Ace Fanning Photography



      Before you screenshot this session and send it to me with the words, "I want to do my shoot here!" Trust me, I do too... buuuut this is Boulder, CO and thats just a quick 14 hour drive from Phoenix, AZ. Trust me, I feel your pain... but it ain't happening. This is Ava + Brendan and I am in love with these two individuals so freaking much... not just because they are genetically perfect, but because they are fun and truly best friends and they LAUGH for real at and with each other and as a photographer, I can only fake chemistry to a certain point... my job is a much easier one when its really there and its really genuine. And THAT is Ava + Brendan. 


  Your buddy,

Ace FanningComment

      While writing this blog post... I decided to break it into parts: The Emotional + The Educational. If you came here strictly for insight on how I attempted my very first underwater shoot and don't want to read through all the "fluff" or you just came here for the story behind these images-- I made it easy on you, the two sections are obviously labeled. And maybe, just maybe, you came here for both. Because I honestly believe you can't have art without the feelings but I also think art has so many different teaching moments. Whichever one of these paths describes you, I just appreciate you being here.




       Photography has always been a therapy for me. I spent a REALLY long time not expressing myself-- choking on my own feelings or pretending to be someone I wasn't-- and that was how I lived. I should say... that was how I managed, because I was not living. For a really long time, I didn't live. I just went through the motions of the day-to-day. But now, photography gives me this platform to express what I am truly feeling on the inside when words are just not enough. As I looked through this entire series... some of the photos were "pretty" like I had set out to create, but the majority were more "painful" than "pretty." How did something I set out to be so pretty become so painful? I was confused.. not mad, because I loved the images, just confused. Until I realized: Cydni was me.  No, I don't mean she looked like me (thank God)... but she had become this vessel for everything I had been feeling. She was no longer just this pretty girl in my photos-- she was the years of pain and hurt I felt, she was the strength I once never knew I possessed, and she was the hope. She was me and this was my story. 


       I have talked endlessly about the depression I struggled with, but in all my years of using photography as a form of therapy, I have never once created something that so perfectly depicted that time in my life. And if you're saying to yourself, "Sheesh, get the fuck over it... it happened a long time ago." Trust me, I am with you. I tell myself that all that time. But recently, I got myself sucked into a stupid conversation that brought up a lot of those feelings again... that's how it works for me, one tiny thing can bring back this sea of emotions. I don't seek it out, I don't want it at all... and before I can even try to run to shore, the tide grabs me and pulls me under. And every emotion, every ounce of pain, every bad experience of that time just hits me at once. But its weird, I don't feel the feelings, I just see them. Almost like I am just watching a movie... of my own hurt, and I feel for him, but I don't feel his pain. 


        I could talk forever about the bullies... I could list off all the things they ever did to me like a well-organized grocery list. But this isn't their story. This is my story. I was a very emotional child. When I look back at who I was as a child... I see a lot of crying. I cried about everything. At the time, a lot of people deemed me a crybaby, or a spoiled brat, who was just throwing a fit. For the longest time I bought into that narrative too-- I look back and think, "Get it together kid." But as I go through old memories-- I don't remember setting out to cry, it was just this natural response I had. Then I had this lightbulb moment. I wasn't crying because I was a baby, I wasn't even crying about the small things that would set me off... I was crying because I was hurting.  I was 8 years old when I switched to a new school where I first experienced bullying and by 10 I had my first thoughts of suicide. Clearly I was going through some shit... and I just kept those feelings locked up tight. I was dealing with feelings and emotions no-one should ever have to, yet alone a child. It felt as though I was walking around with this huge pot of water and even the tiniest misstep would cause it to spill over. And without knowing it, this became my way of dealing with life. This big pot of water became a part of who I was. 


       By the time high school came around, I was completely broken. My pot of water was two times the size and I just dragged that fucking pot around everywhere I went. Water spilling over with every single step. Until one day I stopped carrying the water around and instead just climbed inside. And I stayed there, for a very long time. So many people knew I was in there too, but sometimes its easier to ignore the kid suffering than it is to do anything about it. And my pot grew bigger and bigger-- until it became an ocean. And some people would yell from the shore that it was time to come back in while others would make sure there wasn't a scene being made by the kid who wouldn't get out of the water. No one could hurt me out there. I told myself I was safe out there. And it wasn't until I finally tried to swim back to shore that I realized I didn't need to be scared of the people on land... I needed to be afraid of the ocean. 


       This ocean was still once the pot I grew tired of carrying around and at some point along the way, I got confused. And now that I was trying to get out, the tide kept pulling me under. The hardest part of my story was not becoming depressed, that was a gradual progression that started when I was 8 years old... it was trying to get better. Getting to this point was easy for me, like floating. Then one day I woke up and realized how far I had drifted. Now all I wanted more than anything was to be on the shore... to be normal. I was so tired of the pain and hurt... and yet I kept hurting myself. I had never really loved myself, but now I hated me. How did I allow myself to get to this point? I fought so hard for so long and now, I had no fight left. And eventually, I stopped swimming. I just let go. I gave into the ocean. I became numb


And I almost drowned, out there on my own.
Broken and bruised.
With nothing left to give.
This is how my story would end.


       Until one day, out of nowhere... came this light. At first faint, but in this dark ocean I couldn't miss it. I swam to the surface and there was a girl, in a little paddle boat and she asked, "What are you doing out here?" She had no clue that this ocean was the one I built. She had never heard of the boy who wouldn't come back to shore. For the first time in awhile, someone saw me for me, not the things that were said about me. To her, I was just another swimmer enjoying the water. My wife, 12 years ago, didn't befriend me to try and fix me. She didn't even know I was sinking. She was just there. She was a light I hadn't seen in a very long time. She was the air my lungs had been longing for.


       She never asked me to get in the boat with her. She had no clue how long I had been out there. Being that far out, she assumed I must be an excellent swimmer. To this day, I am still so thankful she never asked me to get in. I would have likely capsized her boat, losing her trust, or even worse, leaving us both stranded out there. That was the fear everyone else had... if they weren't careful, I may pull them down too. So she stayed there in her boat and me in my ocean but she never left my side. I didn't need my wife to save me... I knew if I was ever going to get better, if I was ever going to get out of this ocean and stay out, I had to do it on my own. She was a lighthouse when I got lost at sea. 


      And it took awhile. Years. Before I ever reached the shore. But she never gave up on me. Even when I would sink back down for a little bit, she would wait for me. She would shine her light for me. And she loved me every single step of the way.. even when I was so hard to love. My wife showed up for me when everyone else walked out. And over the years, she has given me the strength and courage to face the ocean. No matter how hard life gets, because of her, I know I can handle it. No matter how strong the tide may be and how hard it fights to pull me back out... I will never stop swimming. You see... when you fall into depression at such a young age, it just starts to feel normal. I felt like I was broken and I would always be that way... I couldn't remember what life was like before my depression. I still don't remember life before depression. But I will never forget about life after depression. I know now how good the warm sand feels beneath my feet... I know what its like to be happy and to be loved and I will never stop fighting for that. 


       All the love.
-Your buddy, Ace.



       Before you go and just dunk your livelihood into the pool-- I want to give you some insight on my experience and the gear I used. During the beginning phases of this shoot, I reached out to my good friend Brianna who I knew had dabbled in some underwater stuff to get her perspective. She told me she used the DiCAPac Waterproof Case and she liked it and for $70 and free two-day shipping from Amazon... it was amazing! But she said it did have a few draw backs: 1. Once your camera is in the bag, it becomes essentially a point and shoot camera. The controls are hard to access without getting it out of the bag and once you have the bag sealed and secured you don't exactly want to keep taking it back out. 2. Because the case is a bag, it is also a floatation device. Which means its pretty difficult to pull the camera under the water-- for what she was using it for, just dipping the camera under the surface of the water, it wasn't a problem... but I knew I wanted to be completely submerged. And 3. While Brianna's experience was good with the case... there were too many horror stories under the reviews on Amazon for me to dunk $3,500 worth of gear in it. So I started researching some more and came across the AquaTech Elite 5D3 Camera Water Housing and I knew I had to have it. But dropping $1,595.00 on something I was experimenting wasn't about to happen. Thankfully for me, one of my absolute favorite companies, Borrow Lenses partners with AquaTech on rentals. It was still more money than I wanted to spend between the housing, lens port, and shipping.. but I will say it was money well spent. Here was my set up: AquaTech Elite 5D3 Camera Water Housing + AquaTech P-100 Underwater Lens Port (this was the port compatible with my 35mm) . It was INSANELY easy to put together-- I am not the sharpest tool in the shed, nor am I very good at following directions, and I am saying it was easy.

       I set up a quick shoot with one of our clients the morning of this shoot so I could just figure out what the hell I was doing. And I am so glad I did. Typically, when I am shooting, my Auto Focus is set at ONE SHOT and my Drive Mode is set at SINGLE SHOOTING... and after one jump in the water, I knew that was NOT going to work. I got one completely out-of-focus shot that was absolutely terrible. So I switched up some settings. First, I switched from ONE SHOT to AI-SERVO (which tons of photographers use already-- but I've always hated that it doesn't give me feedback or a beep and so I have just never gelled with it). Next I switched from SINGLE SHOOTING to HIGH SPEED CONTINUOUS because while holding my breath under water.. my main objective was to just get in as many shots as possible. Then I did something I would never normally suggest: I shot in AUTO WHITE BALANCE. I am typically am a Kelvin guy for life... but I was willing to give up some control for the sake of the shoot. In the future I would love to be more in control than I felt during this... but it would be weird if your newborn baby came home and started walking around. You know? Take it slow. 


       The next challenge I faced was something anyone with common sense would have accounted for... but not me. I was floating. I would go under and as soon as I went down I came back up. Katelyn suggested blowing out my nose... but I am one of those people who can't pat their head and rub their belly at the same time... so that wasn't going to work. And while our solution may have not been the safest or smartest, it worked. We filled a small backpack with two 8lb weights and that combined with the water it filled up with.. I was able to sit on the bottom of the pool no problem. *I AM NOT CONDONING DOING THIS... IF YOU DROWN, THATS ON YOU* Yeah, my backpack made it extra hard to tread water in between shots, but totally a sacrifice I was willing to make. Anything for the picture. 


Here is a screen grab from a video where you can see my backpack. It wasn't big at all, and while you wouldn't think 16 pounds + some water could hold down 255 lbs of man... you are wrong. Unless you thought it could... then you are right.

       I talk a lot about location and making the best out of what you have... but THIS shoot? I couldn't just settle for a pool.. I needed to shoot at the lake, or the ocean if it was closer, because I could NOT have this look like it was a pool. And then I remembered I am terrified of any body of water... even the deep end of the wave pool at Wet-N-Wild. And how the frick was I going to get a light out in deep enough water? Pool it is. Our pool was out of the question because its only 5 foot deep. Cydni's pool is gorgeous-- they are so fancy they don't just have 1 pool, they have 2-- but at the end of the day, it was still a pool. So as if shooting underwater, at night, with weird light sources wasn't a challenge enough... I wanted to throw myself one more. In my last post, I talked about editing out distractions... same thing applied here. I had to edit out pool tiles and drains... but I also used my Gradient Tool in Lightroom, pulled from the bottom up, to darken the floor of the pool and give you the illusion of a deeper bottom than what was really there. So now, a 10-11 foot pool is deep enough to make me feel eerily uncomfortable. 


You can see in the images above, I added a pretty dramatic gradient filter to the bottom of the picture but how much it paid off in making the photo dramatic. That mixed with the extreme contrast I added between the Blacks and Lights of the photo made my vision come to life. Boom Shaka Laka. 


For this shoot we had 3 different set ups. The first was the red dress shot entirely with natural light. We started around 6:30 PM -- with sunset being at 7:11 PM that day. Then we took a break for dinner because we had to wait for the light to be completely gone. Our second set up was with the pink flowy dress. We turned every light off outside and then, again not the safest thing in the world, my wife held a portable work light over the water. Guys, in fact this was the dumbest thing we could have done... had she dropped that light we would all be fried. Thankfully, our life insurance policy isn't that amazing and she loves Cyd. If you are currently fighting with your spouse and they hate you... I don't suggest this set up. And the third set up was just a lace body suit that covered literally nothing and our only light source was the pool light behind her. 


This is our first setup with the red dress and only natural light. I waited until close to sunset because I didn't want any part of the sun to hit the surface of the water and create reflections... I needed these to be as dark and moody as possible and because of that these feel the most "deep ocean"-ish to me. 


Our second set up with the pink flowy dress and the work light as a our only light source... and definitely one of the most stupid ideas we have ever had. "Yeah, hold this light that is plugged in, over this giant pool of water... no biggie!" So worth it in the end though.. the results from this were pretty amazing.


This is our third setup with the lace bodysuit and the pool light giving off some serious back lighting. This is also one of the only pictures were you can really see my weighted backpack, as well as their TWO pools... how fancy is that? "No matter which pool I am talking about, I always refer to it as my second pool. That way people know I have two." -Me, if I had two of anything, except pizza in my hand. This setup was honestly one of those in the moment decisions. Cydni's mom asked if I wanted it on and I said, "Let's try it... if it doesn't work... we will figure something else out." And it worked... at least I think it did. For anyone wondering... there is NOT actually a second light source... that is simply just the reflection of the pool light reflecting off the top of the water. 

 I am SO proud of this shoot, but obviously, there is always room for improvement. So here are a few of the challenges I faced. First, you will notice the majority of these photos are in Portrait Orientation (up + down)... when I was using the camera housing, there was a button that stuck out far right next to my eye that would throw my camera into Live View (or video mode) and every time I tried to shoot in Landscape Orientation, I would hit it and boom... I couldn't take pictures. After the first few times, I didn't want to deal with it anymore and just stuck with what I could do. This was frustrating me in my post-processing because limbs would be cropped out that I wanted to keep and so-forth. And its not a design flaw by the company... honestly, had I been wearing just eye goggles (and not the ones that cover your nose) it probably would not have been an issue. Second, things don't move the same way they do underwater as they do on land. We picked the pink flowy dress for the big movement we thought it would have... but not so much. Thankfully Cyd's friend was over and was more than willing to help us by pulling the dress out once she was at the bottom... and then swim like Michael Phelps outta there to make sure she wasn't in the frame. Third, I am a skin freak. I pride myself on how good my models skin always looks in my shoots... and editing these photos was definitely more of a challenge. Underwater skin doesn't edit the same as on land.

But for real, I am so happy with how everything came together. It completely took me out of my element... physically, it kicked the shit out of me, I was so sore the next day... and creatively, I grew a lot from it. I know its scary putting yourself in a situation where you are having to learn along the way, but that was exactly this shoot for me and I am so thankful I did it. Yes, I wanted to barf leading up to it... I was so nervous that all my time planning, everyone else's time, the money spent and energy would all be a waste on my epic fail. Thankfully it wasn't. I really am so excited about what I created. If you guys have questions, feel free to ask! 

   Love you fools.

-Your buddy, Ace.

Ace FanningComment

         One model, two ways. I didn't create this project with you in mind (sorry if that sounds rude)-- but when I initially set out to do this project, it was more-so to prove to myself. Prove to myself what? Who even knows anymore... but honestly, that I wasn't some one-trick pony. If you've scrolled through my Instagram or had an actual conversation with me, you'd know that self-confidence does not just ooze from my insides. I struggle a ton with comparisons and figuring out who I am. My photography style is bright and colorful in an industry that is currently geared towards dark and moodier images with film-like edits. No one believes in blue skies right now... and I eat them up. And I would be lying to you if I said it didn't have an effect on me. Sometimes I sit at my computer and I beat myself up over the fact that I don't feel my work is versatile enough, or it doesn't fit the mold, or the dreaded, "Is my work commercial?" The amount of times that question has popped into my head is insane. Don't get me wrong, commercial photographers make BANK and live a way cooler lifestyle than myself... but I want to be recognized as an artist, I want to be a creator, an innovator.... I just want to make shit that makes other people feel something or think something -- good, bad or otherwise. The entire premise of this shoot was not just about taking a model and having her look like two completely different people.. it was also about me. How much could I push my creative abilities as a photographer to showcase both sides of my brain? Do I have it in me to be versatile? Do I have more to offer this world than just the same thing over and over?  

For anyone wondering, this entire shoot was shot on my Canon 5D Mark III with my Canon 35mm 1.4. That was it.

        I style these shoots from head-to-toe... from the hair and make-up, to the location decisions, to the clothing and shoes... everything you see has my touch. I am a control freak, obviously. I hear others photographers talk about how hard it is for them to find good outfits for their own styled shoots... so I want to give you a little insight on this entire look. First, the pants. They can be found HERE so you can see them in all their glory. They are ugly. I am sorry if you own them-- but the laces up the side are definitely not what I was going for. BUT, because I knew the shirt and jacket would both be baggy, I knew the laces wouldn't show. The jacket and shirt were both good-- nothing exciting to tell there. BUT the shoes... those were $4 on clearance (returning shoes is next to impossible-- we've even put packing tape on the bottoms to keep them clean and they still get dirty. So when I find shoes on clearance in my models size... it feels a lot like a sign from above. But then, the really fun part and the piece that you may not always notice, but what I felt really felt finished off the outfit. Her cape. It's actually a dress. See it HERE. Had she actually worn that dress... her biscuits and potatoes would have been on complete display for the world to see. But I wanted the metallic touches. So instead, we just safety-pinned the dress onto the shoulders of the shirt (the jacket covered that whole mess) and it became a cape. I am a sucker for layers and I will create them however I can. So stop trying to find some amazing outfit that you can just swing in and grab... use your creativity and make cha-cha pants and see-thru dresses work for you. 

      I'd love to add some witty content about the styling of this dress, but the truth is, I saw it on Free People a few months ago and knew I had to photograph Jay in it.  It is gorgeous and expensive and I didn't use a lick of creativity to make it work. 

      Let's talk editing. Because even though my location changed, the lighting changed, the clothes changed, the posing and stories changed, had my post-processing not changed, the photos would still be very similar. My inspiration while editing these photos was winter. That sounds really weird, but its true. I wanted these photos to make you feel it was 40 out and not 115. I used grain to add some grit (not sure if thats the correct word, but it works for me) and to add details to those shadows without losing them. If that makes any sense. I wanted my backdrop to be blown out by a very soft white as to not distract from her. I didn't want any sort of markers or things that could tell you WHERE this photo was. It could have been anywhere. 

       WARNING: GRAIN AHEAD. But for real... this isn't grain from shooting with a high ISO, its grain that I strategically put there simply because I wanted to. And I think this a good time to point out that "moody" doesn't have to mean dark... I actually brightened up the white wall in this photo because I wanted to give it a it a stark white feeling-- adding to that feeling of cold weather I mentioned earlier. If you look out the back window and think it looks more like its raining than scorching... then I did my job. 

      In the next BEFORE + AFTER... do me a favor and peep that foreground. That dirt was taking away from the scene I was trying to create. That dirt was saying, "Welcome to Arizona... where we sweat our balls off on the daily." And instead I wanted it to say, "Welcome to the land of green and beauty." So, clone tool the shit out of that. Fun fact: earlier in this post you saw a picture somewhat similar to this one... did you notice I just simply copied, pasted and flipped the right side of the photo onto the left? Just the ground, not the mountain. Here I wanted to keep the little hill behind her so I just cloned some bushes to cover the dirt. It took me all of an extra 2 minutes and made the world of difference. So that's the foreground... but lets talk about something in the background that REALLY makes this photo stand out... that sky. Here is my rule of thumb with skies... if you can expose for it and save those details even just a tiny bit, you can make it dramatic. BUT if you have a completely blown out sky, you can't just add one back in. It will look more fake than Kim Kardashians butt. Because I shoot in raw and because I was able to save just enough blue sky and clouds in camera-- I could do ANYTHING I wanted with that sky. Here I just wanted it really bring it to life, nothing too crazy. And I am obsessed. The gradient tool will become your best friend. 

      It wasn't until I started reading Ben Sasso's blog that I started to pay attention to the smaller details of my photos. In his post he talks about how certain things, like a small rock or a hole in the ground can create distractions, these seemingly insignificant pieces of your photo can play a much larger role than you think... but its usually not until you take them out that you notice just how distracting they were. For this next photo, I really felt the the stair-rail and the part of the building were taking away from the drama of the sky. So I cloned them out in Lightroom and pulling from the portion of the sky that was white-- because I want it to be clean. Then I went over those clones with the clone tool again and this time pulling from the parts of the sky that were blue. I wanted this photo to be dramatic and an awkward 1/3 blue sky was not doing that for me. 

 and then I threw it in black + white and was so turned on (artistically, of course)! 

      Okay you guys. I am sorry for how long this post turned into. I am SO happy with how everything turned out and I feel like I did what I set out to do. I hope you guys liked it. Or learned something. Or felt something. I am so excited to start blogging again. So if you guys have any questions, send them my way. Because there is only so much content I can come up with on my own. For real... I love you guys.

-Your buddy, Ace.



Ace FanningComment
Mikaela + Aaron: A Phoenix, AZ Engagement Session.

For the past six years, these two have seen each other through all the highs and lows that life has brought. They are self proclaimed homebodies, and best friends. Two traits I truly admire in a couple. And I could not be more excited for them as they take the leap into this next journey, together. Mikaela + Aaron, thank you for allowing me to create and step outside of my comfort zone-- the results are even more than I expected. You two made my job an easy one.


I hope you two always love each other like you do right now... before anything else, always be best friends. 


The Fakest Assistant You Never Knew!

Q: How do I get people to take me more serious?!

A: I wish I could take credit for this advice-- but I totally can't. Several years ago, while watching an episode of Oprah (not even joking you-- I am a die-hard Oprah fan) she had this lady on an episode centered around creating your own business. And I so wish I could remember this ladies name, because this piece of advice has stuck with me longer than any other advice I've been given. She said that when she first started her adventure as a photographer-- it was hard for her to have people take her serious. Everyone treated her as though her photography was just a hobby and they would say things like, "Why don't you just come over and snap some photos?" or, "You should bring your camera!" These people were friends of friends, or family of friends, and while she loved what she was doing-- compensation is a huge part of owning and operating a business... otherwise it really is just a hobby. And while she knew what she wanted to charge these people-- it was hard for her to communicate that to them, she was scared. And that is a feeling I know all too well. And then she had this brilliant idea-- she would leave those awkward conversations up to her assistant. Fancy huh? Except she was just starting out and couldn't afford to pay an assistant, so she became her own.

She would sign all of her emails as this factitious assistant, actually, as an executive assistant, for two reasons. Having an executive assistant, quickly changed her image from, "that lady with a camera," to a professional. And the other reason, and my favorite reason, was it took HER out of the equation. Katelyn has almost always handled all of our emails because we quickly learned that it was not my strongest skill-- but our business is not called Katelyn Photography, it's called Ace Fanning Photography. I don't talk money, I don't talk scheduling, I don't talk any of those things with clients (not to say I am not involved in them, because I am... A LOT) but those things take away from who I want to be to my clients. I am the fun and crazy guy who is going to make you laugh during pictures-- I am your friend. And I don't ever want to lose that connection with them. I am never the one saying, "No." Mind you, I am.... but I'm not. And by taking myself out of that equation-- I can do what I need to do, even easier.

Now, we can't all be as lucky as I am and have a Katelyn. And that's where your fake assistant comes in. If you are scared to talk pricing, or you're too scared to say, "No," to things you don't want to do, or you're a pushover like myself, or whatever the reason may be-- your assistant is now the one fielding those questions. 

Give it a shot! You aren't going to lose anything by trying it a few times-- but this unknown photographer lady managed to make her way onto Oprah and give advice to others trying to find themselves as business owners... so clearly it worked for her. 

If you successfully implement this into your business-- shoot me an email and tell me about your experience! Or if you have any other questions for me, I want to hear them!  


Hi, I am Ace.

My name is Ace. And this is my new website. And let me tell you, this website has been a labor of love for me-- a sometimes life-sucking, labor of love. And it STILL isn't finished. There are sections I had to take down in order to finally get this bad boy up and running. But much like me, this site is a work in progress. Either way, I am excited. Because this marks a completely new chapter in my adventure-- and for the past few months, while my other site crashed and this one wasn't ready, I have felt in limbo-- lost between two chapters. It's a website, trust me, I get how stupid that all sounds, but it's true. But instead of focusing on those feelings, I am going to focus here