they wanted was twofold: 1) shoot the branch locations at an angle that was just a bit different than what most other photographers normally do. This would be a subtle, perhaps even subconscious reminder to viewers that UMB was different and innovative, that they have an “edge;” 2) put a lot of effort into cleaning up the images in post-production once they were taken, in order to make for the best final outcome. With this in mind, I supplied them with a test shot which they loved. With the green light to proceed given, pre-production planning was over and I swung into production.


Final Images

Over several days and traveling to all the locations I took many images from a height of around fourteen to sixteen feet, and most often from an oblique angle. This was one of the creative decisions that I was able to offer and effectively execute with relative ease due to my having a drone in my equipment kit. I knew coming in that all too often, photographers supplying architectural photographs – which is what this assignment consisted of – do little more than walk up outside the building and take shots from the “tourist” angle of view, which is to stand upright at eye-level and usually from straight in front of the structure.


This can certainly be an effective angle sometimes, but my thinking was that this point of view was a bit worn out. It was time for something fresh and new, which coincided with UMB’s ongoing “image.” Thus, I tried the more interesting angle of subtly raising the camera higher than one could reach on a ladder, but not an obvious aerial shot, and moving it quite a bit off center. My professional-level drone shoots in high definition 4K video and photo, and is almost as adjustable as my expensive DSLR camera in that I can shoot in RAW format (much better resolution than a .jpeg) and can shoot in full manual mode from the radio controller. This supplied me with ultra-high resolution photos which I could then take into post-production retouching and work effectively with. This effort was a successful compilation of creative vision, effective equipment, and proper execution.


Retouching the Photos: The Wires!

In post-production retouching, I was faced with dealing with what I had encountered on location after location. Massive wire and pole pollution surrounds us! Strangely enough we don’t notice it with our eyes because we are so used to seeing it. Paradoxically our eyes scan the scene and filter out many of the unpleasant things we see. Not so with a still image. Everything is locked-in and is right there in front of our noses when we view a photo. As a result, it took hours and hours in Photoshop to clean up the images. This included oil stains in the parking lot and undesired extraneous signage.



In the end however, I was able to effectively deliver UMB the images of their bank branches that they are very pleased with, and that match their excellent mousetrap! If you’re wondering whether all of this fuss about eleven photos of bank branches on a company’s website really matters, trust me it does! This is the kind of attention to detail and commitment to excellence that successful businesses and companies practice as a matter of their culture, and unsuccessful ones do not. I was able to share this approach with UMB on this project, and it was a pleasure. I can bring the same attention and creativity to your image needs!


A big thanks to the management team of UMB that I worked with, and I enjoyed very much collaborating with people and a company who share a strong commitment to quality, hard work, creativity, innovation and professionalism in everything they do. Their motto is “Together We Grow!” I can attest that United Mississippi Bank and my own image service company are growing, and doing so together. Get on board the quality train and come grow along with us!


If you have a desire to improve the quality of your marketing and advertising visuals, whether it be photographs or video of your products … your employees or you in action with your services … have a consultation regarding your marketing and media needs including social media presence … or perhaps a fresh and new website, then connect with me and let’s talk about how we can work together to help your business grow!


BEFORE & AFTER of 3 Branches

Three Photos of three bank branches – EACH SET: Topmost photo: EXISTING branch photo / Middle photo: UNRETOUCHED new photo / Bottom Photo: RETOUCHED new photo.

Think about your own business’s images in your advertising & marketing: would you rather use the top photos in the sets below, or the bottom ones? Details and quality send a very powerful and crystal-clear message to your clients and customers about your company or business!


Drone Photography Enhances Business Image

Morgantown Bank Branch of UMB


Drone Photography Enhances Business Image

Main Headquarters Building – UMB

Drone Photography Enhances Business Image

Fayette Bank Branch of UMB

My Facebook Page

My Instagram Page

Drone Photography Enhances Business Image

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Natchez Brewing Company: On-Location

Lisa & Pat caught in a candid moment during the portrait shoot.

Meet Pat & Lisa Miller of the Natchez Brewing Company. 

I got the opportunity to meet Pat and Lisa during the recent Food & Wine Festival in Natchez, Mississippi. Visit Natchez had hired me to shoot the weekend fest, and the very first stop of the restaurant tour was The Camp Restaurant under the hill on Silver Street. That’s where I met this friendly and interesting entrepreneur couple who brew craft beer.

One thing led to another, and we arranged to have an environmental portrait taken of them at their brewery on Franklin Street in downtown Natchez. In Environmental Portraiture, the idea is to capture your subjects in their environment; in other words, in some context of their life, their work, or what they do – in their surroundings. This is quite a different approach than studio portraiture, where you photograph your subject in a studio with a backdrop. Studio portraiture can be very effective in that it normally isolates the subject to that one element – them. Either approach works well, depending upon what you’re after. For Pat & Lisa, I chose to go on location and photograph them inside their brewery to put them in context as craft beer brewers. An issue with this approach is the logistics of lugging all the lighting and camera gear on location, and at this time of year the heat and humidity make it more difficult. There is also the issue of the context (the surrounding, or set), and getting it right. This often must be carefully staged and arranged to bring out all the elements that are needed so that the viewer of the image knows what is going on.

The Brewery’s logo.

Let me explain a little more about that last thought and why it is so important – that idea of sometimes needing to stage or set up the surroundings for the shot. In real life, our eyes take in a staggering amount of information in just a few seconds. Walking up to Lisa & Pat’s brewery building … an old, tall structure from the 1800’s with a ton of character, seeing their logo painted on the tall windows, walking through the front entrance into a huge room of brick and cypress timbers with very high ceilings, and seeing the large beer tanks in the corner … the aromas, the feel of the atmosphere, the taste of the amazing beer …well, it all combines to create quite an emotional and intellectual impact, and that is the issue …

How does one capture all that information and communicate the emotional impact of that entire few seconds into just a single photographic image of just one part of that sequence? That is the challenge of still photography, and why I love it so much. That’s also why I must pour more thought, planning, and staging into the image I am going for – so that I effectively communicate the experience – not just a simple scene. This can sometimes be lost on photographers even – especially those who come from a photo-journalistic background whose strict guidelines go by the mantra of never changing or altering anything in the scene. An analogy would be akin to marching band drummers with their strict regimen of exact drum-line drumming sometimes having difficulty switching to playing jazz, which is loose and improvisational drumming. Environmental portraiture is not photo-journalism. In this style of environmental portraiture, I am conveying the emotion and the experience of the entire scene’s panorama and sequence, not taking a forensic evidence shot of just what is there in that second and in that one narrow place that is within the frame of my camera’s lens.

Scouting shot taken a couple of days before the real shoot.

“Photography is more than a medium for factual communication of ideas. It is a creative art.” – Ansel Adams

How is that done? How can I communicate the emotion of a scene … of an experience? Well, some key elements of achieving this are in how I choose to stage and light the scene. The image at left is a scouting photo I took a couple of days before the shooting session. It’s always a good idea for me to scout out a location and look for the best angle to begin to work with in order to have the most optimal starting point to portray my vision of the portrait. In this shot, one can see the beer tanks – which I thought was key. However, the scene is very cold, cluttered, industrial, and needs a lot of work to make it more interesting. In particular, the white wall along the left, the exit sign, and the clutter along the floor need to be addressed. I had two assistants helping me on this shoot: Pam Swayze and Taylor Cooley. I enjoyed their help and their creative input in working to make this portrait “pop.” I very much enjoy operating with a talented team of photographic assistants such as Pam and Taylor when I get the opportunity. 

There were plenty of items in the building that screamed “beer brewery” – such as large wooden barrels, old bricks, kegs with their logo on them, and of course – the beer itself. So fortunately, I did have some interesting and appropriate items to work with. After Pat did a general clean-up of the area, I used all of these in various arrangements, moving them into the scene and tweaking their placement until I got a more interesting look. Pam did a great job of arranging the beer onto the top of a barrel, and pouring it into glasses. After this was done, I moved on to working out the lighting in order to give the scene drama and character. 

The “key” light is to camera right, and is a large 53″ Rotolux octabox (softbox) mounted onto an Elinchrom mono-strobe. It is up fairly high, mounted on a c-stand equipped with a boom arm, angled toward the subjects. A fill light was added to camera left, on yet another c-stand with a boom arm. This one was a 27″ gridded beauty dish mounted onto a Paul C. Buff “Einstein” mono-strobe. Three Nikon SB910 speedlites were strategically placed along the brick wall to the sides and rear, pointed up to give texture and mood to the wall. They were gelled using Magmod creative color filters. All of these were triggered remotely from my camera using Pocket Wizard radio controllers.

Magmod’s entire line of modifiers for speedlites.

The Magmod system of speedlite modifiers is absolutely one of my favorite pieces of kit. I like them so much that I invested in their entire line of modifiers. It’s a clever system that uses strong magnets in order to place light modifiers onto your speed light, and allows for quick changes to what you are doing. They are also “stackable” – so that you can add gels and grids stacked on top of one another to creative effect. In the scene I chose to light, I used amber and reddish colored gels on all three SB910 speed lights to mimic the brewery’s logo colors of amber and red. (It also was not lost on me that it worked to complement Lisa’s beautiful red hair.) Taylor, Pam and I worked with the power settings on the flash units to get just the right amount of light and color. Next, I backlit the two glasses of beer with two small LED penlights. For the blank space of wall in the background, I used the label off of the brown bottles and resized it in Adobe Photoshop CC 2015, and angled it to fit the perspective of the wall. I used a soft blend mode to make it appear as if the logo is naturally there. (Lisa and Pat had also told me they plan to have the logo painted up onto that area.) Into that scene I placed Lisa and Pat – who both have great camera personality. The shot below was my resulting final edited image …

Environmental Portrait of Lisa & Pat Miller “Craft Beer Brewers” – Copyright 2015, Michael Chapman.

I hope you enjoyed this look behind the scenes at what goes into making an environmental portrait such as this one. An image like this can capture so much of a person’s life story at a given time of their life, and the portrait can become something that is treasured and handed down to the next generation. If you would like your story captured in a timeless format, then contact me and we can arrange something just for you!


Subjects: Pat & Lisa Miller
Creative Director, Image Concept & Design, Photographer, & Retoucher: Michael Chapman
Location: Natchez Brewing Company, 413 Franklin Street, Natchez, Mississippi
1st Photography Assistant: Pam Swayze
2nd Photography Assistant: Taylor Cooley
Make-Up & Hair: Lisa Miller
All Rights Reserved – Michael Chapman, 2015

Image 1 (“Caught in a Fun Moment”): Nikon D810; 50mm f/1.4 prime lens; ISO 64; f/4; 1/250s; tripod mounted. There are moments in a photo session when you can get some fun candid shots. I always look for moments like this. They sometimes make for the best images.

Image 2 (“Logo”): This image of their business logo was used from Lisa & Pat’s Facebook page. Image credit to others.

Image 3 (“Scouting Shot”): The metadata isn’t important for this image … but what is important to me is to have scouting shots like this to take home. This gives me the time to think about and carefully plan my approach to the real photo session. I want to be very deliberate about portrait sessions, think about possible symbolic elements that I can include, and other factors that will bring out the essence of my subject(s). Plans can and often do change even then … but at least I have a plan as well as a more in-depth understanding of my subjects and their context. I use all of this as my starting point for framing, composition, angle of view, depth of field, and other considerations that I might not remember without having some scouting shots to look over at home, without any distractions.Image 4 (“MagMod Banner”): The MagMod website URL is: 

Image 5 (“Craft Beer Brewers” – Environmental Portrait): Nikon D810; Nikon 24-120mm f/4 lens (at 24mm); ISO 200; f/11; 1/20s; tripod mounted. Tripod: Gitzo carbon-fiber legs with a Really Right Stuff BH-55 ball-head.

Lenses Used on this Shoot: Nikon 50mm f/1.4 Prime; Nikon 105mm Micro f/2.8; Nikon 24-120mm f/4.

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 27″ gridded beauty dish – all other lights were kickers (accent lights); Nikon SB910 speedlites (x3) with Magmod modifiers; Lights were triggered with Pocket Wizard radio controllers (x5) – Flex TT5’s, Mini TT1, and AC3 Zone Controller; stands: c-stands with boom arms, Manfrotto Nano stands with umbrella adapters, 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.

Computer & Tech: Apple MacBook Pro w/15″ retina display (shot tethered); Wacom Intuos tablet (medium); JBOD backup using Seagate hard drives for Mac (3-2-1 approach, with Dropbox as Cloud backup).

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