Thank you for a great year!

Highlights from the year!
Highlights from the year!
As we enter 2015, I want to take the time to thank all my clients, friend, and family who have helped to make this year such a success and have been so instrumental in supporting my dream of running my photography business full-time. When I made the decision to quit my day job at the White House budget office early this year, there was a good amount of uncertainty. While I didn’t make the decision lightly or go forward unprepared, there was no way of knowing what the year ahead would hold.

Looking back, this year exceeded all my expectations. I set a number of business and financial targets, and I’ve exceeded all of those. More importantly though, I set a number of soft goals like enjoying life more and traveling more (for work and fun). I’ve met all those goals too, and it’s time to raise the bar in 2015.

Highlights from this year include:

  • My continued work with the Center for Excellence in Public Leadership on various projects including the Cafritz Awards for Distinguished DC Government Employees
  • Photographing the World Bank’s World Reconstruction Conference 2
  • Traveling to Iceland (twice), photographing the landscape and working with various models
  • Photographing for a number of publications including DC Magazine and Workforce Magazine
  • Working with the American Heart Association to photograph their Greater Washington Area Heart Walk
  • Photographing an ad campaign for the DC Department of Health
  • Working with the National Disability Institute on various events
  • And too many other amazing opportunities to list!

In short, thank all of you for your support this year, whether it was choosing to work with me as a client, recommending me to others, or simply cheering me on!

Happy New Year!

Iceland Photo Travel – Part 2 and Travel Advice

It goes without saying, Iceland is a beautiful place with an endless diversity of landscape and scenes to photograph. Ten days wasn’t enough to capture everything I wanted to capture. Without a doubt, I’ll be going back to Iceland. In fact, I’m going to give the following disclaimer: Everyone should go to Iceland, not just once, but at least twice. You should visit Iceland when there is snow on the ground, and then go again when there is moss on the ground. There is nowhere else on earth like it, and if you plan right, you won’t regret visiting. The landscape is only half of it. During my time there I met some of the most fun and interesting people I’ve happened upon while traveling. They really know how to party while talking about topics ranging from globalization to climate change. Also, from a food and beverage perspective, Reykjavik is nirvana. Almost all the food I had was delicious, including the Minke whale (not endangered at all), and they have a surprisingly strong and diverse microbrew scene (I recommend the Lava Stout). I highly recommend Íslenski Barinn (Icelandic Bar) for their beer selection and food.

Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon at sunrise.

That being said, during my ten days in the land of fire and ice, I was challenged both photographically and meteorologically — That is, at several points the weather was terrible if not frightening. This posed a number of logistical challenges, like staying on the road during 50mph winds and trying to photograph the aurora on overcast nights with no change of weather in sight.

However, this is part of the excitement and challenge of Iceland! After my experiences during those ten days, I feel like a better, more competent photographer — not necessarily from a technical standpoint — but from the standpoint of planning, logistics, and adaptation.

Which leads me to my five lessons for wintery Iceland. These are five things I recommend everyone visiting Iceland in the winter do to make the most of their experience and photos. Some of these things I did from the beginning, and took for granted, but some of these lessons I learned the hard way. This list isn’t exhaustive, but for me they’re the five main points I want to tell everyone visiting Iceland between November and April.

Tour busses pass on the road on their way to view the marvels of the Northern Lights at Thingvellir.1. Rent a four-wheel drive vehicle.
Snow, ice, rain, wind, and dark. All these things work against you, especially if you’re driving far from Reykjavik. I started my journey in a two-wheel drive Chevy Opel. This was a bad idea. I got stuck twice, and had to rely on the kindness of strangers to get me out (there’s plenty of this type of kindness in Iceland). If you plan on going far, even on the ring road, you’re much safer in a 4WD vehicle. Not to mention, you can drive at normal speeds more often with 4WD, rather than inching along hoping to stay on the road. Even with 4WD, there were times that me and my travel companion felt we were in dire straights. At one point we faced a complete white out, couldn’t see the reflective pylons, and ended up driving partially off the road (4WD got us out). The crazy thing was that the skies were completely clear (we could see the stars). The problem was the wind, blowing an insane amount of snow across the road, completely blinding us. This leads me to my second lesson:

2. Travel with a friend (and cell phone).
All I can say, is that the weather is very unpredictable and having a friend along makes the experience much more enjoyable, especially in those moments of doubt. Just as important, is a working cell phone. GPS and emergency calling are two things you’ll need if you get stuck. It’s dark 18 hours a day and towns/cars are very far in between, so if you get stuck somewhere, you’ll likely be waiting a long time if you don’t have a phone. Also, you’re much more likely to be adventurous if you have a friend along to make sure you make it back to civilization in one piece!

Northern starting to to show above the Gerdi guest house near Jokulsarlon.3. Do go off on your own, don’t rely on tours to show you the best that Iceland has to offer.
Bad weather shouldn’t stop you. You just need to plan for it. If you have a good car, a friend, and a cell phone, you should get out there and see the country for yourself. Check the weather warnings and heed them closely (e.g. If the forecast says winds of 150kph, don’t go out). However, sticking with a tour bus severely limits your ability to see some of the most interesting sights in the way that Iceland intended them to be seen: In solitude. The cathartic nature of viewing the aurora while hearing nothing but the wind blowing, is greatly diminished by the swarms of tourists that stick to the busses. With your own vehicle and plans, you’ll be able to see and photograph things that the less adventurous don’t get to see.

Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon, with the glow of the Bardarbunga volcanic eruption over the horizon. 4. Talk to the Icelanders. Get advice along the way.
There’s no substitute for the experience of those who have spent significant time living in Iceland. In an ideal world, I would have spent weeks or months traveling the island, making multiple attempts to capture images, mainly because there are so many ways to get the shot and so many times that weather gets in the way. However, since long term travel is not a practical reality for most people, the quickest shortcut is to get the advice of locals. They often know when to go out, what is most scenic, and what spot to photograph from. Tour books don’t really convey this information. In Reykjavik, they also know the beset places to eat/drink, and how best to experience the night life. In short, make friends in Iceland! They also make great models, which helped me to do a number of photoshoots, which I will show images from in my next Iceland post.

5. Most importantly, spend more time than less and be flexible to leave room for weather situations.
I think my main take away is that if there’s an image you really want to capture, then plan on needing more than one day to get it. There are times I got really lucky and everything came together okay (cloud cover, wind, northern lights activity, etc.), but there are other times where I was left twiddling my thumbs in a snow storm hoping for something to work out. You often cannot plan for the weather more than a few hours in advance, and you shouldn’t underestimate the desire to spend more time in one place. If you book too many things and have too many hotels lined up, then you’re going to constrain yourself and limit your experience (and feel rushed). Sometimes you can’t, or shouldn’t, rush the trip. It’s better to take your time driving, and savoring the moment. Not to mention, in the low season it’s really easy to finding lodging accommodations that same day using Kayak or TripAdvisor (one more very important reason to have a working cell phone).

And now, the photos. I placed these generally in chronological order, starting off from my last post in Snæfellsnes, heading to Jökulsárlón and Vatnajökull (located about 5 hours from Reykjavik), and finishing with images of the aurora at Thingvellir.

The drive from Reykjavik to Jökulsárlón/Vatnajökull

Leaving the Snæfellsnes peninsula.
Leaving Snaefellsnes peninsula.Lighthouse on the southern coast of Iceland outside of Grindavik.
Sunsetting and snow blowing near Raufarfell
Burning daylight on the way to Jokulsarlon.Sunset near the town of Vik.

Jökulsárlón and the Northern Lights. Jökulsárlón is a glacier lagoon formed from the icebergs that break off from this outlet tongue of Vatnajökull, the largest icecap in Europe. The icebergs float out of the lagoon to sea, washing back ashore as the waves and tide bring them in.

Northern starting to to show above the Gerdi guest house near Jokulsarlon.
Aurora above Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon.  Icebergs floating below the glow. The Aurora begins to fade.
Aurora above Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon.  Icebergs floating below the glow. My friend Bryant also photographing the icebergs in the lagoon.

Jökulsárlón’s beach and icebergs the next morning.

Jokulsarlon's beach where icebergs are washed back ashore.
A large iceberg washing ashore at Jokulsarlon.

This ice cave was formed by a natural glacial river flowing beneath Breiðamerkurjökull, and outlet glacier that’s part of Vatnajökull, the largest glacier in Europe. Based on the rate that Breiðamerkurjökull has been receding, this particular ice cave will most likely not exist past next summer.

Ice cave at Vatnajokull.
Ice cave at Breiðamerkurjökull, an outlet glacier of Vatnajökull.

The aurora blooms at Thingvellier, located about one hour north of Reykjavik. It’s a great spot for capturing aurora images because of it’s lack of light pollution and close proximity to the city. These were captured on my last night in Iceland, and I was lucky that the weather and aurora was favorable that day.

The aurora blooms at Thingvellir. A weather station is seen center bottom.
Tour busses pass on the road on their way to view the marvels of the Northern Lights at Thingvellir.

Other photos along the way.

Birds are some of the few animals that live in Iceland.
Jagged cliffs just outside of Vik.
Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon, with the glow of the Bardarbunga volcanic eruption over the horizon.
Light haze of the aurora above the road near Jokulsarlon.
Seljalandsfoss waterfall located just off the ring road.

Iceland Photo Travel – part 1

A couple months ago I visited Iceland for the first time. I loved it. I loved it so much in fact, that I promised myself that I would return to spend dedicated time photographing it. The island is tiny compared to the size and population of many U.S. states, but there is so much to do and see.

Right now I’m in Iceland, carrying out that promise. I’m here for 10 days photographing as much as the winter landscape as I can fit in. It’s cold, and much more snowy than I anticipated, but there’s something about this country that’s otherwordly. Being here it’s not hard to imagine why over half of Iceland’s population still believes in hidden elves (seriously).

The first part of my trek has brought me to Snaefellsnes, an iconically beautiful part of the country (which says a lot since it’s Iceland). One of the highlights of Snaefelsnes is Kirkjufell (not pronounced how it looks), a pointy mountain located half-way down the peninsula on its northern edge. Part of the reason I’m here now is to photograph the Northern Lights, and Snaefelsnes makes a great location for this.

The problem is, the weather has been sort of horrible the past two days, with gail force winds and snow pummeling the roads. I spent the day watching the cloud cover, convinced that there’s no way that the skies would be clear enough to see the aurora. After dinner, I went back to my room ready for sleep. I looked out the window and didn’t see anything. Then, on a hunch I picked up my camera and did a long exposure — There it was, bands of light green across the sky. I hauled ass in my Chevy Spark (very tiny car) back to Kirkjufell and captured this image:

Snaefellsnes with the Northern Lights.

Seeing the aurora was pretty awesome, and I have about 7 more days here to photograph the landscape and people. Which is a good thing, because shortly after capturing this image, what I can only describe as a frightening blizzard descended upon the area (wind is between 30 an 40 mph as I write this). Here’s some video of that.

Here are a couple other images, one of me posing with Kirkjufell, the next of my trusty Chevy Spark and the aurora, and finally Kirkjufell during day light (which there isn’t much of):

My trusty front wheel drive Chevy Spark with the Northern LightsSelf-portrait with Kirkjufell just outside of Grundarfjörður.
Kirkjufell in the day time.

Here are some other images from my drive from Reykjavik to Stykkishólmur in Snæfellsnes:

Drive from Reykjavik to Snæfellsnes.
Icelandic horses are somehow better looking than other horses.
Lonely, icy drive to Snæfellsnes.

Event Photography and Headshots for the National Disability Institute

Last month, the National Disability Institute (NDI) brought me on to photograph two of their events: A press conference at the National Press Club releasing a study on the financial capability of many Americans with disabilities, as well as their annual team meeting where they hosted an on-location headshot session, taking the opportunity to update the headshots of each of their team members while they had everyone from across the country in town.

In photographing their events and headshots, I was able to learn more about the great work that NDI does to promote the rights and economic success of individuals with disabilities in this nation, as well as meet everyone on staff. Whenever I work with a team of passionate and dedicated individuals, it always comes across in the photos, and it really shows with NDI. To learn more about NDI or the results of the study that they just released, check out their site. Also see some of the photos from their events and their team portraits below.

Here is some of the event photography from their press conference at the National Press Club:

Crowd photo of the National Disability Institute press conference event at the National Press Club.  Event photography by Jason Dixson Photography.
National Disability Institute press conference event at the National Press Club.  Event photography by Jason Dixson Photography.
National Disability Institute press conference event at the National Press Club.  Event photography by Jason Dixson Photography.
Michael Morris, Executive Director of the National Disability Institute, speaking at the press conference event at the National Press Club.  Event photography by Jason Dixson Photography.Bob Williams, Senior Advisor, Social Security Administration, speaking at the National Disability Institute press conference event at the National Press Club.

Below are a few of the team headshots captured during NDI’s staff gathering later in the week:

Head shots for NDI hosted on location during their annual staff retreat.Head shot of Michael Morris, Executive Director of the National Disability Institute, taken on location during their annual staff retreat.
Head shots for NDI hosted on location during their annual staff retreat.Head shots for NDI hosted on location during their annual staff retreat.

Here’s a behind the scenes shot of the on-location lighting setup for the headshots. There were roughly 20 staff members photographed in about two hours. Each team member that was photographed had the opportunity to review the images on a laptop display and select the one that they wanted edited:

Behind the scenes photo of the lighting setup for head shots at the NDI annual staff meeting.

Finally, below are a few event photos from their annual team meeting, which took place in Lansdowne, Virginia:

NDI annual staff retreat event photos, a non-profit corporation based in Washington, DC.NDI annual staff retreat event photos, a non-profit corporation based in Washington, DC.
NDI annual staff retreat event photos, a non-profit corporation based in Washington, DC.NDI annual staff retreat event photos, a non-profit corporation based in Washington, DC.
NDI annual staff retreat event photos, a non-profit corporation based in Washington, DC.NDI annual staff retreat event photos, a non-profit corporation based in Washington, DC.
A team portrait photographed at the end of NDI's staff retreat.

Ad Campaign Photography for DC Department of Health

Earlier this year, I completed commercial photography for an ad campaign being run by the Washington, DC Department of Health. The initiative is called #ShowOff, and is described by the PR and ad firm that runs the campaign as “a youth social marketing campaign that encourages DC youth to share their aspirations, dreams, talents, friendships, and personal style via social media. The campaign engages youth (#ShowOff ambassadors) in activities that develop their leadership skills and cultivates self-awareness in their decision-making.”

The shoot was a lot of fun, and the teens that participated in creating the images had so much energy and really give hope that the next generation will accomplish great things. The shoot took place over two long days, and the teens’ patience and willingness to shoot at 10 different locations across the city made my job a lot easier. The biggest challenge was fitting in so many in so many locations in a two day shoot, so we had to make every opportunity count and stick to a schedule to get around the city. In the end, I was very happy with the final product and all the images created. I really enjoy creating ad campaign photography and commercial images, so this shoot was really enjoyable for me.

Below are a few of the finished ad campaign posters put together by Octane PRA

#ShowOff Your Style: Encourages individuality in DC youth through personal uniqueness.

#ShowOff Your Big Day: Highlights the accomplishments of those teens who have stayed committed to academic excellence.

#ShowOff Your Neighborhood: Encourages youth in an individual's neighborhood and community.

#ShowOff Your Green Thumb: Promotes engagement in gardening and other talents.

#ShowOff Your Individuality: Promotes individuality, self-sufficient decision making, and standing out from the crowd.

#ShowOff Your Besties: Promotes friendship and positive relationships with peers.

The images are currently up in the form of posters and can be seen up and down U Street and other locations around the city:

Commercial posters up on U Street.Commercial poster up at 14th and U Street.

Travel Photos: Thailand and Cambodia

These are long over due but luckily travel photos don’t go out of vogue :-). Late last year, my wife and I traveled to Thailand and Cambodia. We began in Bangkok where we were met with heavy rain before flying over to Angkor Wat, Cambodia, to see the famed temples of the UNESCO world heritage site. We then flew up to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand which is known for it’s cuisine, cooler climate, and city life. Finally, we went down to the Andaman Coast of southern Thailand where we relaxed on the beaches of Phuket, Ko Phi Phi, and Krabi.

Sunset from the summit view point on Ko Phi Phi.

Thailand is such a wonderful country, from the hospitable nature of it’s citizens, the delicious culinary options, the dirt cheap (and amazing) massages, and the beauty of the country’s landscape. I definitely want to go back because there is so much more to do than two weeks can afford.

Here is a selection of some of my favorite images, even though there are so many other images that serve as a small reminder of all we experienced there:

The upper terrace of Angkor Wat, Cambodia.
Angkor Wat at dawn from across its moat.
A metal worker arc welding in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Wat Phra Singh in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Inside of Chiang Mai temple.
Alley way in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Empty lot in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Dusk in Phuket, Thailand.
Ko Phi Phi beach.
Baby monkey at Monkey Beach, Ko Phi Phi.
Monkey seeking food at Monkey Beach, Ko Phi Phi. Monkey eating in Ko Phi Phi, Thailand.
Beached boats in Ko Phi Phi, Thailand.
Sunset in Ko Phi Phi, Thailand.
Sunset at Railay Beach, Krabi Town.
Dusk at Krabi Town, Thailand.

13th Annual Cafritz Awards: Photos and Video

Last week I finished video and photography for the 13th Annual Cafritz Awards for Distinguished DC Government Employees, hosted by the Cafritz Foundation and the Center for Excellence in Public Leadership (CEPL). I’ve been working on production for the Cafritz Awards for several years now, and each year it’s a very rewarding and humbling experience, as some of DC’s finest government employees are recognized for their remarkable contributions to making this city a better place.

This year’s Cafritz Awards ceremony was June 4th, but my end of the process began months earlier right after the winners and finalists were selected, and filming and photography began to document their stories. I photographed headshots of each of the finalists and captured a series of portraits of each of the award winners, both of which were published in the program book. The longest part of the production process was the filming and editing of five short videos for each award winner, documenting the story of their major contributions to the city.

Each of these finalists and winners are inspiring people and serve as true role models to everyone in public service. To learn about their stories, you can view the short films I produced at this link.

Here are some of the portraits used in the Cafritz Awards program book:

13th Annual Cafritz Award Winners and Mr. Calvin Cafritz
Cafritz Award Winner Tonya Faust Mead
Cafritz Award Winner John Thomas
Cafritz Award Winner Beatrice Williar
Cafritz Award Winner Allam Al-Alami
Cafritz Award Winner Natalie Mayers

Here are some shots from the June 4th award ceremony:

Image from the June 4th Cafritz Awards ceremony
Image from the June 4th Cafritz Awards ceremony
Image from the June 4th Cafritz Awards ceremony
Image from the June 4th Cafritz Awards ceremony
Image from the June 4th Cafritz Awards ceremony
Image from the June 4th Cafritz Awards ceremony
Calvin Cafritz, President of the Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation

Some shots of the beautiful program book with my photos that the team at CEPL and their graphic design firm put together:

Portraits with the Cherry Blossoms

It’s spring again in DC and the Cherry Blossoms reached full bloom yesterday! With a busy weekend ahead photographing clients at the iconic Tidal Basin, I thought I’d take this opportunity to preview some photos from this morning’s shoot with Stephanie. She’s terrific in front of the camera, and we had an absolutely amazing time making these images.

The Cherry Blossoms are only in bloom for a few more days (hard to know when they’re going to wilt, and it’s driven mostly by the weather). Anyone interested in setting up a session with me can reach out through the contact page on my portfolio site before the blossoms are gone!.

Conference Photography in Dallas

Last week I wrapped up a four-day endeavor to photograph BBYO’s International Convention 2014 in Dallas, Texas. BBYO is a Jewish youth organization with the mission of providing Jewish teens with meaningful Jewish experiences. The list of events ran the gamut and required a range of versatility to photograph the variety of scenes that the convention had to offer, including concerts, small group sessions, the convention stage, and 2000 teens spelling out letters on a football field (photographed from 2000 feet in the air).

Photographing the conference was a great experience, and really pushed me to see what I could accomplish in documenting this conference and the experiences of its attendees. Days sometimes lasted 20 hours, with every moment of it offering something new.

Here are some conference photography highlights below.

The first are shots from the sky of 2000 teens spelling out letters on the ground after training in CPR, as well as photos of the field in the distance as we flew into position.

2000 teens at a CPR training day, photographed from 2000 feet above.

Here are some images from the convention main stage:

Conference photography of the main stage.
Conference photography of the main stage.
Conference photography of the main stage.
Conference photography of the main stage.
Conference photography of the main stage.

Conference photography of the main stage.

Photos from the breakout sessions:

Finally, photos from the main concert events:

American Authors performing on concert stage.
B.o.B. performing on concert stage.
3LAU performing on concert stage.
Aloe Blacc performing on concert stage.
Teens waiting for the next concert performance.
B.o.B. signing autographs for teens who made significant volunteer contributions.

I’m Quitting My Day Job To Do What I Love (Photography)

Me on a photo shoot (doing what I love) in the woods of Great Falls, VA. A few months ago, I read an Onion article titled Find The Thing You’re Most Passionate About, Then Do It On Nights And Weekends For The Rest Of Your Life. While the Onion is a comedy publication, the sarcastic sentiment of the article resonated with me: “It could be anything—music, writing, drawing, acting, teaching—it really doesn’t matter. All that matters is that once you know what you want to do, you dive in a full 10 percent and spend the other 90 torturing yourself because you know damn well that it’s far too late to make a drastic career change, and that you’re stuck on this mind-numbing path for the rest of your life.”

Running my business full-time has been a dream of mine for several years now. Everyone I know in photography (or with any small business for that matter) started out gradually, testing the waters to figure out what their strengths and weaknesses are, what business model they’re going to follow, and to develop a vision of what success looks like. My initial career path coming out of college was public policy, and my education and experience brought me to Washington, DC to pursue that path. Many great things came out of it including a good Federal job that’s taught me all sorts of cool and crazy things about our education and criminal justice systems, and it’s where I met my wife when we were both just interns with big dreams of changing the world (she might still have a chance).

Meanwhile, something new was sparked inside of me when I purchased my first DSLR as I was finishing grad school and brought it on a trip to Israel and Egypt just before moving to DC. I took five-thousand photos on that trip. “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst”, according to Henri Cartier-Bresson – I’m glad I got half of that out of the way. That trip, and the kinks in my photography it hammered out, planted a seed that grew — capturing the world, both places and people, slowly became my passion and I found a way to monetize it into something sustainable.

As that passion has grown, I’ve wrestled with the decision to leave my day job to focus all my efforts on this business. While I mostly enjoy what I do during the work-week, once you figure out what your true passion is, it ruins you for everything else. All this has driven me to take the plunge to focus on my business full-time.

Still, why didn’t I make this decision years ago? It’s been said, “Success is where preparation and opportunity meet” — that point has finally come for me. After many hours of planning over several months it’s become clear that my prospects of success outweigh my risk aversion (risk aversion can be a good thing, without a little bit of it we’d do crazy, reckless stuff all the time). The final decision wasn’t easy to come by, and judging the “right time” was a tough call, but I’ve been fortunate to have both creative and business input from a trusted group of colleagues, friends, family — not the least of which is my loving wife. I’ve had strong support from some wonderful clients, who’s business and support were absolutely critical to this transition.

My new photography studio located in Columbia Heights, DC.

My new office space!

So, what’s going to be different going forward? For my clients: The main difference will be my increased availability to provide photography services. For me: The main change will be more time to do what I love — Producing quality images that meet my clients’ needs, whether it be commercial, portrait, or event related — Translating to more happiness.

Another big change I should mention, for both myself and my clients, is my new office space. I’ve established a studio space to work on strategy, shooting (when a studio is preferred), and post-processing. While I’ll still have a desk at my new full time job, it’ll be my desk with my hours working on what I’m passionate about. And since I’m doing what I love, I can’t really call it a job, can I?

Finally, I want to take the time to thank all my friends, family, colleagues, and clients that have pushed and supported me over the past few years. I’ve appreciated all your feedback, both constructive and positive. It’s helped shape me and get me to this point. I’m looking forward to new adventures and learning more than I ever have before!