Five Fab Fotos with Stan Fleming, Jr, A Visual Conversation with Imaginative Professionals

Meet Stan Fleming, Jr, C.E.O Photographer at XL-Images:

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Stan Fleming, Jr. has been into photography for the the past ten years. It wasn’t until a few years ago that he decided to get more serious with his hobby by turning his passion into a profession. That’s when the idea of XL-Images finally came to fruition. Since then, he has expanded his portfolio to include everything from weddings to live concerts to boudoir sessions.

For more info: www.XL-images.net

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1.  The Neelys.

I have known James dating all the way back to my days at The Principal Financial Group. Back in the days when the company had went on a mission to up their minority presence and was hiring minorities in droves. I had never seen so many Black folks migrated from the south for one company in such a short amount of time. Now how many of them are still working there is another story altogether. You just don’t go from no real winter weather to horrible constant cold for three months straight and think everything will be peachy. Man, I got sidetracked on that one quick.

What I meant to say was James and I initially connected on the basketball court. There were a group of us from work that would come in on Saturdays to play on the court that the company had in one of their buildings. That eventually evolved into playing one night a week at a local church that hosted pick-up games in their gym. Then that eventually evolved to the same group of guys getting together a team to compete in a weekly Urbandale league. That was years ago and I only keep in touch with a couple of guys from those days. Erik being one and James being the other.

Honestly, I probably would have lost touch with James also had it not been for his interest in Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. Every time we would have events, he would be in attendance showing his support. He would later take that to the next level by pledging the grad chapter….ooops…I mean by participating in the intake process to become a member. Which brings us up to date with how I ended up doing his family photos.

This was once again an instance where I knew both the parents of a family but none of their children. I do recall seeing a couple of the boys at one or two of our past Black and Gold Scholarship Balls. I just couldn’t remember their names. And honestly, I barely remember their faces. Is it just me or do kids seem to grow rather fast at their age? They can look entirely different from one year to the next. But it didn’t matter that I didn’t know them as well as their folks. They certainly had the welcoming personalities of both Bridget and James which made them easy to work with as well.

As for the dog? Well this would be only the second time I had done a shoot with family pet. When James asked me if it was okay if they bring Prince, I insisted on it. Primarily because I had always wanted the opportunity to do another shoot with a family pet. Also because I wanted to see what a dog named after my favorite R&B artist looked like. Not surprisingly, Prince was very well-behaved. He even took direction well as you can see here.

I really could have chosen any number of poses from this session as a contender. These folks were creating classics with every click. One of the poses of the boys looked like it was the promo for an upcoming sitcom. One of the poses of James and Bridget looked like it belonged on a Hallmark greeting card. But this one just always stood out to me. It’s easily because of Prince stealing the show. All I did was call his name and he gave me that look you see. Fortunately, everyone else was ready to go at the same time and the rest is history.

 

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2.  The Ball

Every year, our Zeta Kappa Lambda graduate chapter has a Black and Gold Scholarship Ball in the city of Des Moines.  It’s a black tie affair held every February to help raise money for minority scholarships as well as honor those students who have won them.  To say it is a marquee event would be a major understatement.  Folks look forward to the event annually.  It’s not often that you get see such a diverse mixture of individuals young and old getting together dressed to ‘T’ for a good cause.

For the past couple of years that I had been going to the Ball, I had gone as a guest.  Those would have been the two years that XL-Images was in existence.  So I still broke out the camera and got some shots while I was there.  Mostly to get some another type of genre for the port.  But also to help out the frat so they would have photos to display for the event.  Although there was always a paid photographer there, he didn’t have quite the same eye as someone like me.  I made it a point to move around all the different parts of the Ball to get the full picture of formal to party.  It was something a little different that I brought to the table.

Come this year, I had already moved to the DFW area.  I could have went as a guest again, but I figured it was time to take a shot at being the lead photographer for the event.  I knew that it meant I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the event as a guest but I was fine with that.  Besides, the enjoyment factor was still there.  It was just a different aspect.  All the grad brothers are working the event in some capacity.  Although it is hard work, I doubt you’ll find a single one who will tell you they don’t have a good time.

I did something different with my role as the photog than we’ve done in previous years.  There was no set up of a plain backdrop, strobes and drop cloth to serve as a makeshift setting for on-the-spot pics.  I could have easily done that though.  Gotten the printer and provided the photos right then and there with no editing at all.  However, the churn-and-burn format was not my style.  Never has been.  Never will be.  Instead, I provided higher quality photos and made them available online for order.  Sure, folks couldn’t get them the night of, but it was definitely worth the wait.

Every year, the chapter presents an Alpha Award of Merit.  This is a prestigious award given to an individual who has an impressive history of being involved with the betterment of the local community.  This year, it was Mary E. Dominguez Campos.  I’m sure there are probably more than a few DMI folks reading this who are very familiar with her.  I personally was not, but that was just further proof that I needed to do a better job of connecting with the elders in the community.

One thing I have always prided myself on was making sure that my portfolio includes a wide spectrum of all ages.  Sure, it’s definitely heavy towards the younger crowd.  That just happens to be the group that enjoys taking photos more.  But I will go out of my way to get some good photos of senior citizens.  They always have such purposeful looks in their faces from just their everyday expressions.  And if it means that the only time I’m able to get photos of those folks is at events such as this then so be it.  It’s still very much worth it.

This shot was captured just as she was going to the podium to accept her award.  Initially, I was going to get just a random candid look of her walking there.  However, as I got in position, she stopped and looked at me.  There were no words said at all. She just flashed that distinguished smile at me.  The instant I clicked, I knew that photo was better than any candid moment that I could have captured of her.  More than that, I instantly knew that it would be the best photo I would take all evening.  Clearly one of the best of the year as evidenced by its appearance here.

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3. Rajaa
Do you ever have that one person that you know where you can’t remember how you met them but you’re glad you did?  That’s how it is with Rajaa.  I do know that I met her on The Book, but can’t remember how.  I want to say that it was because I saw her on my friend Kevin Brown’s page.  Kevin was a guy I had done some shoots with in the past.  He hung out with other model types so I already knew many of his friends, but not her.

What struck me about Rajaa was how her look was a combination of two of my favorite celebrities:  Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu.  Now I should probably qualify that by saying that I am referring to classic Lauryn Hill.  The Lauryn Hill was the peak of her success in the late 90s with the inimitable cd “The Mis-Education of Lauryn Hill”.  Back when she was normal.  Not the Lauryn Hill now who when she does show up in public is bound to look a little crazy and a shadow of her former self.

There’s probably something else that needs explaining that has been inferred in a few of these posts but hasn’t actually been mentioned.  Any photog and/or model reading these would have picked up on it, but not the average person.  That is that I will occasionally do shoots that are known as ‘TF’ shoots.  It stands for “Trade For”.  It is normally done when an established model and established photog want to collaborate for a shoot.  Rather than one paying the other, they trade.  So neither is charging and the session.

The purpose of a TF shoot is it helps out both parties.  Both the photographer and the model get new photos they can use to better their portfolio.  Usually it is done so one or both of them can try out ideas that would add some diversity to their portfolio.  That diversity would hopefully then lead to more business when potential clients see that style.  At least that’s how it is for me when I do it.  I will try to find folks that have a look and/or style I haven’t shot before.  That’s how it was with Rajaa.

The difference was that Rajaa wasn’t an established model.  Honestly, it is hard to find those types in the Des Moines area though.  At least the ones that are willing to do TF shoots.  They either will just flat out refuse to do TF shoots (meaning they want to get paid) or they can’t because of some contractual obligation.   Sure, there are exceptions and I had been fortunate to get some of those too.  But I usually had my best luck when I found those folks who didn’t travel in those normal model circles.  Plus, when I shot with one of the non traditional model people, I get a chance to showcase someone that the photog and model community hadn’t seen before.

With Rajaa, I was very fortunate to get an individual who was not a professional model per se, but certainly knew how to work it like one.  She was quite reserved and quiet in person until it came time for camera action.  Once in front of the lens and it was go time, she was able to flip that switch.  She could hit poses that were picture perfect with very little to no direction.  Each one even better than the next.  To be fair, I rather expected that to happen based on a few of the selfies I had seen from her.  But you still never know.  Some folks are fine taking pictures of themselves then freeze up if it ever came to an actual photo shoot.  That wasn’t the case with Rajaa at all.

This shot almost didn’t make the final cut of my edits with her.  I was once again using the gridded stripbox with a black backdrop.  I had a beauty dish in front of her to get an even light.  I wanted the stripbox to provide a rim light of sorts on her right side.  However, I had positioned it a little closer than intended.  I snapped and came up with an almost ethereal glow off to her right.  Had she been doing any other type of pose, it probably wouldn’t have worked.  But the expression on her face and her positioning seemed to work perfectly with that light.  I didn’t change a thing.

Now there’s an old saying that goes “The only photographer I’m trying to be better be is the one I was yesterday”.  Although I do subscribe to that, I still find myself subconsciously seeking the approval of other photogs.  Especially those that have been in the game longer than me.  I take it as the biggest compliment ever when I post a pic and a photog who I highly respect “likes” it.  That lets me know I’m doing something right.  At least on that particular photo.  This capture of Rajaa got a few of those type of likes.  Day made.

 

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4. The Thing.

I’m not sure when the whole levitation photo craze started becoming a “thing”.  I’m pretty certain it has been around longer than this year.  It just seemed like this year was when I started seeing more of them popping up.  There was talk of it in the IMPC group on The Book which inspired me to try to delve into it.  I just needed to find the right person to pull it off.  And the right scenery.  Well who better than my two sons that are always plenty animated?

This particular location wasn’t actually my first choice.  I had an entirely different idea in mind but it required a much gloomier background.  Which also meant it had to be more overcast.  Not nearly as beautiful a day as this was.  However, with Elijah’s busy schedule, I have to take what I can get.  I can still do the other idea I have in mind later.  Who knows…it may even make the Top Captures for next year if it materializes as well as I have it pictured in my mind.

This spot is a lake not far from my place.  For my Des Moines folks, it reminds me of a smaller version of Gray’s Lake.  It’s got the little walkway around it where you can always find people out getting their morning, midday and/or evening exercise.   It even has paddle boats that people can rent.  Although I don’t see those used very often.  Probably because they’re in the shape of Godzilla-shaped swans.  Well that and the lake is not really that big so it’s not like you’re going to get much scenery if you go out on it.

Even though this shot only has Elijah in it, I took quite a few different combinations with both him and Gabe.  One of my favorite being a shot where it appeared as though they were floating toward each other as they were reaching out to touch fingers but not quite touching.  It looked like it should have been a scene in the movie “Chronicle”.  The reason I chose this one was because of some of the comments that were made when I posted it.  I wasn’t sure if people were being serious or if they were just naive about how the shot was accomplished so I wanted to provide some type of clarification.

As you can see, Elijah looks like he’s in the midst of falling.  Someone who is not versed on Photoshop (or with just simple photo editing in general) would look at that photo and think that it was done the natural way.  That Elijah jumped from a higher point and I snapped just as he was getting ready to hit the ground.  But common sense should tell you otherwise.  Look how close he is to the ground.  Look how his body is positioned.  If he really fell like that, that impact would have been VERY painful.  Most assuredly would have resulted in an injury of some sort.  Do you think I would post a picture that caused my son injury?  Plus, the expression on his face clearly indicates that he knows he is no danger.

I was on the fence about whether I should divulge how I as able to achieve this capture.  It’s really not a secret at all.  Anyone can go online and figure out how it was done.  How many folks actually will though?  I’m guessing not many.  I won’t go through the whole process so I can at least maintain some semblance of secrecy.  Just know that there was no movement required on the part of the talent (the word commonly used to describe a person who is the subject of a photo).  The idea is to have it appear as though he is, but the less movement that takes place, the better the shot works.  It all comes down to the editing to make the entire thing come together flawlessly.  That’s the part where I would like to think that I really shine.

When I first seriously started taking photos a few years back, my editing skills were severely lacking.  NO way I could have pulled off something like this.  I didn’t even have any actual software.  No Lightroom.  No Photoshop.  It was just Microsoft photo editor that came with my computer.  So there was very little post-processing that took place and it shows in the early work.  I eventually stepped up my game and became semi-proficient with both LR and PS.  I realize I’m still probably only using the tip of the iceberg for both of those can do.  I know more than the average person yet not as much as an expert.  However, for someone as anal as I am about how my photos look, that learning process is more than welcomed.

 

 

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5. JT (aka Bane)

I had the perfect idea for a Halloween themed shoot this year.  Had the person all picked out for it and everything.  Unfortunately, the vision I had for it had to take place in Des Moines.  Which meant I had to have all the travel arrangements worked out AND the talent would too.  Because they had moved and weren’t in Des Moines at the time either.  Yes…I know it would have been so much easier to do all that right where I already was in the DFW area.  I just didn’t have the connections at that time that I do now.  I’m all good come next year though.
Things fell through with my road trip that was scheduled to take place two weeks before Halloween.  Then again with the weekend before Halloween.  By that time, it was too late to do any type of theme.  I had all but given up on doing one at all.  It was killing me too because I was seeing my FB contacts posting pictures of them in their costumes.  Some of them would have made INCREDIBLE shoots.  Especially the one I saw from one of my friends in NC (even though that road trip was even more out of the question then the DMI one).  Then I came across my very own frat brother.

I had collaborated with JT in the past when I was looking for a specific concept.  He was another example of my frat helping out and being supportive of XL-Images.  A couple of years ago, I realized that I didn’t have any captures of anyone with a motorcycle.  I had just started getting into “Sons of Anarchy” at the time when the idea came to me.  I knew a few cats that were in a MC (Motorcycle Club) but JT was the first one that came to mind.  For someone who didn’t do the whole modeling thing on the regular (or ever, since I was his first shoot), he pulled it off without a hitch.

It had never dawned on me to do a superhero– or in this case, super villain –themed shoot for Halloween.  Primarily because I thought it would be a little too close to the whole cosplay fascination that I’ve seen springing up in several places.  I am personally not a fan of it at all, but to each their own.  I’m certainly not going to knock someone else for their hobby just because I don’t get into it.  I just personally feel it wasn’t the type of ‘modeling’ shooting that I wanted to get into so I stay away from it.

When I saw JT in his Bane costume, I immediately began having visions of different looks I could do in it.  Most of them involve the use of my favorite type of light set up which is a sole gridded strip box.  The Bane look was MADE for that type of lighting.  The only thing that could have made it was better was if I had done some on location ideas I had.  Like a shadowy alley.  But again, I didn’t know what to expect with unpredictable Iowa weather so I played it safe with the studio.  I think it turned out quite alright.

Now I know some of the real comic book/hero geeks (like both of my sons) will say that this isn’t the real Bane.  Not because he’s a brotha of course.  The reason being that he’s not the one from the comics.  This interpretation is the one made famous in the last Batman movie “The Dark Knight Rises”.  I personally preferred the big screen adaptation.  Mainly because I wasn’t feeling the whole Mexican wrestler mask.  I did like how he was more brute strength in the comics and not near as intellectual as the movie version makes him; however, the more I watched Tom Hardy playing him, the more I liked an intelligent Bane.

JT as Bane was just flat out insane.  I was skeptical he would even go along with it since the shoot was well after Halloween.  I should have known better.  He had no problem with it.  Maybe because it gave him another chance to showcase his physique?  I’m not mad at him at all.  If I was constructed like that, I doubt I’d own few shirts.  But Frat brought just the right amount of broodiness that I thought he would.  So much so that you may notice a similar framing on this one.  Yep…another XL-Images Signature series addition.

 

 

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