Dear Santa – (I Finally Got My Shot)

Vote for the pic at 500px

One of the things that I’ve always loved about working in photography is the amount of latitude that you have in doing it.  I love working on creating great portraits as much as I enjoy creating things that resemble works of art.  Ever since my daughter Sabine was born, i’ve been getting more and more into holidays, Christmas being prime.  For quite some time now. I have been wanting to make a portrait of my girl and Santa – in a very Rockwell-meets-Kinkade-meets-CocaCola Santa- meets Polar express.  Something that harkened to one of those beautifully drawn childrens books.

Finding Santa

Through a series of good fortune, I had been researching local Tampa Santas for a office project I wanted to do.  This one in particular – Santa Bill, was not available.  He did tell me, however, that he would be at the Oldsmar, Florida Flea Market, at the very last aisle and that I could stop by and say hello.

I really liked what he looked like on his profile page, so off I went to visit.  This was such a surreal experience.  The Flea Market has these wide aisles with chain fence guarding empty spots, while others sell their wares.  Passing aisle after aisle I got to the very very end of the Flea market – an anemic song coming from a small stage.  Just past the stage was the last aisle in the market, many of the stalls wrapped in cellophane or chain fence.  There in the middle of it all was a big tree, a red chair, and the most amazing looking Santa i’d ever seen.

There were some people there wrapping up a shoot, and a photographer had a softbox aiming at him with very simple directional light (the picture on the right was just a quick scout shot checking the environment for an angle).  It’s always bothered me that parents go to the mall and pay such a big amount of money for photographers to give them such a mediorce mememto of a great memory.  It’s like you’re being held ransom to the moment, and you’re paying for Access to Santa, not for the moment.  This guy was really really cool.  A small sign said 5×7 pictures were 5 dollars.  Santa Bill and I had already exchanged emails so we chatted a little bit, and the photographer told me that I was more than welcome to fire off a couple of shots if I wanted to.

I told Sabine to go over to Mr. Santa, Introduce herself, and tell him what she was thinking she wanted for christmas.  While she was starting the intro I took a couple of wide frames and noticed that there was no way to include the two candles on the opposite side of the chair without including the empty booths, people, and the big white tunnel leading to the parking lot.  There was a christmas tree behind him, and the yellow lights from the fake candles were spilling into the picture.  That split second, I realized that the picture that I was looking for for so long was staring right at me.

I set the camera (D3S) to 1600 ISO and fired off a bracketed series of images.  I noticed that at the lowest exposures, the yellow was really deep on the edges of the red chair, as if it were firelight.  The textures of the dress sabine was wearing, the Santa softness.. all of this would lend itself to a cool bracketed frame. I quickly composed the shot vertically and fired the frames i needed in the bracketed series. The picture on the right was a quick process I did to show the people over on my Google Plus account how cool this guy looked!

The photographer never took her shot – but I gave him a twenty.  I also told Santa Bill that I would return this Saturday with a picture that would show him just how amazing he was, and how happy he has made both Sabine and I by simply being at the very end of the Flea Market street.

You find interesting miracles in the most peculiar places. Im so happy I did.


  1. Absolutely love this RC!!!
    Beautiful photograph and geez what an incredible Photograph to look back in years to come!!!

    High 5’s to you

  2. Wow, what a beautiful Christmas themed image to treasure for years to come. Definitely one for using on the family Christmas cards next year 🙂
    Excellent work RC

  3. Great pics many shots in the bracket you took for those and how could you keep them still 🙂

  4. Nice post, RC. The ability to “see” a photograph when it’s right there in front of you is something I really need to work on.

    Merry Christmas!


  5. I bet if Mr. Santa runs low in elves you’ll be at the top of his “temporary help” list.

    Especially love the story behind the shot.

    A blessed holiday to you and yours!

  6. Great photo – loved your explanation.

    Merry Christmas to you and your family!

  7. Beautiful shot! It’s great when it becomes a story, a teaching tool, and a wonderful memory, all at once. Merry Christmas to you and your family, RC! Blessings!

  8. Amazing shot – great stuff RC!

  9. Beautiful picture!

    RC, you`re daughter is so precious! I`m glad she got to meet the REAL Santa.

    Merry Christmas everyone.


  10. RC, phenomenal job my friend. You knocked this one out of the park. This is such a classic image! You really captured something special here! And this guy looks like the real deal. Your work has really improved since I first saw you working for NAPP. You are one of my all time favorite HDR photographers man. Thanks for all you do for NAPP, you’ve personally gave me some pointers here and there via twitter that have really helped me out. Hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas together! Take care bud 🙂

  11. An amazing shot and (as usual) a fantastic heartwarming story behind it. Very great post. Happy holidays to you and your family.

  12. What an encouraging story. I can tell you really love your family. That rocks.

    Cherish this moment forever, and you have the photo to remind you. Have a great holiday RC and thank you for sharing. You CAN find miriacles in the oddests places.

  13. Pingback: Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, To All « Joe McNally’s Blog

  14. Great shot! Thanks for sharing the story of how you got it too!

  15. Beautiful. Your daughter will cherish this photo for many many years and so should Santa. Could you maybe explain the post work on the photo for the Rockwell type of shot?

  16. I envy this fantastic portrait, my daughter would burst into tears if we got anywhere near Santa!

  17. Thank you for pursuing this one special moment. Great story makes the final photograph even more meaningful

  18. Lovely capture RC!….has a wonderful Victorian feel to this.

  19. Fabulous. Merry Christmas RC and family!!!


  20. Absolutely beautiful RC. Best of the Holiday Season to you and your lovely family!

  21. Kind of a weird Christmas for me this year, but your story just made my “heart grow 3 sizes” today. Thanks sir, great story and pics.

  22. Merry Christmas to you and your family RC!!! This is my favorite Santa photo yet!!

  23. Wonderful Picture RC,

    I very much related to your post. You can find miracles and good pictures in interesting places;-)

    During Thanksgiving I paid for one of the mall Santa shots. We were visiting my 80 year old mother and wanted her to share in the experience of her newest granddaughters first Santa picture. We went to the mall, ponied up $50 or so dollars and got a really soft print of Riley with Santa. The picture was lame but the experience was worth it.

    I did this knowing full well that I would be the photographer for a local subdivisions Santa shoot the following weekend. It was the first paying job i ever did a few years ago and I will keep doing it for as long as they want me. I think the families pay $15 (some goes to Santa some to me) and they get well lit, and carefully crafted photos that they can download and use for cards etc. Towards the end of the sessions, it was winding down and my wife brought my daughter by to meet Santa again. We put her on the floor and she tentatively made her way over to Santa. I got some others with her in Santa’s lap but I got one which will become an important shot for our family in the years to come. Here is a link to the photo on picasa. I feel the same way about it as you feel about yours. Merry Christmas! I look forward to many episode of Dtown and the Grid in the coming year!

    Ed Dombrowski

  24. That’s a classic image, RC. Excellent work.

  25. That image is priceless. Found this thru Joe M’s blog and I’ll definetely be back! Cheers!

  26. Pingback: The Importance of Photography | Mike Pittman

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