Meet Samantha and Tim. They are getting married this summer at the Grand Canyon. They are both animal health experts. I say it that way because I don’t know what to call tim… animal surgeon? Anyway, I respect them both immensely and what they do. They live in Florida, so the first time I was able to meet them in person was in Key West on the night before our photographic engagement adventure. We sat outside their hotel room and I heard the most fascinating love story… which I will leave to them to tell, but suffice it to say, it was a good introduction to both of them. What I learn about my clients in conversation is as important as the angle and the lighting in the photograph. I will always take better photographs of people I know and care about, because I understand them and care about them and more importantly, they are comfortable with me because they know I know them and care about them. And remember, “photography is nothing… it’s life” that matters. (A little paraphrasing from Cartier-Bresson).
Tim and Sam are an adventurous couple, so when we originally talked about making their engagement portraits, we didn’t talk about a portrait session, we talked about an adventure. And that’s what we had.
The Dry Tortugas are a small chain of islands a few hours west of Key West, Florida in the Gulf of Mexico. Most of the islands are no bigger than your church parking lot and are completely uninhabited. Our destination was Fort Jefferson, which is an old Civil War era fort, built as a show of force for the U.S. in the Gulf. The fort is bigger than the Island and hangs off the island, into the ocean and is complete with a lighthouse, canon turrets and a mote with a crocodile.
The island is accessible by boat or by plane. We arrived on a boat and I flew out by sea plane. If you have never flown in a sea plane, it is an interesting experience, one that I recommend, mostly because it gives you the chance to put your life into the hands of a surfer looking guy that listens to and sings Bob Dylan tunes, never talks to a tower and sometimes steers with his knee. The pilot was super cool. I got to fly up front with him, but that meant that I had a set of controls to dodge while holding my cameras.
I love this shot. I think it gives the best description of the islands themselves. Small, remote and just a foot or two above sea level. Talk about a destination engagement portrait… this is it!
As we would be there for a few days, we set up camp right away in the few trees on the island near the fort. Once we were situated, Tim and Sam changed and we explored the old fort and took a bunch of portraits. We shot on the fort, in the fort, around the fort…
This is absolutely one of my favorite portraits. I love the cross light from the open gaps in the walls to the right and the added fill flash from the same general direction and the perspective from the repeating arches behind them.
There are a few park rangers who patrol the entire National Park area (which is about 100 square miles of ocean), using the fort as a base camp. They have converted a small section of the fort to living quarters for these rangers. A bit isolated, but he seems happy….
When you are on this small an island, you can get a lot of backgrounds without walking very far. Docks, beaches, old deteriorating walls. This place had it all.
This shot is a great use of the arches. I shot a lot of variations on this to get the right symmetry and composition. They got a few minutes of kissing in.
I am very fond of this shot. It is quirky and fun.
And here is a shot without humans for those who just like architectural shots. I’ll even through a few landscapes in here for you non-people photographers.
I was super happy with this shot of Tim. Available light came from a big hole in the wall, where there once would have been a very large canon.
No, the fort never saw any action. It’s just falling apart.
Great spot, great light, great subject, cute dress and hat. I’m trying to think how this one could have been better.
Nope. Can’t think of anything! I love it.
I couldn’t help it. It’s a cute shot. I had an off camera flash with me and could have matched the exterior and interior light, but in the end, left the flash out of the equation and went for the silhouette. Glad we did.
The staircases in the turrets of the fort were a bit dark, but as you reach the top, the light filtering down was bright enough to make a good exposure. In battle, I don’t think this would be a good place to stand.
The brick wall at the bottom of this photo is the outside of the mote, which comes complete with a crocodile. Every mote should have a crocodile in it. Right?
This is a pathway on the top of the fort which wraps all the way around the fort about three stories about the water.
I love this shot. The almost empty frame is so enticing to me.
This is one of my favorite shots. I love the motion of the tie. Tim and Sam will remember when I shot it, I was super excited about it. The off camera flash was important to fill the shadows and gives the added benefit of making the couple jump off the background a bit.
I was also very happy with this image. As we happened upon this little wood and iron bench, I saw the darkness around it and saw this end result in my head. All I needed was to set them on the bench and let them have a chat and the image was complete. I love it when a plan comes together.
The first day was over and we ended it on the beach with a sunset as our evening entertainment. Well, Tim and Sam also had a bottle of wine, some fruit and cheese. They camp in style.
Day two started with a three mile kayaking trip to a neighboring island. It was about two hours each way. My goal was to get a few shots on the way there and back. I have also never been in a kayak before, so it was an interesting experience. What I was not prepared for was the need to continue rowing for the entire two hours. I found that when I stopped, I began to drift toward Cuba, which was not where I wanted to go. Also, to avoid capsizing with all my camera gear, I needed to keep my nose into the waves. When I stopped to take a photo, my kayak would quickly spin parallel to the waves, which made capsizing more probable. But you can’t row and photograph at the same time. So, I would row quickly ahead. Then, I would wait for Sam and Tim to pass by, and while trying to steady my camera against the constant rocking of the kayak, I would try try to keep my boat from spinning or capsizing. It was an adventure.
This was our destination. This is Loggerhead Key. You can see the lighthouse from the fort on Garden Key, but it doesn’t seem to get any closer for a very long time as you kayak from island to island. I have new respect for the ancient islanders in the pacific, as they traveled from island to island in their canoes. ”Are we there yet?”
You can see though, that the Island is quite small. One can walk across the width of the island in about two minutes.
I am fascinated by pelicans. They are down right ugly birds.
On Loggerhead we did a little snorkeling and I came face to face with a Barracuda. That was exciting. I wasn’t in any danger, it was as afraid of me as I was cautious of it. But I did not follow it around trying to take it’s picture, so the shot below is NOT the Barracuda. This fish is a friendly fish who was just happy I wasn’t fishing.
Ocean plant life is so strange. This is a world I have seldom seen in person or in films, so all of it is strange and miraculous to me.
I love this shot of Tim. At first I was upset but the placement of the drops of water on the glass, but they have grown on me. The shot is a gritty documentary shot and now I think the drops of water add to the shot.
I found that if I took a shot as I was emerging from the water, the water would not have time to form into droplets and I could get a far more clear shot. Plus I could get that cool, half under water, half above shot.
After a long morning of rowing, photographing and snorkeling, Tim broke out a pineapple. We had a feast!
As I was returning from snorkeling, I walked up on this scene. Quite literally. The light was perfect, the concept was dropped in my lap by pure photographic providence. So, I snapped a few shots (non of which I am showing here) just to make sure I got something, then I asked them to continue on with the yoga but gave them a little direction to stay separated by a few paces and for Sam to do whatever she did in profile to me. Then I backed up and began shooting. I am super happy with the entire series. Samantha is really into Yoga. Really into it. I watched her do some pretty amazing stuff on that dock.
On our way home we raced the sun and ended up arriving just after sunset. Unbeknownst to me, my kayak was taking on water, so I was lugging myself and a third of my boat in water. I thought I was just getting really tires, but when we were beaching the craft and we couldn’t drag it ashore together, it was clear that I was not such a whip. I like to think I am extra tough!
Anyway, I love the silhouette against the chop of the ocean. And coming from my unsteady, sinking little boat, I was thrilled to get it.
In the slideshow you will have seen my shot of Sam and Tim on the mote wall. We went on a night walk around the fort on the wall. The moon and the stars were our light. I put my camera on a tripod (which I rarely do) and began shooting times exposures. The key is to find the right mix of movement and depth of field.
I suppose there is a metaphor in this photo somewhere.
And finally, this is Sam and Tim’s portrait of me. Once the camera was set and we had taken photos of them on the wall, they took a shot of me. I love the shot. I had to hold still. I also gave them a LED light to shine on me briefly during the exposure to add a little fill. Sam manned the camera shutter and Tim the light. Good work guys. You might be able to shoot your own wedding, but you are in it, so I guess I still have a job!
Thank you Samantha and Tim, for trusting me to be a part of your adventures. It is an honor to get to know you and to photograph you both. Our next big adventure will be on my turf, in the Grand Canyon…
Slideshow music by Child’s Play, courtesy of Triple Scoop Music
Engagement portrait location: The Dry Tortugas, off the coast of Key West, Florida