Introduction by Mark Weber

I’ve always been passionate about print competition. I’ve learned so much from the inspiration of others’ creativity. Working at Marathon Press where we have the great privilege of producing the Image Excellence and Show Books in coordination with the Professional Photographers of America, has been nothing short of awe-inspiring.

Understanding the creative process of others helps you understand how to stretch & challenge your own creativity. The PPA Image Excellence and Show Books are the absolute North Star of photographic creativity and quality.  

I asked photographic artist, Anjana Olson, to share the story behind her extraordinary image called “Gray Matter”. It’s a PPA Image Excellence selection that I think you’ll enjoy learning about as much as the beauty, impact, and technical skills used to create it.

“Gray Matter” is a self-portrait; I use self-portraits in my work as a way to explore emotion, study a new photographic technique, and simply infuse creativity and inspiration for client sessions.

For this specific portrait, I was attempting to visually portray the feeling of multiple aspects of self-existing simultaneously – both fighting against each other and for each other. The calm and the anxious, the bold and apprehensive, the chaos and the quiet. Nobody is one thing at all times.

My life consists of being a mother to three young boys, a full-time photographer, a business owner, a wife, an artist, a daughter, and a woman. We all have multiple identities existing within us simultaneously. That feeling is what I was hoping would translate through this image.

“Gray Matter” @ Anjana Olson

This was photographed in-camera on a Canon R5 set to f/16 with a shutter speed of 1/200 and ISO 100 as a multiple exposure with 3 layered images. The lens was a Canon RF 28-70mm at 70mm focal length. The multiple exposure mode was set to Average on Func/Ctrl (this allows image review after capture unlike the Cont Shtg mode) and then triggered by a handheld remote set to 2 second delay so that my hands were free to pose. For Off Camera Flash (OCF) I had a Godox AD400 set on full power (1/1) with a 72” parabolic diffused umbrella for the main light and bounced off a V-flat white to fill the shadows.

Lighting Set up

Being intentional with my end goal and the message I was attempting to visually convey helped with the parameters for how and why I was setting the camera this way and my choice of using a simple textured backdrop for the subject. Once the in-camera image was created, I finished it in black and white to take away the distraction of color and truly focus on the varying versions of self.

Self-portraits are the perfect vessel for learning what it feels like to be on the other side of the camera as well as delving into advanced techniques. The journey to get to “Gray Matter” taught me the difference between Additive, Average, Bright, and Dark modes within multiple exposures, how to move and pose to allow my arms and face to fit in the composition well, and how to use OCF to light multiple exposure images well.