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.)

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