One of the best parts of being in charge of the production of the visual media that Luther produces is that I get to interact with the college in a very different way than most. I have spent the past nine and half years (four as a student, four on and off in grad school, and now full time) photographing Luther. Working for a college is one of the coolest, most interesting things a person could ask for. Every day you are working around a variety of experts in a vast array of topics. You get to listen to pretty awesome people talk about great stuff, and occasionally, you get to go on wild adventures with passionate people. What more could you ask for?
The title of Luther's blog (if you haven’t noticed) is Ideas and Creations. If you have read many of the posts up until now you have found that we are quite heavy on the "Ideas" and not so heavy on the "Creations." This should not come as a surprise; we are an academic institution, you know. In light of this recent revelation, I thought I would take my second blog post in a different direction than my first…
As it is a new year, I thought I would run through some favorite moments I photographed in the past year and give you some behind-the-scenes insight on what made these moments special for me.
If you were to ask me what my favorite photo shoot of the past year is, this most likely is it: this past summer we did a story for the Luther Alumni Magazine on faculty/student research collaborations. One of the featured stories was on Professor Kirk Larsen and this butterfly research in the hill prairies of northeast Iowa. We had to drive a good 45 minutes to get to this specific location near New Albin. As we were getting out of the car and I was getting my camera gear ready, Kirk came over and asked: "So, how concerned are you about rattlesnakes?" I stopped, slowly turned my head up to look back at him and replied: "How concerned SHOULD I be?" As it turns out, we were headed into timber rattler territory, and sure enough, 20 minutes later I was standing in front of a four foot rattlesnake bathing itself in the sun. As we were standing there looking at this snake, Kirk perked up: "Oh! Let me see if I can get it angry!" This is not something you want to hear while you are face to face with a venomous snake, however my hesitation did not stop Kirk from poking at with his butterfly net until it coiled back and started shaking its rattle. There were so many great photos from this trip, it was hard to choose just one. But I like the shot above because it shows the Iowa landscape's full glory, while Kirk and his butterfly net trek across the bottom of the frame. Check out more images from this day on my website: http://aaronlurth.com/hill-prairie-research.
Last January I helped a student worker of mine shoot a video featuring students around campus engaged in a variety of activities. We had this idea to feature two students working with lasers. We market ourselves to high school students, and let's be honest, what high school student wouldn't want to "play" with lasers?! This shot was taken after we were through filming. What you don't know is that we had to constantly spray this fog-like stuff into the air to make the laser beams visible, so we had to work extremely quickly to capture the laser before the fog dissipated. For those who have photographed with an SLR before, working quickly while handholding your camera in the dark, is not an easy task. What you also may not realize is that I was dangerously close to this laser beam…if it were pointed directly into my camera, it could have fried my sensor.
While brainstorming visuals for an upcoming food-themed issue of the Luther Alumni Magazine I had the idea to scan vegetables from the Luther garden on a flatbed scanner. And so with the help of the garden staff, I spent an afternoon down in the Luther College Archives (they have the best scanner on campus) scanning vegetables. What resulted are these elegantly composed, beautifully lit scans of local produce. I mean, come on, is that not the prettiest leek you have ever seen?
This past spring Professor Ruth Kath’s German language class was learning about how German immigrants would bring seeds over when they immigrated to America. What better way to learn about saving seeds than to take a trip out to Seed Savers! It was a whirlwind of a trip, as we only had an hour out at Seed Savers, but toward the end of the trip I snapped this photo. I love the formal composition and natural division the post in the center creates. I also love how there are two separate pairs engaging in very different ways with one another. It wound up being a surprisingly fun juxtaposition.
I just love this image. I have photographed a lot of swimming over the years. As a student I was hired by Lance Huber (Luther’s head swim coach) to travel with the team and photograph all of their meets. It becomes hard to think of different ways to capture something you have shot a million times before. Here we have the diving well/cool-down pool on the right-hand side of the frame. The men had just gotten done swimming their relay and were cooling down. On the left-hand side the women were swimming their relay and it was a close race. While I was sitting on the bulkhead photographing the women's race, I noticed the men had stopped their cool-down and were peeking over the bulkhead to watch the women pull off a win. Had I noticed this a tad earlier I would have been able to get some swimmers in the frame on the left which I think would have made this image even stronger. Sometimes you just get what you get, and this photo is still a keeper in my book.
As you saw with the swimmers not every sports photo has to be an action shot. Oftentimes reaction shots are far more powerful than shots of "action" from the game. And sometimes you need to just step back and realize that depicting an environment could potentially be just as strong. One of the first football games this past fall had an amazing sky, and I have always been visually drawn to how Farwell (pictured in background) seems to emerge from the side of the hill. When I saw the team lining up for the national anthem I thought it was the perfect day to try a photo like this. It's not perfect, but in general I like the way this photo turned out.
This isn’t so much an amazing photograph as it is a fun one. This past fall the Decorah Fire Department used our wind turbine as a location to practice a rescue mission. We knew roughly the time this was going to happen, so I grabbed my 400mm lens and sat on the back deck of the Union waiting for the moment when they started lowering the rescue dummy down the front face of the turbine. We wanted to use this for a fun post on Facebook, but were afraid too many of you would not read the caption and instead start freaking out. Just looking at this photo still makes me squeamish.
Last year was the seventh Luther College commencement I have photographed. Like so many things, when you photograph something over and over again it gets extremely challenging to come up with something new. To make matters even worse, this year's commencement was moved indoors because of the weather, which meant it was going to be extra tough to photograph. I did, however, have one idea I wanted to try out. I brought my tilt-shift lens with me and took a few photos with that. The results made for a pretty different type of photo. Though this looks much better when you view it larger, you can see that with the tilt-shift lens I was able to render just a sliver of the images in focus (all of the graduates) while rendering the rest out of focus. The result is an image that looks almost miniature. The reality is, it’s now a cheap trick that most camera phones with built-in filters can mimic, but still visually interesting nonetheless.
Three of the four Arend siblings play soccer for Luther: Brock '14 (above in white) Elly '15, and Abby '17. The force seems to be strong with this family. They are all pretty great at soccer in their own ways, and it just so happens that Elly and Abby work in my office, so it feels kind of nice when I am able to get neat images of them playing. You see, that's the great thing about a place like Luther. When we faculty and staff go to extra curricular events, we tend to know many of the students involved and it's pretty great to see them excel in passions outside of the classroom or work environment. I just love this moment: Brock was played a through ball, the goalie came off of his line to make a stop, the ball ricocheted off his chest, and Brock and the ball leaped over the goalie. Did he make the goal? You should have been at the game…
As a photographer you are always looking for great light, and as a helpful tip for those of you who are into photography, anytime you can find a large north-facing window, use it. It will provide you with beautifully soft, diffused light all day long. This assignment was another part of the faculty/student research story we ran in the Alumni Magazine. These students were working with Professor Olga Rinco testing (if I remember this correctly) water samples for pollutants…or something along those lines. They were doing something sciencey, how's that? The challenging thing here is that most of their day was spent running tests on a computer; not very visually interesting. So instead of photographing them on a computer, I took them to a different room with better lighting, keyed-in on a small part of their research process (filling test tubes) and photographed them in front of a chalkboard with some more sciencey things in the background. It's definitely not the greatest image of lab research in the world, but it wound up being pretty good for our story.
Being the director of my own department means that I really don't get to go out and shoot as much as I would like. Much of my day is filled with meetings, emails, paperwork, more emails, and meeting with my student workers. In an ideal world, I would be out photographing all day long every day. You see, nothing kills us creative types more than sitting in an office with no windows returning emails. But all in all I have a pretty great job, and it has been fantastic being back.
For those interested, I blog semi-regularly about Luther things I have photographed at http://aaronlurth.com/blog.
And for all of the images my department creates, visit: http://flickr.com/photos/lcphotobureau.
Aaron Lurth is director of the visual media department at Luther College, and will begin teaching in the visual and performing arts department in the spring. He has shot marketing campaigns for Luther, and was the photographer for the Cedar Rapids Kernals, the minor league affiliate of the Minnesota Twins. His photo exhibitions have been presented in galleries in several different states.