Saturday, July 28, 2007

Can you name this city?

What major city could this be?

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.

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