Why Photographs are Important. A Farewell to a Dear Teacher and Friend.

I think most adults can look back on their childhood and teenage years growing up and identify an adult (other than our parents) who played an instrumental role in their life.  A teacher, a baseball coach, a neighbor, a grandparent, etc etc.   For me that adult was Mr. Nolde.  Mr. Nolde was my Russian teacher through middle school and high school.  In the school district I grew up in in the suburbs of Chicago you had to start taking a foreign language in the 6th grade.  I wasn’t particularly interested in taking a foreign language and wanted to pick something safe like Spanish or French.  My parents looked at the list of available options and seeing Russian as a choice immediately wanted to me to choose Russian saying that it was different and might come in useful.  This was in the early 1990s and the iron curtain had just come down a few years before and I think my dad, ever the businessman, saw the opening of capitalism into Russia as a great opportunity and if I had some exposure to Russian that could be beneficial.  My parents finally persuaded me to choose Russian and little did I know it would be a truly life changing choice, but not for the reason my dad had hoped.

Believe it or not, I still remember my first day of middle school.  My first period, of my first day of 6th grade was Russian class.  I sat with the six other kids whose parents had probably also all convinced them to choose Russian as their foreign language.  We all sat silently looking around at each other and then all the sudden the door opens and in walks this teacher with a goatee pushing a cart (the kind you’d put a slide projector on), but his cart had an assortment of books, a coffee cup, and lots of loose papers.  He pushed his cart a few feet into the classroom, looked around and introduced himself as Mr. Nolde.  That’s about all I remember from that entire first day of middle school, but it was my first encounter with a man whose classroom I would sit in every day from 6th grade all the way till I graduated high school.

Mr. Nolde was shall we say…. a different kind of teacher.  You’re probably reading this thinking that after seven years of studying Russian I probably graduated being close to fluent in the language.  Well….Not exactly.  :)  While most days we did eventually get around to discussing and speaking in Russian a little bit, I often referred to the class, at least in my own mind, as “Life 101.”  We would discuss what was going on in our lives, life lessons about how to deal with disappointment and achieving goals, things like that.  Mr. Nolde was always much more interested in making sure that we learned how to become good people who would contribute positively to the world than making sure we understood the ins and outs of Russian verb conjugations.  It’s been almost 15 years since I graduated high school, and I don’t remember the tiny details of a lot of the class discussions we had over the years, however the one thing I remember very vividly was that Mr. Nolde always had time for us.  When the bell would ring, he would never rush out of class.  He would stick behind, and chat with us about whatever was on our mind.  We could always drop into his office and chat with him about anything we wanted.  Mr. Nolde was the prime example of a teacher who cared about his students.  Not just their academic success in the subject that he taught, but in them.  He never viewed his students as students.  He viewed and cared for them as people. He was funny, witty, patient, kind, smart, and understanding.  He was a friend.  I wasn’t the only one who felt this way.  All 7 of us who started the journey together in 6th grade continued all the way through our senior year of high school even though you only needed one or two years of foreign language credits to graduate.

While we didn’t walk away from the our Russian studies fluent Russian speakers, Mr. Nolde was passionate about Russian culture and the “Russian Club” he ran.  He would often take us on class field trips to Russian restaurants in the ethnic Russian neighborhoods of Chicago.  During our middle school years he would bring in Russian balalaikas (essentially a 4 string triangular musical instrument, kinda like the equivalent of a Russian banjo) into class and teach us how to play them.  I don’t know if he was too cheap to buy actual guitar picks, but I remember he would always bring in a Folgers coffee tin, and cut up the plastic lid into large triangular picks!  In 1996 during my freshman year in high school Mr. Nolde took a group of us over to Russia on a foreign exchange program.  Mr. Nolde even brought along his wife and two young daughters on the trip.  While on the surface it might seem odd that his family came along, in reality it felt perfectly normal.  We had heard stories of his little kids and had even seen them a few times around the school when they would come in for one reason or another.  It had always been clear just how much love Mr. Nolde had for his wife and two daughters.  For most of the two weeks we lived with a Russian family, but when we weren’t with our Russian family Mr. Nolde took us through historic Russian sites such as St. Basils cathedral, Lenin’s tomb, and the Winter palace.  While high schoolers aren’t typically known for their interest in museums and historical places, Mr. Nolde’s passion and excitement for the country, the culture, and the history, radiated outwards and infected all of us.

After I graduated in 2000 I went out to Santa Barbara for college.  During my freshman year Christmas break I came home and found that my high school was still in class for another couple of days.  One day I drove back over to see a couple of teachers who I had liked, but mostly to see Mr. Nolde.  I found him in the math office (since the district couldn’t justify keeping Mr. Nolde on full time as just a Russian teacher, Mr. Nolde also taught a couple algebra and geometry classes.)  His cart with books, papers, and the ever present coffee cup was still parked next to his next desk.  We talked for almost an entire hour as I recall until he had to go to his next class.  We talked about how my first semester had gone, how I liked the mild Santa Barbara weather and living so close to the beach.  Just as I remembered him during my middle school and high school years he was fully attentive, interested in what was going on with me, and witty as ever.  As we got up to part ways, I remember thanking him for what an impact he had had on me growing up, and I very vividly remember him making a comment about how we will always remember those who touched our lives.  I don’t know if he was talking about me touching his life, or he touching mine.  Maybe he meant a little bit of both.

It was the last time I would ever see him.

Randy Nolde died on June 18th of this year.  Over the years I’ve thought about him often.  I remember hearing from friends a number of years ago that he had retired from teaching and I often thought that I would need to make a point to somehow try to track him down and maybe grab a cup of coffee or lunch with him the next time I was back in Illinois.  To my regret, I simply never got around to it.  When my sister (who had also been a student of Mr. Nolde) told me that she found out he had died I was stunned and instantly horrified that I had never made the time to see him.  My sister passed on a website where there was some information about his funeral and a guestbook where people could leave notes.  While I knew that it was rare to have a teacher who you were so close and who you truly looked at as a mentor and a friend, I was not at all surprised to see the many pages of notes of former students of his who clearly had had a similar relationship with their beloved teacher.  Not just students of Mr. Nolde’s through his several decades of teaching, but fellow colleagues, and community members who all had been touched by Mr. Nolde’s life left heartfelt messages.  On the memorial page, there was an area where you could upload photos.  It suddenly hit me that I didn’t have a single photo of Mr. Nolde.  In some ways, it makes sense… I knew him in an era before digital cameras, Instagram, and Facebook.  I didn’t even own a film camera until I was in college.  It felt strange that I didn’t have a single photo of myself with this man who had been so influential for such a long period of the preteen and teenage years.  There were only a handful of images that were posted to the site (including the one I posted above).  At this point, it’s only the memories I have and those handful of images posted to the site that are left to remind me of Mr. Nolde.

As a wedding photographer I’m constantly aware when I go to a wedding that I’m documenting not only a wedding and a bride and groom, but I have an opportunity to take professional photos of the guests and family members there as well.  At every wedding I photograph, there may be someone else’s Mr. Nolde.  To me as the photographer that person is just a stranger, a guest of the bride and groom, but to someone else, he or she is a dear friend, a son, a daughter, a mother, a father, coworker, neighbor, uncle, aunt, boy scout leader, or mentor.  The photos I take very well could be the last professional photo ever taken of that person.  I remember a few years ago a fellow photographer telling the heartbreaking story of getting an email from a former bride whose mother died right after the wedding while she and her new husband were on their honeymoon.  The bride was writing to ask for every single photo, good or bad, that had her mother in it.  That photographer had the very last photos of her mom ever taken.  I’m keenly aware that could very well be me one day, getting a call asking if I have photos of a now deceased sibling or a parent or grandparent or even random guest.  That lesson has hit home even harder since I learned of Mr. Nolde’s passing.

We each have our own Mr. Nolde.  Treasure the time you have with them and the time that your lives happen to intersect.  Take pictures of them and with them often.  You never know how many more chances you might have to do that.  Even though I hadn’t seen Mr. Nolde in years, when he passed away I lost more than just a high school teacher.  I lost a dear friend and mentor, and the world lost a giant.  No, Mr. Nolde wasn’t a household name, at least not beyond the homes of District 220, but for those who had the privilege of interacting with him, his humility, wittiness, kindness, and light left an immeasurable imprint.  His legacy will not be forgotten in those he left behind.

Vail Valley Wedding Photography

My apologies up front for the sheer number of images in this post…. When I initially went through and picked the images I wanted for the blog there were over 70.  I finally got it down to just over 50 and I couldn’t stand to whittle it down anymore past that.  :)  Katie and I have been looking forward to Leslie and Patrick’s wedding for months.  Ever since their two engagement sessions we knew their wedding photos would turn out amazing.  Leslie and Patrick are two of those people who just make you smile all the time.  It’s like it’s infectious or something when you’re around them.  They’re incredibly beautiful, on the inside and out, and their wedding was simply gorgeous.

Enjoy!  :)

Love these couple of photos with Leslie and her mom…

Love love love this next image…  It might be one of my favorite bridal portraits of the year so far.

Love this pic that Katie captured of Leslie with her father and step father right before the ceremony.

I’ve been shooting weddings for 10 years so I don’t have many “firsts” anymore, but the officiant taking a cell phone selfie with the couple during their first kiss was definitely something I hadn’t seen before!!  LOL!

Some photos around Vail Valley with them afterwards…

Details from the reception….

Their entrance and first dance….

Some toasts….

Parent dances….

We snuck out during the open dancing time to get a few more shots with Patrick and Leslie around sunset and found a pretty nice spot with some halfway decent backgrounds.  :)

Just a few from the rest of the party….

Tribute to Todd Helton

Yesterday was Todd Helton Day at Coors Field as the former first baseman made his journey back to his former home away from home to be on hand as the Rockies retired his number 17 in front of 42,000 fans.  The fact that 42,000 fans came out to pay tribute shows what kind of weight Todd Helton has with this town.  It’s not everyday that 42,000 fans come to the ballpark in August to watch a team with one of the worst records in baseball.  Of course… they weren’t there to watch the Rockies.  They were there to say goodbye one last time to Todd.  I was lucky enough to have a front row seat.

The Rockies mowed a big “17″ into the field.  Pretty cool.

I moved to Colorado in 2009 and only started shooting sports in 2010, so unfortunately by the time I was able to start photographing Todd Helton, he was past the prime of his career, but it was still very cool to be able to photograph a 5 time All Star, 4 time Sliver Slugger, 3 time Gold Glove winner, a man who had a .316 batting average over 17 seasons and played all 17 of those seasons for same team.  Impressive.

After the pre game ceremony I photographed the rest of the game between the Rockies and the Reds.  The game had a little bit of everything.  A 25 min rain delay in the first inning…

Some diving catch attempts….

And misses.  :)

Some close plays at second base…

Some double plays…

Jordan Lyles, the Rockies starting pitcher didn’t have the best day.  He threw a couple wild pitches resulting in runs scored.  Not his best outing…

Sunday was also nice because Michael Cuddyer made his long awaited return to the Rockies.  Seems like he’s spent most of the season out with one injury or another.

Game ended with center fielder  Drew Stubbs hitting a walk off homer.

For his efforts he was rewarded with a bucket of ice water being dumped on his head during a TV interview after the game.  :)

Glad the Rockies were able to squeeze out a win for ya Todd.  Thanks for the memories!

Timber Ridge Keystone Wedding

One of the great things about being a wedding photographer here in Colorado is the sheer number of great venues to photograph. A few weeks back Katie and I had the great pleasure of  photographing Kylie and Chad’s wedding up at Timber Ridge in Keystone.  The venue is up on the mountain and provides some great views.  This was our first time shooting Timber Ridge and it didn’t disappoint.

Our coverage started the day before shooting the rehearsal…

The next morning we started with some of the getting ready images.

On our way up the mountain it started to rain a little bit and when we went to transfer gondolas the girls helped provide Kylie a little cover.  :)

First look.

Wedding party… The background wasn’t too shabby.  ;)

Before the ceremony we took the opportunity to grab a few detail shots of the reception.  Elizabeth over at Distinctive Mountain Events made everything look awesome and did a great job ensuring the day ran smoothly.

Ceremony time!

Obviously during a ceremony it’s important to grab the big stuff, the kiss, the ring exchange, the vows, the dad giving away the bride, etc etc, but I’ve found it’s also a great to really focus in on capturing reactions and expressions from the bridal party.  I always try to keep a close eye on the bridesmaids and groomsmen to see when I can catch a great shot of them laughing or reacting to a moment in the ceremony.

I always recommend to my clients that they set aside some time after the ceremony to get some pictures of the two them.  There’s a few reasons for this.  Most importantly is the light is always better later in the day, and as long as the ceremony isn’t at night or doesn’t end after sunset the light will almost always be better after the ceremony than before it.  The other reason is because brides and grooms are often a good bit more relaxed after the ceremony than they were beforehand.  I often joke with couples that after the ceremony they’ll feel like they exhaled for the first time in weeks.  After the ceremony nothing can really go wrong and the only thing left is to party and it’s when couples are feeling that relaxation that I want to focus in on getting great shots of them .

Obviously, a lot of times we photograph couples before the ceremony, and that’s fine.  You never know when bad weather might move in and make getting outdoor shots after the ceremony impossible, but even if a lot of time is dedicated beforehand to pictures, it’s great to set aside at least a few mins after the ceremony to capture a few as well.

This shot required a bit of a trek up the mounting on the part of Kylie and Chad who weren’t exactly in their hiking gear.  I think the efforts getting up the mountain paid off nicely though for ‘em.  :)

First dance…

Toasts are another great opportunity to catch not just the person giving the toast, but the people in attendance reacting to what is being said.  Love these images of Kylie’s sisters during their father’s toast.

Parent dances

Usually 15 mins or so after sunset it’s always a good idea to walk outside and get a nice shot of the venue.  The sky is pretty dark, but still has some color left to give a pretty cool image.  I captured a cool pic of the exterior of the venue, but I liked the picture of the mountains way better.

Just a few of the rest of the party!!

Kylie and Chad, thanks so much for asking Katie and I to photograph your epic wedding!  You guys are both beautiful people on the inside and outside and we were honored to be a part.  :)  Many many thanks to again to Elizabeth “Ebs” over at Distinctive Mountain Events for making the day go so smoothly!  We always tell our brides and grooms that good coordinators are worth their weight in gold and Ebs was no exception!  :)

NFL Pre-Season Broncos vs. Seahawks

Last week, a mere months after the Broncos got nothing short of spanked by the Seahawks in the Super Bowl, the two teams met again, this time in a completely meaningless pre-season game.  For me as a photographer, pre-season games are both interesting and difficult to photograph.  They can be difficult to photograph because the key players are out on the field for such a short period of time.  You need to make interesting pictures action shots of several players and unlike in a regular season game when you have all four quarters to make those pictures, in the pre season you have only a handful of plays to do it.

However, it’s also fun and interesting to photograph the pre season precisely because the games are meaningless and therefor the star players and those who aren’t in a position of desperately having to try to impress coaches and visiting scouts from other teams to make a 52 man roster generally are a lot less focused on the sidelines than they would be in a regular season game.  Many folks think being a sports photographer is all about grabbing great action shots, and while it is that, it’s also about capturing a lot of boring stock images.  Surf through a sports website like ESPN.com or even the pages of Sports Illustrated and you’ll see just as many (if not more) boring stock images that essentially look like what I tend to call “candid head shots” as you do the crazy action pictures.  Sure, it’s the action shots that get the spots of front covers and full page spreads, but by far it’s the stock images that end up being used way more and for way longer.

Here’s a few screenshots (mostly from ESPN) showing how some of my stock images have ended up getting used in sports coverage.  These are in no way glamorous images.  They aren’t particularly difficult to get, but are vital for sports news outlets and so we strive to capture them.

Generally during a football game I’m constantly going back and forth between shooting the action on the field and then during TV timeouts, replays, quarter breaks, etc etc I’m on the sidelines trying to get these “candid head shots.” (Candid because you’d quickly find yourself getting tossed out of the arena and your credential permanently yanked if you ever asked a player to pose)  You’re essentially looking for the guys who happen to be looking your way and have somewhat of an interesting expression on their face.

And that is where pre-season games get interesting, because the expressions are much more interesting and generally more happy and relaxed than they are during the regular season since the starting players generally play the first few series or maybe the first quarter and then have the rest of the night off.  By the time the 3rd and 4th stringers are in the game, those on the field are playing for their jobs, not particularly for the win, and so the starters, frankly aren’t too invested in what is happening on the field which makes it a great time to get some stock images.

While I generally don’t post a lot of stock type images on the blog, since the stock images you get during a pre-season game are a bit different than the ones I typically get starting on week 1, I thought I’d post a few.

These first few images are during warm ups.

In pre-season and particularly week 1 of the pre-season it’s important to grab the new players both drafted rookies and big name free agents since this is the first time they’re appearing in uniform with their new team.  This was particularly a little more difficult with this game because the Broncos had so many big name free agent signings, almost all of them on defense.  So, when the Seahawks had the ball early on, I was actually more focused on trying to capture some action of the new Broncos defensive players than I would typically be.

Former Dallas Cowboy defensive end DeMarcus Ware (94) was probably the biggest signing for the Broncos this offseason and so I spent a good bit of time focusing in on him, and thankfully he was all over the field making big plays.

Safety T.J. Ward also found his way into the action, even if it was grabbing this blatant face mask on quarterback Russell Wilson.

Of course getting at least a couple shots of Peyton Manning being Peyton Manning are no brainers.  :)

Again, these types of shots, while not very exciting, are great because editors look for these types of images all the time.  Anytime there’s a story about the relationship quarterback Russell Wilson has with head coach Pete Carroll it’s these kinds of images that will get used.

It’s rare to see this kind of scene from Peyton Manning during the regular season.  When Peyton Manning is on the sidelines during the regular season, he’s almost always buried in the playbook, or huddled up with the rest of the offense, or on the phone talking to someone upstairs. Thankfully by getting low on the ground and shooting upwards, I was able to get a super clean image tight image of the iconic quarterback.

My hunch is, is that unless the Broncos are completely blowing out an opponent and the game is essentially over in the middle of the 3rd quarter, it’s rare that we might see DeMarcus Ware be this relaxed on the sidelines again for the rest of the season.

Mr. Von Miller didn’t suit up, but still was hanging out on the sidelines.  I think all Bronco fans will agree when I say I hope this is one of the only times we see him in street clothes on the sidelines this season (and hopefully making this a somewhat unique image since almost every other picture of him this season will be of him in uniform.)

Another kind of image that is very difficult to get during the regular season.  Teams get really finicky about photographers shooting from behind the bench during the game.  We can of course be on the sidelines and to either side of the bench to photograph both players and game action, but in general it’s a big no no to shoot players from behind the bench.  Besides just being a distraction to the players, my understanding is that they don’t want anyone (even photographers) listening in to all of the conversations that are going on during the heat of the game.  However, during the final minutes of the fourth quarter of a pre season game, nobody seemed to care if I quickly grabbed one or two of these kinds of images that just provide a slightly different perspective and angle than is typically able to be captured during the regular season.

Hopefully this is has been an interesting insight into a photographers perspective on the pre-season.  Can’t believe we’re just a few weeks away from week of the regular season!  Can’t wait!!