Roxy is an adult female Terrier/Shepherd mix who is currently at the City of Buffalo Animal Shelter hill she waits for adoption by a new and loving family.

I was so sad when I had to put my shelter portraits on a brief hiatus at the end of 2014 – we were undergoing some major renovations at the studio, and didn’t want the pups to have to hang out in the extremely cold space while we installed a brand new heating system (just in time for one of the coldest winters in Buffalo’s history – it’s been post-apocalyptic sci-fi movie cold the last few weeks with the temperatures dipping as low as -10.) But now I’m back into the swing of being able to create new adoptions portraits for these very specials dogs and actually use my photography to help them find amazing new homes.

Roxy is my first shelter portrait of 2015. She’s an adult terrier/shepherd mix who is being taken care of by the City of Buffalo Animal Shelter while she waits for the perfect family to give her a new home. She’s a sweet girl who loves to run and play, and was so excited to explore the studio and get to play with the crew on the day she came for her session. Roxy has been at the shelter since last June, where because of an unfair stigma regarding black dogs she often gets overlooked when people are seeking to adopt a new pet (which is their loss – because Roxy is marvelous!). It was so awesome to get to see her have some fun before and after her shoot  – and despite being a pretty energetic dog, she was so well behaved during the shoot, which worked out great for us, because this was the first animal shoot we’ve done with the new Medium Format camera system.

So often when I talk to people about adopting an animal there is a compulsion for them to gravitate towards adopting younger dogs and puppies, but there are a lot of benefits to adopting an adult dog. – many already have some training (and in general are easier to train), they are affectionate, settle in to new homes quickly, and their energy levels are a little more even. Roxy is a great example of a fun loving but relaxed adult dog that would be an amazing addition to a caring family.

If you or someone you know could give Roxy the home she’s looking for please get in touch with the City of Buffalo Animal Shelter – the family that adopts Roxy will also receive a $50.00 gift card from Elmwood Pets so they can stock up on toys and treats for this cutie.

You can read more about Roxy on her Petfinder page or even see her on TV here.

Maggie Magerko of 84 Lumber for Forbes Magazine. 84 Lumber is the largest privately held building materials supplier in America.

Orchestrating one of the biggest business comebacks of the decade can be a lot to deal with, but imagine adding some major family drama, billions of dollars, and thousands of at-risk jobs into the mix and you have the recipe for Maggie Magerko’s life.

One of my most recent out-of-town assignments took me to Pittsburgh, PA for Forbes Magazine – more specifically to Eighty Four, the town from which the largest privately held building materials supplier in the country, 84 Lumber, takes its name. The job was to create a series of portraits for a stranger-than-fiction story of Maggie Magerko – the current president and owner of 84, and her father, Joe Hardy – the company’s founder. The once thriving no-frills lumber yard and building supplies chain had gone through a rough period, having had to close a large number of stores and lay off thousands of employees in order to stay afloat through a brutal housing recession that had a devastating effect on the business. An untimely investment in a resort property that soon grew to over $600 million in costs by the traditionally frugal Joe just added fuel to the fire and increased the growing tensions between father and daughter.

Despite all of this, Maggie, once at risk of bankruptcy both personally and professionally, has put it all on the line to rebuild the business, and it’s working.

This was one hell of a story to work on, and I can’t even begin to do justice to the engrossing saga the actual article is – I suggest you pick up the latest issue of Forbes (Feb 9 – 2015 edition) and check it out for yourself.

On a side note ~ I’m no stranger to shooting in cold weather, being the strapping and tough snow loving Canadian that I am, but this one was a little chilly even by my standards. I’m super thankful that I had the foresight to invest  in some quality winter gear just before shooting outdoors in a lumber yard in the middle of a Pittsburgh winter.

I’ve made some significant changes to my online portfolios since the new year and today I’m ready to launch this all new mix of work for 2015. Some of these additions are from projects that I’ve been waiting forever to be able to share, while others are classics that I’m reintroducing to better illustrate the direction my work is taking. Click on any of the samples below to check out the full galleries on my main site.

In the coming weeks I’ll be sharing a lot more about my new marketing efforts for 2015, including a new print book, new promos, and some fun videos I’m working on right now.

Creative

Portraits of artists, musicians, and creative entrepreneurs – this is where you’ll find some of my edgier and more conceptual portraits in addition to a lot of my editorial work.

Creative Portraits Portfolio

Business

Everything from small business owners to corporate giants.

Luke Copping's Business Portfolio

Everyday

The day-to-day portraits of unique characters, some from assignments, others I’m drawn to photographing for myself.

Everyday Portraits Portfolio

Animals

Rescue dogs, commercial assignments, and private commissions featuring everyone’s favorite furry/feathered/scaly friends.

A look at my animals portrait portfolio

In 2010 I wrote, in one long caffeine-fueled night, an article that would become the most widely shared piece that I’ve ever published on my blog called 10 Ways Not To Become A Successful Photographer. It was part missive, part rant, and part confession about what I saw a lot of people doing wrong in the photography industry at the time – the mistakes and toxic misconceptions that I saw myself and photographers around me, both emerging and experienced, making every day that were poisoning our minds and our work. I’ve read and re-read it so many times over the years, because in many ways it became a litany to stave off my own negativity when things got tough or I felt myself slipping back into those shitty patterns that were holding me and my friends back when I wrote it.

It’s five years later now, and I sometimes find myself wondering if that piece I wrote all those years ago is still relevant, I’ve changed a lot, and this industry constantly evolves. I find myself thinking more about issues that never occurred to me when I wrote the original piece, and in some cases, issues that grew out of those original ten points. The last few weeks on the road I’ve been making tons of notes about the things I see happening in this business – both with myself and others who’ve spoken with me about that original article when the felt they had gotten a bit off course.

No one can tell you how to be successful in this business, that’s up to you, but here are ten more thoughts on how to NOT fuck up your chances of making it in this industry.

11. Don’t Understand Your Relationship With Stress

We all have our own ways of reacting to and dealing with stress. Personally, there are times when I can thrive on it for short bursts, I can handle unexpected turns on a production and adapt with a smile on my face, I like when the pace of business gets brisk and I feel like I’m spinning a lot of plates. I do okay with that kind of stress. It’s kind of exhilarating. On the other hand, I can get tripped up and really freaked out by little things. I’ve lost sleep because I’ve been anxious about the wording in a client e-mail, I made myself sick with worry in the days leading up to a few big jobs – that kind of constant background worry is the kind of stress that can get me really wound up,

We’re all emotionally invested in what we’re doing (at least you better be if you want to create good work) and that naturally leads to us getting stressed about it, but beyond that we have a whole host of practical stresses that we deal with every day as small business owners and creative entrepreneurs: money, staff, professional relationships, client retention, and vendors that can all affect our stress levels. Combine and compress all that creative and professional anxiety and it can really start to have an effect on your health, mindset, relationships, and career to the point that it starts to tear you up a little (or a lot) inside. Identifying what stresses you out, why, and how badly can give you some major insights on things you might need to work on personally, professionally, and creatively. It can also remind you of the importance of building a support team who can help you better deal with those tasks and situations that creep up on you. More importantly, you also need to have a means of dealing with your stress when it does show its face that hopefully isn’t of the “I eat a whole order of cheddar bay biscuits and chase it with a bottle of gin” school of stress management. Some common options are exercise, meditation, obsessive collecting, cooking, and music, but whatever works for you is cool – just go easy on those cheddar biscuits.

12. Get Caught Up in Defining and Quantifying Everything

It used to be that I couldn’t get online without seeing some pointless argument about Canon vs. Nikon or Mac vs PC – but in the last few years I think we’ve actually become more micro-obsessive as an industry when it comes to categorizing, segmenting, and ranking everything. The discussion isn’t about what brand of light is better, but what KIND of light is better, and even more disturbing, what kind of photographer is better. I see statements like these pop up all the time:

“I’m a natural light photographer, it’s a more honest way of taking pictures”

“I only shoot film, shooting digital isn’t photography”

“If you don’t know how to use speed-lights you aren’t a professional”

“If you only make 49% of your income from photography, you aren’t really a photographer”

“If you use composites in your work, you aren’t really a photographer, you’re just a retoucher, REAL photographers do everything in camera”

Unless you’re describing a genre that you work in – like fashion, food, or journalism, I can’t remember a time when the word “photography” needed so much modification. There are a million stories of how each of us came to photography, and a million different interpretations of the medium – to try to distill it all down into a linear ranking or a tidy little package seems not just absurd, but a rejection of all the ephemeral and intangible things about someone’s history, taste, and experience that make their individual images so compelling. Finding a unique way to frame your experience is a great way of setting yourself apart, and it’s best done with your work itself, but I feel like at some point there was an inversion, a moment when we started to use these defining terms in a really negative way – and rather than focusing on pulling ourselves up, the focus has shifted to pushing others down by encapsulating them in classification and categorically invalidating them.

13. Don’t Take Ownership of Your Mistakes

Ever met someone who just can’t take criticism?

I don’t mean in a “OMG they read the comment section and are handling it really poorly!” way, I mean the sort of criticism that matters – constructive criticism from clients, respected colleagues, and even themselves. You have to be willing to accept that you are going to fail in this business, likely many times over, and that it’s the ones who use these failures as learning experiences that are going to survive and hopefully thrive. The last thing you want to do is stick your fingers in your ears, shut your eyes, and start screaming “YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND MY ART!”

It gets shared a lot, but there’s a part in Zack Arias’ Transform Video that’s always stuck with me where Zack reminds his audience that “Avedon sucked, Karsh sucked, Adams sucked…  …Every photographer in all of history was a horrible photographer for some period of time. They learned, they grew, they had dark days, they persevered. That is the way of the artist.” I think it’s one of the most important lessons that any photographer can learn in this business that is so saturated with ego and defensiveness. It’s okay to screw up if it makes you better in the end (just try not to do it when clients are watching, and if you do, own it).

Every single one of us is going to make mistakes at some point in our career – some will fall flat on their faces and suffer comical embarrassment, others will slide headlong into the cavernous maw of catastrophic error, but all of us can recover from these situations if we can honestly identify and accept what we did wrong and work to correct it. It’s the ones who dig a hole and start to pull the dirt down on top of themselves, looking to shelter themselves from having to face their mistakes that have to worry most – because after a while that safe hole you’re hiding in starts to look an awful lot like a grave.

14. Spend More Time Talking About Your Work Than Making It

I don’t like to break things down into archetypes, but sometimes it seems like there’s a revolving cast of common characters in every creative community, fellow photographers who seem to almost accidentally fall into these roles.

There’s the photographer with a million good ideas and two million excuses as to why they can’t ever pull them off: “Plane tickets are too expensive,” “I don’t have a studio,” “My camera isn’t good enough,” “I need better lights.” This guy can talk himself out of anything before he even gets close to starting,

There’s the photographer who is so enamored by past successes and gripped by the fear of ever having to outgrow them that all they ever talk about is that one amazing shot they grabbed in 1992. Photographers like this also tend be the kind of people who complain about the industry a lot. They’ll be the first to give crazy-eyed reactionary rants about how things have changed but do very little to grow and adapt.

There’s the one who is actually pretty talented, but so consumed by self-sabotage or impostor syndrome that sometimes they seem frozen in place, unable to actually create anything without tearing it to shreds moments later. These are the ones who spend a lot of time beating themselves up verbally and can’t take compliments very well. They tend to make just as many excuses as the first guy, but focus on more internalized factors than the external scapegoats. You’ll hear a lot of “I suck,” “I don’t deserve this,” “Why don’t you realize that my work is awful” from them.

Worst of all, we’ve likely all been (or will be) these people at some point in our careers, where we seem to be spending more time talking about our work than actually making it – and that’s actually pretty natural for people in creative careers This isn’t a job where you punch out at 5:00 PM and go home to play video games without a care in the world. We tend to internalize a lot of what we do, because what we do is so tied to our own emotions, thoughts, and experience – so we often take this job home with us. It’s not surprising that sometime doubt, hubris, fear, helplessness, defensiveness, and a whole host of other dark feelings can creep in, and a byproduct of that is shifting our focus from creating to talking about creating – becoming a photo wantrepreneur.

I want to take a second here to be clear that I am not at all discouraging people from talking about their work or photography as a medium. I think a discourse about the changing nature of photography and how it relates to communications, society, commerce, and art are more important than they ever have been, and In many cases, talking through some these issues frankly, with an honest colleague, friend, or mentor can be both therapeutic, cathartic, and exactly what you need to right your course. It’s when talk becomes a surrogate for your work, a smokescreen, that you have a problem. Talking about creating images is often lot easier than creating images, and we as humans tend to take the path of least resistance.

15. Not Knowing When to Say No

There are so many draws on your time, finances, and sanity out there, and you’re going to get pulled in a lot of different directions in this world. Sometimes the exuberance of starting to gain recognition for your work can lead you to say yes to everything: Annoying Uncle Frank promised a friend you would hook him up with some new portraits? Done. Restaurant you get lunch at needs some food shots on the cheap? Why not. Regular client offers you an assignment you know you can’t make money on? Ok, but just this one time…

Saying yes is a great way to gain experience, but as your skills and ambition grow you’re going to start to develop both focus and the experience to recognize red flags. The reasons might be time, interest, or money, but understanding the power of those two letters can do wonders for how you think about yourself as both an artist and a business person. Don’t be a dick about it, but find a way to say no that is firm, but polite, and leaves the door open for future communication.

The cool thing about learning to say no with style and grace is how much more it lets you say yes to the things you really want to do – the ones that really can be life changing. Do you really want to shoot those three freebie jobs for friends that your heart really isn’t in? or do you want to spend a week going on that fantasy road trip to photograph America’s last drive-in theatres? Do you want to spend a month photographing that fastener catalog you know you won’t really turn a profit on? or do you want to spend a few weeks shooting personal projects that will get you noticed by your dream clients? Saying no is scary at first, but over time it gets easer, especially as you better develop your sense of when you need to say it.

16. Trying Too Hard To Be Someone Else

Back when I played music there was always this one guy around obsessed with being just like whatever flavor of the month rock star he was obsessed with at the moment. He bought the same guitars, played the same way, adopted the same style, and really went out of his way to avoid ever having to do anything that didn’t directly emulate what he saw as a surefire formula for success. His idols and obsessions would change over time, and he would reinvent himself totally every couple of years despite actually being a pretty talented guy. He plays in a cover band now.

Do you want to be in a cover band?

There’s a fine line between influence and obsession, between creating an homage to someone’s work and outright re-creating their work –  but the message here isn’t about copying, or influence, or biting someone else’s style or ideas. I could write a whole other post about all of those things that would be just as long as this one. What I want to warn you about is losing yourself inside of someone else’s creative vision – becoming so wholly consumed and fixated on other’s work that you lose everything about YOUR work that’s interesting. I love Rodney Smith’s work, but the world already has a Rodney Smtih, and I’m a lot more interested in telling my story than trying to relive someone else’s. If you force yourself into a mold that was meant for someone else you’re going to really break off a lot of the edges and corners of you that don’t fit, and those little jagged pieces are what makes you great and unique. Keep forcing it and you might break apart completely.

17. Be Careless With Your Choice of Mentors and Critiques

Find an amazing community to be a part of, and learn from people whose work excites you, but be wary of the homogeny and sameness that can result in taking the advice of people who want you to be more like them and less like you too seriously. You’ll see this in a lot of online groups where unsolicited critiques run rampant. There will be a push for the images presented to fall in line with that group’s status quo, an urge to keep everyone on the baseline. Often, it seems like it isn’t even conscious, but if you watch someone comment on someone else’s work long enough, after a while you realize that a lot of the suggestions and comments they make are ones that will bring the work more in line with their own worldview of photography. Do you really want to aspire to be more like someone who’s work you don’t really like that much?

Critique can be an unbelievably important tool, especially for a developing artist, but the crowd of people out there willing to share their opinion on what you’re doing gets bigger every day, and a lot of them don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. When you’re looking for a critique or mentor to help you refine your vision you need to be conscious of avoiding the masses that lean towards the average and unexceptional.  Instead, be discerning and search for those singular and unique voices – the ones with a real opinion and point of view. Be vocal about what you want to improve and specific about what you want them to comment on so that you can grow with purpose and urgency. Consider the lessons you learn from them and take what helps you, but never be afraid to try to prove your mentors and critics wrong – not through words and argument, but by action and result – as you see your own vision through.

18. Get Too Comfortable

Complacency and stagnation can be incredibly hard things to recognize when you’re deeply mired in them. We gradually slip more and more into our routines and comfort zones until they smother us. One of the most common examples of this that I see is when a photographer starts to get a good amount of work in – they’ve worked hard to develop their marketing and contacts, their work is at the top of its game, and they have a look that’s in demand. Over the course of a couple of months or years they think they’re doing great but maybe they let their marketing slip or stopped pushing their skills – figuring that they’ve made it. All of a sudden there is a pivot in the industry, staff changes at client offices, perhaps a new agency takes over an account, or their look now seems dated and out of step with the market. All those months they went without marketing or developing new skills will come back to haunt them as their work dries up and they have to scramble to bring in some income just to keep the doors open. Getting too comfortable can leave you in a very uncomfortable position.

19. Don’t Manage Client Expectations

Once you get the basics of this photography thing down and start bringing in work, you suddenly realize you have a whole host of new problems in regards to communication and the ability to actually deal with clients – the kind of problems can lead you to complain in internet forums where a bunch of other people who have similar problems will pat you on the back and say “You know what? You’re right, your clients suck, and so do mine. It’s not your fault.”

But you know what? It’s kind of your fault.

Sure, there are bad clients out there, the legitimately dishonest or unethical type that give you 99% of your headaches for 1% of your income, the ones that you’ll probably fire after a couple of harrowing months. But most of the clients you’re going to end up having problems with aren’t out to get you, they are decent and honest people who just don’t know the ins and outs of your business as well as you do. Clients like this have a different vocabulary and a different background than you – some might be making their first foray into working with a professional, others might be used to different policies and working arrangements because they collaborated with a different creative for a long time, and some might be new to a position in an agency and still learning the ropes.

You need to work from the mindset that all of your potential clients have varied backgrounds and experiences, have radically different wants and needs, and are all going to ask different questions – and it’s up to you to know when they aren’t asking the right ones. Your client didn’t bring up a stylist? Ask if they need one anyway. Client doesn’t know what their responsibilities are? Give them a timeline. Client didn’t mention exclusivity? You better ask. Client doesn’t understand he difference between editorial and commercial licensing? Define it in the contract. Not using a contract? FUCKING START! Every time a freelancer works without a contract an angel kicks a puppy.

Make communication the most important thing in your business besides the quality of your work. Be patient with your clients and take the time to ensure sure that everyone involved is in synch. Ask as many questions as they do to make sure they understand your position before a problem arises. Otherwise, despite all the client blaming you do online, you’re the one who’s going to look like an asshole.

20. Go it Alone

You need a support team in your life, because there is only so much you can carry on your shoulders without getting crushed – this goes for both your professional and personal life.

On the personal side, you hopefully have several layers of support – friends and family who stand by you are a great and valuable resource, but don’t underestimate how much your local community of colleagues and photographers, the ones who understand the stresses of being a freelance creative, can help as well. Chances are they have been through the same issues you’re going through now. They’ve dealt with doubt, shaky finances, bad shoots, rough relationships, and a whole host of other problems that might be affecting you, and you can rest assured that there are scores of photographers who are going to come after you that are going to have these problems as well – do what you can to pay it forward in your community.

On the professional side, there is often a sense that the photographer is a lone-wolf, and at the beginning of our careers we do have to wear a lot of hats under both the artist and entrepreneur banner. We find ourselves doing design work, writing copy, taking care of scheduling, taxes, payroll, etc, all on our own. It’s a lot to handle, especially if you aren’t as expert in those fields are you are at photography, but sooner or later you have a revelation that there are people out there who put just as much time and passion into developing these skills as you do yours. Over the last couple years I’ve started working with a designer, a writer, a marketing consultant, a retoucher, and an amazing assistant. I’ve also developed really good relationships with my accountant, insurance broker, and banker on the business side of things. It’s made my life simpler, made me more focused on the quality of my images and servicing clients, and improved the quality of my brand and marketing across the board. Being able to find a group of people, whose skills I trust and respect, has been so important to growing my business in the last few years.

What mistakes are you making? What do you see holding you and others back from really being successful? What are you doing about it?

Brenda Martinez - St Mary's College of California Alumni
How’s that for a dramatic sky?

St. Mary’s College of California sent me and my team on assignment to photograph Brenda Martinez for an alumni profile in their 2014 annual report. Brenda is a sixth Grade teacher in Western NY who runs a bilingual classroom as part of the Teach for America Program. Having taught in San Francisco and Mexico prior to taking her current position in Buffalo while she works on her masters, St Mary’s wanted an image that took Brenda out into the landscape of the region she now calls home. Though she’s a native of the far warmer climate of Pittsburgh, California, Brenda was more than happy to tough out a very windy autumn day on the shore of Lake Erie to get this shot.

Our location that evening was Wilkeson Pointe, a spot just outside of the city that’s recently been turned into a great public green space that includes paths and wind powered sculptures – it’s definitely one of the nicer places in the city to catch a great sunset. Despite the beauty of the shoreline at the Pointe that day, It was tricky working with the strong winds that were coming off the water, but thankfully we were able to set up some screens and wait for brief breaks in the gusts to make sure her hair wasn’t blowing all over the place – the result was this image that’s calm, but still has a beautiful sense of movement to it.

I was honored a few weeks ago when the editorial team at scottkelby.com reached out to me and asked me if I would like to write a guest post for their blog (which just happens to be a favorite of mine – so when I say “honored” it was more like “jumping up and down on my bed excitedly until my fiancé made me stop”). I chose to write about a topic that troubles a lot of photographers – how important it is to not just talk about those dream projects and images that you want to create, but to actually take action and actively pursue them. I was lucky enough to have some great examples of artists who are taking these risks and getting it done in two of my favorite local photographers, Scott Gable and Valerie Kasinski.

You can check out the full post here.

Kate Hey of the Betty Crockski food truck in Buffalo, NY

Don’t tell my fiancée, but I’m carrying on a passionate affair with a very special lady – she’s boxy, red, and weighs about eight tons. Her name is Betty, and she makes the most amazing pierogi (she’s also a truck, but don’t judge – the heart wants what the heart wants).

Polish food means comfort for a lot of people in Buffalo, NY – pierogi, bigos, and golabki were regular appearances on a lot of tables. Even if we didn’t grow up Polish, a lot of us fondly remember eating these dishes at friends’ homes or picking them up at the Broadway Market around Easter as part of the melange of Eastern European, German, Italian, African-American, and Irish influences that much of this city was built upon. Yet for a town so steeped in Polish heritage it seems that there are only few a places that still serve these traditional tastes with any regularity (Peter K’s and Gadawski’s come to mind) and fewer still who have built upon these traditional takes to elevate and refine them into something truly special (The Black Sheep’s pierogi come to mind). Betty Crockski is straddling both sides of this line and bringing their own take on pierogi back to the streets of Buffalo.

The company’s proprietors, Kate Hey and Dana Szczepaniak, officially launched the truck, appropriately enough, on Dyngus Day 2014. Prior to this Dana had been working as CPA in New York City and Kate was working in marketing back in Buffalo, but some casual discussions at a Memorial Day party in 2013 quickly led to the pair writing a business plan and found Dana moving back to Western New York. Over the next eleven months the concept behind the truck and the recipes slowly developed. “We always knew we were starting a Polish food truck, both because of our backgrounds, but because we realized that Buffalo needed one badly. WNY has the highest concentration of Polish-Americans outside of Chicago, and there’s a strong sense of Polish Heritage here. We have the largest Dyngus Day celebration in the country, and we see it out in the community when people come to the truck and see our family names and tell us ‘I used to cut your uncle’s hair'” Kate told me after her portrait session. Long nights making test batch after test batch of pierogi for friends followed, becoming the method by which Kate was able to refine and finalize the recipes the truck served when it launched; Betty Crockski soon became regarded as one of the most exciting members of Buffalo’s young food truck community.

As part of their pre-launch process, the girls took a research slash eat-your-way-across-all-of-Poland trip to the old country to get a taste of some of the nation’s most famous restaurants as well as some now notorious upstarts that are completely reinterpreting the Polish food tradition. The trip wasn’t so much a revelation as it was a confirmation of what Kate described to me as Betty Crockski’s philosophy on Polish cooking – “We try to celebrate local ingredients and culture, as well as fill in the blanks in the polish dining scene here in Buffalo that’s very focused on the a mid-century style Polish-American approach to cooking and preparation. We had our own ideas and vision about what these dishes could be and were totally vindicated by our trip when we saw that these great polish chefs were already acting along these similar lines of thought and had been for a long time.” Dana added “We got to see so many different facets of both the traditional and contemporary Polish food scenes, not just from eating, but from being invited into restaurant and home kitchens and being taught the way someone’s father makes pierogi, or a contemporary style of making golabki that gets away from the low-and-slow traditional pantry style and takes a fresher, brighter, and quicker approach.” A food tour of Warsaw hosted by Magda from the blog Eat Warsaw turned out to be one of the high points of the trip, not just because of the food they experienced, but because of the context and history it provided about the evolution of dining out in Poland.

Pierogi created by Betty Crockski, a polish food truck in Buffalo NY specializing in new modern takes on old world classics

The truck’s menu is small and perfect. Four kinds of pierogi: A cheese variety that blends local chèvre, farmer’s cheese, and BellaVitano; one that marries a mix of caramelized sauerkraut and house pickled plum in a bourbon glaze; a meystard braised pulled pork pierogi, and a spicy potato filed option with white cheddar and herb butter. This selection is punctuated by regular seasonal specials, like a turkey and walnut sage stuffing filled pierogi with boozy pickled cranberries, and bigos – a traditional polish hunter’s stew (think Poland’s answer to chili, where everyone has their own family recipe or twist they like to put on the dish pulling from their own experiences and tastes). They also feature their own fresh Polish kielbasa spiced with ginger, caraway, and marjoram.

There’s one other element in this Polish comfort food equation that diverges a bit from the Polish traditions that the truck sprung from, one that leads in a decidedly German direction. Betty Crockski sells this absolutely addictive mustard – they call it “Meystard” (and I call it “German Heroin”) and that name ties into almost 80 years of Buffalo food history. Kate’s family was the proprietor of the legendary Carl Meyer’s Hof, a German restaurant that was the first tavern in Buffalo to serve beer from old kegs. And while the restaurant has been gone since the early 80’s, the mustard served alongside the pierogi and sausage on the truck is the same homemade recipe that the Hof served for decades. Thankfully you can buy some to take home to help with the withdrawal you’ll start to experience when you can’t make it to the truck (or to go along with Betty’s new take-home packs of frozen pierogi).

If you aren’t one of the dedicated few who’s willing to brave a food truck in the deathly cold of a Buffalo winter (and if you aren’t, what are you doing in this city?) Kate and Dana shared some good news with me: Starting in February they’re going to be partnering with the South Side Social and Athletic Club to do a small weekly Saturday menu of small dishes. Less a pop-up and more of a gourmet Polish happy hour, it’s going to be something of a lab for the Betty team to experiment with new recipes and try out what Dana calls “bar food, Betty style” in one of Buffalo’s oldest South-Side neighborhoods.

Betty’s may still just be emerging from their first very successful year in business, but they’ve already become an important part of both the food and cultural landscape of Buffalo. I’ve hung out on the truck with Dana and Kate during a service in the course of this project and I’ve gotten to see people absolutely light up when they have their first bite of one of Betty’s pierogi and then stand by the truck’s window and chat with other diners about their own childhood connections to Polish food in Buffalo and abroad. I’ve gotten to hear Dana’s stories about tracking down the perfect cheese for their pierogi, and after so many iterations, finding the perfect one produced locally by First Light Creamery by pure chance once day. While these stories are important, this isn’t just a chronicle of prepping sausage and making pierogi dough at two a.m., which is fascinating in its own right – but is quickly transforming into a story of how a sense of adventure and risk allowed such a new business to be integral in reconnecting a city to one of its most important culinary heritages.

Dana Szczepaniak from The Betty Crockski Polish Food truck - serving homed pierogi and sausage in Buffalo, NY

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I’m the first to hate on photo blogs that obsess about new gear, pixel peeping, and how wonderful the latest and greatest new thing is, so let me immediately acknowledge that for a few brief moments I’m about to break my own rules.

Now that we have that out of the way I can share some really exciting news.

I made a big investment in my business and moved from primarily working with a 35mm SLR system back to primarily working with a medium format system again when I purchased a Mamiya 645 DF+ and a Leaf Credo 40 back at the end of 2014. I’d mainly been working with the Canon 5D series for the last couple of years and occasionally renting Mamiya/Phase systems when needed, but the more I shot with the medium format systems the more I fell back in love with the look of the images I was getting from them – I spent a good chunk of my film days shooting on the analog versions of the Mamiya 645 and the Mamiya RZ, so going back to that format actually felt really natural for me. I’d been looking into upgrading as far back as 2012, but from a business and financial perspective it wasn’t the right time to make that sort of investment, so I shelved the idea and decided to revisit it in the future. Thankfully, by the end of 2014 I had experienced quite a bit of growth in my business, been saving smartly towards upgrading, and was in a position where making the leap made a lot more sense.

I couldn’t be happier!

If you think you will ever be in the market to upgrade to a medium format system I highly recommend talking to the folks at Capture Integration in Atlanta before you do so. I agonized for well over a year before pulling the trigger on this new system, and lot of it was spent doing research, getting opinions, and trying to get my hands on various systems to test drive, but what locked it for me was when Chris Snipes from the CI sales team actually came to Buffalo for an event and made some time for me privately to answer a ton of questions and let me test drive a lot of different gear hands-on that really sold me. They’ve been great after the fact too, checking in with me and offering tons of support and optimization tips through their tech support and rentals manager Anthony Festa (a fellow Western New Yorker recently transplanted to the South). These are the people to talk to if you are serious about upgrading.

One of the first assignments I used the new setup on was this portrait of the late pro baseball umpire and actor Peter Calieri. He was probably best known as one of the field officials in Barry Levinson’s The Natural - maybe the best baseball movie ever. He was also a beloved part of the Buffalo, NY theatre community. Sadly, Peter passed away unexpectedly not long after he sat for this portrait.

Portrait of former pro baseball umpire and actor peter calieri
When I was in Seattle a few years ago at a workshop with John Keatly he joked that when he upgraded to a Hasselblad system he was disappointed that the images he took with the camera weren’t already retouched, and I totally get that now. These cameras are actually a little unforgiving, the files are so astonishingly sharp and crisp that you see EVERYTHING, but when you move past that and realize that the raw materials they give you to work with have so much potential and such a different feel from the 35mm format it changes the way you shoot and approach projects. I find myself working much more slowly and deliberately now. In general I’m capturing far fewer frames per project, and I’m certainly mindful of the quirks you encounter when moving to a new system. At first I was concerned about the weight and size factor, and it certainly is heavier than my MKIII, but at 6’2 it really hasn’t been too much of an issue for me. I’ve also found that I have to be extra mindful about nailing focus with this camera, as it’s much less forgiving that a 35mm in that regard – but when you see that perfect capture come in on-screen you are totally blown away by it.

Darla20141128-1025-Edit

Meet Darla, a three-year-old Mastiff in Buffalo, NY that is looking for an awesome family to adopt her this holiday season. Currently she is in a foster program run by the HEART Animal Rescue and Adoption Team. Darla looks so much like one of my own dogs (Akasha – who was a rescue as well, and I’m pretty sure that Darla is a Boerboel just like her) that I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to help her out once I heard her story.

Darla has been adopted and returned twice through no fault of her own (changing circumstances did not allow the families to keep her in the long-term). Right now Darla is staying with a really great foster family, but because of her issues with cats and other animals she has to stay in the heated garage most of the time. The volunteers at HEART and her foster family have been working their butts off to find a great new owner and a warm fireplace for this tiny (for a mastiff) lady to curl up by for the holidays. Thankfully, once the new portraits I created of her hit Facebook and Twitter, her story was shared hundreds of times in just a few days. She still hasn’t been placed with a new home yet, but I’m hoping that if you are in the Buffalo, NY area and are looking for an amazing pet, or know a deserving family who is you will help spread the word about Darla’s situation and make her holidays marvelous.

She’s very sweet and affectionate, but she doesn’t always get along with cats (who can blame her – I don’t get along with them either) or other dogs very well. However, she is amazing with less furry, more human children, and would make an amazing addition to a family looking for that perfect first pet. People are really dedicated to helping Darla and because of that a friend of the foster family has agreed to pay the $150.00 adoption fee, in addition to that kick-ass donation I’m offering up to $100.00 for the new family to sign up for training classes in the Buffalo area with Darla after she is adopted as a great way to bond with her and get to know each other better. She’s up to date on shots, is heart worm negative, spayed, housebroken, crate trained, already microchipped, and devastatingly cute.

You can find more info on her at her Petfinder page.

Aerial silk artist and acrobat Jenn Kowalik.

I hope everyone has bounced back with style and grace from their yearly overdose of tryptophan induced food comas, good wine, football (unless hockey is on, hockey always wins) and awkward family moments. Most of you only have to do thanksgiving once a year, but for those of you like me and Erin who get the pleasure of one in October (The cooler Canadian version) and regular American Thanksgiving in November (Which falls just a few days after my birthday – Hello thirty-three!) the road to recovery can be a little trickier, especially with more holiday feasting right around the corner. Welcome back everyone.  Read More

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