Iwamoto's Photos

Painting with light.

Brandon Iwamoto is a freelance photographer based in Aurora, Colorado, USA


Today marked what will likely be the last Peak Performer athlete-of-the-week portrait of my internship at the Gazette. I decided I wanted to try something a little different lighting-wise, using a pair of blue-gelled speedlites on each side of our wrestler and a snooted, 1/4 CTO-gelled SB900 clamped to some peeling padding on a wall on the far edge of the tiny wrestling room.

One of the big stories out of the Springs today was the vicious windstorm that swept through overnight and into the morning, and while cruising for weather art in the Broadmoor area, I came across this 70-foot tall, 3 foot diameter tree that the winds snapped like a twig.

The whole area just south of the Broadmoor looked like those trees from the Lord of the Rings movies got into a heated battle and all sorts of body parts and dead trees littered the streets. Just insanity, trees on houses, in the middle of streets. Insanity.

And so after a couple hours of some much needed and procrastinated Christmas shopping, I came home in time to use the Gazette’s 600mm lens and knock out a few shots from my wobbly tripod of the glorious lunar eclipse. Composition’s not great and it’s a tiny bit fuzzy, but not much you can do with a D2H and a massive lens pointed straight up from a shaky, plastic tripod, right? Shoulda seen if Jerilee could have lent me her D3. Ahh well…

That’s all for tonight, Avs game tomorrow and then who knows what else for the rest of the week. Thanks for reading and have a good night!


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Peak Performers Final

As promised, here they are. The special section runs tomorrow, so I can post tonight, finally! Without further ado, the 2010 Fall Peak Performers:

Big School Football: Dominic Rufran (Palmer)

Small School Football: Tyree Walker (Vista Ridge)

Big School Volleyball (co-winner): Nikki Glass (Pine Creek)

Big School Volleyball (co-winner): Taylor Simpson (Doherty)

Small School Volleyball: Claire Felix (TCA)

Boys Cross Country: Spencer Wenck (Palmer Ridge)

Girls Cross Country: Hannah Everson (Liberty)

Field Hockey: Kaili Simmons (Palmer Ridge)

Golf: Cam Harrell (Air Academy)

Gymnastics: Kiersten Clowes (Palmer Ridge)

Boys Soccer: Ryan Dozier (Air Academy)

Softball: Mariah Peterson (Lewis-Palmer)

Boys Tennis: Jon Moore (Cheyenne Mountain)

That’s all of them. Two weeks of tight scheduling, lighting issues, drama and working days off’s worth of work. Enjoy, I’m certainly glad it’s over now. Ironically enough too, this is post number 100 in this blog. Cheers!


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P.S. For detailed lighting information, please view one of the photos on my Flickr page.

Just one little thing tonight for you guys, saw a gorgeous little twilight scene as I walked out of work and shot something quick of it. Still been working on the Peak Performer stuff, so sadly nothing to show you now… But I’m now down to 4 athletes left, and so I’ll be back to shooting regularly for about a week before it comes out after that, and then I can show you guys what I’ve been up to the past couple weeks. Until then, hang tight! Thanks.

Just one little thing tonight for you guys, saw a gorgeous little twilight scene as I walked out of work and shot something quick of it. Still been working on the Peak Performer stuff, so sadly nothing to show you now… But I’m now down to 4 athletes left, and so I’ll be back to shooting regularly for about a week before it comes out after that, and then I can show you guys what I’ve been up to the past couple weeks. Until then, hang tight! Thanks.


We’ve Got Spirit, How ‘Bout You?

After shooting the high school state cheerleading competition in Denver today, I can now confidently spell the name of every single freaking high school in the state. And with rhythm, too!

Yea, let’s not go there. I also have a few choice complaints about the lack of originality. I swear to god I heard “Tik Tok” somewhere in the mix of 3/4 schools’ routines, as well as an assortment of Lady Gaga music. Gag me, please.

Manitou Springs was the only area school that made it into the finals (for 3A) and so it was lucky I had spent so much time behind the scenes photographing them beforehand, made them more comfortable with my presence by the time they discovered they had taken second place.

All in all, it was nice to get out of the studio and work on something else for a day, since it’s back to Peak Performers tomorrow. I’ve got a gymnastics girl and a cross country girl coming in tomorrow. Lets see, how many different ways can we shoot a cross country runner? Let’s see, I could have her running… or perhaps maybe even some running… Oh, know what would be cool? Running. What else DO they do?

That’s all for tonight, thanks for reading!


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Still Alive

Just want to let you guys know I AM, in fact, still alive, despite not having posted here for a few days. Been scheduling and shooting the Peak Performers for the past few days now, with 3 of them now complete and 11 of 12 scheduled.

No photos tonight, just a brief update. It’s going to be a pain to get them all done, since as soon as I started scheduling and shooting, the Gazette started changing the carpets in the newsroom (prompting some grumbling on our staff of being able to afford new carpets but not new gear). That meaning I may have to reschedule some of my shoots to accommodate the workers and heavy smell of glue (which I’m sure isn’t as bad as the smell of chemicals was back when the darkroom was being used). As if it wasn’t hard enough to get everybody in.

But I’m very very pleased with how well it’s going so far, it looks even better than I imagined thus far. The boys (both football) are proving to be much harder to work with than the girls (one volleyball, so far), the former being “too cool” to really loosen up and get into it, and the latter being enthusiastic and happily cooperative. Hopefully it’s just the football stars with that kind of attitude, but we shall see.

Next up on Sunday are the girl’s cross country runner and gymnastics athletes. In the meantime, tomorrow, I’ll be up in Denver shooting the CHSAA State Cheerleading competition for an online gallery.

Thanks for reading, despite me not having anything to show for now. Have a good night!


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Bright Idea

So after 5 hours of setting up lights and making everything perfect, we’ve decided. The above shot of Mark is the setup we’ll be using for the face-only portraits on the Peak Performers special section cover. The following test shots will be what we use for the individual pages (keep in mind, they’re ONLY test shots and thus aren’t themselves perfect in pose).

It’s a refresher from a technique I tried a few years ago using karate masters as my subjects, back before I was any good at Strobist-style lighting and paid too little attention to things like background, density, multiple lights, etc. The photos shot in this style are some of my most viewed, favorited and commented photos on Flickr, so I figure if we’re looking at making the readers happy, why not give them something that has gotten decent response in an unrefined form before?

Thanks big time to all the folks who submitted ideas (Grant, Rachel, Gil), it was through a combination of your ideas that I came upon the old technique and decided to revive it.

Once I get going scheduling, planning and executing each shot, I won’t be able to post them as I shoot them here on my blog… I’m putting a personal embargo on the project, so as not to spoil the end result. I just thought I’d give you guys a bit of a teaser since everyone was so helpful.

Other than the perfecting of the lighting setup (a grand total of 4 speedlights, 3 studio flashes, a strip light, tons of flags, gobos, snoots, gridspots, etc) I shot a brief Santa workshop in Old Colorado City to go with a story by Jakob. The whole deal was interesting, and Santa was quite the interesting character.

He was a Vietnam War veteran. “This is making up for all the evil I’ve done in my life,” he told me. His beard was real, and he viewed his job with an incredible degree of ethics. “You can’t make any promises… you tell them you will try your best, but you can never make any promises” he said about kid’s desires for Christmas. He’d get requests for anything from Xbox 360s to motorized scooters. He even got a request for an elephant once. The most difficult, he says, are the children of military parents, who only want their mommy or daddy home. That and the ones who ask for shoes. “Not Nike or anything fancy, just something that fits.” Oh the interesting jobs of the world.

Anyways, that’s all for tonight. I told you guys I’d make up for the recent lame short posts right? Thanks for reading and for all the suggestions that helped me come up with the idea (one Mark says hadn’t been done before at the Gazette… woohoo!).

Have a great night!

Bonus picture of Mark making a goofy face:


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Peak Performers

So, Stuart approached me yesterday and asked if I wanted to shoot the fall Peak Performers special section commemorating the season’s best high school athletes. In my mind, I was screaming “oh hell yes!” To him, I said “sure!”

So now I’m stuck in a bit of a spot, needing to come up with a theme for the section. Previously, Jerilee has done ones that took the athletes and Photoshopped them onto different planets and other space images. Justin did an incredible series of the athletes in formal attire at some of the fancier places in town. Mark had an extremely successful little “Spotlight on…” style section last year (click Portraits/Studio, you’ll see what I mean). I need to come up with something that will make the readers go “wow” and make the athletes look incredible.

Some ideas I’ve tossed around in my head included using an HDR+Strobist style portraiture technique for an almost super hero surreal kind of look. Also considered having the athletes go back to their roots, like how hockey players probably played with plastic sticks and PVC pipe nets in their neighborhoods. Nothing has really jumped out at me as really sticking in terms of uniqueness, originality, interestingness, fun, exciting or possible.

So I’m now begging you, my readers whom I love so much, to toss me a few ideas for an overarching and all-inclusive theme. Anything to really get my mind going and excitement flowing would be wonderful!

The sports included for this section are: soccer, football, volleyball, golf, softball, tennis, cross country, possibly gymnastics and possibly field hockey.

Thanks again for all your help guys, you’re an amazing bunch of friends! Look forward to seeing a few suggestions float my way. Thanks!


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Keeping Busy

They say the best way to deal with grief is to just stay busy until you have a moment to yourself to just let it sink in. Luckily today was one of those days that I was kept nice and busy, otherwise I might have just lost it. We finally had to put my dog Cole down today, and I wasn’t even there for it.

It had been a long time coming, but it still cuts deep, ya know? He’s been part of the family for ten years, so it’s just sad to see him go, but it’s nice to know he’s no longer suffering.

That’s all I’ll bore you with my pity party here. The shots I’m going to post today are just from another Peak Performer photoshoot, this time of a talented volleyball player from Doherty High School.

It was nice to have a little extra time to shoot today, as normally with these there’s a pretty tight time constraint, but thanks to her schedule we had over an hour to shoot, and she was a wonderful athlete to have in front of the camera, both cooperative and with great camera presence… She’d make a very good model, very tall, great hair and face and not at all bad at posing.

The whole “If you were in Sports Illustrated…” prompt worked once again, with her providing some great ideas as far as how she wanted to look in her portrait and whatnot.

The above photo was a little hit or miss when I brought it back for editing. The athlete wanted to look “intense.” My coworker, Carol, thought she looked too much like a “sex kitten” in the photo, instead liking a different shot of her in the same pose but with different lighting and expression. Mark, on the other hand, felt the other photo didn’t work with the amount of cross lighting I had and went with this one, with no qualms about it looking too “sex kitten.” What are your thoughts?

Mark had said he liked this photo the best… almost. Once again, he talked a about it being not quite there, in terms of expression, lighting and angle but liked where I was headed with the photo. He had some great suggestions about essentially faking the jump, making the timing and framing easier, as well as being able to make the lighting a little more perfect. He did applaud my trying different things and giving myself options though.

Every little bit helps I guess, right? Just gotta keep working at it.

Speaking of Mark, his website is now live, in case any of you were interested in seeing some of his work. I highly recommend it, the man is a genius and one of the best photojournalists I’ve ever met and seen.

I think that’s all for tonight. All I had, other than the portrait today, was a real basic shot of some decorated parking meters and some product shots for a magazine, so I won’t bore you with those.

Thanks for reading and have a good night!


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I remember asking around during the first couple weeks of my internship here to see if anyone was going to be using the Gazette’s old 600mm manual focus lens and I was met by incredulous looks and comments like “You’re manual focusing sports? You’re pretty brave.” Apparently it hadn’t really been touched in a while… Marvelous!

While most of the folks here have manual focused in the past, mainly because there was no alternative, they all welcomed autofocus with open arms… and have since abandoned the skill. I, on the other hand, come from the first generation of photojournalists who can and have shot their entire careers in digital, long after the invent of autofocus, meaning I have next to zero skill with the focus ring. I’ve mentioned before having played with it and the 50mm f/1.2 manual focus lenses to try and make myself capable of doing so, and it’s finally paid off (tho it’s not the first images of mine to come from, or even be published using, either lens).

State tennis for the second day, I thought I would approach it a little differently today, nailing the “safe” images first and then getting risky, shooting tight with the 600mm (film equivalent of 900mm on the D2H) from half court and happened to get lucky.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I didn’t shoot wide, too (70mm). I’m still not super confident with my sports, which is surprising to many since I’ve attended a SportsShooter Academy and claim sports is what got me into photography, but with every shoot I’m getting more and more usable images and some different things.

But that doesn’t mean I’m flawless still… Had to shoot a portrait of a soldier who was shot in the knee a year ago in Afghanistan who has healed mostly and made it his goal to run in a marathon before tennis. Because of my tight schedule, I had to improvise and set up on the run instead of methodically choose a location and perfect the lighting, leaving me with this less-than-impressive portrait.

I’m finding that during portrait shoots, especially when I feel some sort of time crunch (be it real or in my mind) that I rush too much and don’t really think on my feet well. For example, in hindsight I wish I had chosen a better background, maybe walked a few dozen feet to put his back to the sun and shoot with the glorious golden leaves lining the nearby lake. I also should have brought a third flash to help strengthen the light at camera left, since I originally intended it to be a strong rim-light, but the flash just wasn’t powerful enough to achieve this on its own.

I think that realizing this, though, is a good first step to making sure I stop and think a little harder next time, because it’s definitely something that is bound to happen again, surely before the month is up, if not the next week. It’s something I’ve begun to think about ever since Mark gave me some advice a few weeks ago on how to improve a Peak Performer shot I did that day, but I guess it hasn’t sunk in entirely yet.

On that note, I’ll leave you with a happy picture. Thanks for reading!


Forgot to mention this earlier, but remember when I originally said that it was weird seeing my photo on the front page at WalMart? Today trumped that. It’s even more interesting/awkward/surreal to see your photos hanging above the urinals in the bathroom of Old Chicago (I guess they post the day’s front pages from each section for people to read while doing their business). That is all.


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Think on Your Feet

Sometimes you get portrait subjects that are impossible to work with — naysayers about everything, unenthusiastic and who make it plainly obvious there are better things they could be doing with their time. Then there are subjects who are so easy going and laid back and open to anything that you think “Oh, this’ll be a piece of cake!”

Then sometimes they’re so laid back they don’t really bring the equipment you ask, are completely without ideas and do only and exactly what you ask. Which can be alright, if you’re good at thinking on your feet and have contingency plans out the wazoo. I am not one of those people. I hate to say it, but ideas are scare with me, especially when it comes to sports portraits, I just don’t have the creativity and originality required to pull off the kinds of things people like Donald Miralle can pull off. So when your subjects arrive without the things you wanted, sometimes you just have to revert back to the basics.

With Danny, a dual sport athlete in soccer and football (and damn good at both), it meant foregoing all of my original ideas that involved the dramatic juxtaposition of football and soccer and just go with nice light and a comfortable pose. Luckily being as laid back as he was, it was easy to get him to take a few extra minutes to try some weird and, ultimately, less impressive ideas. But all after making the clean, safe shot.

All that came after a bit of a feature hunt that really turned up nothing… until I pulled into the parking lot at Sand Creek High School (where I was supposed to meet Danny) and saw the entire baseball team, all on Fall Break, cleaning and painting the baseball field. Bam, a few minutes of working the scene and I found myself a nice, colorful little feature for the paper. It’s a little frustrating driving around everywhere in search of a feature and one just falls into your lap, but you’re still glad they did.

That quote I posted the other day, by Joe McNally? Today exemplified that down to a T.

Sometimes it’s all working for you and you still miss. Other times it all sucks and you get a terrific frame. You just never know. The one surefire way to get nothing is to not bother looking.

That’s all for today, time for a couple of days off and then back to it! Take care and thanks for reading!


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