Find The Girls On The Negatives

“Find the Girls On The Negatives” reads a headline that pops off the screen of my interwebs to punch me square in the solar plexus.  It's hard for any article or post to rise above the rest when we consume more information in one day that our ancestors did in a lifetime.  We love and hate social media.  Most days it's thousands of photos of thousands of people spinning across our devices on auto rotation that blend into one endless bowl of life-salad nobody wants to eat.  Some days, however, I come across something that doesn't make me want to throw my laptop to the bottom of a nearby river.  Today is one of those days.

Virginia based photographer, Meagan Abell, struck gold in a thrift store in Richmond this week.  While thumbing through an old pile of photos, she uncovered several old, very interesting medium-format film slides.  Slides or (slide film) is a type of film that captures a positive image - meaning the colors are normal rather than inverted like negatives.  Color photography has been around for ages, but smooth, beautiful film of creative content is not the first thing that comes to mind when we hear "box in a thrift store."  These slides were different.  There was something special about them.  "Now I've seen plenty of vintage prints, but never a set of negatives that was in such beautiful condition," Abell explained in her first Facebook post about the slides.  "I just sent them in to be scanned," she continued. "And I'm flipping out because I'm so excited to see these images."

Slides before the scan.

At first sight the images have a theatrical or cinematic quality.  There seems to be some creative purpose behind this shoot.  And that's just the thing; this is a photo shoot we're looking at!  I mean that in the most modern sense of the term.  A 2015 style environmental portraiture shoot.  Obviously, environmental portraiture has been around for a while, but not prominently, and not like this.  This style is unique.  More specifically, it's unique to modern day photography trends.  There is a certain flavor of environmental portraits trending hard right now.  So hard that it's begun to define, in my opinion, a new genre of photography.  It's an interesting blend of landscapes and people.  It's hot right now, and the amazing timing of these antique film slides to show up on the scene in an age custom tailored to their style is enough to blow the minds of the most ridiculous of photo geeks - myself included.  Even more than the coincidental style, there's clearly a story here.  The quality alone suggests a professional photographer using excellent gear for his or her day.  Who were these people?  What were they doing?  Why is the image quality so ridiculously good?!  What is the story behind these beautiful images?  Some say the location is Los Angeles.  That begs an even deeper question: how in the world did they end up in a thrift store in Virginia?  I mean, these aren't your typical Sunday evening snapshots on a Kodak Brownie in 1955.  Whether we ever come to know the significance of these film images or not, it's clear they were intended for something very specific - something special.  This is the mystery that inspired Abell to begin the search.  She's made it her personal goal to trace these images back to the source and uncover the story behind "the girls on the negatives." 

Meagan is on a mission and needs your help.  If you recognize anyone or anything in these photos, speak up!  The internet is trailing it all with the hast tag  ‪#‎FindTheGirlsOnTheNegatives.  If you can help, do it!  If you can’t, just enjoy feasting your eyes on some photographic awesomeness - a quality and beauty only found in the ways of film photography.  I hear "film is not dead" repeated over and over by film photographers and enthusiasts.  With people like Meagan Abell around - people who create, find and appreciate film photography, I say it will never die.

Original Post:

Meagan Abell:

The Girls on The Negatives:

One Down. Eleven to Go.

I’ve always been driven by the things in life I have to look forward to.  Spring is the great jumpstarter.  It gets us jazzed about the entire year.  We look forward to everything in the springtime.  In summer I’m stoked about traveling.  In late summer I look forward to Fall.  During fall I start getting all jazzed up about the holidays.  During the holidays it's a big boat load of friends, family, downtime, gifts, get-togethers, and greatness.  Then BOOM!  January.  Cold, bleak, uneventful, nothing-to-look-forward-to January.  :|

For me, the stretch from January to the end of February was always the low point of the year.  Christmas was gone.  Friends had all gone home.  School was picking up.  Weather was gloomy, and the worst of the cold was yet to come.  The big comedown from a holiday high.  On big no-bueno burrito.

That’s how it was before photography came along.  Photography rewired my brain.  It worked a total 180 on my perspective. 

These days, the dreaded stretch from Janurary to spring isn't dreaded at all.  It's all about gearing up for spring and summer shoots.  These days I find myself imagining all the shoots of the year.  Who will I meet?  What new people will I shoot with?  What new places will I work in?  It’s a total mental free-for-all about the year to come.  It feels a lot like the few minutes before you hit the field for kick-off or that few seconds before you walk out on stage to play a show in a new town.  It’s a constant rush to think of all the great things a year could have in store.  It was just a matter of doing more of what I enjoy and less of everything else.  Incorporating photography into my life changed my entire perspective.  I can’t wait to see what kinds of new shoots and great new photographs this year is going to bring.

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For those of you who don’t like your job, don’t worry.  Many people don’t.  I do, but not all of it.  It does have it's jobby aspects.  There's a not-so-fun business side to it.  I'm not talking about loving our jobs.  I'm talking about incorporating something enjoyable into our lives.  Whether it's a hobby, a side job, a project, a different career, or even a relationship - something new can change your perspective on everything.  Before you know it, you'll enjoy getting out of bed every morning.  I want to encourage anyone reading this to take a moment.  Think “what is one thing I could start doing or one thing I could change that would make life more exciting?”  If you don’t have an answer right away, start exploring what makes you tick.  What keeps that boat floating?  Then do it!

For me, it's photographing new people and new places.  I love exploring new landscapes.  I love being invited into someone’s life to capture a piece of the story and make new friends.  There’s nothing else like it.  I hope for a full year of it.  Right now, I'm booking shoots for the year and getting a preview of things to come.  Don’t want to jinx it, but it’s shaping up to be an exciting year so far.  This two-month stretch is no longer the low point of the year.  There is no low point anymore.

If you ask me, the end of January is the best time to talk about what kind of year its going to be.  You just got a four-week preview of 2015.  What kind of year is it so far?   Is it time to kick back and relax, or is it time to gear up and get it done?!  Either way, do what makes you happy.  Hate your job?  Look for a new one.  Can't?  That's crap.  Yes you can.  Dig your job but it's not enough?  Stop climbing the ladder and build your own.  Work life isn't your only life.  Fill it with good and ditch the bad.  You got this.

We’re one month down with eleven to go!  This year could be the best one yet.  Do what makes you happy.  It's that simple.  As I write this, I’m in a workshop surrounded by a pile of photos, negatives, cameras, new camera gear, a booking calendar, hot coffee, and two clueless dogs.  They’re just stoked to be a part of the action.  If you won’t take it from me, take if from a couple of happy dogs: surround yourself with good things.  It's a good year for change.

Hello, 30. I've been expecting you.

Oh the dreaded 30th birthday!  Fortunately, my hair didn't turn white over night.  My bones didn't wither away, and my skin still had a remarkable amount of elasticity when I woke up this morning.  Turns out, it's just a number after all.  

This time last year, I thought of the best way to experience the last time I would ever turn 20-anything.  I was already in Hawaii to show at a gallery in Lahaina, and I wasn't about to let my 20's go out on a low note.  I spent the first day of 29 hiking the East Maui Mountains, making photos, and soaking up every ounce of awesomeness my favorite Hawaiian island had to offer.  

This year, I decided to take a different route.  Sure, I could've bounced up to the mountains and hiked it up.  I could've hit the road on a customary Heath-style trip out west.  I guess I could've done whatever I wanted.  That's what birthdays are all about!

I wasn't feeling it this year.  If there was ever a time for a humble birthday, 30 was it for me.  I spent the last week working on the new studio, shooting the coolest, most unexpected shoot ever, and spending time with friends and family.  It's been a great week.  The transition to 30 was as smooth as a lizard on ice.

So next week I'll probably climb a mountain or jump out of an airplane.  Laid-back is overrated. 

Keep calm and turn 30, kids of '84. 

Studio Lighting: You Got This

It's only been three years since I first picked up a camera.  It feels strange to say that.  I’ve been playing with cameras since I was a kid, but it wasn’t until 2011 that I looked through a viewfinder with the intention to create something more than a snapshot.  

 Leave it to me to step out of focus!  It's what you get when a six pack of IPA meets shallow depth of field...

Leave it to me to step out of focus!  It's what you get when a six pack of IPA meets shallow depth of field...

Three years isn’t long, but I feel like I’ve lived a dozen lifetimes since then.  I never imagined learning so much.  It’s remarkable how much a person can learn when he or she actually wants to.  For the first year & a half, it was all fun and games.  I never imagined this as a career.  It didn't seem possible. But I stuck with it.  I was always told, “if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.”  I’ve heard it over and over, but I still credit that quote to my dad.  He said it first, so he might as well have coined it.  You’d think such momentum and change would naturally lend itself to an adventurous frame of mind in every aspect of a person’s life, right?  Nope.  In photography, I’ve been reserved.  Always learning, but playing it safe.  Camera + Sunlight = all I need.  In many cases, that’s true.     

For a long time, I considered myself a natural-light photographer.  Meaning, I prefer sunlight over studio lights.  Many photographers call that a cop out. Truth be told, it is - to a degree.  I’m a firm believer in education.  Not traditional education necessarily, but I do put a high price on knowing your stuff.  It’s perfectly fine to call one’s self a natural-light photographer so long as he or she does so by choice and not based on a blatant lack of education.  To be a photographer is to know light.  To be uneducated in such is a hindrance.  I faced that fact this summer.  And I changed it.

I’ve used modifiers, bounced light, and even tossed in the occasional make-shift lamp to throw a little spark into a shot, but real studio lighting was a concept I didn't care to mess with.  First came the cheap collapsible reflectors.  I still live and breathe by those things.  Second came rudimentary shop lights and department-store bulbs.  Finally, I sucked it up and dove in head-first.  Over the summer I challenged myself to learn studio lighting.  Not to simply know the concepts, but to apply them.  The idea always came with such a stigma.  I’m happy to report, I’ve put that stigma to rest.  

With a fair amount of YouTubery and a day of trial and error, the days of relying solely on the sun came to an end.  I'll tell you one undeniable fact I’ve learned.  It’s wonderful to know the ins and outs of natural light, but It’s a far more sophisticated method to create or add light as you see fit.  

Somehow I imagined endless calibration, light adjustment, and hours of frustrating nonsense.  Strobes (or speed lights in my case) were these elusive creatures rivaled only by leprechauns and white unicorns that couldn't be caught or controlled.  Terrifying?!  Not so much.  With a little education and a few adjustments, I managed to nail my first 100% studio-lit session without skipping a beat.

In all honesty, naturally lit, candid moments are the best.  But!  Studio photography is a horse of an entirely different color.  The possibilities are endless, and I encourage all my readers who have the same reservations to quit limiting yourself to the light that happens to be available and open the door to the possibilities of introducing and shaping light of your own.  So far, I’ve found a combination of available light and artificial fill light to be the best of both worlds.  

Normally, I would refrain from any topic that made me out to be a newbie of any kind.  Not for pride, but for the sake of education.  I don’t preach what I don’t know.  I could talk all day long about the ins and outs of natural light photography, but studio light has always been a ghost to me. So many people find the idea of studio lighting daunting and avoid the topic altogether.  In this case, however, it was literally an overnight change.  I encourage you all to venture into new methods and cross your own boundaries.  I’m sure, like me, you’ll find it was never that complicated to start with.  

Gear I recommend:  Click image for links



UMBRELLA DIFFUSERS:  This kit comes with stands!  


CACTUS RF60 SPEED LIGHTS:  These things are so far superior to the name brand speed lights, it’s not even funny.  And cheaper.  CACTUS all the way!  


The rest is gravy.

Have fun :)

The Great Unknown

We are all born explorers.  Not all remain so throughout life, but the instinct is always there.  For me, happiness depends greatly on the idea of having something to look forward to.  It can be something as simple as a new job or as monumental as a life changing trip around the world.  Regardless, we all require some element of mystery and hope - to know there's still undiscovered country out there.  I've always said "I want to know that, no matter how good or bad it gets, life has the potential to change."  It sounds simple enough, but let's not underestimate the power of change.  There is a Great Unknown.  We're designed to seek it out.  Not to question all things, but to actively answer the questions we have and questions we never thought to ask.  To adventure and explore.  To meet new people and experience new things.  To find some balance between comfort, exhilaration, and fear.

In The Beginning

There was much to do.  What should take months took a year.  Maybe two.  It was trying, no doubt.   To struggle for months and do without.  But in the end, the juice was worth the squeeze.  Because these days I do as I please.