Sep 30, 2011

Humbled In Haiti

by Todd Ellis

A while back my girlfriend Amie challenged me to “get out of my comfort zone.” I am a person who likes to operate with the same routine every day. Maybe Amie saw something in me that needed being jolted. Her suggestion on how to step out of my comfortable realm was far from anything I had ever thought about doing. 

I am Todd Ellis. During the day, I help execute the day to day logistics of a trucking company based out of St. George, Utah. After that, I am a professional freelance photographer. Photography is my passion and is one of the most fulfilling activities in my life.

Normally I photograph athletic events, people, and nature. Southern Utah provides me with a multitude of sources for my photographing desire. Between the beautiful southwestern landscapes, and the quality people who reside here, there is a treasure trove of subjects for my camera to capture.

Amie invited me to go to Haiti with her and her family as a volunteer for their foundation (FFCIN).  Besides learning more about my girlfriend and witnessing her in humanitarian mode, I would gain the humbling experience of seeing third world condition up-close. In addition, Haiti would be something far different from any subject I have photographed. This trip to Haiti would make me grow as a person, and hopefully, I would grow as a photographer. I cannot deny that I had apprehension in my heart and mind. I didn’t know much about Haiti and really did not know what to expect.

Looking out of the window of the 747 at the largest Haitian city, Port-au-Prince, as we were approaching the airport, struck me with a heightened sense of reality. Up to this point, Haiti had just been a novel thought.

I saw the slum areas; made up of the makeshift structures that so many of the over three million in populace uses for shelters. I saw trash filled waterways, right next to housing. I saw mass activity in narrow streets with rising smoke from people burning garbage.  After the plane touched down, I walked down the ramp and entered into this third world’s tragic conditions: for seven days.

The smell of trash and stagnate water, the sound of unfamiliar language, and the realization that I was a man of minority status, made me question my decision to step outside of my comfort zone.  I don’t speak a lick of the language so I didn’t understand any of what is being said at Customs. They searched all of our bags, which mostly contained supplies from donations. We made our way through, and outside the airport was a small truck waiting for us to load up our supplies for the drive to the foundation.

The truck was an old, beat up, Nissan pickup truck. It had a diesel engine, and reeked of diesel fuel. We loaded into the back of this rickety, old, truck and took off towards our destination.  Traveling around Port-au-Prince seemed crazy at first. There were no traffic rules. There were no defined lanes.  Cars, busses and trucks just made their own way in and out of each other, on the narrow disintegrated roadways. It was mass confusion. I was glad to arrive at our guest home and have a feeling of some kind of safety.

One of the main reasons for going there was to help and volunteer in the orphanages. While visiting, we notice there were many children but only a few workers to tend to their needs.  Some of the children were very sick and malnourished. Amie’s mother who runs the Foundation told us in orientation that the most important thing was to make the orphans feel loved.

If nothing else, we were to make sure that the kids were held and that their basic need for human contact was met. A particular orphanage we visited, was a small three-room house with approximately 50-60 children living there.

As we entered through the gate, I saw a young girl doing laundry in a tub. She’s was just scrubbing away. She looked about six years old, maybe seven. She looked at us with curiosity but did not stop scrubbing the clothes.  There she was, a young little girl, carrying on as if she was a mother herself.  I thought, "I can’t even get my kids to put their clothes in the laundry basket".
We took bottles of “blow bubbles”, bags of suckers, and ribbons for the girl’s hair. We also brought mirrors, so that the girls could see themselves. This was a big hit and confirmed my suspicion about girls and mirrors!

We also assessed their needs, and returned the next day with rice and beans and even some milk. We bought and took anti-bacterial supplies to treat the kids who had open sores. We found some plastic tubs on a street corner that we purchased to use for cleaning the kids.  We devised an assembly line where we washed the babies in the first tub, rinsed them in anti-bacterial solution in a second tub, and then applied medicine to their sores.

These babies and older kids were suffering with open sores.  They were mal-nourished and their poor bellies were sticking out. They don't have anybody. Seeing this and taking part in this project affected me greatly.

I met a girl named Abigail who came up to me. She could actually make out a few words in english. She pointed to my eyes and said “eyes,” and pointed to my ears and said “ears,” as if she was trying to impress me. My guess is that she was about nine years old.

Every time I went to that orphanage, where Abigail lived, she was the first kid to meet me. She would practically throw herself in my arms, hang on my shoulders, she didn't want me to let go of her when it was time to leave.  At the end of our day, the members of the volunteer group had to make a plan about the exit. On cue we'd quietly meet at the front gate and hurry out the door, and leave as quickly as possible. That was a hard thing to do, each time.

On another day, I walked down an alley behind the orphanage where there was a small building. There were flies everywhere, and an awful smell. After I walked around a corner, I saw children standing in a line that led to a narrow doorway of a building.  The children looked at me in a curious manner and then it hit me. The children were standing in a line to use a bathroom. This little closet-sized space housed a non-plumbed latrine that about 60 kids use. It’s basically an outhouse.

These poor little children are lined up and waiting for their turn to use the only latrine available to them. Seeing this line of children and discovering what they were lined up for was another glimpse into the reality of the conditions that these children live in.  I took a few shots, turned around and headed back to the front of the orphanage. As I walked back, I could not help wrestling with feelings of guilt. These few stories certainly do not fully express my experience in Haiti. The many photos I captured would demand many pages of text in order to properly describe the scenes that affected me.

As I drove home from Las Vegas, after flying into McCarran International Airport around 2 AM, I noticed the reflectors on the interstate. Those hundreds of thousands of reflectors that helped light my path home, something I had totally taken for granted before, was now something of little importance.  I remember thinking, "Do I really need reflectors for hundreds of miles to keep me on the road?"

When I saw my sons the next day, I hugged them with a tighter grip.  When I ate my next meal, I thought about that little four-year old Haitian girl who spilled her plate of rice and beans on the floor. She was so upset! I watched as she scooped up every bit of food that she could get off the filthy floor.  My experience in Haiti definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone. I would like to think that I view everything with more appreciation now.  When I take photos, I search deeper, trying to capture a more meaningful representation of the figure I am targeting my lens on.

I look forward to returning again to Haiti, to keep myself focused on the things in life that are really important and worrying less about things like reflectors in the road.

*The Foundation For Children In Need ( ) was Founded (in 2001) as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization to help the children of Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Timeless: My Love Language of Birth Photography

by Jessica Strom
I was 16 years old standing outside the delivery room when I heard my oldest niece's first cry. I remember thinking it was the most beautiful sound I had ever heard.  All I wanted to do was hold her close and I was 'just' her new Auntie.  Fast forward 10 years and I am with my mom looking through a window watching my youngest nephew come into the world, not sure if the baby was a boy or girl, but hearing that little cry so loud through the window.  The memory still gives me goose bumps.

I don't remember whose birth photography I saw first but I do remember when I saw it, I was so taken by the love language those photographs were able to speak, and how incredible I thought it would be to have the honor myself, of interpreting a live birth through the lens of my camera. 

I had tried many different areas of photography to see what made my heart leap, but nothing did quite so much as the passion of photographing the grand entrances, of new little beings into the world. Perhaps the drive was fueled by the desire to be a mother myself, something in which my husband and I have been striving for, for many years.  Ultimately, it was driven by the song of my heart to forever document the beginning of not only a new baby's life, but the creation of a new mother, a new father, a new family. Pure innocense, completely fresh, starts the hope of limitless possibilities for the future. The intensity of these emotions, and these new realties are only describable through seeing the outward expressions, that completely over-take those experiencing them.

Giving that birth is such an intimate time, tasteful professional photographs are not only essential in being able to share the experience with others, but also for the family to be able to look back on, and truly cherish the sacred start of their childs life. Besides, how cool will it be for that child, 20-30 years down the road, to be able to compare what they looked like the moment they were born, to the moment their own child is born?  How amazing will it be, a few generations down the line, to have photographs of their great-grandparents and great-great grandparents? These photographs truley stand the test of the time, and as a photographer,  I know that they will be cherished by future generations long after I leave this world, and there is no greater satisfaction to my work than knowing that.

All of the births I have had the honor to photograph, have all been so very different and exciting. As a photographer, the uncertainty and the unknowns in ever changing situations is such a high. There are no dress rehearsals and no second chances. You have to be ready and prepared at all times. You can't pre-plan any particular shots, you truly need to take whatever comes at you, and think fast.

Many births are photographed in dimly lit situations and you have to know your camera so well that when you think of what you want to do, your fingers just know what to do on the camera without stopping to translate in split seconds.This is when your camera is truly an extension of yourself. And of course, it's crucial to have a back up camera in case of a camera malfunction.

The best part to me is showing the parents the birth photographs and experiencing the whole event with them again. while seeing the little details they didn't realize happened, as if looking at themselves through a window. These emotions are so intense that they don't last. Over time they become grey, foggy, almost dream like in that they remember bits and pieces but can't quite put it all together. When I first started on my photography journey, I created a phrase that unknowingly, suits birth photography and all its majestic beauty so perfectly.

"A photograph speaks a language only your heart can ever truly understand."
Birth photography helps parents always remember that 'come what may' in life, they felt more than just happy the day their child was born into this world. That, my friends, is what makes my heart leap with joy.
~Jessica Strom

Jessica Strom is a maternity, birth, and newborn photographer based out of the greater Kansas City Metro

Ciao Bella!

History...amazing architecture...rustic castles & churches...Italy is like nothing I could ever imagine.  When Terri and I arrived, all the trees were just beginning to blossom and it made me ache to stay here long enough to see it in full summer bloom.

We came to Italy for a photography workshop [Becker & Dale & Meredith Benfield wedding workshop], but mostly because I was desperate to see Ilaria (our foreign exchange student) and her family again. 

The people were lovely, the red wine, cheese, and gelato, amazing!  But the most delicious food by far, came from Ilaria's home kitchen, where her grandmother and family did all of the cooking for us.

The best way to experience another country is to stay in a native home and experience day to day life, culture, and food.  True Italian Lasagna is like nothing I could ever was so good, I just wanted to keep it in my mouth and savour it forever!

Getting off the beaten path, and into the heart of the country, is where we were able to see and experience so much more.  Although I'm not Italian, something about Italy just made me feel like I was home.  I made a promise to myself that I will go back one day.  I don't feel like I simply "love" Italy...I feel like I "need" it!  

Equipment used:  Canon 5D Mark II, 50 mm 1.2, 100 macro, 35L, and my lensbaby composer (the cheapest, but most fun piece of camera equipment that I own!) 

Often I see friends on facebook or various places asking for a good point & shoot camera recommendation, because they don't want to take their good gear on a big trip.  Seriously??  Take the GOOD gear!  I would've gone crazy if I had seen so many amazing sights without my good equipment!  Take less lenses if you must...but if it's a trip of a lifetime, these will be memories worth capturing with your good gear!

LVP's 1st Annual Cover Contest!

Have you ever wanted to see YOUR photo on the cover of a magazine? Here's your opportunity! Beginning October 1st, you can submit your entry to be on the cover of the December issue of Las Vegas Photographer Magazine.

How to Enter:
  • Click here to submit
  • Images should be JPG, sized 600x800, 72 dpi. No watermark or logos, please.
  • Images can be any subject of your choice, portraits, weddings, landscape, pets, etc. (No pornography or nudes, please, G rated content only)
  • Any photographer, amateur or professional, can enter.
All entries will be placed in the "Cover Contest 2011" album on our facebook page. You can like as many photos as you want, but official voting will not begin until the finalist's photos are uploaded on November 1st.  


Any photographer, from any location, and any skill level is eligible to enter. Submission deadline is October 31, 2011. Winner will be announced November. Entry is free. Only one entry, please. 

Image submitted must be original and you must have written releases on file from any subjects pictured in the image. Photographer must have captured and created the original exposure. All digital photoshop editing must have been performed by the entrant. Failure to comply with these rules may result in disqualification of entry. The decision of the Contest judges is final.

Images should be JPG, sized 600x800, 72 dpi. No watermark or logos, please.

The photos will be judged by Las Vegas Photographer Magazine's founder and editor, Cindy Larkin, and editor Amy Leavitt. The top 5-10 chosen photos will then be voted on by viewers. The photo with the most votes, or "likes" will win the prize of Cover Photographer.

To vote, you must "like" Las Vegas Photographer Magazine on Facebook. Then, you may vote by "liking" the image. You can "like" as many images as you want.

Voting begins the week of November 1st and ends November 15th.

If you become a finalist, direct your friends, family and other photographers to our facebook page from November 1-15 to "like" your photo!


Sep 1, 2011

September 2011 Cover



Storytelling is our way of holding the truths of the present for the future to remember. Anyone who knows me, knows I can tell one heck of a story. This is the very thing that inspires my photography work. People are my business, my lifeline & the reason I continue to do what I love. I like to say I shoot relationships, journeys & memorable events. Nothing is too small nor too big.

Some people can go on and on about how photography was their dream job or maybe they have been taking photos most of their life, but I am not that person. I was an elementary music teacher for 7 years and just recently resigned to take my photography business full time. My mom shared her secret wishes of being a photographer and how it was ‘too late’ for her to begin taking photography more serious. Her dream somehow became mine.  I started to realize that the disposable cameras I carried around for the last 10 years could be upgraded to something fancier. Something Digital! After looking through hundreds of 4x6 prints my family has collected and seeing the memories stored in the top of my parents laundry room in giant Christmas popcorn tins---I realized there was a passion for preserving. Nonetheless, I spent every penny I had on my first DSLR. After photographing every friend, neighbor & child I knew, I decided this was something I could get used to.

People have always been important to me. I want to continually walk in humility and learn the stories of those that may go untold. I want my photographs to serve as footprints and memoirs of things that once existed. It’s truly an honor for someone to put their trust in me to cover some of their most important events or share their story through photos with the world.

This particular session was a spur of the moment session. No plan of attack. No prep time. Just a single dollar bill and a camera. It was approximately 11am on a Sunday morning on Royal Street directly across from Bourbon Street in downtown New Orleans. The streets had just been given a good soapy scrub and the hustle and bustle of morning goers filled the sidewalks. There was the occasional straggler left sitting on a street corner from the night before with their head in their hands trying to avoid any contact with the human kind. I’m guessing they probably had way too many Hurricane Drinks the evening before. The city is alive and I’m also guessing most of the people up this early were not on this very street the night before when the smell of cold beer and jazz music filled the air.

I was on a mission. A mission to find someone unique. A story.
I was passing this young man with a skirt made out of a cloth material and knotted on the side and not a stitch of clothing more. His hair was wrapped up in a high ponytail and his facial hair showed no signs of taming. I told my husband as we walked by that this was the guy. He was going to have a good story and I was going to shoot with him today. We snuck into a nearby hat store to kill time while he set up his drum and assorted instruments. I guess about 10 minutes went by and we walked back towards the stranger. Almost immediately I noticed a sign sitting inside of his drum. “Please leave tip AND THEN take a picture. Thank you”. I just looked at my husband and chuckled. He wasn’t even set up when I threw a $1 bill in his box. I told him that I was tipping him before I even knew what he was going to do and that I was just roaming the streets looking for “cool” people. He said he always wished he were “cool”. I replied, “me too.” He continued to set up his gear and I asked him if he minded I took some portraits of him. I didn’t really want to refer to these as pictures because I knew the power that would come from them later. Portrait seemed to be a fancier word and maybe he wouldn’t mind so much. He had no reservations and continued to set up. As he was dressing himself with bells and kazoos I continued to talk to him. He revealed he was a gypsy of sorts- a traveler. He had been in New Orleans for a few years and liked performing on the streets. But his time would soon end here and he would move on. He actually has an 8-piece band, but today would only be him and his saxophone player. His tattoos were plentiful and unique. He took a moment and I held his hands to detail all the artwork. Purposeful and well-placed markings that told his beliefs and the story of who he was. He had a very easygoing, positive vibe about him. Very soulful. It was time to play. He warmed up his kazoo and had to replace it with another kazoo because that one just didn’t sound right today. I stepped back and watched as one of the most unique performances began to play out. I shot. I got video. I gave a simple wave and thanked him. Street photography was never really an option. I like the fact there is no formal money exchange, no hiring, but a highly inspirational conversation and photos that hold that feeling for a lifetime.

My name is Leaha Bourgeois and I’m a people photographer from Dallas/Fort Worth.

Gear used on session: 5d Mark ii, 50mm 1.2 & a dollar bill.

I would like to send a shout out to my family! They are my everything. My amazing husband Jeffrey, my beautiful teenager Madi & my sweet baby Trace. Thank you for allowing mommy to venture out into the world and love my life. And most importantly God for helping me to reach more people for Him.