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  • Writer's pictureDave Pidgeon

The task of making beauty from what is already beautiful

Photographers are often challenged to make beauty out of what's ordinary.

The masters are skillful at this, no doubt.

But it also takes a skill, a drive, a desire even, to create beauty from beauty - extraordinary and natural beauty.

Black-and-white portrait of a woman
Meet Alison. I love this look on her face, taken at a makeshift studio in a garage with a single off-camera strobe.

Our language of light and shadow is also a language of love. Our images can be permanent monuments to what our eyes, minds, and hearts adore, a tribute, a love song in the form of a still image.

For me, all these years, I've seen photography as a way to help those I love see how I see them.

And no subject of beauty daunts me as a photographer more than Alison, my wife of nearly 14 years.

She's a talented and tenacious entrepreneur, while also a loving mother to our three boys. You can read more about her in this article.

She doesn't try to intimidate me as a photographer. That's not her way. I think she might even believe I'm a halfway decent image maker.

So lemme explain what I mean by daunting:

When you photograph a client you just met, especially when it's a business arrangement, being the photographer is easy, natural.

There's an inherit distance between the client, whom I probably don't know personally, and me as the photographer. It's a business service.

As photographer, we're the director. We turn the person this way. We mold light that way. We seek a perfect balance of light, shadow, detail, subject, foreground, and background.

As we try to create a beautiful image, in our heads, we're thinking in the impersonal technical terms of photography.

F/stops, shutter speeds, loop or Rembrandt lighting, level the camera, AF focal point, and so on.

That's one of the challenges of portrait photography.

Between two human beings is a piece of equipment through which the two interact, and building a more personal connection with a client is vital toward creating a meaningful portrait that accurately represents who the client is.

When it comes to your spouse, however, there can never just be a lifeless contraption of glass and electronics between you.

Portrait of a woman standing in a wildflower field.
A summer portrait of Alison at a wildflower field near our home of Lancaster, Pa. It was humid, hot, kids running around, and I was trying to capture her image using an off-camera flash.

The deep, personal connection has already been established. And perhaps, because of that, because you care so much about that connection and ensuring that it remains strong, the idea of creating a portrait can seem, I dunno, a high wire act.

You want her to love it. You want her to understand it. You want her to feel beautiful and seen and special through that photograph.

You want the image to be your visual poem to her.

If she's nervous, camera shy, or self-conscious, you want her to know it's okay. You want the chance to show her how you see her. But you can't push that too hard because you want the experience for her to be a positive one.

So yeah, there's pressure ... pressure you put on yourself ... pressure that she might not even be aware of.

This Valentine's, I wanted to share some of my favorite images of Alison with you and encourage you to use photography as your love language and as a means of showing your loved ones how you see them.

An expectant mother sits and looks at her abdomen.
From when Alison was pregnant with our third child. The light, the woman, it was all too beautiful to not capture.

A woman smiling at the camera.
A portrait of Alison taken during a summer in a Cincinnati park.

A mother singing to sooth her baby.
Alison singing and soothing our third son the day after his birth. That was a moment I'm so happy to have captured.

A woman wades into the ocean in the Outer Banks.
An iPhone image of Alison during a trip to the Outer Banks. The autumn light touched her face with those sunglasses on.

A woman smiles at the camera while it snows.
In the running as my favorite image of Alison ... the red coat, the snow, and she looks adorable with a hat on.

A woman touches her necklace in a window light portrait.
This was taken at a hotel window the evening Alison won the 2017 Best Emerging Business Award from the Central Penn Business Journal.

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