Just a few of my favorite sports posters from the year.

Just a few of my favorite sports posters from the year.

We have a lot of fun creating awesome images and we can be especially creative with sports teams because they are normally looking for a Hollywood movie look with lots of special effects.  Here are just a few that we did this year!  The first 5 are from a calender we created for the University of Iowa Dance and Cheer teams!

This softball poster has been a favorite for softball teams around the country!

This basketball poster won many awards this year in print competition and helped me to achieve my Master Artist Degree from PPA

Shaydee Stark Senior Session

Shaydee is a senior at Indianola High School. Shaydee is an All-American Cheerleader and was chosen to be a Shrine Bowl Cheerleader! It was so fun to photograph Shaydee because her personality was easy to capture through the lens… her outfits were fun and outgoing!

We started Shaydee’s Senior Session across the street from the studio at Wilton’s historic Candy Kitchen! It was cool to incorporate a small town feel into Shaydee’s senior portraits.

Didn’t even realize the writing on wall said “made in the usa” until I later looked at the back of the camera.

A cool vintage look with Shaydee’s homecoming dress.

                      No Photoshop!!! Just some really good lighting and a lightroom preset!

 Thanks Shaydee for being so great!

Master Artist Competition

Master Artist Competition

At the PPA International Print Competition there
are two different contests. One is the Photographic Open Competition and the
other is the Master Artist Competition. I wrote a blog earlier about my Loan
prints in the Photographic Open Competition but I haven’t yet gotten around to
writing about the Master Artist Competition. Seniors, Families, and Weddings
have been keeping me very busy these past couple months but wanted to quickly
share one of my three Loan images in the Master Artist Competition.

I originally created part of this background for
the Durant Wrestling Team Poster last year but for competition I decided I wanted to try
something a little different. I was already entering two other sports posters
(they won also) and wanted to change it up a bit. I decided to make it into a
post apocalyptic crazy bride scene 🙂 I came up with the idea only a week or so
before images were due for competition so I didn’t have much time to put it

I convinced my wife Sara to help me out. I found
her wedding dress from 10 years ago hanging in the closet and had her slip it
on. Then told her to pretend she was angry at me. I’m not sure where she found
her inspiration 😉 but she did an awesome job acting it out! We tried a few
different poses with baseball bats and cinder blocks but ended up loving the
dynamics of her throwing a bouquet at the camera. I then needed some bridesmaids
helping her out in the scene. For the bridesmaid I recruited Taylor, my niece
and studio helper. Sara had a bunch of old bridesmaid dresses from past weddings
so I had Taylor put one on and had her pretend she was rampaging around a city –
breaking windows, setting cars on fire, and such.

Below are some of my original images I used to
build the scene


Obviously there was a lot of time spent photographing, extracting, blending elements, and changing colors and tones but I ended up with something pretty fun I think.
bride, loan image, bridesmaids, apocalypse, bridezilla, rubble, abandoned city
The final scene that I created from the above elements!

Fall Sports Posters!

It’s that time of year and I’ve been busy creating some new posters for sports teams. I spend a huge amount of time coming up with ideas and figuring out how to make them come to life, but sometimes the teams don’t give me much notice on what their theme is going to be.  

The football team was one of those times.  Originally they had said they didn’t have an idea and wanted me to come up with something so I had an idea prepared for them but when they walked in they had come up with an idea of their own.  They wanted their motto to either be “Truck Ya!”  as a reference to their hill billy roots 🙂  or “Body and Soul, this is how we roll”  I suggested that the second would probably be more appropriate but from there I had to do some quick thinking.  With the “this is how we roll” I figured some kind of vehicle would be cool to pose them on but what?  At first I thought of a locomotive or semi, and did some quick checking through my libraries of images that I have accumulated.  I had a few but not exactly what I wanted.  I then remembered I had a cool truck that I had used in creating some images for a national advertising campaign for PhotoVision.  (You can check it out at  http://www.photovisionvideo.com.)   I found the image quickly and printed it off, drawing some stick figures to layout where I could fit the guys.  The boys loved the truck and had a quick argument over exactly what model, year and engine it most likely had in it.  Then it was picture time.  The guys had a lot fun getting into their rolls.  A few of them had longer hair and we broke out the hair fan for them which was pretty funny 🙂

The next weekend happened to be the town holiday and parade. As I was sitting with my kids gathering candy I noticed another big jacked up truck pull up down the street.  Even though I had already started compositing the players into the other truck, I couldn’t resist grabbing a few shots of that one and ran a few blocks to the studio to grab my camera.  I was able to get a few decent images of that truck.  But just a short while later I was sure glad I had gone to get my camera because an even bigger jacked up truck rolled by.  So I ended up using the tires and undercarriage of that truck to put under the original 1970’s truck to give it even more of a tough truck look.

For the individuals above I had to visualize the height and position of things around them – where a hand needed to be to hold onto the side of the truck, how someone would be hanging out the driver’s window, and how I could insert an American flag (by request).  As I mentioned it’s a good thing I work good under pressure because I only had about 5 minutes to come up with an idea, pre-visualize how each athlete would be able to fit into the image and then figure out what to use to position them so that they would actually look like they were there in the final poster!

sports composit, sports team poster, that's how we roll
The truck with the original smaller tires

I used the undercarriage of the truck and this truck and added it to the other truck.  Why wouldn’t I just use this truck you ask – because the extended cab didn’t leave enough room in the bed to fit all of the guys and I liked the old school feel a little better on the original truck.
Football poster, football motto, creative composit, monster truck, american flag
The final poster

To make him look like he was hanging of the back tale gate I had him hang onto a track hurdle to set it at the approximate height of a tail gate.  The guy in the white shirt is simply being used as a counter weight so #54 can lean back.  You can also see my lighting set up here with a 4×6 main light, two strip lights with grids and a hair light.


The Volleyball team this year had scheduled their poster well ahead of time and given me their motto plenty of time before the shoot.  But to be honest mid August is my busiest time of year and I hadn’t had time to get much together.  I work very well under pressure though and knew I could come up with something awesome.  They wanted their motto to be  “Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishments”  and feature a bridge in the background.  Well silly me, I had just been to Florida a month before and passed tons of cool bridges and not taken any, but luckily the weekend after I took their portraits I went boating with my camera and some friends and was able to get a few shots of a bridge. 
  My challenge though lay in finding a way to put the girls into the image without making them standing in water.  The coach didn’t want them to be wet.  After lots of brainstorming I ended up using some rocks from an old poster to layer in some water and then created a foggy river bank to obscure the edges.

volleyball team poster, volleyball girls, bridge, misty river, sports composit, discipline
I offer many of my posters as templates to other photographers (as long as you are not anywhere near my area) and really like the options this one offers for layering in players at different heights and positions

Cross Country

For the cross country team this year the coach called me a few days before the shoot and told me that his wife had come up with the idea to use the motto “The Original Tough Mudders”  If you don’t know, a Tough Mudder is a crazy obstacle coarse with insane things like electric shock, fire pit jumps and tunnels of ice water.  People who participate end up looking like a stack of mud with shoes.  When the coach told me of his idea I made sure to double check that the athletes would be fine getting covered in mud.  The day they came in I had sheets of plastic laid down from the back garage door to the shooting area.  I loaded them up in my truck and drove a couple blocks to my house where we had just done some landscaping and had big dirt yard.  I broke out the hose and everyone had a mud fight.  Some were a little more hesitant than others but they all ended up looking pretty good! 

From there I took them back to the studio and photographed them each.  The hardest part was coming up with a good background.  It mostly helps to have this kind of stuff ready before hand but I enjoy doing things the hard way!   I ended up layering lots of photoshop mud brushes and water brushes until I had a rainy muddy looking scene for the team to be standing in.

Cross country team, tough mudder, muddy, dirty, running, runners, sports team
How tough do these guys look!

The above shots are some examples of what I started with
Since they were muddy and having fun I did a few group shots for the parents too.

Durant Football

The Durant football team wanted their motto to be “Coming In Hot”  at first they suggested going to the fire station and having them stand around a fire truck.  I explained that to create the epic image that they had seen in the past I photograph each person individually in the studio to get the very best expression and lighting and then could composit them onto a fire truck or whatever we ended up doing.  The night before they came in I did some experimenting and came up with a cool action that made their hands and feet look like they were “red hot” and about ready to burst into flames.  When they came in I showed them my idea and suggested that keeping the background very simple would help to really focus on them.  They loved the idea and we set about coming up with random poses that would look cool.  These guys were a lot of fun also.  I have a big studio with lots of couches and they made themselves at home, sitting around cracking jokes and having a good time.  I’m looking forward to seeing some of these guys for senior portraits.  I know that they are going to get some great portraits because they already feel completely comfortable.

football team, sports poster, firemen, fireman, football motto, football poster, fire, red hot, coming in hot

Shannon’s Senior Session

Shannon’s Senior Session

We’re keeping busy here at the studio with senior sessions. School is just around the corner ( or already here for some) and we’ve got some seniors trying to sneak in before their final year gets started!

We’re sharing one of those seniors with you today… meet Shannon! Shannon is a senior at Pella High School. She’s laid-back, easy-going and was fun to get to know. Shannon totally rocked this shoot! Her outfits were so fun and she was an absolutely natural in front of the camera. Thanks for being awesome, Shannon!

Check out some of our favorite portraits from her session….

Love the way the colors work together to make her eyes really pop!
We tried some vintage toning with our waterfall and really like how it turned out!

Shannon’s dad Jeff, brought her grandfather’s first EVER tractor! 
Shannon’s awesome volleyball collage!

Brad and Holly’s Wedding!


Brad & Holly’s wedding day took place at the historic downtown Hotel Blackhawk. We started the day photographing in Holly in her hotel suite.  It’s always a great to have somewhere nice to create some getting ready shots.  Many times brides underestimate the importance of their getting ready portraits and choose a cluttered church basement which can definitely make it more difficult to capture beautiful portraits.   

The lovely bride-to-be as she put on her wedding gown with the assistance of her mother and bridesmaids. 
Holly’s bridesmades were all smiles and laughs as they helped Holly with her dress.

We always set up a private first meeting between the couple…. its great to see the anticipation, it’s also great for the couple to have a few moments alone to talk and soak each other in.  Check out Holly’s smile.  She was certainly excited!

How beautiful does Holly look on the marble staircase!

Hotel Blackhawk has many great places for portraits.  The hotel embodies class, sophistication and elegance. 

I loved this portrait because it feels like Holly and Brad are an art piece.

This was a classy yet fun pose for Holly and her bridesmaids!

The bridal party was so much fun to shoot. They were very eager and excited to be a part of Holly & Brad’s wedding. Check out the groomsmen… they were just hanging out before the wedding and I was able to capture a cool portrait of them!

The Quad City downtown cobble-stone road made for a great background for this fun portrait.

After the wedding ceremony we jumped on the Trolley and rode downtown where we created some portraits of the wedding party & the couple having fun and enjoying the BIG day!

Holly & Brad had a great set-up at their reception… their table was set in the middle of all the guests. It was a great night with a lot of dancing and toasting! 

In the months before their wedding Holly & Brad took dancing lessons and they certainly did not let them go to waste! Check out their amazing dance moves!
Check out these great vendors that made this night possible. 

Band: Funktastic Five  /  Reception Venue: Hotel Blackhawk – Gold Room  / Ceremony Venue: Hotel Blackhawk  /  Caterer: Hotel Blackhawk  /  Dessert Bar: Oh So Sweet by Tiphanie by Tiphanie Cannon  /   Florist: Julie’s Artistic Rose  /  Tux Rentals: Ducky’s in Moline  /  Wedding Dress & Veil: Hope’s Bridal  / Bridesmaid Dresses: XOXO Bridal Hugs & Kisses  /  Hair & Makeup: Salon Luce and Spa Luce 

International Awards

International Awards

So many
photography studios now days use the term “award winning portraits” to promote
their business.  So many, that the term no longer really seems to carry as much impact… 
Understandably so, for all you know the only awards some of those
photographers may have won were for local competitions
amongst non-professionals, right? 

So to justify our studio’s use of
that term to ourselves and to our clients, each year we enter our work into one
of the largest international photographic competitions.  We aim to set ourselves apart,
so that we can continue to say that we are one of the leading photography studios in the nation.  This year marks the third year our studio has
entered the PPA (Professional Photographers of America) International Photographic Competition. 

Within this competition
there are two separate categories that professional photographers can enter
their work into – the Photographic Open Competition and the Master
Artist (MA) Competition.  Thousands of professional photographers from around
the world submit their images.  Each photographer is only allowed to enter 4 of
their very best images into each of the categories.  Only the most exceptional
images entered – the ones regarded as the “best of the best” – are accepted into
the prestigious PPA Loan Collection.  These images in the PPA Loan collection
are viewed throughout the world as setting the standard of excellence in
photographic imaging.

Last week the results of
the competition were announced and we are very excited to announce that all
four of Ben’s portraits entered into the Photographic Open Competition were
judged as Loan worthy. In the Master Artist Competition three of Ben’s four
images were judged as Loan worthy. For a total of 7 Loans!

Loaning all four images
in the Photographic Open Competition means for the third year in a row Ben
receives the International Diamond Photographer of the Year
designation…  which only a few photographers
throughout the world earn each year (to be exact only in 12 in
2011, 8 in 2012 and only a handful in 2013)! 

Ben is honored that his
portraits were accepted into the Loan collection but one of the things he
is most proud about is the fact that the images he entered truly
represent the kind of work that he creates on a regular basis.  Nearly all of
his Master Artist images were originally created for clients, while nearly all
of his Photographic Open portraits were created while instructing other
photographers around the country. 

Below are Ben’s
Photographic Open Loan images. We will try to get around to writing a post about
his Master Artist images sometime soon…

“Enchanted” was created late one night while Ben was teaching in Rockwall, Texas. The scene was lit using a constant light so that the other photographers watching could easily see how the light placement and angle was crucial to creating good light on a subject. Ben was using the lobby of the Hilton Hotel which obviously had some beautiful decorations. He did some minor touch ups in Photoshop to remove distracting lights that was showing through the curtains, and he also removed some of the class attendees that happened to be too close 🙂

“Ravishing” was also created in Rockwall, Texas while Ben was teaching a class (possibly even that same night as the portrait above)  Ben spent most of the class showing how to create dynamic composites, but he also captured a few simple well-lit portraits of the model.  In Photoshop Ben added a texture overlay and a few other minor corrections. He chose to enter this image into the competition because he wanted to prove that he was not only good at creating storytelling scenes but that he could also produce beautiful classic portraits.

“When the Music Ends” was something Ben had been wanting to create for awhile. While he was teaching some classes in Wisconsin last fall he met the perfect model for his idea and she had the perfect outfit. Ben had not yet even begun to construct the scene for his idea but he knew he wanted a worn circus performer hanging off of an old carousel horse. He had her sit on a high stool and pretend she was leaning off the side of a horse. He had to visualize the angle that he would build the scene at, the direction that the horse would be going, and the intensity, angle, and quality of light.  By the end, it took a great while to put this scene together. The old train was photographed while teaching a class out in Idaho, the grass and broken carriage was photographed in New Orleans at yet another class. If you look closely, far in the background are some circus animals slowly moving in the same direction. The leading lines of the train and the tattered flags help lead the viewers eye to the subject.

“How to Catch a Wolf” is another that Ben had been thinking about for awhile. This one was more of a personal challenge for Ben.  He wanted to create something with a very different look than what he had done before. Many of his preferred images have warm dark tones like those above and he wanted to see what the opposite would look like. The background he captured early one morning. He’s not normally a morning person but that morning he happened to be on his way to jury duty. It was a misty frozen morning and he took the back way out of town down some gravel roads when he crossed a bridge and saw those trees. He was already a bit late but decided to turn around and head back to the studio for his camera and he’s glad he did! He wasn’t sure what he was going to do with the scene but he knew it was beautiful. (side note – he definitely arrived late for Jury Duty!)  The wolves came from Yellowstone. While out in Idaho teaching a class Ben had the opportunity to photograph some white wolves at a very close range (he says they are a very cool sight up close!) and he knew exactly then what he wanted to do with them. There are 8 wolves with in the final scene ghosting in and out of the forest. For the subject he wanted a slight pop of color and decided that Red Riding Hood would be a fun subject, but he wanted to give the story a twist. The story of Red Riding Hood has been recreated a million times, so instead he thought “what if the subject was not trying to flea the wolves but was instead using the red riding hood costume as bait to lure the wolves into a trap? If you look very closely you can also see the faintest of silhouettes of a castle in the background. The portrait was printed on a fine art water color paper to give it the feel of an artistic rendering.

We welcome you to the Shirk Photography Studio!

We welcome you to the Shirk Photography Studio!

This is what our building looked like when it was purchased nearly 3 years ago in the historically known downtown of Wilton, IA. It wasn’t much to look at but it had the right amount of space for the right price!
Using the image above I took it into photoshop and created my ideal studio.
This is the image I created in photoshop
And this is what it looks like now!  (minus the snow now)
This portrait of the studio was captured last winter
Shirk Photography Studio was no longer just a Photoshop creation but a reality! The studio was complete in 2011, a year after the the building was purchased 
Most of the work was done by us and with the help of friends and family! This images show you how much extensive work was needed to be done so that Ben’s vision could be fully realized. 
The ceiling had collapsed and we had some serious reconstruction to do! 

This is our reception area today with large canvas wraps and metal prints. Our design was inspired by some buildings in Chicago and and a bit of Las Vegas style

This is our grande gallery hallway displaying our portraits that are truly timeless. Our studio was so meticulously designed that we made sure every inch is not only unique and beautiful but also can be used for portraits. Our chandeliers and architecture through out the studio offers our clients elegance! We’ve even photographed seniors with their horses under our chandeliers and down our grande hallway.
Our 10 foot projection screen allows for an awesome viewing of our clients portraits
Our studio has been designed to perfectly fulfill the needs of our clientele. The studio features a huge dressing area, a top of the line sound system,  and state of the art viewing room where clients can view there portraits on the big screen! 

Once you open the two 12 foot metal doors at the end of our hallway you enter in our shooting area!
While the front of our studio offers classic elagance the back shooting area has a vintage grunge look to it for even more flexibility for portraits. 
notice the shelves of couches 🙂
Our 16 foot ceilings allow us to have some great and unique backgrounds. We have some great exposed brick and beautiful rustic windows. The studio has big wide open spaces so that our clients’s creativity and imagination is not limited by space. 

these our two 12 roller backgrounds systems that give us a ton of variety for different looks!

 We certainty love having this area to play and work at, it allows us to love what we do and have lots of fun with our sessions! 

Megan & Ross Petersen Wedding

It was a rainy overcast day for Megan & Ross’s wedding but that just means that there are some cool clouds to photograph with!

 Megan and Ross’ wedding day started as a rainy overcast day. But I wasn’t worried. We had a great location at the Celebration Barn to photograph their big day! We were able to set-up their first glimpse of each other in the Timber Frame barn, it has a large round window that allowed lots of natural light to shine through out.

A contemporary portrait with a little attitude
A romantic portrait of the big day! 

Megan and Ross had their ceremony at the Zion Lutheran Church in Iowa City, it was a beautiful exchange of vows! On our way back to the reception at the Celebration Barn we were able to find an ideal location of tall grass fields to photograph. 

These portraits were taken within a few moments of each other. With the knowledge of different lighting techniques, lenses, and camera settings it is possible to get many different looks in the same location
These portraits were taken within a few moments of each other. With the knowledge of different lighting techniques, lenses, and camera settings it is possible to get many different looks in the same location
We didn’t have a lot of time to capture portraits but we got some amazing shots of Megan and the girls. No sooner did they get on the bus did the rain just let lose, but that didn’t stop us from taking some breathtaking portraits in the rain. 
When we got back to the Celebration Barn we were able to photograph some additional portraits while we waited for Megan & Ross to be announced. We used overhangs as backgrounds for some stellar bridesmaids and groomsmen portraits.
Megan and her Bridesmaids rocking the “Bridesmaids” pose
This is a fun series – somebody said something funny and once Ross started laughing, everyone else had a hard time not laughing too! Tuxedos by Skeffington’s Formal Wear   

A great portrait of the bridal party

A beautiful bouquet of flowers by Green Thumbers 
A stunning head shot with the brides bouquet

Megan & Ross’ wedding reception had the couples signature styles written all over it. The Double Round barn had beautiful cathedral ceilings that made for some great shots. The reception was packed filled with family, friends and most importantly LOVE for the newlyweds! 

a great food presentation by Jeff’s Market 

The whole wedding party was a blast to capture through my lens 

The reception was a blast filled with great laughs and a open dance floor allowing for dancing in celebration of Megan & Ross’ big day! 

a great shot of the head table: Check out the Cathedral ceilings-Love them! The Celebration Farm


a yummy! creation by Yummy’s Gourmet Cakes

Megan & Ross were able to sneak out from the reception and into the venue’s amphitheater. We captured some great portraits of the couples using the stormy night sky, what some may say is a disadvantage, but for Megan & Ross it was definitely an advantage to capturing some absolutely memorable portraits

Carissa & Matt’s Wedding

Carissa & Matt’s Wedding

We had a beautiful day for Carissa & Matt’s wedding!  It started off a little crazy with a huge  farmer’s market right outside the church doors when we arrived to set up. Luckily the farmers market disappeared in time to start taking some portraits.

We headed outside for some beautiful portraits at the park across the street. We were able to capture some awesome portraits with their church in the background.

First Presbyterian Church,Cedar Rapids

 A stunning bridal gown by Macy’s Bridal Salon (Chicago)

Some gorgeous rings from  Greenberg Jewelry

a great shot of  the beautiful flowers by: Race Horse Royalty

After the wedding Carissa’s wedding all the guests released balloons and Carissa and Matt walked across the street and released pigeons.

Loved the flowers next to the detail of the stain glass windows.  flowers by Race Horse Royalty

Once we were finished with the releases Carissa and Matt jumped in the limo with their wedding party and headed off. We were able to capture some great portraits with the whole wedding party using a country road we found.

Some really sweet tuxedos: Men’s Wearhouse
a great shot with the all the bridal party! 

When it was time for the reception we headed to the beautiful Cedar Rapids Marriott where Unique Events MC’d the reception.

Cedar Rapids Marriot Hotel: some cool lighting with the monogram and purple uplighting by Unique Events 

 Programs, Menus, Table Numbers, Placecards, Etc.: Zephyr Weddings

 some very elegant table linens: Marla’s Linens & Chair Sashes: Celebration Linens
A great creation by Tip Top Cakes: Check out the deatails 
Cake creation by Tip Top Cakes
a great series of shots at the end of the night.  I always like to create something romantic to end their album with


      We are almost finished designing Carissa’s wedding album, as you can see it was an amazing day and a beautifully detailed reception! We have some great portraits to include.  

Muscatine Girls Softball Poster

Muscatine Girls Softball Poster

I’ve been doing the Muscatine Girls’ Softball poster now for a couple of years and each year they have gotten better.  The first year the coach wanted to do a circus theme which was very fun,  the next year the coach was thinking about doing something with Harleys and using the saying “Ready to Rumble.”  I tweaked it slightly since I have seen a lot of posters with Harleys and suggested to him that instead of Harleys we use monster trucks.  That poster was very cool and unique! 

This year one of my seniors that I had photographed was in charge of coordinating everything with me.  She had the idea of doing something along the lines of the popular TV series Band of Brothers – except Band of Sisters.  I asked if they were willing to get a little dirty for some close up shots and they were. 

The day that they came in we did a series of images with them silhoetted on a green screen and then I brought in a bucket of dirt I had dug up especially for them from my back yard.  They had a lot of fun smearing eachother with dirt  (and a lot of instagram images were posted)  Then we did a series of headshots for the poster.  I told them not to leave however and after we were done with that I did another quick series of headshots using a ring light and posted them on facebook for them.

Here is the final poster!

a sample of one of the portraits I took for the girls to use for their facebook profile

There are not many people who would say a rainy cold night would make an ideal couple’s session but then again you can’t really argue with how cool these images look. 

We were staying in St. Louis at the old Grand Central Station and it was a rainy cold night out. We had done a bunch of portraits inside but I really wanted to do something creative.  I suggested to Jason and Stephanie that we try some creative things outside in the rain with the street lights reflecting in the puddles.  They thought it was a great idea and were fine with putting up with a little cold for some truly unique portraits.

As you can see we were definitely successful!

I love how you can just barely see the St. Louis Arch in the background!

Loved this portrait outside at the Union Station Hotel!

You would not believe how difficult it was to get an old school yellow cab!

 Check out their silhouette through the rainy rear window
of the cab 🙂

How cool is this ending!

Track and Golf Posters

Track and Golf Posters

Yes, it’s the start of a new sport season so I have been blogging about my newest posters.  Just finished up with the guys track and the golf posters.  To be honest I had no ideas of what I was going to do with the posters.  Yes, even I go blank occasionally.  But I know how to light and I know how to composite so I figured I would take their pictures first and then come up with a cool background.  The only thing is when I do it this way I can’t get too crazy with the posing and have to remain somewhat generic.  But each team wanted at least 14 people on the poster and on the final product I also have to include a schedule and a list of sponsors, which makes it very difficult to come up with a cool background and include a large amount of team members. 

For the golf I came up with the idea of Daily Dose of Iron.  There is a steel mill in town that employs a large amount of people and I thought it would be cool to gain access to the mill and take some sweet pictures inside for the background.  But after a few phonecalls I found out that for some reason they are very relucant to let me in.  Instead I was able to tweak some other images to create what I needed.  But it ended up looking much like I think I would have been able to get inside the mill.

The guys track I was at a complete loss of what to do.  I spent forever looking for something that would inspire me.  I saw a burning tire somewhere and thought it was cool but decided to change the tire to a stopwatch, but I still wasn’t sure what to do for a motto.  After a lot of attempts I came up with “It’s go time and inserted a bunch of other clocks in the background.  I tried to stick to the blue and gold theme for the posters because those are the school colors.  I think it turned out pretty well for having no idea when I took the individual shots.

Fun New Track Team Composite!

So each time I have to create a new team composite one of the biggest challenges is coming up with cool new ideas.  The day before they came in I had no ideas what so ever.  I was completely blank and to be honest feeling a little of the winter blues.  I spent that evening randomly searching for some kind of inspiration.  Not only did I have the girls track team to create something for but also the guys track team and the golf team. 

About the 10,000 page of google images I came across an image of The Wizard of Oz with the yellow brick road and I knew I had found my inspiration for the girls track poster.  My next big step was coming up with elements to create the background.  I have a vast library of stock images I have shot from all of my travels and began going through them.  I was just recently out in Palm Springs with some other photographers and we had visited Joshua Tree National Park and I had some awesome mountain vistas that I knew I could use for the background. 


The foreground was a little tougher. I gathered tons of possible elements and began experimenting with different options, different colors and different lighting situations. I tried everything from Angry tree stumps to huge flowers and ended up not using many of them.  I also did a lot of studying of the newest Oz movie poster that was recently released while working on my poster. I didn’t want to copy it but it’s great to see how they use different elements to draw the viewers eye to certain areas and create interest.


It was a long process but I finally achieved the look I wanted with lots of different little elements and overlays to get the color saturation that I was looking for.

Notice the lane numbers I added into the yellow brick road!
Below are a few of the other elements that I used to create the scene
These backlit flowers were shot for a poster I created last year with a Hunger Games Theme


This flowering tree is in my front yard and was taken last year right before we did my daughter’s 2 year pictures under it.
This was also taken last year during a camping trip.  This is the curved rock on the left side of the poster.  I simply erased parts of the rock to create the shape I wanted.

Some Very Big Honors!

Some Very Big Honors!

Where oh where is that slow season I’m supposed to be experiencing right now??  I’m feeling just as busy as ever!  Since this is the time of year most photographers seem to find a little extra time down time in their schedule, there are many photography conventions and seminars going on and I have had the priviledge of speaking and teaching at quite a few of them lately. 

Last fall I taught a class in Idaho, in and around Yellowstone (yes, that was just a little bit of fun!) and then flew back just in time to teach another class at the Wisconsin Professional Photographers Convention.

One of the scenes that I captured one morning during the class I was teaching in Idaho

An image I shot while teaching at the Wisconsin Professional Photographers Convention 

Then this January I was honored to be a main stage speaker at Imaging USA in Atlanta, Georgia where over 10,000 photographers from all over the world came to learn and see the trade show.  During the convention they also hold an awards ceremony where my image titled “A Wild Ride” took 1st place in the Illustrative category.  At that ceremony I was also priviledged to stand on stage with some amazing photography icons and be named (for the second year in a row) one of 8 PPA International Diamond Photographers of the Year.

– That’s me 2nd from the left!

 And to top off the excitement at the convention, I also recieved my Masters of Photography degree!  But unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make it to that ceremony because I had to catch a flight for a trip to Mexico for another photography job!  Did I mention that it has been a busy year for me?

A view from my room one evening in Mexico!

After Mexico I spent four very long days and nights at the studio preparing some images for regional competition.  I finished them just in time to send them to print before I flew down to Florida to spend four days at SYNC (Senior and Youth National Convention) where I did some speaking on up and coming trends and techniques for seniors.

An instagram image of my computer as I went over my notes before my presentation. – not a bad office!

I flew back Tuesday and was able to spend a few days at home with the family before I had to leave for the Iowa Professional Photographers Convention – which hosted the regional print competition (10 states plus parts of Canada).  Print competition consists of
the best professional photographers in each state submitting 4 prints that are
judged by a national panel according to the 12 elements
of a merit image
.  The thing I love most about regional print competition is that you actually get to sit in on the judging and listen to what the judges have to say about your images (they don’t know who created it when they judge it). 

This year because I had received my Masters of Photography degree I was up against even greater competition but I an honored to say that I was named Top Master Photographer for Iowa.  My portraits took first place in the Masters wedding category, second place in the Masters Women Category, and both first and second place in possibly one of the most challenging categories – Illustrative.  My first place illustrative print scored a perfect 100 (which is very rare).  That image also received  the ASP State Elite Award and the Kodak Gallery Award!

Unfortunately I can’t share any of my images yet because they now get sent on to international competition
but once the final judging is over I will certainly post them!

Now here’s the part where I get all mushy…  Not one of these accomplishments would have been possible without the help of others.  A huge THANK YOU to all of my amazing clients- past & present – who have given me the experience necessary to perfect my techniques.  I also am greatfully appreciative for the great guidance and assistance that I have received through the years from some great photographer friends.  And last but not least – to my super smart (and very hot) perfectionist wife who always seems to know what’s best… thank you for driving me to take things to the next level – even if I don’t feel like listening to it at the time 😉

You are probably familiar with the quote  – surround yourself with great people and great things will happen.  Well somehow I’ve been lucky to have quite a few amazing people in my life that have helped me to get to where I am at and I can’t even begin to tell you how thankful I am that I am able to call those people friends – or should I say my photography family.  Thank you all!

Diamond Photographer of the Year Article

Diamond Photographer of the Year Article

Below is one of my international award winning portraits that recently appeared in Professional Photographer magazine.

This is the article that ran with it…

Each year, Professional Photographer shares a feature story
about the Diamond Photographers of the Year. These esteemed image creators have
earned the highest level of success in the PPA International Photographic
Competition (IPC) by landing four images in the prestigious PPA Loan Collection.
To appreciate the scope of this achievement fully, it helps to look at the

During the 2012 competition judged this summer, more
than 1,200 professional photographers submitted nearly 5,000 images for
consideration. This represents about a 20 percent increase in participation over
the previous year. Approximately 1,800 of those images earned a merit based on
12 elements defined as necessary for the success of an art piece or image. Of
those, only 476 were selected for the PPA Loan Collection. That’s less than 10
percent of the total submission pool. And this isn’t your typical collection of
photo submissions. This is the PPA International Photographic Competition, the
contest for professionals who have worked diligently to excel at their craft,
studying, composing and capturing thousands of images in the process. So the
submitted photographs already reflect a high standard of

To Land an image within the top 10 percent is

To land four images in this elite category is amazing.
Only eight photographers reached that level of accomplishment this year. These
Diamond Photographers of the Year are breathing rarified air, to be sure,
representing about 0.006 percent of the total contenders.

“The Diamond Photographers are setting the bar for
everyone else, says Dennis Craft, chairman of the PPA Print Exhibition
Committee. ” We’ve seen a progressive improvement in the quality of images
submitted to the competition over the past few years, and those who have
competed over a period of time are really raising the standard. But what these
photographers understand better than anyone is that the IPC isn’t just about
winning awards. It’s also a way to determine how your images measure against
good, quality photography. It’s a way to make yourself

It’s also a vital component in earning the PPA Master of
Photography degree, which has become a credible differentiator in an
increasingly competitive field. For now, though, the Diamond Photographers of
the Year have no competition. They are on a level by themselves. And these are
their award-winning Images.

This is the image that appeared in Professional Photographers Magazine


Evolution of an idea

Evolution of an idea

I recently created a poster for the Bettendorf boys basketball team.  It was my first time working with them and they left everything up to me to come up with an idea.  They have a new coach this year and I wanted to create something that would show off the fact that it was the beginning of something new without doing something that has been done a million times before.

I was inspired by the image of the soldiers raising the flag of Iwo Jima.  I hope that using that image for inspiration will be seen as a tribute to those soldiers and help inspire more people to be interested in and remember those events.  While creating the poster I wanted to keep that same dynamic shape that the soldiers had created while raising the flag yet stray from it as much as possible in order to keep that historic image unique.

I started off with a quick sketch on paper.  I knew that there was going to be 6 seniors hoisting the hoop into the air and wanted to get a rough idea I was actually going to be able to fit them. 

Next I opened up photoshop and began building my idea. My first idea was to have them standing on piles of broken gym floor boards – as if they were rebuilding an entire gym. Before I went through all the work of actually creating or capturing a broken gym floor I went to some stock sites to see if I could try a sample pile of broken boards to give me a better idea of what it would look like and if it was what I wanted. I also dropped in a sky. I then quickly drew some stick figures to see what approximate size they would need to be.

Then I began extracting them from the green screen and placing them in the scene.  One problem that I ran into was that when they were holding the basketball hoop they were all at different angles.  So I had to do some extra careful positioning in order to get them to fit. 

Yes, I actaully have a full sized hoop in my studio!  (though it has been set on fire and the backboard shattered for other  crazy projects)

I also tried a lightning sky to see if I wanted a really stormy sky in the background but I felt it distracted too much from the players.

In my final version I felt it needed to be even further simplified so instead of a pile of boards I simply painted a black hill. Fog and a forest of basketball hoops faiding into the distance completed the scene.

Profesional Photographer Magaznie

This is my picture that appeared in Professional Photographer Magazine telling about my speaking program! I’ll be a mainstage speaker this winter in Atlanta at Imaging USA, one of the largest professional photographers conventions in the world!  Around 10,000 photographers attend this event.  Last year was my first year entering the competition or attending but my timing was right  🙂  I was awarded International Diamond Photographer of the Year and placed in the top three at the Grand Imaging Awards in the Digital Art Category.  For the second year in a row this year I will receive International Diamond Photographer of the Year and I am up for some other awards too that I will have to wait to find out! 

I will be speaking in lots of places around the country next year.  So far my list includes  Atlanta, Florida, Ohio, Toronto and just this week two more eastern states called to see if we could work something out.  I love teaching and meating new people.  I’m excited!

Newest Creative Sports Posters

It’s that time of year again and I have a bunch of sports posters coming up.  I had two teams that were smart and scheduled early so they get their posters very soon!  I have been doing Muskie Pom for quite a few years now and have created a lot of very cool posters for them.  This year they wanted to do something with their new dance outfits which included a cape.  After a couple of tries with different scenes I ended up with the background below.  The actual poster motto took even longer to come up with.  I finally settled with “Defenders of Truth, Justice and Rhythm.

The Wilton Basketball Girls had a motto of Respect All, Fear None.  I had pretty tough time coming up with something for the background with this motto since it didn’t have any specific conotations with anything.  I tried some old buildings and bridges in the background, a blue sparkly background and then out of frustration I tried a monster background and thought it was kind of fun.

Would love to hear your thoughts!

Fall Family Portraits

Fall came early this year!  Still had some amazing opportunities for some beautiful family portraits and I’m still doing lots.  Even though most of the leaves are gone I have been finding some beautiful places with the late afternoon sun shining through long grasses.  I’ll be doing lots more this winter when it snows too!   We take our family portraits every year after a big snow and they have been some of our favorites.

I visited the Lorack family farm and they wanted to create somet cool family portraits in their fields and with their combine.  Well as you can see below, I think we got the job done.  One of these will be displayed above their fireplace as a 40″ print and the other will also be a 40″ print in another room of their house with a smaller grouping around it of single portraits of their children.  I can’t wait for them to hang them up in their home!

at first I couldn’t find the right angle for this combine pic.  I tried standing on the bed of my truck and shooting over the tops of the corn but it wasn’t what I was looking for.  I switched to my wide angle lens and got down low and found what I was looking for.  I love the corn rising up in the forground and the sun shining through the rows!