This is a portrait I took of my father.
All my life, we have heated our family home with firewood. My father, who was a master plasterer during his days of hard labor providing for my family, has always genuinely resembled a lumberjack. This is his natural state: Plaid, boots, blue jeans.
I could not count the days I have pulled up to my family home to find him chopping giant rounds of oak by hand to use as fuel to heat our home. He could have afforded to buy pre-split wood, but he was frugal.
He also enjoyed the work. And difficult work it was. I have done plenty of it myself, but I could never keep up with my old man. My mom would bring him out a mason jar full of juice on ice to trick him into taking a break. My father was a man of discipline. I really wanted to capture his spirit in a photograph.
My father had been battling an illness, which was taking a heavy toll on him. I decided I wanted to take a proper portrait of my father–and I wanted to recreate a moment in my father's legacy by setting the stage. So out back we went, to the woodpile.
I buried an axe in a nearby wood round. Its handle was worn from years of him swinging it to split the very wood that I carefully planted around the frame. I handed him a mason jar full of juice to sip on as I set up my light stands and location strobes. I added a gold reflector opposing the strobe to add a spritz of warmth to the frame. The sun was at his back, creating some nice separation from the background.
Always a positive man, a smile came easy to my dad, although I could tell he was feeling a little awkward about the theatrics for the briefest of moments. We joked a little, and talked. Precious, rare communication between us silent types.
I wanted to isolate my subject, so I shot the photo with a shallow depth of field, and straight-out-of-camera I was very pleased with the result.
The shot turned out exactly how I wanted. My dad was also pleased, but when I handed my mother the framed print, she began crying. The picture showed my father in his element; a hard-working man with un-erring ethics and a heart of gold.
Sometimes photographing for free is the most rewarding of all.
P.S. This was also an important lesson to me about the power and value of a physical, gallery-quality print. It is one thing to swipe through photos on a screen and enjoy them, but it's a whole different story when a picture can evoke powerful emotions as you hold it in your hand, or walk by it every day as it hangs on your wall.