Friday, December 28, 2007

Photographer, 90210

Here's how Aaron Spelling would have described this scene:
Blonde, fashionably-clad starlet in her mid-20s jiggles past a nightclub as the paparazzi clamors for any image they can get. Just inside, local celebrities sip martinis as the sun sets on another perfect day in Beverly Hills.
But, with all respect to the late Mr. Spelling, here is how I would have described it:
Hired talent in her early 30s paces back and forth in the cold December dusk. A sleep-deprived photographer kneeling inches from Wilshire Boulevard breathes bus fumes while trying to ignore the cramp in his right foot.
We just got back from shooting SportsClub/LA's three Southern California locations. Client Kasey O'Leary-Massey did an amazing job of planning and executing our most productive 4-day lifestyle shoot to date. The most important part was always knowing where to find the local Starbucks.

Celebrities? We saw plenty. But unlike the rest of our media, Red Square Photography refuses to drop names.

Friday, December 14, 2007

My Aunt Linda

My family recently said goodbye to one of its most well-loved members, my Aunt Linda, who passed away due to complications from cancer at the age of 60. Without dwelling on this most upsetting fact of life, I wanted to share an important image that would not exist if it were not for my aunt.

The shot above is an iconic view—so much that I will not even mention the name of this city and still, 99% of you will know it. (The remaining 1% are probably living underground, without internet access and therefore not reading this anyway.)

In February 1998, my then fiancée and I went to visit my aunt who had a great connection for a private tour of Rockefeller Center. Just above the famous Rainbow Room, there is a door and staircase which leads to a rooftop with a view south to the Empire State Building and World Trade Center in the distance. It was cold, windy and rainy so I was not eager to step out there. But, with my Nikon F3, 20mm Nikkor and high-grain film, my aunt and I ventured outside to see the view which our guide described as "spectacular."

After about 60 seconds shooting, I didn't think too much about it. But when the film was finally developed, this one stood out as a dramatically beautiful image. Even my aunt commented, "That's really a great shot." So I made a small print for her apartment. Over the past decade, numerous companies have bought stock licenses for that image and it remains one of my career favorites to-date.

Well...we've said goodbye to a few of the buildings in that shot and now we've said goodbye to the woman who made the shot possible. I usually roll my eyes when someone says "photography captures a moment" or some other cliché but in some strange way, it's true. We just never know when that moment will be taken from us.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Party Set

Miami Beach is certainly one of the world's most famous nightclub cities. And, one of its newest clubs is Set from the Opium Group developers.

Personally, I have never been a part of the nightclub scene. With two young children, my wife and I are lucky just to get out for a few hours to eat a quiet dinner somewhere close to home. My college years were not much different: I was always the first of my friends to go home and fall asleep, usually before midnight. And before I married my wife, I was on a date with a woman who actually told me, "You're boring!"

So, when the avant garde magazine Wallpaper asked me to shoot the newest, hippest and most exclusive nightclub in the world's coolest, hottest city, I felt this project would be the closest I could ever get to such a place.

As we were setting up the location, the club's daytime manager ran down the list of famous people who drop in from time to time, including: Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, Diddy, P. Diddy, Puff Daddy, Puffy, Sean John and The Artist Formerly Known As Sean Combs. The club manager also mentioned other famous names but I hadn't a clue who they were...further proof of my unhip life. (That's ok because I love getting a good night's sleep and nothing spoils fine cuisine like the burn of a tequila shot going down your throat.)

The first image is the main bar area with an original Dale Chihuly chandelier and two green vertical plexiglass tubes. On any given night, club-goers will go inside the tubes and dance for the gawkers down below who pretend not to notice. These are not paid, professional models but regular SoBe partiers (as if there were a difference). The large vodka bottles shown are Belvedere magnums which sell for $1,500 apiece. So, with nine bottles appearing in my shot, we were careful not to bump any.

Another shot features the DJ booth with a giant flat screen. We needed to freeze an image from the looping video so I chose a frame with artist Andy Warhol, seemingly filming the nightclub crowd down below (a subtle hint to South Beach's exhibitionist lifestyle). Adding some scale to the over-sized faux elephant tusks is "DJ Jazzy" Jeff Herron, a fellow photographer who assisted me on the shoot.

The main bar shot appears on page 144 of Wallpaper's December issue.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Mediterranean Serenity

Back in the summer of 2003, Crystal Cruises hired me to shoot their newest ship Serenity as it sailed from Lisbon to Sorrento. Since I was already in Belgium for the summer, I flew to the ship on Virgin Express for an amazingly cost-effective 199 euros round trip. It turned out to be one of my most memorable shoots to date.

Of the 80 final images delivered to the client, one of the nicest has to be the balcony of the Crystal Penthouse, an $18,000/week private residence located midship on the 11th deck (a 24-hour butler is free with purchase).

We had already shot the typical residential angles: foyer, bed, bath and dining, but when I took a walk out on the teak balcony (or veranda as they say in the cruise business), I just had to shoot it. And since the Mediterranean was especially calm that evening, we decided on a long-exposure dusk shot.

Shooting film back then, we loaded my favorite Fuji Reala negative and did multiple 10-second exposures as the soft blue ambient light went dark.

My camera, the legendary Hasselblad 903SWC (pictured left), was my all-time favorite until I sold it to help pay for my digital equipment not too long after this balcony shot was taken.

I could probably go on and on about how much I loved this camera...still miss it was my best friend, etc...but that would make me a scary photo geek so I will spare you, dear blog reader.

The shot went largely un-discovered in the Crystal Image Library until just a few months ago when they added it to their current print campaign as seen in Virtuoso Life magazine's gatefold above.

Better late than never.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Bienvenidos a Miami

I haven't posted in a little while...very busy with lots of things that I'll share in a week or two. In the meantime, I'll post this shot of downtown Miami, taken just 48 hours ago.

Anyone in the South Florida area has certainly noticed a recent change in the weather. The low humidity is producing fiery sunsets and the cool breezes are making higher-altitude clouds that move during long exposures (the above was about 50 seconds). Aside from some exposure masking (mostly toning down the bright, patriotically-lit I.M. Pei building) there was not much color enhancement. It really looked like this.

Miami's reputation as a party town (among other things) overshadows some of the best aspects of the city. With the islands, bridges, water and sunsets like this, I've always seen Miami as one of the world's most naturally beautiful cities.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Red Square Economic Index

Have you checked the Red Square Economic Index (RSEI) lately?

Real estate is down 99%, hotels and resorts are up 99% and spas are up 70%. And while I'm certainly no Alan Greenspan, I do see my small business as a crude barometer of the economy.

When I started 10 years ago, my biggest clients by far were high-end real estate firms, residential builders and interior designers. Aside from real estate-related clients, I might have shot just one spa and one hotel in those early years. (Spas and hotels probably overlooked me since they seemed to prefer the cold, sterile images resembling hospital rooms and crime scene photography more than anything else.)

Jumping ahead to 2007, I haven't heard from a realtor nor builder in the past 24 months. But in that same time period, I've shot about 10 resorts and six spas.

So, what does the RSEI show for the short-term?

Despite the irrational exuberance of the early part of the decade, everyone knows the real estate market has been depressed and this sector's promotional dollars are spread thin. (Instead of descriptors like "ultra-exclusive luxury enclave," realtors are now opting for cheaper adjectives like "nice neighborhood.") Consumers are equally scared when it comes to real estate but seem quite content with spending a few thousand on a 5-day luxury vacation so the hospitality sector is flourishing. Home builders are worried that they might have to sit on their creations for a few months before they sell but resorts know their bookings months in advance, making them much more comfortable with spending on marketing.

What does the index predict for the long-term?

With a few more resort shoots on our schedule before the end of 2007, we forsee continued opportunity in the hospitality market. But the real growth will come from the spa and healthclub industry.

While a hotel guest might spend $400 to stay in a nice room from 3pm to 11am the next day, a spa can make that in two hours with one couple's massage/pedicure package. And with more hotels realizing the potential of the spa industry (including the neglected men's market), they're applying bigger budgets in design, equipment, staff and, you guessed

We just shot Rosewood's beautiful ESPA at Acqualina and were thrilled to find dark woods and halogen lighting in most areas——a welcomed relief from the accountant-friendly headache-inducing florescents that many spas surprisingly use. The Bisazza-inspired mosaic tile in the ladies' ice bath shown above is further proof that spas are finally paying for real interior design talent, which translates into real dollars when the soothing atmosphere makes people come back for more.

Since distribution channels like Travelocity, SpaFinder and others rely heavily on photographic images to separate the good from the mediocre, I can predict a sharp spike in the RSEI relative to the spa industry.

Stay tuned for our next RSEI report due out in 2017. By then, the real estate market will bounce back and our mailboxes will once again be filled with ultra-exclusive adjectives.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Check out my new Kamra!

For a little more than a year, I have been working on a side project named Kamra (pronounced camera).

Kamra is a separate company formed by me and my partner, Rob Berman and its purpose is the design and manufacture of tableware, home decor and hotel/spa items that use photography as a main design element.

Back in my advertising and graphic design years, I thought that photography had great potential for product design and shouldn't be relegated to a flat piece of wall art. In 2001, I began applying images onto synthetic materials (durable, washable, food safe, etc.). But, even if I was able to create a great prototype, I hadn't a clue about mass producing and distributing it.

Rob's company Impulse has been manufacturing and distributing acrylic, wood and glassware products for years. So, he knows how factories operate and how products like this are sold. Impulse was a second career for him after his first life as an attorney for an internet company.

So, Kamra gets one partner with manufacturing, sales and distribution experience and another partner with photography, graphic design and print production experience. As a bonus, since most stock photography companies charge big bucks for images in the "items for resale" category, its great that Kamra can create as many unlimited royalty-free images that it needs.

CocktailVibe (another Berman invention) handles consumer web-based sales and features lead crystal products like the above flower and grass votives as well as my favorite, the crystal fire votive. They're shown on our acrylic grass tray. In the next few months, we'll have new glassware and melamine collections so stay tuned.


Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The chick and the egg

I shot this image for dkVogue, a furniture retailer specializing in Danish classics from Arne Jacobsen, Hans Wegner, Poul Henningsen and others from the mid-century modern design movement.

My client gave me this simple directive: "We want a model wearing nothing but the chair."

As an architectural shooter, I have absolutely no experience with anything like this so two things made me nervous. Is it possible to take Jacobsen's iconic 1956 Egg chair (probably photographed thousands of times over a half century) and do something new with it? My other worry was since this client wanted to show a naked woman using the product, could we do something beautiful instead of just...well, naked? I wanted to make an image that Arne himself might approve. (Too late since Jacobsen died in 1971 but you get the point.)

Architecture geeks like us are usually challenged with shooting a room from a small corner or showing off the expensive crown moldings. I'm also used to working with tungsten lighting, not strobe. My exposures are usually 30 seconds, not 1/125 like a fashion photographer. I'm trained to wait for the sun, not the makeup person. (We didn't need to wait for wardrobe since the chair was already there.)

Still getting her hair done was Czech model Hanka Janouskova who must have been no older than 22. From Hanka's portfolio, I could see that she had worked extensively with talented, established fashion photographers from around the world. So, I confidently introduced myself as the photographer while secretly hoping she knew what she was doing because I certainly hadn't a clue.

Well, despite her youth, Hanka's fashion experience and professionalism made my job easy. With each pop of the strobe she would change positions, each elegant pose showing what we needed to see while hiding what we were not allowed to show. She was the perfect match for a photographer with zero fashion experience.

Continuing my current excursion from architectural photography, I have added a Lifestyle section to my updated my updated portfolio site. Most of these new images were shot at resorts and spas around the U.S. and Caribbean.

Fall Fund Drive

I have always been very fortunate with getting paid on time. I require all clients to provide a 50% deposit in order to book a shoot with the balance due upon receipt of final images (in reality, I give clients up to 30 days to pay that final bill and once in a while, an invoice has gone to 45-60 days). In nine years of shooting professionally, I have never had to write off bad debt.

In my years as an ad agency account manager, I remember the "we don't pay our vendors until our client pays us" rule and despite my disagreement with it, I did have to abide by it when I hired photographers to shoot for my clients. However, I felt then and I still feel now, this rule weakens vendor relationships.

I pay my assistants, accountants, book keepers, web designers and other people who provide services to me within 1-2 weeks of receiving an invoice. As a result, they all jump for me when I need them, which allows me to provide better service to my clients. By paying my vendors in a timely manner, they know I respect the service they provide.

Monday, October 1, 2007

The Outlook Is Oblique

As a Florida resident, I have a lot of friends who enjoy golf. While I can see the appeal, I have absolutely zero golf talent and therefore find playing 18 holes a great way to increase my blood pressure and decrease my self esteem at the same time.

While I have shot a few random golf images, they were usually a small part of a larger resort shoot. So, it was a new challenge for us to spend 72 hours in Del Mar, California shooting nothing but tees and greens at sunrise and sunset.

The course at the Grand Del Mar Resort (owned by famed developer PapaDoug Manchester) was designed by Tom Fazio who is known for his dramatic style of landscape architecture.

To a non-golfer like me, the Grand Del Mar course is nothing more than a graphic series of rolling greens with white bunkers shadowed by tall trees. Each of these greens runs along the property's high ridges and low valleys created by California's mountainous landscape.

While we did take some nice shots on the ground, some of the more interesting views are from the air. So, I hired the very skillful Ivor Shier of San Diego-based Corporate Helicopters to help us shoot the course from the perspective of a bird armed with 11.2 megapixels. The copter was a turbine-driven A-Star which offers a smooth, safe ride at low altitudes and is therefore the tool of choice for the film industry. However, at a cost of $1,325/hour, I felt the pressure to land with stunning images for my client.

All aerial photographers know that while some straight-down shots do look interesting, it's the "obliques" that can offer nice multi-layered views. Instead of shooting down, obliques are shot across the landscape, usually at an angle just below the horizon. And, if your shot stretches a mile or more through the mountains, factors like moisture, atmosphere, heat and sun position can produce very interesting effects from one part of the shot to the other.

In order to see over the skids of the copter, Ivor removed the two doors on my side. After I was harnessed in, we took off for a 45-minute flight at the 'magic hour' before sunset. (As a funny coincidence, both my life insurance policy and my accidental death and dismemberment policy came up for renewal just one week prior. I paid both premiums just before leaving to the shoot and made copies for my wife who, incidentally, did not see the humor in it.)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Elasticity of Photography

My college macro economics professor used to explain the Elasticity of Demand as a rubber band with one end attached to a particular product and the other end attached to its price. As the price rises, the demand (represented by the rubber band) stretches to the point that the consumer is willing to pay, until the price becomes too high for the consumer and the rubber band breaks. So, when Pepsi prices rise to a certain point, more people start to buy Coke, etc.

With this philosophy in mind, I've been taking note of my own photography business' elasticity and have found some interesting things:

1. By the end of 2007, we will have done three separate shoots in the state of California. Is this because there are no photographers in California? It's very expensive for a client to fly me, my equipment and assistant out to a location while paying for hotel, rental car and meals for a week or more. My guess is these clients (who I have worked with previously) appreciate our images and the easy process of working with us. For these two clients, our services are highly elastic relative to the cost of working with us.

2. Back in 2004, we spent six weeks shooting resorts in Hong Kong and Bali while flying from our base in Florida. In this case, our services were extremely elastic.

3. While we seem to be good enough for resorts around the globe, we apparently don't have much clout here at home. For instance the Boca Raton Resort & Club—long considered a playground for the wealthy—is so geographically close that I can actually see that pink tower from just outside my house. However, when I offered them a quotation to shoot their property, they quickly hung up the phone and never called back. I guess they consider my work completely inelastic.

My college professor would be so proud.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Fashion capital of the world

As designers of fabulous couture sip champagne at after-show parties in Paris and New York, factory workers in small towns around the globe are cutting, sewing and pressing next season's ideas into finished garments. Therefore, one could argue the northern Romanian town of Baia Mare (pop. 150,000) is the true center of the fashion universe.

We traveled to Baia Mare to shoot the Habitex garment factory back in July 2006 and found the modern facility a far cry from what we expected. A gleaming daylight-filled building, high ceilings, skylights, air conditioning and rows of advanced sewing machines gave us lots of angles and subjects to capture. A complex ceiling-mounted rail system channels finished garments from two factories into a single warehouse (think of your dry cleaner's rail system times 1,000). The materials, stitching and accessories were all made of the finest quality.

It seems Asian factories have stolen all of the low-end garment work, leaving the skilled seamstresses of Eastern Europe to concentrate on the high-end. Goodbye Wal-Mart, hello Hugo Boss. And, with the former eastern bloc country set to join the EU, wages and working conditions are reaching western standards. Goodbye communism, hello capitalism.

To design their website, Habitex hired the Ghent-based Group94 (incidentally, the same design firm who did and other great portfolio sites).

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Chicago Four

The man on the left with the daily shave is Chris Michel from the Bridge House design firm. The man on the right with the weekly shave is me. The guy in the middle with the monthly shave is Jeff Herron. We were eating dinner on the last night of a recent 5-day shoot in Chicago.

This is 3/4 of the crew from the shoot. The only crew member not pictured is the one behind the camera, Marisa Marcus, account manager at Bridge House. Marisa held the heavy 1Ds camera amazingly steady for 1/8th of a second to get this shot.

Clean up your room

My mother-in-law would flip if she saw this room.

We shot this artist's loft in Chicago a couple of months ago. I found the absence of color (in the loft and in the 100s of papers) very interesting. It wasn't immediately evident what the artist's specialty was but he was a very calm, very polite man in his 40s.

The third-floor room used to be a garment sweatshop around the beginning of the 20th century. Old papers found on the site include what seemed to be a handwritten work schedule of seamstresses with Italian names.

While the mess in my office doesn't approach the level of this one, I will argue (mostly with my wife) that right brains need a bit of chaos in order to function properly.


I shot this with a PhaseOne P20 digital back with side-to-side stitching, creating a 30 megapixel image showing every detail in the room. The lens was a 24mm Schneider Digitar (a little soft but highly recommended) mounted on a Silvestri Bicam (highly not recommended). The only light sources were the windows in the shot so it did require some masking in Photoshop.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Not staying the course

Over the course of my 9-year photography career, about 95% of my projects have been architectural in nature. The other 5% have been interesting diversions from the typical homes, hotels and other structural subjects that I usually shoot. Some of those odd projects have been mentioned here in my blog and others have gone unnoticed, sitting in the depths of my 1.2TB hard drive.

A few of my friends and clients have suggested I turn my efforts to shooting lifestyle, or more specifically, spa lifestyle. So, in an attempt to generate some new business (since the U.S. real estate market continues to tank), I will be updating a few of my online portfolios to include more of my people shots. The first portfolio to get an update is my PDN PhotoServe. Other updates will be mentioned here in the coming days and weeks. After reviewing these images, if anyone feels I should stick to my day job of architecture (or just give up photography completely), please feel free to comment.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Our first jewelry shoot

A friend asked me to shoot some of the ladies' chokers that she makes by hand. Since I specialize in architecture, I don't know what gave her such confidence in me. But, I hung some black cloth, dusted off my softbox and set up a makeshift studio in my office (since, as we all know, architectural photographers don't need studios). I used my 90mm TSE lens which is incredibly sharp combined with soft blur in specific areas.

I think the results were good and my friend/client is happy. The collection is by Linea Cavalcanti and I believe the material is onyx.

Motion Pictures

Everyone says they "absolutely love black and white photography" and I do believe them. But, what type of b/w photography? Weddings? Photojournalism? Fine art? I happen to like all of the above, especially fine art b/w. And within the fine art b/w genre, I have come to really love images with these three elements:

1. Long exposures with moving objects (water, clouds, cars)
2. Range of mid tones (like a good charcoal sketch)
3. Rich blacks (like motor oil)

While I have taken lots of images like this as experimentations (eg. the North Sea jetty on the left), there are a few photographers who actually make a living in the "fine art b/w long exposure moving object range of mid tones rich blacks" genre.

One of these photographers is Josef Hoflehner. I'm on Josef's mailing list so I get to see his newest projects. I enjoy looking at his work so much that he's probably sick of me telling him. Another great talent is Michael Kenna who I saw speak at FotoFusion back in 2001. He showed some great work and talked about how he has been able to shoot these types of images due to one particular aspect of his personality: he doesn't mind spending long amounts of time completely alone. (I am also a bit like this except I do need to check in with my wife and kids after a few days.) Another point Kenna made was that it's not about equipment or f-stops but instead about what inspires you or moves you to shoot.

If you still want to see more images like this, check out Chip Forelli. Aside from Kenna, who shoots ads for Volvo in his spare time, Forelli is one of the more commercially successful photographers in this genre. I've seen his images for sale in mass market retail stores, on calendars and even in my Mac's desktop and screen saver options.

More on Black & White

In the next U.S. presidential election, I will be voting for either a black man or a white woman.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Golfer misses birdie, hits helicopter

This is one angry golfer.

In the middle of his sunset golf game, a photographer's helicopter kept circling around, causing a distraction. Rather than take his 5th mulligan, he tried to hit the photographer with a golf ball...and missed.

I know this story is 100% true because I was the photographer and above is an actual shot of the guy about to launch a barrage of small, white, dimpled anti-aircraft artillery. The location was Raptor Bay Golf Club in Bonita Springs, Florida and the golfer was a tourist from Austria.

Sitting next to me in the copter was my client, Luis Capaldo, creative director at DLCIM in Miami. As we were in flight, we saw the golfer, we saw he was angry and despite the loud engine, we could almost hear him yelling at us.

When we finally landed after sunset, he sped up to us in his cart and yelled (in a German accent so thick, it almost sounded like he was actually speaking German), "Do you zink dat helikopters und golf go vell togezher?!"

Luis replied, "Oh, no sir. They don't go well together," answering the rhetorical question honestly and sympathetically. After a few minutes of talking, the man calmed down when he realized we were actually hired by the resort (who forgot to warn golfers there was a photo shoot that afternoon).

Friday, July 20, 2007

Mostly clear with a chance of sharks

About a year ago, we were in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina shooting some timeshare properties for Bluegreen Corporation. On the last day of the shoot, we took a break to visit Ripley's Aquarium and it was really incredible. Jeff snapped this shot of me in a plexiglass tunnel (my preferred method of meeting a 10-foot shark). The aquarium's website has the most annoying music you could ever imagine so whatever you do, don't click here.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Medium = neither rare, nor well done

As a consumer, I am not happy with the quality of most print media. As a working photographer, I'm totally disgusted with most print media.

With a few exceptions, my editorial assignments have been mostly one-sided with the publication on the longer end of the stick. If any publishers are reading, here's a list of grievances that many photographers share:

1. Publications misspell, hide or completely omit photo credits and photo bylines.

2. They present a rights-grabbing contract as "Our Standard Agreement."

3. They use images beyond their agreed license (reprints, "sister publications," books, DVDs and items for resale), hoping the photographer doesn't catch it and if he does, hoping the photographer will settle for less compensation.

4. They don't pay very much (but instead offer "exposure" which is negated by grievance #1).

5. They're systematic slow-payers (part of their cash flow strategy).

In a memorable quote illustrating point #5 above, the publisher of one unnamed magazine once told me (as I inquired about a 120-day-old invoice), "There are a lot of other photographers out there we can work with, you know." The next time they called me, I said I was eternally booked.

Another unnamed publication had their very talented art director hire me for a residential shoot a few years ago. The images came out very nice and her layout was stunningly beautiful. But, the magazine didn't want to spend the money to send someone on a press check and the entire story printed flat, unsaturated and unappealing. To make matters worse, my invoice went unpaid for almost a year. Sadly, the next time the talented art director called, I was 'booked' then too.

There are a few wonderful exceptions to the above. I've done some very fulfilling assignments for Wallpaper, WohnDesign, Eigen Huis, Australian Financial Review and other respectable publications. There are a few other magazines who I would jump to work with if I should ever be lucky enough to hear from them.

Over the next few years, it will be interesting to see how the new influx of "prosumer" photographers affect the level of respect from publications. Either things will get worse because there will be even more photographers "out there" for publications to churn through or the quality level will go down so far that publications will appreciate professional work once again. I can honestly live with either scenario since, thankfully, I rely on my commercial clients for a living.

The dream editorial assignment I've been waiting for is when a writer calls me to partner on a documentary book on some visually interesting subject. I will tell him that for shared photo-editorial control, a photo byline on the cover and a fair percentage of sales, I will gladly work to make sure the book is well done.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Grot, grot and more grot

Under the category of "non-architectural," this assignment was to shoot high-res stills for a film producer. The studio then used these images for packaging and promotion. As a photographer, production stills assignments pay a decent hourly rate and are a welcome diversion from the volume of homes and hotels that I usually shoot.

Steve Kemsley of London-based Sassy Films hired me for two very memorable production stills jobs. The first was an exercise video featuring Penny Lancaster (aka Mrs. Rod Stewart for people like me who don't read the tabloids) and the second job was shooting the exercise video shown above.

What? It doesn't look like an 'exercise' video? Well, think of it as a bunch of British Victoria's Secret models doing high-impact aerobics.

I'd like to say that this salacious combo is just something for the English commoner. But as an American, I know all too well that our own culture eats this stuff up. The creative direction I received from Steve's cockney producer is "shoot as much grot as you can." When I asked him the definition of 'grot' he pointed to one model's derrière and said, "That's grot."

(According to the Urban Dictionary, 'grot' has a few colorful definitions and I'll let you do any further research at your own risk.)

When I got home that evening, I immediately showed my wife the images so she couldn't accuse me of not showing her. The video title is Pump It Up from Ministry of Sound.

Monday, July 16, 2007


We shot the Colony Club in Barbados a few months ago. Jeff snapped this image of me while I stood on scaffolding for about an hour during dusk. The sky really did look like that. As many commercial artists are familiar, this was one of those moments when I was reminded of why I'm in this business.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

I just can't work in these conditions

If I had a large company, I would probably have a comfortable office. Instead, I have a minuscule company with an infinitely large office.

Jeff Herron took this shot of me on the roof of the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe. We used the hotel roof as a vantage point for a few of our key shots after the hotel employees tipped us off to their favorite spot to take a break. The funny thing is that this "no-access" rooftop had better views of the lake and surrounding mountains than any guest area in the entire resort. I considered it my duty to take advantage of this hidden gem and the result is below.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Terrorists Don't Use Tripods

Once in a while when shooting architecture, I'll be approached by some well-meaning citizen who is concerned I might be a terrorist. I know you can't tell from this blog but, I am a very American-looking male, speaking non-accented English, on the older end of the 0-40 demographic. So, while I don't fit the stereotype of a terrorist, I still might be one since I am armed with...a camera.

During the questioning phase, I am always accommodating, polite and respectful. I know their intentions are not to stand in front of my lens to ruin my dusk shot. But after I give them my business card, ID, first born and answer the "How many megapixels?" question, I have to get back to work.

The funny thing is that I shot the Sears Tower in Chicago a few weeks ago (it's currently the tallest building in America) and no one said a word while we camped on the street for over an hour. The sad thing is that with technology today, anyone planning do do something evil can get images of any building, airport or other structure covertly, within seconds. (If you doubt me, please click here to see how a real terrorist gets his pictures with $150 and a button-down shirt.) If I know this, you can be sure the bad guys know it too.

So the next time you see a photographer out in public, using a tripod, tethered to a MacBook and doing 45-second exposures, the only evil he's probably doing is forgetting to watch his histogram.

So, you want to be a photographer?

Over the past 9 years of shooting professionally, I have received no less than 100 emails from people asking for advice on how to get into the business. Remembering how I felt at the beginning, I try my best to take the time to share what I've learned and be of help when I can. Here is what I usually tell them to do (in order of importance):

Google a bunch of photographers in your nearest metropolitan area, look through their portfolios and make a list of the top three who's work you respect. Write each an email expressing your interest in learning about photography and offering your services as a dependable, hard-working assistant. While each photographer has his own idea of an assistant's value, you can be sure it will not be much compared with the amount of labor you will provide. (I left a $65,000/year burnt-out career in advertising to assist Dan Forer with overnight shoots for $5/hour and loved it.) What you will get in return is hands-on knowledge of how to shoot for a living. One of the three photographers you assist will certainly be a nutcase who makes you reconsider your career choice and another will be a highly-organized chap who takes a full day to set up each shot. The third will hopefully be someone with a style and demeanor you can respect and grow with for a little while. Lastly, you will know when it is the right time to go on your own, if that's what you choose to do.

Since most assistants have limited funds, you only need three things to start: a point-and-shoot camera, laptop and software. (Sure, you can't shoot a double-page spread for Vogue with a p/s camera but you won't be getting those jobs now anyway.) My choice to start would be a $600 Panasonic DMC-LX3 for many reasons but mostly since it shoots RAW, the only format you should ever consider shooting for the remainder of your existence. Unless you are in love with your PC, you should certainly get an Apple MacBook for about $1,099. My personal choice for software is a legally-licensed version of Adobe Photoshop CS4 for $640. There are many reputable retailers for this stuff but I have been dealing with B&H to get great prices and avoid state sales tax since I started.

One of the best things I did was join ASMP. The online community, blogs, tutorials and other stuff was mostly non-existent when I started back in 1998. They negotiate discounts for all members, especially for students and even offer health insurance, sample contracts, legal advice (with caveats, of course) and tons of other benefits that make the membership fee a tiny price to pay. As for fraternizing with your local competition, I am all for it. When I started, I left a few voice mails for fellow photographers as I was looking for advice on equipment. When some wouldn't return my calls, I knew who the insecure bastards were.

Well, the caveman's art probably has more value than yours because people pay a lot of money to see that stuff. And if all cavemen retained their copyrights, imagine the licensing fees they could have been collecting all this time. All kidding aside, when you start shooting on your own, don't ever do a "work-for-hire" assignment (unless it is for a ridiculous amount of money, which it never will be). Even if you grant your clients a liberal usage license, you should always own the copyright to your work. Since 1997, I think I have lost only one job because I wouldn't do WFH and I consider it a blessing. Ask any photographer, songwriter or filmmaker about WFH and they will most likely agree with me on this.

Of course, there are 1,000s of details on the above points but these you will pick up along the way. Photography has been the most rewarding (and longest lasting) job I have ever had and if your attention span has made it this far down my blog, you can probably make a living as a professional photographer.

Friday, July 6, 2007

How to shoot a kid running on the beach

It's 6am in Playa del Carmen, Mexico and we're shooting the typical kid running across the most perfect sunrise over the ocean. With a 5-10 minute window to get the look we want, the big secret of getting a shot like this is being fit enough to keep up with the kid.

This is me, instructing our 8-year-old model to start farther back so we would be at full speed by the time we hit the right spot for the sun. Then, holding the camera low and steady while running, we fired about seven frames per run with about five or six runs total. The low-res cell phone video shot was captured by fellow photographer Jeff Herron.

Last Known Photo of Missing Asian Cuisine

This picture was taken shortly before the dissapearance of this food. When I am hired to shoot architecture, I often get asked to shoot something non-architectural during the job. Sometimes it's people, sometimes food. I have yet to post many of these images to my portfolio site so this is a lazy attempt to show them here.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Opportunity Meets Ability

Some say "luck" is nothing more than opportunity meeting ability. That if you're prepared and patient, eventually something lucky will happen to you. For photographers, luck can have some visually stunning results.

We were on the last day of a 7-day shoot in Chicago recently and we wanted to take a nice dusk shot downtown with the river, reflections and city traffic across the bridges. But, with our chunky rental van, dwindling meter money and lack of knowledge of downtown Chicago, we were feeling discouraged about finding a nice vantage point. So instead, we just went to the last shot on our list: an elevator lobby on Canal Street.

Then some luck happened.

When we found a parking spot, we noticed that the lot was directly on the river at a major fork, showing all of the buildings and reflections. But, there were railroad tracks, trees and other obstructions between us and the scene. Luckily, someone had built some 30' scaffolding on the edge of the parking lot, perfectly positioned for the view we wanted. So, Jeff Herron and I climbed up with our equipment and needless to say, we got a great shot (which I can't post because I haven't yet delivered it to the client). In the meantime, you can enjoy this "making of" shot taken by Chris Michel, a Miami graphic designer and photographer.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

WiFi = Office

For every summer of the past eight years, I have been working from the North Sea village of Knokke, Belgium. (My wife was born and raised in Belgium so we stay with family). While my kids play all summer, my time here is justified only by my ability to shoot, process images and deliver them to clients, most of who are back in the U.S.

My important equipment (lenses, camera bodies and some accessories) fits in a rolling backpack that is airline carry-on friendly. I keep a tripod here in the house and can shoot any possible assignment. On two separate occoasions, I flew from Brussels to do shoots for Crystal Cruises in the Mediterranean (Lisbon>Sorrento and Monaco>Portofino) and they loved the fact that my airfare was only 199 euros round-trip.

The icing on this cake is digital technology. Since 2004, I have processed my RAW files here in Belgium and delivered finished images to my American clients via CD and FedEx. If there are one or two files that need to get there immediately, I upload them to my .Mac server and my client can download them directly onto their hard drives in minutes. If there's a question, they can call my local Florida office number and it will ring into my Skype on the laptop here in Belgium where we can talk for hours, for free.

For invoicing, I used to just shut down my accounting software for a few months and send invoices when I got back to Florida. Now, since I've installed Parallels, I can run dreaded Windows (and therefore dreaded QuickBooks) on my beloved Mac! The full circle is almost complete except I need to find a way to make bank deposits into my U.S. account while here in Europe. Other than that, I am literally running my company from a laptop.

So far for Summer 2007, everything is seamless. While here in Belgium, I've delivered two jobs (roughly 120 images) and have another 200 images to process in the coming weeks. Working here is just like working in Florida except I'm wearing a sweater and jeans in July. Oh, and the bread...and the chocolate...

Modern Architecture Circa 1200

We just got back from a hotel shoot in Xcaret, Mexico in the area known as "Riviera Maya" (about an hour south of Cancun). Lot's of Mayan ruins scattered around, especially in the former port city of Tulum. I was struck by the minimalist architecture of these 800-year-old buildings. The Mayans obviously understood the power of good design. Today, we design to win awards, get magazine covers, impress our neighbors and make a profit but the Mayans were designing to impress a higher authority.

Friday, June 29, 2007

America's Tallest Building

Please don't tell anyone but the Sears Tower is the tallest building in the U.S. (Click here for a cool-but-awkward satellite image of the top.) I had the pleasure of capturing this amazing structure on a recent shoot in Chicago. (I'd love to say I was hired to photograph the tower but the truth is we were shooting an old building nearby on Clinton Street.) Anyway, this "making of" shot was taken by photographer Jeff Herron who assisted me on the shoot.

Copyright and wrong

I would like to announce here and now that I am pro-copyright.

As people become more familiar with digital technology, I sense a growing disrespect for copyright protection of music, photography, artwork and anything else people can get their hands on. It seems that just because people are easily able to steal someone's property (yes, images, songs and other intangibles are property), this justifies the act. If I didn't lock my door at night, does that give someone the right to come in my house and steal?

I am of the philosophy that if you create it, you own it. You also have the freedom of charging whatever you want for it. If someone feels that you are overcharging for it then they have the freedom not to buy it.

I hope some young enterprising kid is working on a software solution to digital theft. As one photographer, I might pay up to $1,500 to license a piece of software that protects my images. Sounds like a ridiculous price to pay for a piece of software but I reckon I've lost many times that with digital theft of my images. Unfortunately the amazing leap in imaging technology has not included advances in image security. Even Adobe's Photoshop sets the default copyright status to "Unknown" in an image's metadata until it is manually changed by the photographer. Who are they serving by doing this? They know as well as anyone that an image is copyright-protected the moment the photographer presses the shutter button.

Photographer Shoots People. News at 11.

This is a model named Lenore in a kayak in the Hyatt Regency Kauai's salt water lagoon. When I am hired to shoot architecture, I often get asked to shoot something non-architectural during the job. Sometimes it's people, sometimes food. I have yet to post many of these images to my portfolio site so this is a lazy attempt to show them here.

What a large pixel you have!

I shot this image of the Hyatt Regency Bali back in 2004 with a Canon 1Ds (11mp). My client's ad agency cropped in about 50% and blew it up to about 6' for this billboard inside Chicago's O'Hare airport. (That's me, the 5' 11" dark shadow, standing next to it.) It looked good from about 3 feet away and looked great from 5 feet or more. Kudos to Cramer-Krasselt for knowing what to do with this one.

If you're an amateur photographer, you know how important megapixels are. If you're a professional photographer, you know how the chip, lens, aperture, tripod, RAW file processing and color space all play a more important role in the quality of the image. Once you've got a decent amount of pixels to start with, the rest is up to the skill of the Photoshopper.

My point is, that if you know what you're doing with an image, size (megapixels) doesn't matter as much as other things. Some might argue that film was better because you can just do a larger scan. Not true. Film also had a finite amount of resolution and after about 80mb, a scan would only show more grain, not more image quality.

I started a blog

Welcome to the first post in my blog. I wanted to share behind-the-scenes photos and thoughts about my photography business.

At the current time, I am 39 years old and about eight years into my second career as a photographer. My first career as an advertising account executive ended when my boss-at-the-time bravely told me what I had known for about a year: I had become burnt out and it was time for me to find another line of work.

Like most advertising professionals, I was a decent writer with a solid command of spelling, grammar and all other areas of written communication. (Before I fell in love with advertising, I thought I was going to be a journalist.) But, now that my main trade tools are a camera, Photoshop and the right side of my brain, my left side has dulled a bit. Like other skills, writing is something that needs to be practiced in order to remain sharp.

I'm also doing this blog to promote my business. I am lucky that I have been able to support myself and my family with a job that I honestly love to do. I'm so lucky to have found photography and every day feels like my first day in my new career. Since I get to travel often, I have documented some interesting people and places around the world. This blog will be where I share those images and stories, showing potential clients what it's like to work with us.

Another reason I wanted to do this blog is I wanted some sort of growing documentation of my career, as it moves along. You could say that my images themselves provide enough of a documentation of what I do and I now have about 1.5TB (that's terrabytes or 1,500,000 megabytes) of images on my hard drives. But, if I get hit by a bus tomorrow, I don't want my kids to have to open up each 160mb file to see what their father did for a living.

From week-to-week, I will try to take the time to post but please forgive me if there are large gaps between postings. Feel free to leave comments and let me know what you think.

Thanks for stopping by!

your privacy is respected