A Day with McClanahan Studio

It's always tough to give a good answer when people ask us "what do you do?" The answer is complicated. We laugh. We play. We elicit beauty. We manipulate light. We create heirlooms. We hang out in a gnarly old building. We adventure. We push boundaries. We never stop learning. Recently we teamed up with our good friend Rob and made a video that sums up these things and more. We hope you like it:

The video is permanently hosted on our home page. If you like the song, it's called "We Came Alive" by Benjamin Dunn!

2014 PPA Photographer of the Year!

Warning: This post is geeky and goes in depth about photographic competition. We won't be offended if you skip straight to the pictures :) We recently got our results back from the Professional Photographer's of America's IPC (International Print Competition)! IPC is like the Super Bowl for photographers with thousands of competitors from across the globe. It's the final culmination of competition that begins at the state level, moves on to the district level, and finale's with IPC. Basically it works like this: every photographer enters a maximum of 4 prints or albums which are scored on a scale from 0-100 according to 12 elements by a panel of expert judges. Images that earn an 80 or above are given a "merit" and enter the PPA General Collection, which only a small percentage of images earn. Merit images are then re-judged to see if they are deemed worthy of being in PPA's "Loan Collection," which only a small percentage of merited images obtain. If a photographer is able to merit all 4 of their entries, they are named a coveted PPA "Photographer of the Year." There are different designations of "Photographer of the Year" according to how many of an artist's merit images are selected for the Loan Collection.

PPA initiated a second branch of the competition called "Master Artist" which is basically a competition of photoshop skills where the artist includes their source files alongside their image so the judges can gauge how complicated their task was and see how creative they were with what they had to work with. A photographer can enter 4 images in Master Artist beyond the 4 that they enter in regular print competition. Complicated, eh!? But for photographers IPC is one of the most exciting and nerve-wracking events of the year!

This year both of us (Dan and Alex) entered IPC's regular print competition and Dan additionally entered Master Artist. Overall we did well! Alex merited 3/4 of her images and Loaned 1 of them. Dan merited 3/4 and Loaned all 3. He also merited 4/4 in his MA case and Loaned 2 of them, earning him a PPA "Gold Photographer of the Year" designation! This is his 3rd time in 4 years earning a Photographer of the Year designation. Not too shabby for a couple of Iowa kids! If you've read this far, you are very patient and we thank you for taking an interest in our work! Enjoy viewing our 2014 images:

Dan's Print Case

"Basking in Love's Light"

PPA Loan Collection

Bride and groom portrait lounged on the rocky Oregon coast with an epic sunset behind. Des Moines Photographer McClanahan Studio photographed this image. Destination wedding. Photo was selected for the 2014 PPA Loan Collection.

"Soaring to Victory"

PPA Loan Collection

Ames high school senior Erin Lehman jumps her competition horse at dusk with a look of determination on her face. This strobist image accentuates the horse's muscles and shiny coat. Photographed in Ames, Iowa by Des Moines Photographer Dan McClanahan. Photo was selected for the 2014 PPA Loan Collection.

"Letting Him Go"

PPA Loan Collection

A Des Moines bride lays on a rock in the ocean and watches her veil wash back and forth in the tide. Destination wedding photographed in Oregon by Iowa Wedding Photographer of the Year McClanahan Studio. West coast wedding, dramatic sunrise portrait was selected for the 2014 PPA Loan Collection.

"Pipe Dreams"

Didn't merit, but we still love this image of local legend Marcus Savage

Ames skating legend Marcus Savage poses for a photograph by Dan McClanahan that is composited into a west coast skate park with stadium lights and sunset. Marcus has a great skater fro!

Alex's Print Case

"Media Slave"

PPA General Collection

Ames beauty Maggie Doyle sits upon a throne constructed from VHS tape to be photographed by Des Moines Photographer McClanahan Studio. Image is a metaphor about the impact media has on our subconscious minds in American culture. Photo was chosen for the 2014 PPA General Collection.

"Rustic Rendezvous"

Didn't merit, but we love this image and made a decorative print of it for our building!

Portrait of Eric and Ellie Whillhoit perched in the hayloft of an old barn at Willhoit farms. Engagement portrait showcasing a meaningful location and a quiet moment between sweethearts. Backlit and toned in a vintage fashion that matches the mood of the image. Captured by Des Moines Photographer Alex McClanahan.

"Rachel & Jared"

Milwaukee Wedding. PPA Loan Collection. This also won the top wedding award in Iowa and was the highest scoring album in our 10 state district!

"Lia & Björn"

Seattle Wedding. PPA General Collection

Dan's Master Artist Case

"Living in Our Own Little World"

PPA Loan Collection

Dan and Alex McClanahan's infamous Christmas card inside a snow globe. She is putting the star on the tree from the top rung of a ladder and he is shoveling the ground, both filled with utopian happiness. Image by Des Moines photographer McClanahan Studio selected for the 2014 PPA Loan Collection. Composited elements included on the print to show the complexity of the project.

"Keeping Her Grounded"

PPA General Collection Composite engagement photo by Des Moines photographer McClanahan Studio showing Mark and Valentina Looney having a symbolic moment on a backpacking trip in the southwest. Valentina is reaching for a butterfly not noticing the cliff's edge and Mark is keeping her from falling off. Photograph selected for the 2014 PPA Loan Collection.

"The Perfect Storm"

PPA General Collection

Iowa State Cyclone Women's Basketball poster featuring hallie christofferson by Des Moines photographer Dan McClanahan. entitled "the perfect storm," the poster shows three seniors emerging from a storm cloud in action poses. Photo was selected for the 2014 PPA General Collection.

"The Winning Moment"

PPA Loan Collection

Des Moines Photographer Dan McClanahan created this poster for Iowa State Cyclone Men's Basketball  2014 season. Featuring Melvin Ejim, DeAndre Kane, Georges Niang executing a drive in Hilton Coliseum against a fictitious opponent. Composite image was selected for the 2014 PPA Loan Collection.

The Freedom Rock

It's interesting how little connections we make can end up coming back to us down the road. Such is the case with myself and Maria Sorensen, who was a classmate of mine at Iowa State University and now runs Sorensen Studios with her husband Bubba – the muralist behind The Freedom Rock. I was excited when Maria and Bubba contacted me to create some imagery to promote The Freedom Rock Tour – their quest to paint a unique Freedom Rock in each of Iowa's 99 counties. Here's a portrait of Bubba, Maria and their daughter Indie: Family portrait of Maria, Bubba and Indie Sorensen in front of The Freedom Rock 2014 in Greenfield, Iowa. The main concept for our shoot was capturing an epic photograph showing a veteran of each military branch with The Freedom Rock to give visual context to its purpose. I should note there was originally a female officer lined up for the shoot that fell through last minute, but the Sorensen's were able to fine another member from that branch to step in. Here's how the main image turned out:

A portrait of Bubba Sorensen's painted  Freedom Rock in Greenfield Iowa accompanied by military veterans from each of the five branches: Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and Marine Corps.

Creating the desired "epicness" for this image was quite a challenge. I brought 5 lights to the shoot and ended up using them all! I knew I wanted to expose for the sunset in the sky to create drama, which required turning around and shooting the rock from the opposite direction as the family portrait above. I was able to position myself so the sun was hidden behind the veterans from my camera's point of view (which prevented distracting lens flare from obstructing the image). Once the composition was established and the sky was properly exposed everything in the foreground was under–exposed and essentially black. The next step was painting light onto the rock and the subjects using flashes. I started by cross–lighting the rock from two angles that would accentuate its shape and texture. Then I lit my subjects with two lights from the front to make sure each gentleman had good light on his face. Lastly a flash was placed behind the subjects to accentuate the directional light already provided by the sun and to add more drama to the shadows coming off the feet (which were getting lost in the wash of light coming off the front lights). Here's a diagram of the setup:

Photoshoot BTS lighting diagram of Dan McClanahan's Freedom Rock promo photoshoot

Getting to talk to these guys was a moving experience and I was able to make individual portraits of the servicemen after getting the main image. One in particular that stands out to me is the following image of Viet Nam Vet John Porter. Ashes and bone fragments of John's fallen brothers from Viet Nam are actually painted into the rock on the helicopter you see below. The loyalty and bond that John described when recollecting his fellow soldiers left me feeling incredibly thankful for the Armed Forces and the sacrifices they've made to ensure the freedom I so often take for granted.


We finished the evening by making a few images of Bubba at work. Getting to hang out with him was inspiring. It's exciting to see young people staying in Iowa and doing great things!



Next time you have a drive on Interstate 80 I encourage you to stop and check out the rock for yourself!


Making of the 2013-14 Iowa State Cyclones MBB schedule poster

This year's poster was a fun challenge for us to create. The concept was to capture the excitement of a fast–break sequence inside Hilton Coliseum. Since last year's poster was so bright, we wanted to embrace a darker vibe this year while still utilizing the edgy lighting style we've been using since we started working with the MBB program. The trickiest part of the concept is that we didn't have access to photograph the court inside Hilton Coliseum because it was set up for other sports. As a work–around, we used a live game–shot from last year's Texas game as a starting point for the background elements of our frame:ISU_MBB_2013_blog1 Dan photographed the basketball court and the hoop inside the Sukup practice facility using flashes to create controlled lighting (for better blending later) with a deeper depth of field than a live game shot. We used these images as the top and bottom elements to our scene:


The next step was the fun part! We brought the team into our studio to photograph them with precisely controlled lighting. This year we ended up using a six light setup to give the illusion of Hilton Coliseum lighting the players from above and behind, while providing plenty of dimension and sharpness to the texture of their jerseys and limbs:

Lighting Diagram ISU MBB poster 2013

The large wooden floors and 16 ft ceilings in our shooting space proved to be a great location for photographing full–speed basketball players! Here are some images straight out of the camera:


After each player was photographed, Dan did a rough knock–out and dropped them into the poster to make sure the correct lighting and perspective was achieved before moving onto the next player. The guys got a kick out of watching themselves get drug around in photoshop! Seeing how they looked in big-picture context helped them get into the zone and brought authentic energy to the shoot:

cyclone mbb poster 2013 bts

Now the tricky part: combining all of these elements into the finished product. For the sake of making dozens of photoshop hours more easily digestible, I made an abridged gif of the process for your enjoyment. (If you're a gif lover, this is the second gif we've made and the fist can be enjoyed here)

Cyclone MBB 2013 animated gif of poster constuction

And here's the finished poster! If you're an avid Cyclone fan and don't want to wait until this weekend, we have a limited amount of pre–release posters that we're giving away at our studio Today through Friday from 10am–6pm each day! 210 5th St in downtown Ames (right across the street from the library under construction).

Iowa State Cyclone Men's Basketball 2013 2014 schedule poster by McClanahan Studio

We hope you enjoy this year's poster as much as we do... Go Clones!



2013 AHS Girls Cross Country Poster

This year we got to again create a schedule poster for the Ames High Girl's CC team! The bar was set pretty high with last year's epic storm poster, so this year's goal was to create something brighter and happier but still with a lot of "wow" factor. Here's what we came up with: Ames High School Girls Cross Country 2013

From what we've heard, the team is off to a fantastic start this year. If any of you girls are reading this, keep running fast! Cyclone Power!

Take your shots like a kid.

We recently got to team up with ZLR Ignition to shoot images for the Iowa Immunization Coalition. ZLR's concept for this year's campaign is "Take your shots like a kid," so we spent a day photographing an array of subjects in the studio with animated lighting to showcase their personalities. Here are a few of the shots:

It's always exciting for us to see how our images are used by designers to create finished product. ZLR designed these posters that are on display across the state:

And here are two billboards currently on SE 14th st in Des Moines!

Lastly, here's one more shot of Atticus (because he's a stud and was so much fun to photograph)!

Rock The Dress: Bridal Portraits on the Farm

Back in December we spent an evening creating some rural-themed images of wedding dresses for Pure Bridal, a wonderful bridal boutique in Ames (check them out)! The winter light was fleeting (and it was quite chilly), but our farm location was very inspiring and we created some cool images that Pure Bridal is using in their marketing materials. Dresses, jewelry and accessories by Pure Bridal and hair and makeup by Studio 7 Salon and Spa. Enjoy!

Clarke University 2012

If you've followed us for a while you might recall a campaign we photographed with the brilliant crew at Rally Collective for Clarke University. This is one of our all time favorite projects, telling the stories of Clarke students and faculty through conceptual portraiture (photographed on location at Clarke and around Dubuque). Since photographing the original Clarke series (which can be seen here), Dan has returned to Dubuque a few times to continue the project. We've already photographed a new batch of images for 2013 that we can't share yet, but for now enjoy this new set of Clarke images from 2012!
















Mere Agency

This is a little belated, but we want to formally introduce you to our new neighbors: Mere Agency! They're web strategists/developers that do great work.  They now occupy a very cool corner space on the 2nd floor of our building. We're inspired by them kicking butt as a young start–up. They had us photograph some promo images for them. If you see any of these guys around town, make sure to stare at them awkwardly:

2013 Iowa Photographer of the Year

Gratitude is the feeling that has been on our hearts this week. Gratitude for the family and friends that have supported and endured with us through the hardest working year of our lives in 2012. Also, gratitude for our wonderful clients (friends) that have let us in to their lives and allowed us to tell their stories and capture their memories. You are why we love what we do! It is with gratitude that we're excited share some good news with you:

Last week we both competed in the annual Professional Photographer's of Iowa print competition. The best professional photographers in the state each submit 4 prints that are judged by a national panel according to the 12 elements of a merit image.

This was Alex's first year competing and she ended up with the highest average score between her four prints, winning the coveted "PPI Photographer of the Year" trophy! She had one print earn a rarely attained "Perfect 100" score. That print also earned her the Masterpiece Award from Fujifilm and first place in the "Portrait of a Child" category. Lastly, she won first place with her wedding album and earned the trophy for "Best Wedding Image." Not bad for a first–timer! Dan is one proud hubby!

Dan ended up 3rd place in the Top 10 with all four of his images earning a merit (scoring 80 or above) and earning Distinguished Print awards (those funny looking purple ribbons in the photo). He also earned a coveted Judges Choice ribbon.

We need to keep the images under the radar until the final round of judging takes place later this year (International Print Competition), but we have posted the images for you to view on a private page here. If you are a PPA judge - don't click the link! The rest of you, please refrain from sharing the link publicly for the time being. Also you are cordially invited to stop by our studio and we will gladly show you the prints in person (which is better anyways because then we get to hang out).

Thank you for reading this! As you have surely noticed, our blog has fallen onto the back–burner in recent months but we have big plans to bring it new life in the coming weeks. Check back soon!



McClanahan Stadium

We're excited to support Cyclone Nation as the Official Photographer of ISU Basketball! You may have already seen it, but here's our jumbotron animation that's airing at every Cyclone home basketball game this season. It was created by the insane Johnny Likens. We're excited to see it in person for the first time at this weekend's game. Go Clones! Make sure you blow this up to full screen when you watch it! http://vimeo.com/53744158  

Iowa State Presidential Holiday Greeting

This year we had the very cool opportunity of working with PUSH Branding + Design on an interactive E-card for ISU president Steven Leath and first lady Janet Leath during their first year in office at Iowa State University. We provided the photography and PUSH provided the art direction and animation. We had a nostalgically great time returning to our Alma mater for this project! Click the image below to enjoy the finished piece, which was unveiled this morning:



The Deadlies

Last Spring Dan went to Los Angeles to photograph album art and promotional materials for an incredibly talented musical duo. Unfortunately the band broke up before the photos were published, so we're publishing them here for your enjoyment.

How We Did It: ISU MBB Schedule Poster

This year we've been blessed with the opportunity to become much more involved with the Iowa State Basketball program. For the 2012/2013 season we've photographed and designed the schedule posters, team posters, magnets, keytags and billboards for both Men's and Women's Basketball and it's been a blast. For the MBB schedule poster  we wanted something bright with a unique artistic composition to contrast how dark some of their posters have been in recent years.  The concept was to have the starting lineup exploding out of nothingness from a single pivot point, much like being in The Matrix with no programs loaded yet. Before we break it down, here's the finished poster:

On photoshoot day we tore down our studio and re–located it to the Sukup practice facility. I gotta give a quick shout–out to my boy Ryan Seiler that helped me with the setup and took the BTS photos that appear later in this post. If you see him around town, give him a high–five and tell him you like his beard:

We photographed the players individually so we could capture perfect shots of each player that fit within our pre–conceived composition. Here's a look at the setup:

And for those of you interested, here's a lighting diagram with the setup we used:

To give depth to the image I wrapped the players with light to enhance their shape to give the illusion that the white nothingness is luminescent and there is white light coming from all directions. Here's what some of the straight–out–of–camera images looked like:

We used our new EyeFi iPad tethering rig during the shoot, which made it a lot more fun for the players. They could instantly see themselves as we shot and it made it easier for them to critique their own poses and for us to communicate what we needed from them during the shoot:

Here's a screen–grab with all the layers cut–out and the composition formed. As you can see, it was still pretty flat and two dimensional:

The next step was adding atmosphere and drawing shadows between the players to create dimensionality. I photographed white smoke that was inserted in–between the layers to create the illusion of illuminated dust coming out of the explosion. This adds a lot of depth to the image:

The last step for the image was deciding what they were "exploding" from. We ended up using a shot we'd taken of the actual court in Hilton Coliseum:

We loved the grunginess of the court and used that theme to add a little bit of grunge and texture to stylize the entire image:

We have a stock of posters (with rubber bands) and magnets at our studio (210 5th St, downtown Ames) and invite you to stop in and snag some if you're interested! Thanks for reading and please visit us again soon!

Stories Covers

We've had the recent pleasure of starting to work with PUSH Branding + Design on a series of projects for Iowa State. Our first projects was a conceptual cover for the cover of ISU's College of Ag and Life Sciences publication, "Stories." The idea was to show a close-up image of a student that represents four different areas of student life: business, science, agriculture, and fun (i.e. attending a sporting event). We photographed 2 students at 4 locations and lined up the images as best we could using a tripod, then the images were combined in photoshop to merge the quadrants together. Here's how it turned out! (see below for a little BTS)

Here's a breakdown of the 4 separate shots out-of-camera. We shot this way so that the individual images are cool enough to stand alone, giving the college a library of student portraits to use for other purposes.

Our last shot of the day was the sports shot. After getting all the images we needed, I couldn't resist jumping in and getting a cyclone-fanatic shot of myself to polish off the day:

We'll be posting more of our adventures with PUSH soon!

Imagery for the Robert Young Center

A while back we had the pleasure of creating some images for the Robert Young Center with Tag Marketing and Communications in Davenport, IA. Tag recently sent us some of the finished pieces (they did all the design wok) and we really like how they used our photos in context with their design. Robert Young is a mental health center that helps people overcome mental issues and get back to their everyday lives, so our assignment was to represent that visually. In the primary images our subjects are confidently re-inserting themselves into the regular activities of their everyday lives (stepping into the void), and then additional imagery shows them back in the swing of things. This project was a fun challenge for us technically and we had a great time working with the folks at Tag!

Jocelyn Part 1

It's no secret that working with musicians is one of our favorite things to do. There isn't much of a scene in central Iowa, so when an Iowa band comes along that's kicking butt and taking names – it's pretty darn exciting. Jocelyn is headquartered in Iowa City and is on the verge of releasing their first EP. You can hear their first single on their Facebook page. We got a sneak preview of the EP and it's gonna be good! It's We photographed promo images for the band in 2 parts, the second of which will be released down the road. Enjoy part 1 and make sure you check out their tunes and share the love!

Advertisement for Millers Lab

We recently photographed an advertisement for our friends at Millers that's currently appearing in Professional Photographer magazine and Rangefinder magazine. Our idea was to show how our creative process translates into a printed product. The amazing Maggie (one of our seniors from last year) agreed to let us photograph her for the project because we loved her images so much and wanted to have her standing on herself. The normal-sized lady in the blue dress is Alex, and Dan finally got to put his red Portland pants to use! The image was made by layering several images we photographed in our studio:

Here's a better view of the ad:

And here's a close-up on some of the detail:

We haven't seen it yet ourselves, but we've been told Rangefinder is running our alternate vertical one page ad:

If you're a Rangefinder subscriber, we'd love to see your copy once you're done with it!



80/35 Portraits for DMS Magazine

Dan recently had the pleasure of creating some artwork for  DSM Magazine featuring Jill and Hillary from On Pitch marketing agency, the beloved Poison Control Center and Justin from the Greater Des Moines Music Coalition, all of whom are heavily involved in this years 80/35 music festival. Dozens of separate images were photographed and collaged with tape and scissors to create whimsical backdrops tied together  by iconic Des Moines architectural elements. The cut-and-paste style is intended to celebrate the way music ties us together and the power it has over influencing our attitudes and perceptions.

The story can be read here :)


A few months back we had the privilege of teaching at After Dark Education in Tucson, AZ. One of Dan's classes took a rock band (girl group RGB) on location for a late night shoot with the purpose of thinking outside the box and experimenting with creative techniques and compositions to create high-impact images. Here's a look at how the images turned out:

Here's a behind the scenes look at the setup... We used Canon speedlights for our lighting, usually with gels appropriately colored to exaggerate the RGB theme:

These gals were great to work with, as was everybody that came to the class!