Make your own coffee table book about your hometown

Trying to summarize a community, no matter what the size, into a single coffee table book can be a daunting task.  Even an area as small as the city of Decatur, Alabama and its surrounding county offer an abundance of visual opportunities.

As I worked to create a shot list of things I wanted to include in my coffee table book on the area, titled “More Than A River,” I quickly realized that I had to include a particular Decatur staple, C.F. Penn Hamburgers.  It’s where people in town have been enjoying homemade burgers since 1927.

And in the end, it was this location that produced one of my favorite photos from the entire book…

While there are a lot of options for photographing a restaurant (exterior, interior, and food shots) my favorite image from that day came from an individual portrait that I shot of one of the staff.

Creating portraits of people in their everyday environment is one of my favorite things and one lady in particular did not disappoint.  There was a ton of personality behind the counter that day and it was a lot of fun trying to wrangle it.

Louise Terry had been affiliated with C.F. Penn for around 30 years and had a personality that was going to be a perfect fit for this coffee table book.  I placed her at the counter because I loved everything about the background at that spot.  The round stools, the signature red striped walls, and the old school menu board looked like something styled straight out of Hollywood.

I placed a single soft box to the right of my camera and feathered it back towards me.  I placed a small strobe outside with a warming gel attached to it to imitate late afternoon sun streaming in through the window.  The neon sign hanging in the front threw some really interesting shadows across the wall as the light from my flash filtered through it.

I actually have no recollection of what Louise was laughing at in this image but we’ll just say that I was charming her with one of my hilarious stories.  Truth be told I’m pretty sure she was laughing at me and not with me.

Here it is:

So, how do you represent an entire community from a visual standpoint?  Photograph the faces of its people.  The rest will fall into place.

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