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Kickstart – Playing in Puddles

As a 31 year old man, you would think my days of playing in puddles would be long behind me.  You would be wrong.  I probably play in the leftover rain more than most toddlers you know.  So I guess that “man” word is not suitable for me.  I suppose, in actuality, I am just a 31 year old kid.  And I’m okay with that.

Puddles of Pittbsburgh Reflection Blue North Shore blog srgb

I’m okay with being a thirty-something man child because very near the beginning in my journey to becoming a photographer, it was playing in a puddle that taught me an invaluable lesson.  That lesson was one about perspective and just how important it is for creating a compelling image.  If you look at the photo above, my first puddle photo and aptly named “Puddles of Pittsburgh,” it’s pretty clear to see that the skyline of Pittsburgh is being reflected in a puddle.  What’s not so clear is the collection of outtakes I snapped before I was able to get “THE” shot.  Standing in front of the puddle just didn’t do the scene any just or convey the image I had in my mind.  It wasn’t until I got down on all fours, and then eventually flat onto my belly, that I realized I could include a large portion of the buildings in the reflection, creating a much more dynamic and interesting photograph, simply by changing my positioning.  I had discovered there is more to plopping a camera down, snapping a photo, and moving on to the next shot.  Work the scene.  Change positioning.  Change up the perspective.  Get creative.  I had read many books, articles, and essays on composition…but it was that puddle that taught me this most important lesson.

…and as a bonus, here are some of my favorite puddle photos:

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2015 – The Year in Review

Well, it’s that time of year again my friends.  The end of the calendar year for me is a time to reflect upon the previous twelve months.  This is done on both a personal and professional level, but the focus here will be on the latter here, for obvious reasons.  You will, however, find some overlap since I had some personal milestones and moments that were more than worthy of being photographed.  If you don’t already know what I’m talking about, you’ll soon see.

During my self-imposed yearly review, the most significant and challenging task is to is to choose my best and/or most memorable photos from the year.    Generally, they are not always the most popular on social media or the top 10 or so selling prints of the year, but they have special significance.  This year is no different.

Luckily, 2015 was a pretty darn good year if I may say so myself.  It was filled with features on the news, successful social media campaigns, great shows, and even a tv interview on Pittsburgh Today Live.  Most importantly, though, it was a year of great photography and I’ll let you be the judge in just a moment.  What 2015 was not good for, apparently, was blogging.  This is my first post of the year and it’s only 4 days before year’s end.  That’s a problem I REALLY intend to fix in 2016…but why wait until then?  Let’s get to the photos already!

McConnells Mill Autumn Fall Reflection Briddge Rock blog

10. McConnells Mill is an often photographed subject. A new composition is touch to come by, but with a bit of hard work, I think I was able to come away with a unique, beautiful photo.

Smithfield Street Bridge Streaking Pittsburgh Sunset blog

9. The Smithfield Street Bridge is an amazing, yet often overlooked (by me) structure. Combine the details with this amazing sunset and it’s now wonder this is in my countdown.

Soul of Serenget African Wildlife Lion Portrait Pittsburgh Zoo blog

8. I’ve always had an appreciate for wildlife, particularly big cats.  In fact, the first place I ever used my first “real” camera was at the Pittsburgh Zoo.  I’ve spent countless hours there and many motionless moments in front of the lions.  This photo is my reward.

Serenity North Shore Sunrise Pittsburgh Skyline Pink blog

7. Light is crucial to my work. I can’t stress this enough. This year, there was plenty of great light on my adventures, but not much colorful light around sunrise. Except here. Wow.

Dusty African Elephant Pittsburgh Zoo Black White blog

6. The elephants at the Pittsburgh Zoo are always a real challenge for me. The light is usually harsh and I prefer my zoo photos to be as natural (no enclosure elements) as possible. This is my best EVER elephant photo.

Fire Red Maple Pendleton Point Blackwater Falls Autumn  blog

5. This fall, I really focused on details. Grand landscapes are great, but when the foliage is as colorful as you see here, and the light is isolated on one tree, the photo should isolate that tree as well.

The Usual Haunt Pittsburgh Incline Fall Autum Sunrise blog

4. Every fall I trek up to the “Old Faithful” of Pittsburgh, the Duquesne Incline overlook. Once again, the light dictated the composition here and allowed me to shoot a bit wider than normal for my favorite photo I’ve taken from this spot.

Lonely Leaf North Shore Pittsburgh Sunrise Reflection blog

3. Luck is sometimes a crucial part of photography, since I cannot control light. For most photos, I’m in position up to an hour beforehand scoping out the area and setting up my shot. I arrived on the North Shore about 5 minutes before this scene unfolded. Check out that lone leaf.

Kaylee Snow White Disney Princess Seven Dwarfs blog

2. I don’t have to say much about this photo. It’s not often a portrait makes my list, but my sweet little Kaylee dressed up as Snow White…this is perhaps the ONLY photo I’ve ever taken that I wouldn’t do anything differently if I had to do it over.

USS LST 325 Pittsburgh Sunrise World War II Ship blog

1. This photo is my crown jewel of the year. The USS LST 325 is a WWII ship that spent some time here over the summer. I knew when and where it would depart, so I camped out on the West End Bridge. I was the only photographer there, so I’m the only one with this shot. And it went viral. What a feeling.

So there you have it, my year of hard work summed up in 10 photos.  Before I started this endeavor, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to come up with 10 quality shots.  But as I dug deeper, I actually found it hard to select ONLY 10.  So to that end, here are a some bonus photos from the year that didn’t quite make the cut.

 

My Next 30 Years

This past weekend I celebrated a bit of a milestone birthday – I turned 30 years old on Saturday.  Ancient, I know.  I was apprehensive at first, I must admit.  But trite as it may be to say, I suppose age really is just a number.  I shouldn’t measure life by the number of years I have lived but rather how I’ve lived those years and what I’ve accomplished in them.  After 30 years, I have a loving and supportive wife, a beautiful home, a wonderful family, and I get to do what I love every day while making money doing it.  So why should I not welcome the next 30 years with open arms?

Well, actually, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.  I’m excited for 30.  It may have taken me a few days (and a bit, okay a LOT, of whining to my wife…just ask her, she’ll tell you!) to get to this point, but it’s only logical.  Why should I fret over the future when the past has been good to me?  This got me thinking even more, not about the future but rather my good fortune and the time I’ve spent behind a camera creating photos that have helped shape my development, not only as a photographer, but as a person as well.  I thought, “Why not put together a set of my favorite photographs I’ve ever taken.  Instead of being known as the ‘guy who takes pretty pictures,’ let people get to know ‘JP Diroll’ and what motivates him to take the photos he does.”  So that’s what we have here – 12 photos that are not necessarily the pinnacle of technique or skill, but ones that are the most significant to me.  They are a representation of the driving force behind my work and the cornerstone of my continued development as a photographer, each having a special but unique meaning to me.  Looking back at this dozen of photos not only reminds me of how (and why) I started down this path of sharing the world through my eyes, but also pushes me to where I ultimately want to be, both personally and professionally.  So I say – bring it on 30, I look forward to what you have in store for my next 30!

12.  PARTNERS - Disney plays a big part in my life.  My favorite movie ever (not favorite cartoon or Disney movie, my favorite movie) is The Lion King.  I've been to Disney World several times but only once since taking up photography.  Lucky for me, my wife loves Disney too...so much so we considered getting married there.  It didn't happen but we are planning a trip this year for our first anniversary!  I'll have my camera in tow, you can count on that.

12. PARTNERS – Disney plays a big part in my life. My favorite movie ever (not favorite cartoon or Disney movie, my favorite movie) is The Lion King. I’ve been to Disney World several times but only once since taking up photography. Lucky for me, my wife loves Disney too…so much so we considered getting married there. It didn’t happen but we are planning a trip this year for our first anniversary! I’ll have my camera in tow, you can count on that.

11. THE POINT - Symbolism is a big part of my work, whether it be in my compositions, my titles, or the captions I write to accompany the photos.  On this morning, the symbolism presented itself in the form of clouds. They were very dynamic but saw it fitting to form a straight light that pointed directly to the skyline.  The river created a perfectly reflected complement allowing both to "point" directly at the point.  What a morning!

11. THE POINT – Symbolism is an integral part of my work, whether it be in my compositions, my titles, or the captions I write to accompany each photo. On this morning, the symbolism presented itself in the form of clouds. They were very dynamic but saw it fitting to form a straight light that pointed directly to the skyline. The river created a perfectly reflected complement allowing both to “point” directly at the point.

10. PERSISTENCE - Most people know me as a Pittsburgh photographer, which I primarily am.  But I also want folks to know I love landscape photography.  It's a completely different set of challenges which require a ton of patience.  The beach is not as accessible to me as the skyline of Pittsburgh.  I may only have a day or two so I must be vigilant about making it to my destination for sunrise and sunset, otherwise I risk not getting any photos as midday light is generally not good for landscapes.  Even sunrises can be a dud, like the two before the one seen here, so I must be persistent.

10. PERSISTENCE – Most people know me as a Pittsburgh photographer, which I primarily am. But I also want folks to know I love landscape photography. It’s a completely different set of challenges which require a ton of patience. The beach is not as accessible to me as the skyline of Pittsburgh. I may only have a day or two so I must be vigilant about making it to my destination for sunrise and sunset, otherwise I risk not getting any photos as midday light is generally not good for landscapes. Even sunrises can be a dud, like the two before the one seen here, so I must be persistent.

9. POLAR PAIR - This image of two polar bears dancing in the water at the Pittsburgh Zoo is my first photo to ever place in a national photo contest so naturally it has a place in my countdown.  Much like number 10 on the list, this was an exercise in patience and persistence.  I can't count the number of hours I spent in the tunnel at the zoo waiting...and waiting...and waiting for the polar bears to jump in the water.  Furthermore, I needed good light and a pleasing composition.  Catching all three elements proved to be quite a challenge but the patience paid off!

9. POLAR PAIR – This image of two polar bears dancing in the water at the Pittsburgh Zoo is my first photo to ever place in a national photo contest so naturally it has a place in my countdown. Much like number 10 on the list, this was an exercise in patience and persistence. I can’t count the number of hours I spent in the tunnel at the zoo waiting…and waiting…and waiting for the polar bears to jump in the water. Furthermore, I needed good light and a pleasing composition. Catching all three elements proved to be quite a challenge but the patience paid off!

8. LAST LIGHT AT LINDY - This past October I took my first trip (more than a three hour drive) specifically for fall photos.  Fall is my favorite time of year as the light is pleasing, the temperature is perfect, and most importantly the landscape is stunning almost anywhere you go.  But somehow the season always eludes me.  I wasn't going to let that happen this year.  I had the opportunity to participate in a workshop with one of my favorite pro photographers in West Virginia.  It was an amazing learning experience and I walked away with a number of keepers, the above being my favorite.

8. LAST LIGHT AT LINDY – This past October I took my first trip specifically for fall photos. Fall is my favorite time of year as the light is pleasing, the temperature is perfect, and most importantly the landscape is stunning almost anywhere you go. But somehow the season always eludes me. I wasn’t going to let that happen this year. I had the opportunity to participate in a workshop with one of my favorite pro photographers in West Virginia. It was an amazing learning experience and I walked away with a number of keepers, the above being my favorite.

7. LEMONADE - This photo is a representation of dealing with life's challenges.  Last year, just weeks before my wedding, I was laid off from my engineering position.  Naturally, I was less than pleased.  But with the support of my family and my wife-to-be, I made it through it.  Unscathed.  I had thought about the jump from engineer to photographer a lot, so this opportunity allowed me to make some lemonade out of the lemons I'd just been handed.

7. LEMONADE – This photo is a representation of dealing with life’s challenges. Last year, just weeks before my wedding, I was laid off from my engineering position. Naturally, I was less than pleased. But with the support of my family and my wife-to-be, I made it through it. Unscathed. I had thought about the jump from engineer to photographer a lot, so this opportunity allowed me to make some lemonade out of the lemons I’d just been handed.

6. PRIDE - Wildlife.  I love it.  Specifically big cats.  My ultimate photo trip/excursion would be a safari in Africa.  But alas, the trip itself would be EXPENSIVE, not to mention the long lenses I'd "have" to buy run a cool $8-10K,  so I settle for traveling domestically to different zoos.  Whenever I go out of town, I try to make it to the local zoo to spend a few hours.  The photo above is Living Treasures about an hour north of PIttsburgh and it is the best lion photo I've ever taken.  Much closer than I'd get on a safari, so I guess it's not all bad hanging out at the zoo.

6. PRIDE – Wildlife – I love it. Specifically big cats. My ultimate photo trip/excursion would be a safari in Africa. But alas, the trip itself would be EXPENSIVE, not to mention the long lenses I’d “have” to buy run a cool $8-10K, so I have to settle for traveling domestically to different zoos. Whenever I go out of town, I try to make it to the local zoo to spend a few hours. The photo above is Living Treasures about an hour north of PIttsburgh and it is the best lion photo I’ve ever taken. Much closer than I’d get on a safari, so I guess it’s not all bad hanging out at the zoo.

5. THE BEARD - Most of you know I'm from Pittsburgh and as a Pittsburgher It should be no surprise I'm a die hard Steeler fan.  This summer I got the opportunity to be on the field photographing the home opener.  The action of the game was great, however the player intros were the best part.  And though it wasn't a great game, or a great season for that matter, it was a dream come true and an experience I won't soon be forgetting.

5. THE BEARD – Most of you know I’m from Pittsburgh so it should be no surprise I’m a die hard Steeler fan. This summer I got the opportunity to be on the field photographing the home opener. The action of the game was great, however the player intros were the best part. And though it wasn’t a great game, or a great season for that matter, it was a dream come true and an experience I won’t soon be forgetting.

4. IRON TRIANGLES - I mentioned earlier I search for symbolism in my photos.  You'll find lots of that here.  Pittsburgh is a city situated at the confluence of three rivers.  The land forms a triangle and the triangle is an important shape in the city, but it is also great in a photograph as it provides balance and stability to the composition.  Here, the steel of the Hot Metal Bridge, which is composed of many tiny triangles, forms a larger triangle frame which encases the skyline (situated on a triangle) and more specifically the Steel Building, which is also shaped like a triangle as a symbol of the city.  Notice a trend?!

4. IRON TRIANGLES – I mentioned earlier I search for symbolism in my photos. You’ll find lots of that here. Pittsburgh is a city situated at the confluence of three rivers. The land forms a triangle and the triangle is an important shape in the city, but it is also great in a photograph as it provides balance and stability to the composition. Here, the steel of the Hot Metal Bridge, which is composed of many tiny triangles, forms a larger triangle frame which encases the skyline (situated on a triangle) and more specifically the Steel Building, which is also shaped like a triangle as a symbol of the city. Notice a trend?!

3. SHORTCUT TO RED ROCKS - The desert southwest is an astounding landscape, one which I've seen mostly through photos.  In 2012 I had the opportunity to spend a few days at the Grand Canyon and Sedona.  Just one short hike and I was hooked!  This photo represents accomplishments in terms of light and composition.  My favorite landscape photographer, Ian Plant, is a master of both of those.  When I look at this photo, I think to myself "Ian could have taken this."

3. SHORTCUT TO RED ROCKS – The desert southwest is an astounding landscape, one which I’ve seen mostly through photos. In 2012 I had the opportunity to spend a few days at the Grand Canyon and Sedona. Just one short hike and I was hooked! This photo represents accomplishments in terms of light and composition. My favorite landscape photographer, Ian Plant, is a master of both of those. When I look at this photo, I think to myself “Ian could have taken this.”

2.  THE BRIDE TO BE - Meet my beautiful bride, Alyssa.  She'll probably kill me for saying this, but she hates when I take her photo.  She tenses up and gets a bit nervous.  But this photo, the day of her bridal shower, just screams happiness to me.  Maybe because she knows who she's about to marry ;-)

2. THE BRIDE TO BE – Meet my beautiful bride, Alyssa. She has been unbelievably supportive in my career transition so there is no way I could do my countdown of my favorite images and not include her.  She’ll probably kill me for saying this, but she hates when I take her photo. She tenses up and gets a bit nervous. But this photo, the day of her bridal shower, just screams happiness to me. Maybe because she knows who she’s about to marry 😉  Just kidding – I’m the lucky one!

1.  WINTER'S LIGHT - The three person panel of judges including me, myself, and yours truly had no trouble making this a unanimous number one.  This is the image that started it all for me.  It was my first MetalPrint and the photo that started to get me noticed.   It is a clear favorite of mine and always will be.

1. WINTER’S LIGHT – The three person panel of judges including me, myself, and yours truly had no trouble making this a unanimous number one. This is the image that started it all for me. It was my first MetalPrint and the photo that started to get me noticed. It is a clear favorite of mine and always will be.

PITTSBRRRRGH – An Icy Review in Monochrome

Hi there everyone, and welcome to my new blog.  I am VERY new to this so please bear with me.  I’m sure there will be many changes during the weeks ahead as I get accustomed to not only writing again, but using this new platform and traversing the hills of its learning curve.  But enough […]