Category Archives: Portrait

A 100-Year-Old Ranch & A 10-Year-Old Vision: A Lesson in Nurturing Inspiration as a Photographer

If you know me, you know I love music.

While I started my photography career early (my first paying job was at age 15), it coexisted with music as a sideline. My parents were music fans, so I was exposed to it early and often growing up. Two years of piano lead to my desire to become a drummer, but my father couldn’t stand the racket of just a snare drum in my room. I eventually ended up on bass guitar; the drummer’s accompanist in “the rhythm section” of a band. Today, I’m married to one of the most incredible singers you’ll ever hear.

Introducing Danny Everitt

From 1970-1973, Danny Everitt was one of my bandmates in Austin. While he soldiered on playing, I took a 20-year hiatus. From day one, Danny gave me the honor of doing photography for his recordings.

Cover of Danny Everitt’s first album in 1981, “Fire Down Inside.”

I also provided the cover for 2007’s “Cold Wind, Cold Rain,” on which I also share co-write credit for the first track, and promo images for 2013’s “Acoustic Souvenir.” However, only recently did I have the opportunity to bring an image that had been percolating in my mind for almost 10 years to fruition.

When Inspiration Strikes “a Chord

In 2007 I started working for Bob McClaren at his beautiful Angus Beef ranch, 44 Farms, near Cameron, Texas.

Almost immediately, the sight of a lone chimney next to a large stock tank struck my attention. I knew the remnants of a long lost farmhouse (the land has been in Bob’s family a little over 100 years now) would make a great photo. The time to use this scenery finally arrived.

44 Farms Chimney and Stock Tank, Near Cameron, Texas

10-Year-Old Vision Realized

When Danny told me about his upcoming music release, “Dream Big,” I knew we needed to take a little road trip.

On October 21 a cold front had pushed through Texas and cleared the air, so Danny, his wife Patrice, and I headed to 44 Farms. My idealized photo would take place at twilight.

While we waited for the sun to creep down, I suggested we make use of the glorious weather to get some shots “in the can.”

In a similar vein as client assignments, I complete the shots as planned, but also try to come up with additional images that may or may not work for the brief.

This afternoon, we started with the sun directly behind Danny. I used a battery powered Alien Bees flash head with a beauty dish to illuminate his front, which would have been in shadow:

Danny Everitt, “Dream Big” CD Shoot

Then, as the sun was barely above the horizon during “The Golden Hour,” we shifted to a hillside just behind us where the warm light raked across Danny and the golden grass of a Texas autumn:

Danny Everitt, “Dream Big” CD Shoot

Finally, we set up for the shot that I envisioned all along; Danny in front of a fire, strumming his guitar, singing softly, and the sporadic accompaniment of the Angus cattle who occasionally came to drink water from the tank:

Danny Everitt, “Dream Big” CD Shoot

For the technically minded, there was a battery-powered head inside the fireplace, with a warming gel to simulate the warmth of a fire. The aforementioned Alien Bees head and beauty dish, with a honeycomb grid, gently opened up the side of the chimney so there would be some detail in it.

I was pleased when we finished, and even more so when I started processing the images back at home. I just knew this would be the perfect wraparound cover for a CD titled “Dream Big.”

Unfortunately, it didn’t make the cut. It WOULD have been the chosen wraparound cover if I hadn’t gone the extra mile to shot other scenarios while waiting for the sun to go down.

May The Best Photo Win

Danny’s wife Patrice, or “Pete” as commonly known; Jack Saunders, Danny’s music producer and engineer; and Houston graphic designer Kenny Ragland, who I had enlisted to create Danny’s CD package, all liked the first setup the best.

This image became the cover of “Dream Big,” the one pictured above with a little post-processing tweaks:

Danny Everitt, “Dream Big” CD Cover

Thankfully, all is well, and my originally envisioned image, with the addition of a real crescent moon judiciously place above the horizon, became the inside spread with plenty of room for CD production credits to be reversed out:

Danny Everitt, “Dream Big” CD Inside Spread

The hillside image is being employed in Danny’s promotional material and his Band Camp page, where you can buy all three recent CD releases:

A Lesson in Inspiration

The lesson I want to impart is that the image you go out to capture may not be the one that ends up being the best or the one that you use. Be open to surprises and inspiration – it’s what keeps the process fresh, and often results in a happy accident.

As an addendum, Danny, most of our old mates from the Austin band (with guitarist Gerry Hailer, from my early 90’s “ad band”), and I did a CD in 1998 to prove that we could still rock and roll. If you’d care to have one, just let me know, I have a few left. We are hoping to finish up our sophomore effort later this year, 17 years after we started it. Stay tuned for more.

6 Tips from a Corporate Photography Problem Solver

Do you know what it takes to get a finished picture that meets corporate standards?

I thought it might be fun to show you what goes into a final image. For example, one primary task an experienced commercial photographer can deliver is the ability to solve a visual problem.

Let’s take a look at a recent annual report portrait I produced for my good client, Steve Croxson of Croxson Design and his client, Cabot Oil & Gas.

For over 21 years, Steve has produced Cabot’s annual report. As he puts it, “This longevity is an amazing accomplishment in this day and age but, I feel – in part – it’s due to our great working relationship with great shooters like Michael Hart.”

1. Scope the Location: Lighting, Competing Elements

Since I specialize in photography of the executive suite, Steve and I did a walk through a week before our scheduled shoot. We decided on a new location that has never been used before and made assumptions of the final image production.

I pre-visualized the lighting that would be best for the shot, and what post-production tasks were needed to minimize the elements competing for our eye’s attention.

2. Client Comfort & Efficient Work

Cabot Oil & Gas Chairman and CEO Dan Dinges and EVP/CFO Scott Schroeder are a delight to work with, and there is usually much levity when we are together – making my job very easy.

3. OnSite Analysis

We did a significant number of exposures, with minor position tweaks, all visible to Steve on our iPad as we shot photos until we were confident that we had enough options.

Dan O. Dinges, Chairman, President, and CEO, and Scott C. Schroeder, EVP and Chief Financial Officer, Cabot Oil & Gas, Houston, Texas

4. Conduct Due Diligence of Set without Subjects

After the Cabot Oil & Gas executives had left the location, I took a series of exposures of the environment without the lighting used on the subjects. This photoshoot eliminated any light casts and highlights on the ground and ceiling and gave me a clean background image in which to place them digitally.

5. Perfect the Art of PostProduction Editing

The skillful blending of the two image sets, one with subjects and one of the locations alone, helped me lose apparent and unappealing lighting spill captured in the images.

I then removed distracting elements on the ceiling, manipulated the window shades in the background, and added highlights in the railing, which, with its curves leading up to the subjects, helped direct the eye to our guys.

Dan O. Dinges, Chairman, President, and CEO, and Scott C. Schroeder, EVP and Chief Financial Officer, Cabot Oil & Gas, Houston, Texas

6. Continuity is Key

As the photographer, I am the one who has visualized the final image, much like a creative or art director. This ownership makes it easy for me to quickly and precisely make post-production edits.

Knowing Photoshop at an advanced level allows me to control as many elements (if not more) than in the B&W darkroom.

I’m happy to report that my clients are pleased with the results, and I have recently sent this image to current and prospective customers as part of an email marketing campaign.