With his ready smile and focused attention, Ernst-Ulrich Schafer makes each subject feel as if he/she is the most important person in the room. And that is his intention and his art.
Schafer is a portrait photographer who studies people in order to catch not just their images but also their essences. He captures their natural gestures and poses and does not try to position subjects in unnatural ways.
His talent in recognizing and capturing the light within a personality recently won him a basketful of awards from the Professional Photographers of Washington show.
'The light in his eyes ...'
Among 500 submissions that were culled down to 200 entries, Schafer won four awards for a single photograph he took of the Rev. Henry Mulindwa of Uganda while he served at St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church in Sequim.
"The image was chosen (for entry) because I felt I truly captured Father Henry," Schafer said.
"The light in his eyes, his hand gesture, the quiet smile and the quality of portrait lighting and black and white printing says it all."
The photograph earned the honors of Best Portrait of a Man, Best Portrait Overall, the Kodak Gallery Award for Excellence and Best of Show. Schafer also won two Judges Choice awards for photographs of a high school senior and Mulindwa.
Still humble after winning PPW awards two years standing, Schafer said, "Winning this award means a great deal to me, confirming that good quality portraiture is alive and well.
"Of course, now I'm hoping to capture someone else and do even better next year. I have my sights set on 'Washington Photographer of the Year' that a good friend keeps getting."
The Frick photographer
Many Sequim residents remember the easy-going Schafer as the helpful man at the Frick Drug photo counter for three years. He has been
taking portraits for the past eight years. A class he took from photographer Monte Zucker inspired Schafer and he since has taken many classes to learn new techniques.
He says photographers need to study with masters to learn the basics and to follow fundamental rules for composition but not tie themselves down with unnecessary rules.
One of the most important things is to experiment so the art can grow and change.
"Ya gotta change," he says. "Keep taking pictures and ask questions about them to see where you can improve."
Studies of seniors
With portraits he takes of graduating high school seniors, he has the subjects bring several changes of clothes so he captures various aspects of the person. The sessions take some time so he can get numerous photos.
Then he puts the images on the computer so the family can choose the photos they like. He sends those images to a professional lab for printing so the portraits are very high quality. The result is an album plus a couple of extras that Schafer includes.
He feels digital cameras have hurt both wedding albums and senior albums because people take a few shots and print them at home so the quality of the pictures is not as high as it might be with a professional photographer and a professional lab.
Special occasions call for a quality product, he feels.
For his own enjoyment, Schafer often attends community events like the Irrigation Festival parade to document the area's history. He also is the official photographer for the Irrigation Festival.
"I'm part of that community," he says. "I want to capture events that form our community."
A window in Schafer's studio offers the perfect light for photographs - light reflected from buildings across the street that is bright enough to capture details without washing out colors.
Schafer uses this window for one of his other passions, black and white photos.
He has a collection of vintage black-and-whites photos on his back wall, many of calla lilies.
Every spring he places some lilies in his window and takes pictures each day as they blossom and fade, to capture the progression in black and white.
One of his other projects is to invite street people into his studio as they walk by.
He takes their pictures in black and white to document the history of Port Angeles and its people.
Many of these subjects are well known in the downtown.
Contact Schafer at 808-6058 or ErnstPhoto@msn.com. Schafer's studio is at 120 N. Laurel St., Port Angeles.