19 October - Photography: Behind the Camera & Behind DaLa Photography

A few years ago, my husband bought me a digital Nikon D40 for Christmas to resurrect my love for photography. I refrained from using it for six months -- pure intimidation. Exploration on something that has too many bells and whistles has to happen on my time. And I still shoot in the "auto" setting. I have taken photography classes in the past, but they seemed to focus more on developing in the dark room. I wanted to learn more about the upfront process -- the foundation in taking a great photo.

As I perused my Facebook news feed, I caught a glance of a phenomenal photo from friend David Larson's album. I knew David from working on fashion shows together, as well as in his previous life as a proprietor in the restaurant business. Now photography? He certainly showed natural ability for only shooting intensely for six months. How did he transcend from neophyte to developing his level of caliber in a short amount of time?

I asked him if I could observe a client photo shoot, then try to direct and style my own shoot -- operative word being "try". I walked in to his Fifth Ward studio. He and his model fiancee, Jemme, were all ready to go. Prompt and efficient. Lights, camera settings and background were set. Pretty impressive. I began to ask elementary questions about the equipment...the soft box and its diffused lighting, the ring light which gives the model a surreal healthy glow, the color temperature of the camera, etc. We looked at software programs like "Capture One" for post effects, before Photoshop. David was careful to underscore he is no expert, but again, I was drawn to his style, not his tenure in the industry. I commend him for his humility and zeal for pursuing his passion at this stage in his career.

After college, he took the normal route in the corporate world of sales for 10 years, then turned toward the entrepreneurial path in owning restaurants and bars. As a successful proprietor of Sauce, Terrace Bar and Camille's, he then opened a finance company...all the while in between, purchasing cameras, equipment and lights. "Ever since I was in high school, I wanted to be a fashion photographer in New York, but it was just a pipedream. I didn’t know what it required and there were too many barriers of entry without digital technology...."

But when he and Jemme started dating, his pipedream transformed to reality. Just as he encouraged Jemme's career in modeling years ago, she encouraged his shift into photography. "I've had the opportunity to observe the best photographers in the world, picking up their styles and techniques. This particular shoot today is for Henry Hall Jeans, a new denim company in Finland." I asked how he prepared for shoots. "It depends. This one is very specific, mainly product shots. But for lifestyle or editorial shoots, I make sure I understand what the clients want. Then I make sure the clients understand and commit to what they want. Sometimes it's a collaboration -- what are their goals? What are they looking for? Then I select wardrobe and the type of lighting. Lighting is key. You could have the same exact pose and model, but there's a fine line that could make the shot look silly or classy just because of the lighting."

David's entrepreneurial spirit lends to his appreciation for hard work and dedication behind startup companies; his goal is to help them succeed. One of those clients is local underwear company, Pooghe. "Pooghe has a bright future. It's fun to shoot for a product you believe in."

He accredits his acceleration in learning to having access to a stellar model in Jemme, but also to photographer and now business partner, Dan Bishop. He considers Dan his mentor in every sense of the word. "It’s funny how I went about pursuing photography. I bought the studio first, then a nice camera. Dan laughed at me because I already had all this equipment. He knew I wanted to be successful but had to lay out the pieces. If I had any questions, he wouldn't just tell me how to fix it, he would ask 'what don't you like about this photo?' and help me figure it out so I would learn. He is not only a jack-of-all-trades, but a king-of-all-trades. He is constantly learning and reading owner’s manuals and puts pressure on himself to be on top of the learning curve. Dan is a student of it all."

As we continued to chat, David wrapped up the shoot and I was ready to have a go. I had specific ideas in mind. My vision was playing more with the contrast, black and white, and seeing other sides of Jemme emotionally. He and Jemme were so supportive and patient in understanding my ideas, going through wardrobe I brought and showing me the difference in lighting positions. This process took time. I dressed her up, put her in position, looked through the lens and snapped the photo. I have to say, I am quite pleased with how these turned out.

As I looked through the lens to capture the shot though, I wondered what was behind the woman on the other side of the camera. Jemme has a calm and quiet disposition about her. I was surprised to learn that this once-upon-a-time manager of a tanning salon also happens to have an amazing singing voice. Laughing, she reminisced, "When I was a kid, we lived in an apartment complex. At night, I would sing a Mariah Carey song out the window at the top of my lungs with all my emotional might."

As I continued to ask her questions, she was extremely professional, holding poses, understanding the inner narrative in my mind of what I wanted to see through the lens. I asked her what goes through her mind during shoots. "I have grown more coordinated. I think about 'don't pop your butt out, suck your tummy in, don't curl your toes, and make sure your face looks hot'.... I always picture myself in a different place... And I think I can pretty quickly switch from one emotion to the next. I always felt comfortable doing that. People tell me I'm very animated."

I could easily understand what David meant now in the ease of working with Jemme. She is comfortable, confident, patient and not at all a prima donna. When asked of her most difficult shoot, she recalled working with Renee Jacobs. "I was out in the middle of the desert, 30 feet in the air, standing on top of teeny areas of jagged rock. There was nothing between me and the ground. Renee was so nice about it and said, 'do whatever you want.'"

Regarding one of her most amazing shoots, she recalled photographer Sylvie Blum from Germany, known for her artistic nudes with live lions and tigers. "Not only did we get amazing photos out of the shoot, but she is such an incredible person -- one of the best people I have ever met. But I will say with David, I definitely feel the most comfortable in my sexier roles when he's behind the camera."

Fortunately, David and Jemme have a dynamic working relationship, as well as personal relationship. His first show at Moct premiered at this most recent Gallery Night in Milwaukee. It was also David's birthday. "The owner Sini called and saw postings on Facebook. He asked if I would be interested in showing my work. I didn't know at that point what I would display, but I thought it would be fun to have Jemme as part of the process of my first show. So I came up with a mini series of artistic nudes of her."

With two new magazine ventures in the works, I can only imagine good fortune will come to this humble and hardworking couple. I believe vision leads you down your destined path, and positive begets positive. You can see David's current work through December at Moct, 240 E. Pittsburgh Ave., Milwaukee.

First show premiere on your birthday? Quite a gift and accomplishment. Happy birthday, David, and many more to come.

For more information, please contact David@DaLaPhotography.com.

For more information on luxury base-layer apparel, please visit www.pooghe.com.

For more information on Henry Hall Jeans, please visit http://www.henryhalljeans.com/.

For more information on Moct, please visit http://www.themoct.com/.