Fantastic models, old warehouse, legendary teacher….

What else can you ask for?

On Friday I headed up to the Dobbs Ferry workshop, held north of NYC by the legendary shooter Joe McNally. In addition to 30 years of shooting for publications from National Geographic to Sports Illustrated, Joe also conceived of and shot the Faces of Ground Zero. Only Joe could come up with the idea to use the largest polaroid camera in the world to capture the faces of one of the largest and most important stories of our lifetime.

He’s also a hell of a teacher. I was never that kid in school that sat in the front row with my hand up shouting “ooohh oohh!!! call on me!!” – but when you’re learning from Joe, believe me, you want to be in the front. I’m also 5’1″, so that helps give me a little cover as to why i’m always squirming my way up there.

Anyway…back to the day. the models. the environment. the gear. it was all just a big giant candy factory for us shooters. and joe was willy wonka.

Note to non-shooters – gear and tech talk start here, be warned (but the pictures are pretty!):

Here’s a quick shot of the first set up – 2 SB 900’s shooting through a lastolite 3×3 panel from above and one SB800, -1EV through the handheld lastolite tri-grip from below (thanks to andrew):

My shot using this lighting arrangement:

We then moved in closer to the beautiful Martina to create more dramatic light. For this set up we added one SB800 shot through a lastolite panel, which you can see held high and off camera/subject right. There is a gold reflecter being held down below.

Moving on to Valerie, a trainer at Crunch in NYC, where Joe had just met her a few weeks before. She’s unbelievable in front of the camera. These are done using the Elinchrom Octabank and a flick off of a gold reflector on the floor in front of her:

And Martina – now really…it’s hard to get a bad shot of her…

So…more to come and more exciting tools to add into the ‘ol noggin. thanks joe, andrew, drew, martina, valerie, lynn and linda…was a great day.

Valerie and John agreed!

Lilly Is Fighting for Us! Equal Pay Act Passes Senate

Okay, I am well behind on this blog….this week has been just full of shoots and opportunities that I think are incredibly cool and I really want to share them all. But, see, shoots and opportunities don’t leave a whole lot of time in front of the computer…especially when one included 9 hours of driving in a 24 hour period with an opportunity sandwiched right in the middle. More on that in a minute.

The morning after the inauguration, when Sarah and I became popsicles for the cause…interviewing vendors, out of towners, elders and youngin’s down at the inauguration…

And sarah getting the tables turned on her by this interesting documentarian…

I had the joy of photographing the 2009 Inaugural Peace Ball at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum. An impressive space spectacularly appointed and filled to the brim with drinks and vittles by Star Catering…the ball was the most fun formal event i have been to in DC.
The attendees here waiting for the entertainment to begin….1500 strong….very well behaved until Micheal Franti got them to their feet…

Great performers such as the legendary Joan Baez:

Joan was almost disarmingly gentle and sweet…she’s an icon that we would all fawn over, yet after getting off stage, she smiled sweetly for my wildly nervous lens and gave me a hug…
And then one of my favorite event pictures ever, the daughter of civil rights activist Dick Gregory, singing a prelude to his performance…

And Dick Gregory:

And of course, Alice Walker, the writer who made all the reporters in the room melt with respect, envy and a healthy dose of intimidation….

So those are the cliff notes on the inauguration and the ball…not to be outdone by the next day’s honor of photographing Lilly Ledbetter. 70 years old and from Alabama, Lilly’s boldness and conviction in the right of women to earn equal pay for an equal day’s work is silently and profoundly benefitting us all.

Two days after I took these photographs, January 24th, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was passed by the Senate and will be signed into law.

I bit off more than I can chew with this blog, so come on back for the ‘9 hours of driving in a 24 hour period with an opportunity sandwiched right in the middle’ post….

Presidential Inauguration

Yesterday, over 2 million people descended upon our city to celebrate a moment that needs little extrapolation from me. I went with a good friend and incredibly sensitive and talented audio documentarian, Sarah Reynolds, to interview attendees of the inauguration about their thoughts and hopes on this momentous occasion. We’re putting together a sideshow with their images and interviews, to be posted on this blog this week.

In the meantime, here are a few favorite pictures from yesterday morning. In the evening, I shot the 2009 Inaugural Peace Ball hosted by Busboys and Poets owner Andy Shallal, and met Joan Baez, Alice Walker, Eve Ensler, Dick Gregory, Harry Belafonte. Fabulous food provided by Star Catering and Buzz Bakery.

(note…Blogger is going wacky…so the rest to be posted in a few hours once the kinks are worked out)

Images Inspiring Words

In November I was approached by a blogger who said “i’ve discovered in my writing that a photo is an amazing tool to inspire creativity”. the author of Every Photo Tells A Story asked to use one of my photographs to inspire writers.

I thought I would share the subsequent poem, spurred by this image of mine:

…i think it’s great:

CRASH—Free Write—
Lights flash orange, the wind whips
like a mothers wrathful tongue,
coming here I thought I could reconcile
but here I cry out in pain as memories
eat me from the inside.
I pedal faster, littering tears along
a frozen sidewalk, I wonder what
the impact of flesh and steel would feel like,
pondering thoughts I continue…lights.
Why do they follow me? I have done nothing wrong,
is it wrong to want to live, to laugh
and understand?
Music fills my ears,
I am slipping away once more,
it is a steady beat with an upbeat vocal,
she soothes my fiery temper, my temperature drops.
“Take it slow, take it easy”
I hum its simple tune.
Returning to delirium I am sane
as I watch the passing people
from my rotting bench, the dedication plaque
has been unreadable for years.
Lights overhead and below,
forever searching, leaning into a tight corner
I grasp tightly the rubber of my handlebars,
narrowing my eyes I visualize brilliance and cunning.
The sound barrier shatters
as someone laughs inside my head
and rain falls from the parched ground,
I straighten body and bike,
pedaling faster…orange lights flash
as I come to realize the feeling
of flesh and metal meeting.

By: Sarah Copeland


A wise yoga teacher said yesterday “we are in the exhale”. We crave the heating power of inhalation, the excitement that comes from each new breath, giving the body and mind more energy, one more moment of life. Inhaling can be compared to external living. The heat and fire of summer and fall, socially engaged, busy all the time, staying out late, grinding away at work in an accelerated rhythm.

The late fall then gives way to winter, cooling things off, bringing us inside both house and heart. We crave warm blankets to curl under, cups of soup to cradle in our hands, movies and popcorn late at night. Work slows to a crawl as everyone takes time off; mentally, emotionally and physically.

We are in the exhale.

Photography has an inhalation and an exhalation to it, a rhythm to it. A wise shooter once said to me – shoot “the” frame (if you find it) twice. The second shot is always sharper. It’s because of the inhale, and the exhale. The inhale, the rush of adrenaline when you find an angle, a subject, a sliver of light that has not been interpreted in that way before, forces you to jam the shutter release in a panic. You hold your inhale, stunned that you got the shot (it never ceases to take us by surprise). Then, you shoot it again. You exhale, realize that your subject has not yet been snatched away, and you shoot calmly, quietly, patiently, in sync with what you are capturing.

It’s a beautiful thing, this inhale and exhale.

Family Portraits in 09 – Samara the Porcelin Doll

Happy New Year! Our tree has just come down, the ornaments put away, and the last of our holiday visitors have gone home to begin their 2009. Here in the world of Stacey Vaeth Photography, I’m putting into practice some great techniques I learned while training with the crew at DLWS and master shooter Joe McNally as well as getting geared up for a very busy 2009, including shooting at the 2009 Inaugural Peace Ball next Tuesday.

My first shoot of the new year was a bundle of fun. 17 month old Samara and her folks Chris and Jolina were a blast to work with. We got some great shots that I hope will be with the family for many years. Despite a minor setback after working at the Tidal Basin in 18 degree weather (and quickly coming to our senses and rescheduling for later in the afternoon!), we had a blast.

Samara – 17 months

Only Chris could make Samara giggle with glee. Perhaps because he is 3 times her height.

A beautiful moment with mom. I think they were focusing on the “Fish” in Chris’ iphone. A screensaver that turns out to be a infant saver as well. Soothed her quicker than a bottle of milk.

This tippy toe acrobatic feat never ceases to amaze me. Samara was trying to get tall enough to see the doggie walking by the window.

A moment with mom.